Sunday, January 31, 2010


Foodwise, I am vegan... 98% of the time, anyway. I also aim to eat primarily organic, whole foods and use organic products as much as possible. It can be expensive sometimes and I am on a fixed grocery & household budget. I've had the same budget for 4+ years now and while the cost of food has risen, I've had to make changes in how I feed the family in order to stay within that same budget.

I've gotten creative in how I shop for my staples and other products. Recently I started a co-op for a wonderful company called "Azure Standard". They carry thousands and thousands of natural, organic food and other products (from supplements, pet supplies, and garden stuff to household products), many of which they produce themselves on a family run farm of 2,000 acres in Dufur, Oregon. If you live or work in Hood River, Oregon and are interested in joining our co-op, let me know.

If you are not in this area, but are interested in their products, they deliver to 7 states. Check them out!

The Buzz on Mapping out my Garden

It's good to have pictures of the garden to refer back to this time of year. Not only is it inspirational, but it serves as proof that life exists beneath the surface of this seemingly barren soil. Right now, the garden looks pretty bare. Although I know there are bulbs and root balls just waiting to sprout new life in a few short weeks. As a matter of fact, the rhubarb has already popped its' pink little heads up through the surface, smiling up at me, making my mouth water for a fresh new season of crisp, juicy produce.

Meanwhile, here we are in the dead of winter, thankfully with the holidays finally behind us. The perfect time to settle down and focus on mapping out the garden plot for this year. As with any style of gardening, it is always prudent to rotate your crops. So, every year I sit down with my previous charts and get on with the buzz-ness of mapping out the vegetable garden. Each year is a new experience. I focus on several rules of thumb when planning my garden:
  1. crop rotation
  2. companion planting
  3. continuous planting (harvest a square & then replant something in its' place)
  4. sun/shade patterns
  5. water requirements of the plant groups
  6. soil requirements of the plant groups
Sound complicated? Well, it does require some thought, some time, and some experience. First of all, it helps to know the plants' requirements. Therefore, it helps to know your garden location's sun/shade patterns as well as the condition of your soil... ph balance, soil type... what kind of amendments are needed to grow strong, healthy plants.

This picture was taken the first week of May, 2009. Twine marks my squares. Labels are for identification, planting date, and expected harvest date - - for continuous crop planning.
I have a raised bed garden for growing my vegetables. I use the Square Foot Garden method that Mel Bartholomew is famous for but instead of using the cup & bucket watering method he suggests, my husband blessed me by installing an automated drip watering system. This is a huge time-saver and a literal crop saver for those times when we are out of town for a few days or more. I initially dug down and amended my soil with peat moss, manure, vermiculite, and perlite. THEN I built the boxes up and put in Mel's original soil mix, which is a lot more complex than the new and improved soil mix which is SIMPLE: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 course vermiculite, and 1/3 good compost. I am very fortunate to live near a commercial organic mushroom grower. So, I get loads of fertile organic mushroom compost with a ph balance of 6.5 and a balanced NPK.

This is an overview of my raised beds... well, most of them... from last spring. As you can see, I do like to intersperce flowers - even inedible ones, if they win my heart over - like these tulips that Livy's grandma sent over from The Netherlands. So far, they haven't "gotten in the way" of producing an abundant harvest, so for now they will not need to be moved into the outer perimeter of the yard where they are in harms way of our chi's who like to feast on the young shoots just before they bloom!

Taking seasonal pics helps me "remember" where my permanent fixtures are... chives, carnations, thyme, tulips, echinacea, arnica, bee balm, and a few others. As the season progresses, I take other pics which help me recall where I've planted things in the past year or so, so I can plan accordingly. As mentioned, crop rotation is an important aspect of sustainable organic gardening practices. Why? Well, it helps with pest control, soil balance, and management of diseases - especially soil borne ones.

ANYWAY... I like to use my excel program for mapping out my garden. I created a template with my boxes all mapped out for location and with my permanent fixtures already in place. Excel is perfect for mapping out each box with the individual squares for planting. I have a file on my harddrive full of graphics of each type of vegetable I grow, which I then insert into the individual squares for a full visual map of my garden plan for the year. I used to use graph paper and write the names of things in... but this is so much easier to move things around as I progress in the planning stages! I love, love, love it.

Each year, I make a list of what I want to grow & how much I want to harvest and I go from there. I know I can't grow my tomatoes in the same place as they grew in the past two seasons, so I start with those. They grow up a trellis and shade others nearby, so I go from there. What grows well with tomatoes and doesn't mind some shade? Same goes for my pole beans, cucs, melon and squash. Those all grow vertically and affect the plant groups around them. So, I start with those and go from there. I have a limited amount of space and a maximum of 6 hours of sun in certain coveted spots of my yard... less than that in most other areas of the yard. So, I have to make the most of my trellises and the "sunny" areas that I do have.

SPEAKING OF RHUBARB... this year, I need to move one of my rhubarb plants. One is producing well, the other one peters out after the initial harvest. It needs deeper ground and more sun than what it's getting. So... I need to find a good 3 foot square area somewhere in my perimeter beds where it can thrive - OR - give it away to someone who can appreciate it as much as we do! Hubby's Favorite Rhubarb Pie, May 1st, 2009.

Looking at this picture reminds me that I have some rhubarb left in the freezer! I think I'll have to surprise DH with a pie this afternoon. Oh my, won't that go well with a cup of tea while mulling over my garden maps?! :o) Doesn't get much better than that!