Friday, September 30, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: September 2016

Wow, I really feel like I ought to just copy/paste last month's garden tally column and just move right along. But that wouldn't be fair.

OK, so for the September report. September was really very much another August for me. My August, as you will remember, was horrid thanks to the diminished garden size from the shade of the totally-unnecessary oak tree. (I supposedly have an oak tree removal quote coming soon, but we'll see.)

September was more of the same, except I stubbornly held in there where my friends had given up.  Rat finks. Here they were on Labor Day, posting Facebook updates about how they were taking out the garden because they were tired, for heaven's sake.  They'd gotten enough tomatoes and enough beans, and they were calling it quits.

Folks, my beans didn't do anything exciting until mid-September, and my tomatoes are still producing in that completely-lackluster fashion they do this time of year. I'm getting all "cooking tomatoes," with not as much flavor as I would get when the darlings are exposed to warmth and sun and are ready to eat raw, but I will take them.

I'm also pleased that the "winter garden" seems to have kicked in.  We spent last weekend putting up the pop-up greenhouse and hauling the peppers and a lone tomato in there, then building a cold frame around some cucumbers.  Those, plus some potatoes and kale, all seem to be doing well.

So we actually realized a decent cumulative profit for the first time this month. Like everything I seem to do this year, it is taking more work than I would have hoped to make a dent, but every little bit helps.  I'm looking at you, green beans.

Cumulative Totals

Total Ounces Harvested: 1209.5
Total Pounds Harvested: 75.59375
Total Value of Harvest: $289.58

Total Expenditures: (-$232.88)

Total Profit: $56.70
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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Power of Yelling at Your Plants

Remember your elementary school science experiments? Because it tends not to be a good idea to let 8 year olds plan experiments involving caustic chemicals or live electrical wires, at least one class would always downshift into a project about the effects of talking to plants. The control group plants would be watered but otherwise ignored, while the experimental group would be talked to on a daily basis.

If the teacher were really on her game, there would be a second experimental group. For this group, the plants would not be talked to but yelled at and subject to verbal abuse. If you were lucky, you'd see results that demonstrated that kind words make living things thrive and abuse and indifference make them suffer.

Of course, there was always that killjoy that had to point out that the group that whispered sweet nothings to their plants were probably leaning in closer and marginally increasing the amount of carbon dioxide the plants were exposed to from juvenile exhalations. And, let's not forget that Mrs. Vandersnoot's south-facing classroom, which was roughly 117 degrees for the entire month of September, got an uneven pattern of light exposure across her windows, meaning the "ignored" group was actually in the shade part of the day or something.

Anyway, I seem to have replicated this experiment in a totally non-scientific way this year. Last year, my good friend told me that she had had success keeping her pepper plants in the garage and hauling them back out for a second season the coming summer. I think some of her peppers are currently on their third year. Anyway, I had to try it.

I saved three huge ceramic planters full of pepper plants in the sunroom. One died, but two were alive come spring, albeit looking a little rough. I hauled the remaining two out into the sun in the spring and hoped they'd produce.

At first, it looked like they would do so, but with not a great yeild; I'd get a couple of peppers once in a while all summer, which was basically fine for our consumption needs.

Then, about a month ago, I pointed at one of the second-year peppers and said out loud, "This thing never has looked healthy, and I'm yanking it at the end of the season."

Lo and behold, the darn thing proceeded to shoot up 6 inches over the course of a week, leaf out in places it was barren before, and set the most impressive set of peppers I have seen in a long time. I now have no choice but to make sure that this plant, along with two other containers full, is put into the greenhouse for protection during the fall, then haul it back into the sunroom or garage or wherever Mr. FC&G's back can stand to carry it.  At this rate, I could be harvesting peppers in November if I get all of these blossoms pollinated before I take them inside.

Maybe I should experiment by being nice to the peppers and bringing them into the house foyer. I haven't exactly broached this subject with Mr. FC&G. Wonder how good peppers are at healing lower back strain?
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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: August 2016

Right now, the garden is like a metaphor for my entire financial life.  With the exception of my primary business (thank heavens), every single one of my side businesses have taken simply forever to get into the black this year. The garden has been no exception. Where I should be ending August with over $300 in savings/profit, I'm actually ending the month just $13 to the good. That's pretty discouraging.

Part of it is the need for a complete garden overhaul. Mr. FC&G and I have been having a debate over the usefulness of an oak tree in the back yard.  When we moved in 15 years ago, this tree was small enough to allow two big areas of ground that received 14 or more hours of sunlight during high season. I was able to put a raised bed in one of the areas and a big garden in the other.

Today, the oak shades both areas so much that I have half the garden size that I once did, and the raised bed (and my clothes line) gets no sun at all. Mr. FC&G had the tree trimmers thin the tree out last year, but it is still casting a lot of shade. This is great if your dream is to have a shade-dappled back yard, but if you want as much sun for yourself and your garden as possible, it is a nightmare.

I want that tree gone.  We have two humongous pine trees, a mature sweet gum, at least one mature maple, and another mature oak elsewhere on the property. This tree isn't pretty, it isn't useful, and I want it gone. It may look like a lovely tree to some, but it looks like firewood on the hoof to me. Stay tuned.

The upshot is that the garden was not terribly productive. Oh, the tomatoes did OK; since I grew most of them from saved seed, they were profitable, and even the ones I purchased were largely profitable. Cucumbers and zucchini were my saving grace, even though my Straight Eight cukes failed this year, making for a very small pickle batch. The beans have grown and flourished and not given a single bean until last week (the middle of September), when the shade finally shifted so that they got more than 8 hours of sunshine during the day.

All in all the garden kept us fed, but it did little more. I'm still hopeful for my "winter garden" (with tomatoes in a container, pictured above) and the sunroom crops to boost us a little more into the black. But in a year in which we really could have used a robust way to slash the food bill, it just didn't happen.


Cumulative Totals

Total Ounces Harvested: 1058.5
Total Pounds Harvested: 66.15625

Total Value of Harvest: $246.49

Total Expenditures: ($232.88)

Total Profit: $13.61
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My Sustainable Car, Part II

I recently got a question on the blog about whether or not I still had my sustainable automobile. Looking back, I see that I wrote a post about all the things I do to preserve my car back when she had just turned 15.

Well, this October will be her 19th "birthday," since I took delivery of her on October 31, 1997. And yes, I do still have her, and she is still my sustainable baby.

Since I last wrote, I have retired her to being mostly a pleasure vehicle, so I literally am that cliched person who drives the good car primarily to the farmer's market. (Although, with the narrow parking lot and the aggressive shoppers, I'm not entirely sure I shouldn't be driving a bigger car; those people are fierce!) But Mr. FC&G and I have a nice system where he drives our everyday car unless the weather is bad or unless I need to drive a long distance, when I would be more comfortable with a more workmanlike automobile. I drive my car locally for errands and the like.

One thing I've added to my maintenance roster is fuel stabilizer. Both Papa FC&G and my cousin goaded me a bit this year, and I have to admit I was neglectful last year. Since I only run through a tank or two of gas a year and let the car sit in the garage during the worst of the winter, I needed to do something to maintain her internal health.

Fuel stabilizer, I'm told by Papa FC&G, keeps the gas from breaking down during storage and prevents varnish from forming on the fuel lines or injectors.  The brand I bought, Sta-bil, can be used in almost any engine, so we plan on using some in the lawn mowers once we are done with them for the season. Papa FC&G even recommends running a dose of stabilizer through the other cars that get more use, because he says it helps keep the engine in good shape.  For something like $14 for a 32 ounce bottle (which should do all of the cars and mowers with some leftover), it seems like good preventive maintenance.

A conversation with another cousin got me to thinking. So far, I've been lucky enough to buy all my cars outright; we try to never take a car loan (although that could happen). Because we don't like car loan debt, we have to try to keep our automobiles running smoothly as long as possible.  No, we're not driving the fanciest cars on the block; we don't have all the bells and whistles we would like to have. But we don't have the debt, and with a little preventive maintenance, we have reliable transportation. I'll count that as a win.

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