Monday, February 13, 2012

The Garden

Back when we bought our house I knew one of the first things I wanted to do was plot an area for my garden. We moved into our home in the fall so I had plenty of time before getting down and dirty with gardening in the spring. Unfortunately we had a few things we needed to work around before we could do much of anything with the garden.

The first issue was that nearly our entire backyard is a septic leach field. Now, despite things that I read online about how it is safe to garden in that area – I didn’t want to be growing food for my family in a leach field. It just didn’t sit right with me. We got the mapping of the septic lines and were lucky to find a nice size area that was closer to the house that would be great for the garden. It would get the full morning and afternoon sun (which is both a blessing and a curse in Alabama) and I had room for growth if I chose to expand my garden.

The second issue was that our soil is hard packed red dirt and clay. Not ideal for growing much of anything. That was an easy fix with a couple raised beds. But without a truck I found myself buying bags of garden soil, manure and compost. I couldn’t believe that I was actually buying bags of poop!! I grew up in Vermont! I could have driven to any farm with a truck and asked for a load of aged manure and got it for free. But there I was at Lowes buying cow feces for four bucks a bag. (Luckily I have a truck this year… now I just need to find a farm.)

We built two raised beds with untreated landscape timbers. I thought that two 4x8 beds would be plenty of grow room… and it was for a small salsa garden. I was able to plant some cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, jalapenos, bell peppers, squash, tomatoes… I had basil and I threw in some marigolds to keep bugs away.

Year one I got a great crop of green beans. My son, then two at the time, loved sitting in the garden while I worked and eating the fresh green beans. We never cooked a single meal with them because we ate them all as snacks while working outside. Everything grew great in the garden. It was so exciting to see things start as little seedlings and grow into mature, producing, plants. I got a monster zucchini from the crop and a few small summer squash. Then the squash bugs came and devoured my squash crop and eventually moved on to my cucumbers as well. Within that time I had a large tomato harvest along with bell peppers and jalapeno. I canned salsa for two days. Then hornworms found my garden and made quick work of my tomato plants and jalapenos.

Throughout the slow consumption of my garden I kept trying to treat my plants with insecticidal soaps and with a hot pepper mixture. Nothing helped. Eventually, toward the end of the grow season, I bought chemicals… and I soaked the garden. A few days later the bugs were back. I was so frustrated. I just kept treating the garden at the first sight of bugs and washing my produce as soon as I picked it.

I vowed I would learn from the experience and my second garden would be better.

It wasn’t.

Last year was so hot that it was impossible to grow a hearty supply of vegetables. We went under a water restriction – though I still snuck in a watering – and my garden suffered.

But before all that, I decided I was ready to add a third bed to my garden. I wanted an herb bed in addition to my vegetable beds. I took time to read some gardening books and decided to try Square Foot Gardening. It seemed brilliant and like a really easy way to keep everything organized.

My husband and I built an extra bed and fenced in the garden area since we added a dog to our family during the winter and we didn’t want her digging in the garden beds. Things looked great and I was so excited to have a garden again. We’d recently found out that we’d be expecting our second child and I wanted good fresh veggies to eat to feed my growing baby.

My list grew for that year. Again I had green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, jalapenos, bell peppers but I also added banana peppers, lettuce, broccoli and carrots.

We never got to eat the broccoli because it went to flower the day it was ready to be picked. The tomatoes shriveled in the heat and the cucumbers went bitter. The green beans, jalapenos, bell peppers and carrots were by far the best crops. I had more hot peppers than I knew what to do with!

I think that if it hadn’t been for the heat my garden would have been fantastic. We had some tomatoes and lettuce, enough for a few salads. We got a couple good cucumbers but nothing like the year prior where I was able to make pickles.

So once again I am back to doing research on gardening. This winter has been mild and my fingers are crossed that this summer will follow along in that trend. This year my goal is to have a baby garden. I want to grow food for my family, including foods that I can blend for my daughter who will be starting solid foods this summer. I want to make sure she has the best food available for her and I want enough that I can freeze vegetables to use in the winter time.

Again, I’m planning on expanding my garden. I plan to do raised beds but I’m moving away from the solitary boxes. I want to outline the fence area with beds and have on bed in the middle of the area we have for the garden. I want a small area set aside so my four year old can have his own garden to be responsible for. I’ll let him plant whatever he wants in that spot (he’s going to pick broccoli…)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Back in early 2008 I decided that I wanted to "go green".  I bought the tee shirts (which weren't organic cotton or made from recycled materials) and started doing my research on how to green the home.  At the time my family was living in South Korea and my options for greening were limited.  I bought cloth napkins and started using those.   I researched cloth diapers and bought some for my first child.  I didn't educate myself enough on the cloth diapers and ended up changing to disposable diapers.  I had bought one size cloth diapers and my son quickly out grew them.  Shipping charges from small companies to Korea were expensive and many didn't even ship internationally.  I tried to purchase biodegradable diapers when I could but more often than not we simply purchased what was the least expensive. 

We returned to the states in late 2009 and once again I began looking at greener options.  I had organic options at hand now and things were much easier to find.  However, I didn't return to cloth diapering at that time nor did I take any major steps to green my home.  I did begin planning a garden plot which I started in 2010 and I tried to make it as organic as possible.  I bought the organic soil and even organic seeds and seedlings.  I researched companion planting and mapped out my plot.  I made raised beds and tended the garden daily.   Until the squash bugs came and wiped out my squash crop in less than three days.  I tried the natural remedies I read online. I used a mix of hot sauce and water.  I used soaps.  Nothing would remove these suckers from my garden.  So I bought pesticide.  I treated my garden weekly.  Eventually the bugs were back and they took out my cucumber crop too.  The the horn worms came and took out the tomatoes and the hot peppers.

In early 2011 we found out that we were expecting our second child who was due in December.  Learning that we were going to be responsible for another life sealed the deal for me on finding a more natural path.  I cut down on the chemicals we used in the house and started making my own cleaning solutions.  Once again I began researching cloth diapering and I was amazed at how things had changed in just four years.  I started ordering diapers.  I purchased some second hand.  I found low VOC paint for the baby's room.  I made my own bedding for the nursery.  I made my own burp rags.  Along the way I realized that I could easily sell these things that I was making for my own child and I started a small online craft business.  I didn't make much in 2011 from the crafts but I was able to get my husband and son Christmas presents with what I made.

I researched baby bottles all over again to refresh my memory since the BPA scare had just come about when I was pregnant with my son in 2007.  I made sure to read all the labels of things I was getting and double checked that things were BPA free.  I found green options for baby toys and utensils from a company called Green Sprouts

I decided to breastfeed again which was the easiest decision to make.  My son was breastfed and treating my daughter any different wasn't even an option. 

I started going to tag sales to find second hand items for the baby.  To me, going green isn't just about buying all natural or organic things.  I try to focus on the reusing and recycling aspect more than doing everything organically.  Why go and spend thirty dollars on a baby outfit that is made from organic cloth when I can buy many more outfits second hand?  I have clothes for my daughter packed away in bins now - we have enough to last her until she turns a year old and I doubt I've spent more than one hundred dollars on second hand clothing.  Of course I bought her a few new things, in my excitement at finding out I was having a girl how could I not? 

Once again I'm back to reading about making my own baby foods.  I was able to do this with my son for awhile and it was great.  Sure, it is a little more work but it is easy to take a couple hours and make enough food to last a week or two.  And I'd rather make my own baby food and know what is in it than buy something overly processed from the store.  There are some great companies out there that make natural baby foods (big fan of Happy Baby right now) and I think those are going to be great options for me when traveling or when out on errands. 

My goal for my blog is to document my experiences with this journey and the chronicle my daughters first year, my sons fourth year and beyond that.  I want to share all of this with family and friends and hopefully other people can learn from my experiences and my mistakes.  Maybe this whole "natural parenting" thing will rub off on some other people out there.  It's so rewarding to put in a little effort to do things yourself.  If my children can benefit from the things that I do then that is the best payment I can ever ask for.