Great Green Goals for 2009

I was rereading a post I wrote at the start of 2008 – Living Green past and future – where I outlined the things I’d accomplished in 2007 toward living a greener lifestyle and then added more eco-friendly things I hoped to accomplish in 2008. This year I’m going to do the same thing and Great Green Goals for 2009invite you to post about your green goals for the upcoming year too. If you write a post and link back to this one, leave me a comment with the URL and I’ll add you to a list at the bottom of this post.

First, here were my goals for 2008 and my comments on how I did beside them in italics:

Green goals for 2008:

  • Grow a bigger garden – Did it! I grew tomatoes, basil, green beans, carrots, strawberries, zucchini, and yellow squash.
  • Possibly join a CSA to eat more locally and shop at the farmer’s market – Did not join a CSA but I did learn more about them and picked up a friend’s CSA share one week (when she was out of town). And I did some of my shopping at the farmers’ market.
  • Buy some cloth diapers that can stand up to Julian’s nighttime pees and stop using disposables (7th Generation) at night (We cloth diaper during the day.) – Yes and no. We stopped using 7th Generation dipes at night and instead stuff a Fuzzibunz diaper with a prefold and a gDiapers insert (which are biodegradable). Not the perfect solution, but better than where we were at.
  • Learn how to can foods – YES! And here’s proof. I canned three types of jam/jelly, spaghetti sauce and pear sauce in 2008.
  • Learn how to make my own yogurt – YES!
  • Read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” – No, and don’t even have it yet.

In 2008, I also:

  • Made my own butter.
  • Started using a clothesline to dry our clothes/diapers (at least some of the time).
  • Started using an eco-friendly dish soap.
  • Bought a dehydrator and dehydrated apples, nectarines, and strawberries.
  • Joined a food co-op.
  • Started using a Moon Cup (like a DivaCup).

As for 2009, my green goals are as follows:

  •  Grow a bigger garden still! Although my yard is small, that is not the problem. The problem is that we have three large trees in our backyard that block out most of the sunlight. I’ve been trying to figure out if there are some places in my front yard that get good sun where I might plant some veggies, but we have a lot of trees there too. The only places in the front yard that I can think of that aren’t shaded are right by the sidewalk. We don’t have a ton of foot traffic on our street, but I’m not sure I want to dig up the yard to plant veggies when we want to sell the house in the next year or two. Hmmm. I think I might have to do some container gardening in addition to the small garden I already have.
  • Join a vegetable seed co-op.
  • Can more than last year.
  • Dehydrate more than last year.
  • Bake my own bread more regularly.
  • Continue to move away from the use of plastic and be mindful of plastic packaging.
  • Learn how to sew using my mom’s old sewing machine.
  • Read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which I already have) by Michael Pollan
  • Learn more about ownership and care of backyard chickens (as our chicken crusade plods on)
  • And, of course, continue with all of the other things I’m already doing.

Now it’s your turn. This isn’t exactly your typical “Green Challenge,” but it is kind of similar. Write a post telling me your green goals for 2009, leave me your link and I’ll add it to the list below. (If you link back to this one, that’d be great too.) Or just leave me a comment telling me what your goals are. I’d love some more ideas! :)

Other bloggers making green goals for 2009…

A wee bit bigger

I picked a couple of carrots from my garden yesterday to see if there really was anything connected to the leafy green bits that have erupted out of the earth. Here is what I found:
Baby carrots from our garden
I’m thinking they still have a bit longer to go. No? I mean, they are supposed to get bigger than my thumb nail, right? Nevertheless, the kids enjoyed the two itty-bitty baby carrots. :)

I’m hoping the carrots we’ll be picking today (along with a slew of other vegetables – potatoes, onions, butternut squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and more) will be just a wee bit bigger. ;) We’re meeting up with some other families from our attachment parenting group and my sister at a local farm to pick veggies. The last time we went picking veggies at this farm I was 34 weeks pregnant with Julian. (We didn’t make it last year because the wind was awful on the day we were supposed to go.) My how time flies.

Anyone have any tips on storing veggies without a root cellar (like my friend Julie is building) for several months? Guess I’ll be doing some research this weekend along with cleaning my house since my in-laws are arriving in from Oklahoma on Monday. Oh, and there’s a Sustainable Living Fair and the play Birth happening this weekend in Fort Collins. Wish I could go to both, but I’m not sure there will be enough hours in the weekend for all of that! I swear autumn is always so much more busy for me than summer ever is.

Picking and preserving local produce

Over the past month, I’ve been a on a major (at least for me) food preservation kick. I’ve made and canned two kinds of jam, made peach ice cream (to. die. for.), dehydrated strawberries and apples, made and froze batches of salsa and spaghetti sauce, as well as blanched and froze several pounds of green beans. The majority of that was done with local food that I either grew myself, picked myself or bought at a local farm. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been very rewarding and fun (and, I admit it, a little bit addictive). ;)

You can read more about my latest forays into picking, eating and preserving local fruits and veggies over at 5 Minutes for Going Green today and find out where you can go near you to do the same!

I CAN do it : Learning how to preserve foods

I’ve been wanting to learn how to can food for at least a couple of years now. I’ve done the freezing thing with veggies, soups, casseroles and spaghetti sauce, but I feel like my options are limited with freezing and it’s time to branch out. Oh, what I would give for a jar of delicious strawberry jam, made fresh at home, which is where, of course, canning comes in.

Mason jarsAbout two years ago some of my friends organized a “learn how to can” get together. We made grape jelly and each got to take a jar of it home. (Yum!) It was fun, but I really didn’t pay that close attention to the whole canning process (sorry, Nicole and Julie), and thus haven’t attempted it on my own yet knowing I still need to learn more about it.

I’d actually hoped I might get a one-on-one canning tutorial from my mom during our vacation to MI, but the blueberry farm that we hoped to visit didn’t open until the day we flew back home. Bugger.

A few months ago I started saving Mason jars from our spaghetti sauce, as well as jars from jam and other foods determined that this would be the year I would start canning. I have accumulated a pretty good collection of jars, but I still haven’t canned a thing. However, all of that is going to change this weekend!

strawberries.jpgWhile the organic strawberries I have growing in my little garden are great, or so I’m led to believe (my kids gobble them up just as soon as I pick them), I only had four plants to start out with this year and they aren’t nearly prolific enough yet. So when my friend Melissa said she and her family were planning on going to Berry Patch Farms to pick organic strawberries this weekend and wanted to know if anyone wanted to join them, I was chomping at the bit. I had hoped to visit that farm earlier in the season, but then a bad hail storm apparently wiped out their early crop. So now the plans have been made. The kids, Jody and I will be picking a slew of strawberries and I’m bound and determined to make them into jam. Lots of jam. (Oh, and they have raspberries and peaches too. Whee!)

Today or tomorrow I’m heading over to Ace Hardware where my canning goddess friend assures me they will have “everything I need” to get started. :) Then, in preparation, I’ll be reading my new Ball Blue Book and about making jam.

I’m so excited! I hope the strawberry patch is full and ready for us Saturday morning (oh, and that I can get myself and my family out of the house at a decent time – that will be the real trick!). I’ll be sure to report back how the experience goes.

Have you done any canning? What are your favorite things to can? Have any tips for a newbie like me?

Guest post: Learning from Experience: Tips for New Organic Gardners

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 , I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s post is from Meryl who blogs at My Bit of Earth.

My grandfather was an avid gardener. He grew tomatoes, beans, peas, corn–he even had a small orchard from which he would pick fruit for my grandmother’s fabulous pies. He gardened for 70+ years, all within 100 miles of where I live today, making any advice he could have given me invaluable as it would have been both well-tested and specific to my climate.

Unfortunately, my grandfather died years before I caught the gardening bug, so I’ve had to learn the hard way–experience.

I am now in my fourth year as an organic gardener–mostly veggies, but some flowers too. I have a 10×10 plot in my local community garden, as well as a mostly-container garden at my house. Here are seven bits of wisdom my experiences have taught me.

1. If it’s worth planting, it’s worth writing down.

Keep a paper journal, start a blog, do what you must, but make a record of your garden. At minimum, it should include the specific variety of what you plant, when you planted it, any problems you had, and how your harvest went. Pictures are a nice bonus.

Review your record before you plan your garden each year. Not only will it help you to remember the name of that fabulous tomato you planted last year, it will keep you from making the same mistakes over and over again. For example, because I wrote down when I planted “Ideal Market” beans last year, I now know that if I plant them in April they’ll just get eaten by bugs and I’ll have to plant anew. But if plant them in May, I should avoid the boom of bean-eating bugs and get a good crop.

2. Buy (at least) one good book.

I love the internet as much as the next person, but I’m convinced that it’s still worthwhile to have one great gardening reference book to help narrow down your searches when you have a problem. This year my Brussels sprouts were being attacked by red bugs, and I couldn’t figure out what the bugs were by searching online. (“Red bugs” isn’t much to go on!) So I looked up Brussels sprouts in my book, and found that they are commonly attacked by Harlequin bugs when the weather gets warm. Sure enough, when I did an image search for “Harlequin bugs” the results looked just like the bugs I had in my garden.

The specific book you buy will depend on what you’re growing, but look for something like an encyclopedia. Something that lists good practices for the crops you want to grow, as well as what to do when things go wrong. For vegetable gardening, my trusty book of choice is Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver.

3. Make friends.

It’s always so nice to learn that someone I know is also a gardener! Partly because I know I won’t bore them with discussions of cabbages and coneflowers, but also because other gardeners–especially if they’ve been gardening for a long time in your specific area–are a wonderful mine of knowledge.

In the community garden where I have a plot, there’s one lady who’s been there for years and, as such, is an absolute treasure. A few weeks ago, when I was having the aforementioned trouble with my Brussels sprouts, she told me to sprinkle them with cayenne pepper. I followed her advice, and a day later my bugs were gone.

4. Visit your garden often, and while you’re there….

Because one of my gardens is not at my house, I don’t always get to it every day. But I’m there every other day, at least. While I think this is necessary for all gardeners to some degree, if you want to garden organically it’s essential.

When you don’t allow yourself to drop a chemical bomb on every pest that comes along, you have to catch little problems before they become big problems. Last year, I started noticing little bronze eggs on my pumpkin leaves in mid-July. I didn’t get on top of it as quickly as I should have, and before I knew it my whole crop was decimated by squash bugs. If I had picked the eggs off the first time I saw them, it would have been a minor blip on my road to Halloween jack’o’lanterns and pumpkin soup.

While you’re doing your walk-through, take five minutes and pull as many weeds as you can. Like pests of the insect variety, weeds will creep up on you until all of a sudden getting rid of them without chemicals is overwhelming. Catch weeds when they’re small and scratch them out with a hoe before they start to take over.

5. Raise your soil right, feed it well, tuck it in.

When I initially started container gardening at my house, I thought of it as kind of a temporary thing until I had space to plant a proper “in-the-ground” garden. After a few years though, I’m convinced that raised beds are the way to go.

In my neck of the woods the problem is clay, but, whatever deficiencies your soil may have, it’s easier to fix them if you raise everything off the ground a bit. Even just logs or landscaping timbers pushed together in a square–which is exactly the set up in my community garden plot–helps make digging, mixing in compost, and planting much easier.

When you go to fill that raised bed, think compost, compost, compost. My city does a free compost give away every year, and I always take advantage of it. Get as much as you can, and mix it in well with your existing soil. If you want your plants to feed you, you must feed them, and they crave compost!

Lastly, cover your soil. You can use pretty mulch if you want, but this year I experimented with newspapers and straw. I put down about six layers of newspaper (black and white only), sprayed it with water, and spread one or two inches of straw over the top. When I went to plant my veggies I just used a shovel to poke a hole through the paper. It’s kept the weeds down, let water in, and whatever is left of it next Spring can easily be tilled into my soil.

6. Keep things in perspective.

There will be setbacks, there will be loses. If you’re committed to going organic, you should realize that sometimes a problem is going to get away from you. You’re going to see visions of your entire crop being ruined, and you’re going to be sooo tempted to resort to a chemical spray. When this happens, step back and regain your perspective.

Yes, yes, I know. You worked hard for that plant, whatever it is. You dug and toiled in the hot sun–perhaps were even devoured by mosquitoes as you regularly watered.

But, if you’re a small scale gardener, is it really worth it? Do you really need that eggplant that’s probably half-chewed on by bugs anyway? Or can you accept that nothing is a failure if you enjoyed the learning process, put down the nasty spray, and pick up your eggplant at the farmer’s market this week instead?

Good for you, that’s what I thought.

7. Grow what you love, but love what you can grow.

If you can be perfectly satisfied with a garden of tomatoes and peppers, go for it. If you’re intrigued by exotic varieties of garlic, plant yourself some. If you just can’t stand life without that pretty kind of rose that’s named after you, figure out what it needs to thrive and make it happen. To me there is no point in having a garden if you don’t grow the things you absolutely love.

With all that being said, however, over the past few years I’ve found the plants I truly love are the ones that don’t need much fuss, and are happy in the climate and space that I have to give them. I’ve killed four beautiful rose bushes to date, and none have made me as happy as the beautiful ‘Diablo’ cosmos that are popping up almost unbidden all over my garden right now. Like clockwork, every year I decide to try a pretty flowering hanging basket. After the last one didn’t live a week–the darned things need a crazy amount of water–I bought a sturdy fern that looks better at week four than most of the flowers did on day two. The ugliest thriving flower looks better than the prettiest dead one–work with what you’ve got!

I hope my experiences are helpful to you–best of luck in your garden!

Meryl Carver-Allmond writes about gardening, photography, crafty stuff, dogs, and whatever else happens to tickle her fancy on any given day at My Bit of Earth.

Guest post: Gradually Going Local

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9, I’m featuring several guest bloggers. This guest post is from Ami who blogs at Writing: My Life.

I first heard about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) several years ago in a magazine article. I immediately loved the idea of paying a local farmer in exchange for a weekly share in whatever he or she produced. What better way to really know where your food is coming from? Unfortunately, by the time I’d learned about CSA the deadlines to sign up with any of the local farms had passed. I planned to check into it again the next spring, but kept letting those deadlines pass me by.

The desire to start eating more locally kept building, though, as memories of homegrown tomatoes and carrots straight from the garden came back to me. Then, in the spring of last year, I read a book that changed my perspective on food tremendously. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle reacquainted me with the natural order of food. It reminded me that eating a tomato in January (unless it comes from a jar you put up in August) is not natural. It made me take a second look at my banana-eating habits. And it taught me that local eating can be healthy, good for the environment and really flavorful, too.

After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I started running into articles on local eating and Community Supported Agriculture everywhere, and I began thinking much more consciously about where my food was coming from. Yet again, I was too late to join a CSA for the year, but I shopped mainly at the farmer’s market that spring, summer and fall. I spent my weekends prepping and cooking fresh produce. I did some freezing and drying to preserve a bit of what I brought home. I even tried growing my own tomatoes, which unfortunately succumbed to the beaks of the pigeons and blackbirds before I could enjoy them. I also did a little local-eating experiment, and I learned a lot about how difficult our current food system and lifestyles can make eating locally.

The difficulty didn’t discourage me, though. I did my best, and this year, I was a little more prepared. I joined that CSA and was at the farmer’s market on opening weekend ready to eat with the seasons again. I got a newer refrigerator, with a freezer that could hold more produce for the winter months. I joined the One Local Summer Challenge, with the goal of eating at least one completely local meal each week. I planted an herb garden in my tiny backyard.

One day I hope to have a garden to tend with berries, squash, peppers, juicy tomatoes and more. But for now, I support my local farmers and try to keep my eating as local as possible. Sure, my behavior hasn’t completely changed. I still spend money at the grocery store and I haven’t started canning and root cellaring yet. And eating local certainly isn’t the easiest eating option. But I feel good knowing that my money is supporting local agriculture. I’m happier knowing the farmer that grows my vegetables at the CSA. I see him regularly when I pick up my share and he sends us a farm and harvest update every week. Even the farmers at the market are open about their growing practices and I’ve come to know several of them by name. These days, I know where my food is grown and I trust that it’s being done with conscious concern for the land and the people who will consume it. Of all the benefits of eating local, I think that’s the best one.

Ami is a technical and freelance writer trying to live a healthier and greener life—and some days she succeeds. Read more about her local eating escapades at Writing: My Life.