Friday, March 23, 2012

Look at my plants!

All my plants are in the ground now, and I've even planted some bean and okra seeds. This is the hardest part for me. After weeks and weeks of carefully tending to my seedlings, making sure they're little environment was just right, I have to put them out in the ground and hope that they do well on their own. Like little chirrens, all growed up. Obviously, I've done my best to make sure they could do well outside and that the soil they're in has what they need to grow. But, still, they're out there in the big bad world of wind and rain and bugs and squirrels. But, OH MY GOODNESS, they're doing SO WELL! This is the best my garden has ever looked and I am totally beside myself with excitement. I feel like a little kid showing off her accomplishments to mom and dad. I secretly wish Doug would put a photo of the garden on the refrigerator to show he's proud. =) I'm really hopeful that this year will be the year that all my hard work really pays off and I have a big jungle-y garden with lots of fresh food for us to eat. I've gotten a few things out of the garden the past two years, but nothing like what I've hoped for. This is the year, guys. Get ready. And, the best part is I've done it all 100% myself, growing these little plants from seed without any chemicals or yucky stuff. From seed! My apologies for being a big fat brag, but I haven't had such a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment in quite a long time. Maybe ever. Here are some pictures of the garden for you. Look how healthy everything looks! Grow, plants, grow! Make me some veggies!

Here is some okra starting to poke out of the ground!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Garden Update and Compost Stuff

Today, I planted my tomato seedlings in the ground! They're actually pretty far beyond "seedling" stage and I think they were getting as desperate to get into the ground as I was to put them there. We've had a lot of wind and rain lately, so I wanted to make sure they weren't going to topple over. Plus, we went out of town for three days, so I needed to wait until we got back to make the big move. Well, here they are! Hooray! They look pretty happy, I think.

Last year, I learned a lot about tomatoes. Much to my surprise, I learned that tomatoes are not native to climates like we have on the Gulf Coast. They like warm, dry areas and they need cool nights. So, in order to get a good crop of tomatoes down here on coastal Alabama, they need to be planted pretty early in the Spring. They are not, in fact, a middle of July type of veggie for this area. I did not know this. But last year I sent a tomato seedling I had grown with my sister down to her home in South Florida. Her tomato plant did much better than mine. Why? Because, even though South Florida is hot and humid, they have cool nights in the summertime. We do not. When it's 95 degrees here, it's still 95 degrees at 10:00 at night. Also, last summer was particularly hot for us and we got basically no rain. So....this year should be different for my maters. I started early, so the temperatures are not too hot, and they're looking awesome so far.
I've done a lot of things differently this year. I've enriched my soil with some great compost from friends, and have some fish emulsion (which is as gross as it sounds) to fertilize everything with. I ordered my seeds from a different place this year, just to try something new. They're from
Seed Savers Exchange. I'll probably get my seeds from them again next time, I've had such a positive experience. I really like that they give you a bit of history about each variety of seed. I have a variety of beans that were developed right here in Mobile! That's neat, I think. I also used a new seedling tray (called Speedling Tray) that has been fantastic. Each pod is pyramidal rather than squared off, so the roots grow in a downward direction. This keeps the seedlings from becoming root bound (with their roots all swirled around themselves) and also encourages that downward growth when you plant them in the ground. The seedlings I've pulled out of the tray so far have had beautiful, healthy roots nearly 6 inches long, all in a lovely straight ribbon. No tangles or swirliness! The tray looks like this:

Those are seedlings of JalapeƱos, sweet red peppers, and basil. The peppers and eggplant ready for bigger pots, but it's still a bit early for them to go in the ground. They like pretty hot weather. So, the garden stuff is going really well this year and I feel really excited and encouraged. I was worried I wouldn't have the time or energy to devote to the garden with Lucy in the picture now, but actually the opposite is true. I find myself more motivated to do it because I only have little slivers of time when I can, which are during her naps. Her naps are only about and hour each (maybe two, if we've had a big day), so I have to sort of be ready to go outside when she goes down for nap, then run out and tend to my plants with the monitor on my hip. I seem to get more done when I know that my window of opportunity is small.
Anywho, on to compost. We started our compost bin and I was really frustrated and discouraged at first because it was so yucky. Every time I went out to dump our kitchen scraps in the bin, I was totally bombarded by fruit flies. Then, we had a terrible time with fire ants invading the bin and had to resort (more than once) to dumping boiling water on the compost pile to kill the ants. Thank goodness for being able to find what to do on the internet, right? The fruit fly problem was an easy fix. I realized I wasn't covering up the kitchen scraps with "browns," like I should have been, so I started adding dead leaves and pine straw each time I added kitchen scraps. This didn't eliminate the flies, but kept them from being in my face when I went out there. And we took care of the ants by finding a new home for the bin, on the ground instead of raised a few inches, and by dumping boiling water on them. So now, we finally have a nice, not-as-gross compost pile. We don't quite have usable compost yet, but the pile continues to shrink, so that's a good sign. Here's our bin, which we made by drilling holes in a $20 heavy-duty trash can with a tight-fitting lid:

We collect our kitchen scraps in a little plastic bin that we keep under the sink. If we don't take it outside often enough, it does get moldy, so how often you need to take it to the bin depends on your tolerance of mold growing under your sink. My tolerance is surprisingly high, if you wanted to know. I can't go to the bin with Lucy because of all the bugs and the fact that I need both hands. I do not like walking to the compost pile in the rain. I'd rather let the mold sit another day. And that's that. Here's our kitchen bin:

So much stuff can go in the compost. We mostly put kitchen scraps (leftover pieces of chopped veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, old bread, etc.) but occasionally we'll add paper towels and such. And between composting and recycling, we have virtually no trash. I think it would probably take a month or longer to fill up our 13-gallon trash can. It's so great! And very rewarding. Hopefully, I will very soon have news of my first little tomatoes sprouting!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hoopla about that video...

There has been SO much talk about this KONY 2012 thingamajig, and I feel (surprisingly) compelled to participate in the conversation. I've enjoyed reading articles and watching videos of all the back-and-forth, and the (sometimes nasty) criticism of the video and the Invisible Children organization and it's all caused me to revisit ideas of my own that have been sort of dormant for a while. I guess it's not very often that I chat about the plight of African children.

I watched the video in its entirety. I shared it on my Facebook page. Then I went to the kitchen to start dinner.

I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to say that I went right back to what I was doing after watching the video, I did not shed a tear, nor did I think, even for a second, about getting one of those kits. I've seen such videos before and I agree with people who criticize them as emotionally manipulative and essentially meaningless. But, I had never heard of Joseph Kony until I watched the video, and the day after watching the video I felt compelled to read more about the situation in Africa. The video at least did that, and that counts for something I think.

Waaay back when I was a student at Auburn and still admittedly a little angry at the world, I remember all the Invisible Children hoopla on campus and I remember feeling very irritated about it. I also remember feeling very irritated about GAP's very loud RED campaign against AIDS in Africa. Remember all that? Whatever happened with those shirts? I was irritated that it had become so hip and trendy to talk about saving children in Africa. I was irritated that I was made to feel guilty for wanting a new pair of $60 jeans when some people had no clean water. And meanwhile, what about the people in our own city or country who need our help? What about American children who have no place safe to go and don't have any food to eat? Who's wearing T-Shirts for them? I remember feeling that part of the reason that people are so eager to jump on the Africa bandwagon is because there is a certain sense of glamour to it, ya know? It makes something like spending every Tuesday at a soup kitchen seem terribly mundane. Also, it's abstract. Most people who buy the shirt or wear the bracelet, or even send money, don't actually get their hands dirty in really making a tangible difference. And that's okay! Money is certainly useful. But, people get their emotional high, which often fizzles out quickly, and then what? Has any difference really been made?

I agree with most of the intelligent, matter-of-fact criticism of the video. Some critics, though, are making equally sensational and sometimes downright mean statements about the video, the guys who made it, and the whole Invisible Children organization. To those crazies, I'd like to say, "You're obnoxious assholes. Cut the guys some slack. They're trying to do something good here." But I think the more interesting discussion lies in these issue of "awareness" as an end in itself and the "white man's burden" or "savior complex." Raising awareness is something we love to do. It makes us feel good. It gives us a reason to have fun events and parties. And we think it's important. But is it, really? I'm not sure that it is. This article from The Atlantic sums it up nicely, I think:

"The problem is that these campaigns mobilize generalized concern -- a demand to do something. That isn't enough to counterbalance the costs of interventions, because Americans' heartlessness or apathy was never the biggest problem. Taking tough action against groups, like the LRA, that are willing to commit mass atrocities will inevitably turn messy. Soldiers will be killed, sometimes horribly. (Think Somalia.) Military advice and training to the local forces attempting to suppress atrocities can have terrible unforeseen consequences...
The t-shirts, posters, and wristbands of awareness campaigns like Invisible Children's do not mention that death and failure often lie along the road to permanent solutions, nor that the simplest "solutions" are often the worst. (In fairness, you try fitting that on a bracelet.) Instead, they shift the goal from complicated and messy efforts at political resolution to something more palatable and less controversial: ever more awareness.
By making it an end in and of itself, awareness stands in for, and maybe even displaces, specific solutions to these very complicated problems. Campaigns that focus on bracelets and social media absorb resources that could go toward more effective advocacy, and take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more effective advocacy...
For all the excitement around awareness as an end in itself, one could be forgiven for forming the impression that there might be a "Stop Atrocity" button blanketed in dust in the basement of the White House, awaiting the moment when the tide of awareness reaches the Oval Office...
Treating awareness as a goal in and of itself risks compassion fatigue -- most people only have so much time and energy to devote to far-away causes -- and ultimately squanders political momentum that could be used to push for effective solutions. Actually stopping atrocities would require sustained effort, as well as significant dedication of time and resources that the U.S. is, at the moment, ill-prepared and unwilling to allocate. It would also require a decision on whether we are willing to risk American lives in places where we have no obvious political or economic interests, and just how much money it is appropriate to spend on humanitarian crises overseas when 3 out of 10 children in our nation's capital live at or below the poverty line. The genuine difficulty of those questions can't be eased by sharing a YouTube video or putting up posters..."

I'm not entirely sure that we should be willing to risk American lives (not to mention go even further into debt) to fix another country's problems. Conflict in Africa is obviously a complicated issue. But, I think it's really important to note that whether or not the U.S. government should get involved is also a complicated issue. Are we the world's moral police? Should we spend our money and risk our soldier's lives to end a war that isn't ours? Isn't that part of the reason so many of us are wondering why we're still in Iraq? It's complicated, messy stuff. And that's really all I have to say about that.

Also, on a lighter note, Awareness is #18 on the list of Stuff White People like. It is, of course, dead on.

And you can find the entire article from The Atlantic here: