Sunday, June 30, 2013

...And Then I Jumped In

A few days ago I posted about Craig breaking the ice with Edna, the neighbor across the street with the empty lot I so covet. So what if we've only lived by her for ...gulp... 11 years. Better late than never?

Well, today I jumped in.

I had just returned from the farmer's market (how fitting) and she was standing in the driveway with her grandson (who I'd mistaken as her son at one time...oops. Though, isn't it better to mistake a man being older and his grandma being young enough to be his mother? Yeah, I'm going with flattery for the woman. Always.) I hesitated only a moment, then marched over there. I'd been wanting to talk to her and become a better neighbor to her for a very long time. Her grandson stood and talked with us for a few moments as we talked about the plum tree. The plum tree was to be my icebreaker, as you can read in this post. Sadly, there will be no plums this year. The weather has not been kind to the tree, and the last straw was the 'dericho' blowing all the blossoms off the tree. Although we'll not have plums this year, I did gain permission to harvest the plums in the future. Edna said she missed making plum jam, and I said that was one of the very things I'd hoped to do with her share with her, of course. I can be so very full of charm when I need to be.

Once her grandson made his exit, I told her I wanted her to have my number, since I was right across the street, in case she ever needed anything. She immediately told me no, and that she could handle things on her own. I insisted, and it didn't take much convincing. I had no paper on which to write my number, so she invited me in. I have never in my 11 years here been in her house. That's so sad, isn't it?

Well...THREE hours passed before I exited her house. What a visit! This lady is a hoot. She is feisty, smart, stubborn, super healthy and spry for 90 years old (her birthday is on Tuesday--July 2--same as Simon). She is incredibly interesting, and she LOVES to talk.

We talked about everything and anything. Except, that is, the empty lot. We only talked about IT for about 30 seconds, and though I wanted to, I didn't make a peep about me setting up a garden there. I decided I was going to dedicate this visit to getting to know Edna a bit, not to immediately go in for the kill.

You know what? It was a great time. She is very fun to talk to, and I found that my personality and hers do click. I can't wait to have another visit with her. In time, I'll broach the empty lot topic. In time.

For now, I have to admit I look forward to talking to her again. It's never too late to become friends with a neighbor. She even shared her pumpkin pie recipe--with a secret ingredient--which her family clamors for. The sharing of secret recipes is a SURE indication that one has made the beginnings of a bond!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Craig Broke the Ice

I had an armful of recyclables and was heading out the front door to put them in the bin. I stopped short. Edna was out, and not only that, Craig was standing there talking to her. He had just returned home from work and the two collided. Still holding the armful of junk, I sat at the table where I could see them talking, hoping I was out of sight.

Yeah, I took a picture.

I saw Craig gesturing over to the empty lot, and my heart leapt. Or more like, dived. Oh dear lord, knowing Craig, he was spilling my whole cock-eyed plan about buying the lot from her, telling her (with the endearing pride he shows for me and his total lack of privacy filter) all the crazy things I wanted to do.

I couldn't hardly go out there.

Why didn't I go out there? It's like when you have a giant crush on someone, and you see your best friend talking to them, and your first instinct is to run away, very far, until your best friend comes looking for you. And even then, you don't want to hear all the details of the rejection. At least, that's how it always seemed to work out for me and my obsessive--er--very-normal-not-stalkerish-at-all high school crushes. Wait. Does that make it sound like I have a crush on Edna? More like I'm terrified of her. It's her big old empty lot I'm crushing on.

I was mortified, embarrassed, shy, and just couldn't bear facing her if he was out there blithely discussing chickens and water barrels. All the plans I'd only half figured out. I didn't want to run out there and start sputtering and looking like an idiot. And truthfully, I was trying very hard to get supper on the table at the moment so we wouldn't be late for Noah's T-ball game.

Turns out, though, they didn't have a conversation about my cock-eyed dreams of homesteading on her extra space.

She told him all about her kids, her grandkids, great-grandkids, the sky, the weather...and everything else she could think of before Craig ran away, ears on fire. He did manage to stop her from talking, however, just long enough to tell her "You know, my wife would love to put a garden on your lot." Apparently she nodded, said "oh yes," and then "oh, no. That won't work. There is an underground stream going under that lot and nothing will grow there. Too wet."

Say..what? An underground stream? Um, ok. What in the world does that even mean? Well, if that's the only thing that she'd worried about, and she didn't say no to the actual garden itself, I just may have an in.

Now if I can get over there and chat, and take the idea even further.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Plant-In-a-Bag Garden

Melon Tigger seeds. They are almost other-worldly!

So I've had this bag of potting soil sitting around for weeks. And I've had this package of adorable looking melons waiting patiently for their chance to come alive. Time kept ticking, and those melons wanted planted. Unfortunately time is also very short around here, and though each night before crashing to sleep I'd briefly try to brainstorm where I could put a container and fill it with the soil for the melons, the fact is, nothing was being done. And yet the soil waited. The seeds could be heard crying softly.

Today I took advice from a great little gardening book called Home Sweet Home Grown (I just posted a review of the book this morning, click here), and I bypassed the container all together. The girls and I got those melon seeds planted (3 of them, to ensure germination, then we'll cull all but one plant), and it took us literally 5 minutes. Voila. The laziest way to container garden! Crossing our fingers it works, and that by end of summer we'll have some of these crazy-insane adorable tigger melons!

Bag of potting soil, in lower left hand corner. Doing nothing. Note the straw bale: stay tuned for  its destiny.

Three helpers ready to plant the other-worldly melons.

Bag after being dragged (with help from said three helpers) to the back yard. Holes being stabbed into the bottom for drainage.

Bag flipped over, and hole cut from center of top.

Seed placed into hole. And now we wait!

Review: Home Sweet Homegrown

There really is no shortage of gardening books out there. I have checked out dozens from the library, usually for a quick skim for tips and ideas. Many times I get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information, stuff that as a newbie I have no point of reference to even give meaning to.

I just found this garden-tip book and I think it's one I'll buy (I have a tiny collection so far. Most books get returned to the library after I jot down a few relevant notes that I MIGHT use one day).

I like this book because it's tiny. I can skim through it in 20-30 minutes. It has all the good stuff: tips on specific plants, simple projects for the garden, practical tips and natural sprays that are easily made at home, and for EATING! I am a sucker for garden books that include recipes. I guess because I love to cook, I love to garden, and I can't see how the two are separate. The recipes have enough of a twist from the usual (including a method for kraut that seems simpler than any method I've seen so far) to have me intrigued and ready to try them out.

Since I can read this book in one sitting, maybe if I read it enough times, the information will stick and I can give the impression I know what I'm talking about. Ha!

The back of the book includes a nice handful of websites to check out for garden tips and gadgets. I plan to go browse them, specifically the site that sells canning lids that can be reused...never knew something like that even existed!

The book comes from, which appears to specialize in publishing tiny books like this that are filled with good information. I may have come upon a goldmine of wonderful books! I really like this snippet from the website's 'about' section:

"Microcosm continues to challenge conventional publishing wisdom, influencing other publishers large and small with books and bookettes about DIY skills, food, zines, and art. Microcosm constantly strives to be recognized for our spirit, creativity, and value. As a commitment to our ethics, our books are printed by union workers in the U.S. and we are moving towards all production using post-consumer papers, with vegan inks and bindings. Further, while only 25-35% of authors are women, we continue to publish about 50% of books by women."

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Empty Lots, City Codes

First of all, let me just say that the video above gets me very excited! A group taking action, doing exactly the thing I dream of; growing food on empty lots. Though I dream most of the lot right across from my house, I have craned my neck many times looking at all the empty lots scattered throughout this city. There are so, so many. Just sitting there, large swatches of grass and weeds, filled with so much potential. I have a crazy vision of each one of those empty lots becoming a food oasis, providing nutrition and community connections to neighborhoods all over my city. I need to find a way to get involved with this group, definitely. 

Secondly, digging deeper and researching shows me that there are some real hurdles to successful urban gardening on empty lots.

Last summer we had a cookout with Craig's family, and his mom's boyfriend Tom came over. As we chatted by the gate in the backyard, I started talking about my pipe dream of owning the empty lot across the street. At that time I had a very ambitious mental picture of everything I'd do with that lot if it ever were mine to play with; fence it in, have chickens, a shed, different areas designated for different things. Maybe even a couple goats (I threw that in for the shock factor, even if I was only half kidding). I was basing a lot of my mental picture on a 'map' that I had studied, for hours on end, in the book Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter.

Tom shot down the ideas rather quickly. "You can't build a shed on an empty lot. Or a fence. Hell, you can't even get access to water. How you gonna water your garden over there? How you planning to pull all that off?"

I cockily answered I'd just do it. Let someone try to come and tear it down or give me a ticket. I only half believed him when he started going on about codes, but it turns out he is absolutely correct. I found an article in Fort Wayne Monthly back in May that described exactly those codes Tom told me about.

Bottom line in the article: growing food is fine. Building anything, according to code, is not allowed on a lot that does not have a house on it.

I tried to find the article online, so I could copy and paste here, but it's no where to be found. So I'll tear the article out and put it in my garden binder, and here I'll just highlight the parts that discuss city code (I thought about typing the whole article, but then my wrists heard the rumor and screamed in revolt).

Knowing that I have city codes to deal with hardly deters me, however. I don't need fences or sheds to grow food. Just the ground. I've scaled my ambition down a bit to something more realistic to start with. If I can get the guts to even speak with my neighbor who owns the empty lot, I will ask her permission to simply grow a garden, nothing else. And, like this article alludes to, the codes are subject to appeal, and ultimately, change. If enough of us want and need to use empty lots to grow food within the city limits, and decide we need extras on those lots like tool sheds, fences, and water hookups, then there may just have to be some changes in the codes. I can feel the changes bubbling, and I'm thrilled that I'm not the only one ready to ride the waves!

From "Urban Gardens Grow" by Bonnie Blackburn in Fort Wayne Monthly:

"Scattered across the older parts of Fort Wayne are empty lots where homes and businesses once stood. Quite a bit of public expense (to clear condemned buildings and keep the lots mowed) and private effort (many good-hearted neighbors mow and tend to the lots before the public mowing crews can get there) goes toward keeping these lots from damaging their neighborhoods with blights, some places more effectively than others."

"And then there are the people who see opportunity in these empty places, people like Clint Kelly and his merry band of gardeners in Better Fort Farms. To them, these forsaken lots offer the promise of fresh food, fresh air and fresh life, not to mention a delicious tomato or two."

Hurdles to urban gardening on these empty lots? Indiana's unpredictable weather, possibility of contaminated soil, and: "Zoning. The Catherine Kasper Place land was already zoned for agricultural purposes, which meant the group was able to put up a shed and a fence and add water taps. The plots owned by A Better Fort, however, have yet to receive that blessing. The group's Clint Kelly said he anticipates zoning changes that will allow the work by this summer. "

"Kim Bowman is the executive director of the combined Fort Wayne and Allen County land use managment office, within the county Department of Planning services. It's her department that oversees zoning for the area."

" 'Urban gardens means different things to different people. I buy a property at a tax sale, i want to grow veggies or whatever, I can do that. If you can grow grass, then you can grow vegetables and that type of thing. Things start to shift when people want a water tap, or put up a shed or fence,' Bowman said. 'In the city, it's different. In an urban area there are different rules becuase what you do impacts different people.' "

"There are no specific zoning laws that directly address community garden, Bowman said. The current rules say that gardens are permiteed, as long as no structures or other improvements (such as water taps or electricity) are put onto a site that's zoned residential without the proper zoning permits. however, a site without a standing house cannot have a shed or other improvements without zoning approval through the Board of Zoning Appeals."

"There's no doubt that more of these gardens are, shall we say, sprouting up. And with the growth in gardens will likely come a change in the rules, Bowman said. 'It's something we want to promote. We want to encourage urban gardening, but we have to make sure it's compliant with our oridinance. It's a great concept and a great idea, but when you start drilling down into it, it can get complicated."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fast Friday Tip: Cutworm Collars

What the heck are cutworms? The name is kind of cute. But what they do is not so cute. Here is an image of a cutworm, along with the evidence of what it is they love to do.

Add caption

Gardeners loathe these critters. We haven't had too much trouble with them in our food crops (knock on wood), but last summer they all but thwarted our efforts to make a sunflower house. They'd eat through every new sprout we planted, over and over.

There are several ideas out there for helping control cutworms. Here's a simple one. Make a collar out of a cup by cutting out the bottom, and put it over your baby plant. Or use a toilet paper tube (we all have plenty of those, right?). Plastic containers are good, too, but they will be harder to cut away when your plant outgrows its collar. Check out all these ideas for making cutworm collars, and choose one or two. Protect those babies you worked so hard to get ready to plant in the garden!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Despite the Derecho

Big storms came through our area last night (and I fell to sleep uneasily just as they started, thinking about everything that could happen, mentally going through my checklist of how to keep the family safe if I woke up to a tornado). I was having flashbacks of last summer's awful, destructive storm, hoping the city wouldn't go through the same damage again. I even learned a new word last night: derecho. It was all over Facebook, so of course I googled it;  a "long-lived, widespread wind storm associated with a fast moving band of thunderstorms" (more here on wiki). Wind. Ugh. My sleep was fitful and I dreamed of strong winds ripping apart the yard, the house, and strangely, I also dreamed of huge ocean waves.

This morning, I was pleased to find my house standing, dry, electricity on, and no apparent damage. After checking on all my sleeping family members, my next thought was the garden. Whew, everything appeared healthy, happy, and unscathed!

I even found my first two tomatoes this morning. Seeing the little green globes made my mouth instantly water, knowing the bursting happy flavor I'd be in store for, soon!

More summer storms may come, but for now, everything, including the garden, is safe.

1st tomato!!!

2nd tomato!!!

baby green bean

baby cucumber

baby basil

amish paste tomatoes

various other tomatoes and peppers

herb garden (the sage is taking over!)

Update: I went out later this afternoon, and found three more tomatoes. Hmm, I'm thinking all the stress and work of planting my tomatoes indoors too early MIGHT just pay off! This is the earliest I personally have had tomatoes peeping out in my garden. :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

This recipe comes from Peas and Thank You (a kid-focused cookbook that is also filled with amusing side stories). We have kind of renamed them Apple Jacks around here--one, in honor of the My Little Pony, of course, and two, because while the kids help me stir the dry ingredients, we agree it smells just like the cereal of that name.

This is a wonderful recipe to add to our pancake collection; it's simple, fun, and so tasty! Oh, and I can't forget to mention this: the flavor is so good that I can actually use ALL white whole wheat flour instead of mixing in a portion all-purpose flour. Nutritional bonus!

The batter is somewhat thick, so I used my cookie scoop (two scoopfulls) and flattened out each pancake with the back of the scoop.

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes (source: Peas and Thank You)

1 3/4 c. white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pasty flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1.5 T. baking powder
1 T. ground cinnamon
1.5 c. milk (can use nut milks or non-dairy)
1 large apple, peeled and grated (about 1.5 c.)

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and cinnamon.

2. Slowly add in milk, whisking just until batter is combined. Gently fold in chopped apples. Do not overmix.

3. Coat a large skillet or griddle with cooking spray and heat over medium heat (I like to use a bit of coconut oil and spread it around with my spatula). Scoop 1/3 cup batter into pan and cook 3 to 4 minutes until pancake edges start to brown and bubbles start to form. Flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes more.

4. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with maple syrup.