Direct sowing peas, radishes and greens

I started sowing these guys today. It was sprinkling rain out a little bit and I only got through one large bed before I ran out of time. I broadcast the claytonia, used the center hole for peas and the blue holes for radishes.

Landrace Garlic?

I bought a bunch of different varieties of garlic in the hopes of landracing them. What I hadn’t considered is that modern garlic typically doesn’t cross-pollinate, in fact doesn’t even self-pollinate. Most garlic is propagated by planting individual cloves or by planting bubils, which are like mini-cloves that form in a bunch at the top of the garlic plant. Both of those result in clones.

A landrace is when a range of different open-pollinated varieties are allowed to freely cross and overtake each other. This results in a variety which is adapted to the local conditions. So in order to have a landrace, you need to be able to cross.

For garlic, this means surgically opening the developing heads and cutting away any developing bubils. This gives the flowers a chance to develop and be fertilized. (Whether they fertilize themselves or each other is yet another story.) You can see in the second photo below that some of the umbels I received actually had very good flower development. Others were almost entirely bubils.

All of the varieties I selected are ones I would be happy to have for eternity. I picked hardneck garlic varieties with a long shelf life. Beyond that I’m pretty easy, I enjoy garlic in all of its forms. I’m not sure yet if I’ll go to the effort of trying to landrace them or if I’ll just enjoy a polyculture of the original varieties. I can definitely see benefits to both.

Starting seedlings

This weekend I started a few flats of seedlings. One tray is entirely snapdragons, one of my favorites. A second is other types of flowers (including blanket flower and echinacea) and the third is early spring vegetables such as onions. (The fourth flat will be asparagus, which requires soaking in water for 24h before planting.) I already had the materials for this except the lights, which were on sale. Will be interesting to see how they perform. These are DOMMIA 50W LED lights and I’m using them at 100% intensity. I don’t have a light meter and it seems like overkill so I’m just going to wing it.

Herb garden

Originally I was planning to put the kitchen herb garden on the front deck (which the kitchen door opens onto), but unfortunately it’s covered, so that area receives no light and no rain. Thankfully I already have a small indoor hydroponic unit that I used while I was living in an apartment. This weekend I set it up and planted 10 different types of herbs. This unit is intended to be used with proprietary coir discs with fertilizer in them. I don’t really want to be beholden to that forever (they are expensive) so I’m trying rock wool with hydroponic fertilizer in the water. Not sure how it will work. There is no bubbler in these so… .🤷

More (or less) trees

Last time, I figured the dimensions of my backyard would allow for 10 new fruit trees around the perimeter. Taking a look at the actual yard, I saw room for 4 along the east and 1 along the south. The issue is that there is already quite a lot of outbuildings and random installments around the property that planting trees all around the perimeter would make certain parts of the yard inaccessible. In the future I would like to remove some of these but for the short term, 5 new trees in the backyard seems to be the limit.

In the meantime I checked out Dinter Nursery for the first time. I don’t think they have received their new fruit trees yet but I picked up this beautiful and fragrant witch hazel for the front yard. Witch hazel is one of those rare plants that blooms in the wintertime and it has antimicrobial properties often used to treat acne and other skin conditions. I plan to plant it so that I can see it from my window while I’m working.

An excuse to plant fruit trees

My new backyard is extremely windy. I’m not sure if it’s seasonal or not, but it’s enough that I have patio furniture being whipped halfway across the yard. I’m skeptical that tender veggie plants are going to be happy under that much wind stress, so I’ve started planning a windbreak. I’ve never set up a windbreak before but here’s what I figured out so far. 

A windbreak is typically a fence with holes in it or a line of live bushes/trees. In both cases you want the windbreak to have holes in it. The purpose is not to fence the wind out completely, but to force it to detour, which slows the wind down. Trying to put up a solid fence as a windbreak will put a lot of pressure on the fence and can cause the fence to be pushed down by the wind. Instead, if the wind needs to be slowed down further, you should add another layer of wind fencing. 

When looking at wind fencing in general, the recommendation was to place the windbreak perpendicular to the wind. But that just raises the question, from which directions do the wind come? In a large open area, it might be sufficient to know the prevailing wind direction for the general region, but my yard is surrounded by other houses and obstacles that are already slowing the wind from certain directions. So to know for my yard specifically, I could buy a digital wind vane that captures the direction and speed of the wind, and observe the readings over the course of a year. There are some problems with this. Firstly, I wasn’t able to find any inexpensive wind vanes that could do this. Secondly, I don’t really want to wait a full year to figure out where the windbreak should go. Thirdly, if any of my neighbors decide to change the layout of their yards, that will affect the winds. So could climate change, over the course of some years. 

Then I saw one wise person pointing out that the wind can come from any direction where the wind isn’t blocked. I saw this on the little island when a freak windstorm came in and toppled a ton of trees which were pushed in a direction they were unused to being pushed in. And I remembered seeing photos of farms with trees around all four sides. Works for me… I don’t want to block the light too much but a windbreak doesn’t have to be tall to protect plants. I could plant a bunch of short fruit trees around the perimeter of the backyard. 

Based on a very rough measurement, the back fence is about 43′ and each side fence is 62′.  Some of that length won’t allow for trees because of the outbuildings in my yard and neighbours’ yards being pushed right up against the fence, but that’s enough information to start figuring out roughly how many trees I need to plant.

A dwarf fruit tree is about 10′-12′ in height and width. The ideal porosity (amount of empty spacing) of a windbreak is about 25-33%. With 10′ trees and 25% porosity, each tree accounts for 12’5″ worth of fence. With 12′ trees and 33% porosity, that’s about 16′ per tree. So that’s about 10 trees.

An incomplete list of dwarf fruit trees that will grow here: apricot, apples, cherries, figs, hazelnut (dwarfs as a bush), mulberry, pear, plum, quince. I like: cherries (2), hazelnut (2), apple (cross with existing apple), apricot (self-fertile), pear (2), plum (2), in that order. Yum! So work left to do is: re-measure the yard to confirm tree placements and how many trees make the cut, and source the actual trees. Dinter Nursery delivers and Ken-Dor stocks apricots so those will probably be where I’ll start.

Spring!

Spring is coming/here and I’ve upgraded from an apartment patio to an actual proper plot again. Aside from what’s pictured here, there’s also a mature apple tree, some sort of espaliered thing, a couple more raised beds and the front yard, which I’m thinking of using for some mix of kitchen herbs and flowers. It feels like I did a little upward spiral since the start of 2020. Daily life is very similar, but everything is better in every way. I can’t wait for peas.

Book Review: How to Keep House While Drowning

I found this one through TikTok somehow. It’s a book about housekeeping for spoonies (people with chronic illnesses that cause them to have low or variable energy from day to day). It’s not very long (less than 200 pages, with skippable sections) and I think it’s really worth reading if you have a chronic illness and you ever struggle to keep on top of care tasks. The author also includes other essential care tasks such as bathing and childcare. Unlike many other books about cleaning, this book tries to dispel all the moralizing myths about the “right” way to keep a house. Instead, KC takes a very pragmatic approach.

Firstly, our spaces exist to serve us, not the other way around. The real reason to tidy a space is not because tidy spaces are morally superior or “the right way”. It’s because there are concrete benefits to tidying, such as being less stressed out because you can easily find things and don’t have as much visual clutter around you. This shift in perspective is important because it takes the shame factor out of cleaning and allows us to make a real assessment of those benefits against the costs. If you only have enough spoons to bathe OR do the dishes, you can make that decision based on the relative utility of those choices and move on with your life. If half your laundry is dirty but you know your chronic pain can’t handle hauling laundry today, you can make a decision to defer without feeling like you’ve done something wrong, especially since you still have laundry to wear for a little while yet.

Plan for what you’ll actually do, not what you wish you’ll do.

To take this way of thinking to another level: since you are a person with unusual needs, it makes sense if your spaces are unusual, in service of those needs. Instead of setting everything up as a “normal” person would and beating yourself up when those systems don’t work, pay attention to your actual behaviour and set up systems around that. Basically, you’re going to pave the desire paths that you see around your home. One of KC’s examples was that at one point, she was doing laundry and outfit planning for the whole household, but she was spending a ton of time folding it and putting it away in five different closets, which was exhausting. So she just stopped putting it away. She kept all the clean laundry in the laundry room and then she had a centralized place to pick everyone’s clothes from. Another example: her general “fix” for clutter is to add an appropriate basket to wherever it pops up. She keeps a dirty laundry basket in every room of her home. After reading her book, I put my largest recycling bin in the living room instead of in the kitchen, and my apartment is a lot less messy as a result.

I would definitely recommend this book. Even if you’re not a spoonie I think the concept of designing your space around how you actually use it makes a lot of sense. KC Davis also has a podcast called Struggle Care and a bunch of social media you can find on her site.