In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Weathering the Weather

This week, I should have been enjoying my first real strawberry harvest.

This year, one of my gardening goals was to take better care of my plants, making sure they had plenty of space and healthy dirt and fertilizer. Taking a more proactive approach to gardening, as it were, rather than always playing defense against my garden foes. For instance, aphids often infest my strawberry plants, but if the plants are healthy they can still produce decent fruit.

They loved the attention. My strawberries were healthier and happier and thrived.

Strawberry Bed

Strawberry Bed

And then the storms and rain hit last week. Tuesday night, the hail drummed our house for 45 minutes. The storm Tuesday night resulted in local waterways flooding, and Catoctin Creek literally washed away parts of the road I live on. (Luckily, we live further uphill so weren’t impacted by the flooding.) The streets of downtown Frederick, MD gushed with water.

My strawberry crop is, in a word, ruined.

Sad Strawberry Mush

Sad Strawberry Mush

In a brief break in the rain yesterday, I cleaned out as much of the damaged, diseased, and rotting fruit as I could. Removed leaves clinging to broken stems. Even plucked off unripe fruit that was already showing water spots. (PSA: half rotten mushy strawberries may be the grossest things to touch. Ever.)

I shouldn’t complain, right? My livelihood doesn’t depend on these berries; my family won’t starve as a result of a lost crop. And many people suffered much worse as a result of the weather.

But it’s still a humbling reminder that whatever humans might think we control in the world, we are still entirely at the mercy of – and ultimately dependent on – the good will of Mother Nature.


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Well… Chit

If you read my post yesterday (but missed my reply to Carolee, of the Herbal Blessings Blog), you might be wondering why I would ever have planted peas last Sunday, knowing there was a snow storm in the forecast.

In a word: chit.

That’s right. I said it. In my blog, no less.

After reading (most of) Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, I decided to try chitting as a way of jump starting seed germination. The approach is similar to sprouting seeds to eat, except when the roots are just becoming prominent, you plant the seeds in prepared soil. If you wait too long, the fragile roots grow increasingly susceptible to damage when planting.

Chitting takes three to four days, and in the Mid-Atlantic you NEVER know what the forecast will be in a few days, much less a week.  In other words, when the seedlings are ready to plant, you plant – oncoming winter storm or no.

… or you let them fully mature into tasty pea sprouts, and try chitting a new batch in another week! (That’s probably what I’ll do next time.)


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Happy First Day of Spring!

Spring Arrives in Maryland

Spring arrives in Maryland – bringing with it snow

Of course, I’d already planted something. Peas, last weekend when it was sunny and mid-50s. I recently learned that cold, wet seedlings are susceptible to a fatal fungal disease calling “damping off.” I’m sorry, pea seedlings.

One of my garden goals this year is helping my veggies flourish by giving them an optimal environment: more room to grow, consistent fertilizer, and ideal amounts of sun, warmth and moisture for their needs.

…ooops?


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My Cold Season Salad Greens

I forgot to mention that earlier this year, I swore off store-bought lettuce & salad greens, especially the prewashed-mixed-leaves-in-a-plastic-bag variety.

Let me be perfectly clear – these pristine baggies used to represent for me all that was healthy and good for you. Salads for all! No excuses, it’s so convenient! Look at this variety of dark leafy vegetables, what’s not to love?

After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, bagged leaf lettuce in the store morphed from the ultimate health food to the posterchild for industrial agribusiness (organic or otherwise), and a symbol for what I am ever so gradually trying to get away from. Like so many “convenience” items, savings for me meant higher externalized costs elsewhere, namely in the consumption of fossil fuels. No more! During the summer, I got my fix through what I could grow, supplemented by the occasional head of leaf lettuce from one of the local farmers markets.

Let’s be brutally honest. No lettuce producers noticed my protest. No, my actions haven’t changed the world. It’s a purely symbolic move, but dammit, lettuce is one thing I can provide for myself!

At least, until I couldn’t.

Given the untimely demise of my winter garden, I had to find another way to boycott bags of leafy greens.

Behold: chickweed!

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Bountiful Beautiful Chickweed

Mild flavored, crisp textured – a perfect substitute for my salad green needs. Did I mention – extremely cold tolerant? And that it’s a prolific weed that actually grows in thicker when I harvest cuttings from several plants, rather than pulling individual plants up by the roots?

What’s not to love, indeed? Let the store-bought salad greens boycott continue!


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And Just Like That, We’re Done

Today I Learned … don’t ever, ever trust the weather forecast.

It said the low would be 32 overnight. Everything in my winter bed is hardy to 28 or so. Says I to myself, if they are wrong by a few degrees, no big deal. I chose not to cover the bed with a row cover.

I chose poorly.

They were wrong by NINE degrees. The outdoor thermometer says 23 F. The bed survived one night at 26 with really bad burns on most of the kale. I can’t even bear to look at it today.

*sobs*

Well, next year by this time I will have a low tunnel installed over the winter bed, with actual greenhouse film covering it so I can leave it in place during the day. (The doubled row cover blocks too much of the weak fall sun.)  No experience is ever wasted if you learn from it, right?

Right?

*sobs*


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Green Tomato Salsa

A.k.a., what to do with all the unripe tomatoes when cold weather hits.

Chop green tomatoes. Add diced garlic, diced red onion, hot peppers (another “harvest before it freezes outside crop”), and cilantro (also salvaged pre-freezing weather). Let stand for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional seasonings to taste – more of any of the ingredients, and / or salt, pepper, lime juice. Whatever you like, it’s your salsa after all!


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The Official End of… Wait, What?

November 10, and we still haven’t had a serious frost in my immediate area. (Average date of first frost locally is October 15.) Got close a few times, but even my cherry tomatoes and pepper plants are clinging to life.

No more. Tonight, the temperature is forecasted to drop as low as 20. According to the radio reports, “Gardening season is officially over.”

…or is it?

Meet my winter raised bed! This is my latest (and so far, most serious) attempt at a “four season harvest”. Blame / credit goes to Nikki Jabour’s book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, which I found particularly inspiring as fall reading.

I planted the bed with cold hardy crops – shorter greens (like spinach and upland cress) on the edge of the bed, taller plants like kale and leeks in the center.

I’ve engineered wind breaks to help protect the box further – wind burn being even more damaging to plants than low temperatures – and tucked it in for the night with a double layer of row cover.

The pea gravel anchoring the fabric edges gave the tightest closure we’ve ever achieved. Landscaping staples always seem to leave slack which eventually loosens in the wind and allows deadly drafts.

Here’s hoping for mid-winter bounty!

P.S., the full list of plants is as follows: spinach, upland cress, beets, turnips, radishes (including daikon), lettuce, leeks and kale. I also planted carrots but they failed to germinate.