25 February 2011


There are few things that are intoxicating to me in the middle of winter; but the smell of rich, dark soil, the texture of this moist earth crumbling through my fingers made fertile for seeds by earth worms, the promise of hands that have been well worn by a day's honest work in the garden, nails clipped short and needing a good scrub in the sink, these things get me every time.

Sure, you could say that the above is just a romantic way of saying that I like the smell of dirt, the feel of worm poop and trading my dry, cracked winter hands for rough, calloused gardener's hands. But, if it weren't for the promise of spring, we'd all be going crazy this time of year, holed up in our warm homes while the ground stays frozen beyond our front doors and ice sprawls like a river down our walkways. The seed companies know this. They are happy to fill our mailboxes with bright, colorful catalogs, dotted with vibrant flowers and red tomatoes pregnant with juices, flavor and seeds. They aim to make us drool, to make us spend more money on what could be in our gardens (and tummies) in a few short months.

My new plans for the garden include introducing ollahs (oy-yahs) to some of my beds to see how well they work for me in my climate and to conserve water (and time). I plan to make my own ollahs following the techniques from closer to the dirt. I plan to build another strawberry fountain with everbearing strawberries to complement the three varieties we already have established (sparkle, early glow and sure crop) and to build at least two more raised beds for herbs, lettuces and an asparagus patch.

I'll be planting a hedge of balsam firs for privacy and a windbreak and expanding the raspberry and blackberry patches. We'll extend the highbush blueberries too. I've collected a few 5 gallon buckets to make various manure teas for my gardens indoors and out. I may even experiment with urine manure tea, which is supposed to be the best all-purpose manure tea for plants, according to research conducted by Woods End Laboratories in Mt. Vernon, Maine. So much to plan for!

05 February 2011

Play dough dreams of spring

Even though I expect more snow and ice, it feels like we've made it through the worst of winter and that the promise of spring is close at hand. During the winter, we don't clean the chicken coop like we do throughout the rest of the year. Instead, I add a weekly layer of sweet clean hay, golden straw or pine shavings to build up the organic mass in the coop. Besides keeping the chickens warmer, it creates excellent compost come spring time and to my nose smells sweet, pungent, and earthy, not unpleasant. I actually look forward to this gardening smell on my daily visits to the chicken coop to check on the girls. Our matriarch, Scarlet, has the first few white feathers peeking through on top of her auburn head, a testament to all the hawks and dogs she's dodged. All the chickens are more grateful of receiving pats and food scraps in winter to keep their days more interesting.

In the house our worms are hard at work creating their own compost. In the spring as they start to multiply, I plan to scoop handfuls of red wigglers into the raised beds to help ensure the success of those crops. The soil they live in smells rich and loamy and Savannah can't help but open the lids and dig around inside.

We're growing our fourth batch of bulbs indoors; this time crocuses, spring's smallest but bravest and earliest bloomers. Seeing the delicate green buds everyday does wonders when there are snowbanks outside taller than I am. And to stave off the winter blues, we've been making play dough, something made pliable by the warmth of our hands and wanting to be stretched and molded into whatever we can imagine it to be.

Busy at play with a batch of homemade play dough. I use the oilcloth to spare my table from the rough housing.
Alligators and little girls.

The play dough recipe that really works:

In a large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups water, and 3 Tb vegetable oil, (food coloring, if desired), (vanilla or other scented oil, if desired).

Add to it 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cups salt, 3 Tb cream of tartar and stir until the lumps are gone.

Bake in a  9x9 or 9x13 glass pan at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes.

Remove from dish, when cool enough and knead. Store in a plastic lidded container or bag to keep it fresh for many weeks.

01 February 2011

Treadmill desk

There's a slow trend in offices across America, both corporate and home offices, towards increasing exercise during the work day. As a mother with a very stubborn eight pounds of baby fat to lose, naturally, I had to jump on this bandwagon. So, I built myself a treadmill desk.

It's very simple and fits around my treadmill, but didn't cost me the $500-$6,000 that some companies are charging for these. It is made from 2x3s for the legs, a pair of 2x2 cross supports, and some leftover 3/4" MDF for the desk top. I used my Kreg Jig to attached the legs and painted it black to help it blend in as much as possible with the existing treadmill.

Check out my new office view!
The idea is that you walk 1-2 miles per hour while working on your computer. It's exercise that you wouldn't get otherwise and adds up over time. I'm really looking forward to using my new work station. The other freelancers I know who use one say it has increased their productivity while decreasing their butt size.

Search for "treadmill desk" and you'll find a wealth of information on the topic and the studies that have been conducted so far. To build your own, just keep in mind that it should clear your treadmill on all sides, rather than rest on the treadmill to avoid any vibration from the machine. Hope you build one this year too!