Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Few Lessons from a Rookie

I haven't been very faithful to blog. I meant to, really I did, but my schedule is odd; off.   I have a little time here and there, I think.... I just can't seem to find it when I am looking  for it. 

I did want to get in here and  post a few pictures of our garden. I'm no photographer, that's my husband's gig, but the pictures I got should give an idea, I suppose.   I thought maybe I could tell a little bit of the tale of our journey from the beginning of what looks to be our first successful garden to where we are now, and maybe talk a little about what we plan to do next.

I'm really proud of the way things are going.   We've struggled for years to get anything to thrive in this awful dirt.  We added things to it for years to improve it, manure, compost, bags of store bought soil, until finally we've gotten it into decent enough shape to sustain life.  

I enjoy gardening so much.  It's one of my favorite things to see the tiny new plants break through the ground.  I'll be honest and tell you, though, I really didn't want to start a garden.  I hadn't wanted to for several years because it's been such a source of disappointment to me for many potential growing seasons.  It's one of the worst feelings to tend them only to have them wither away despite all my best desperate efforts.  I wasn't up to trying it again.  

Last year in late summer or early fall I had a few cloves of elephant garlic that I had forgotten about, and they started to sprout.  I decided to stick them in the ground just to see what would happen.  There was nothing to lose in that.  They sprouted a tiny bit, and then sort of 'went away'.  I figured they died. I didn't read up on when to plant garlic, so I figured I did it wrong and chalked it up to experience.  Well, along about February this year, Lo!  They poked their little greens up through the ground again, and it was all I needed to get the fever. I decided to try some early growers; cool weather crops.  I thought maybe I'd have better luck with my garden if I did it before the really hot weather settled in.

Before I knew it I had planted my whole garden area full.  The problem was, I had no room left in my garden spot, and I hadn't planted tomatoes yet, so I started working another area for them. One thing led to another, and soon I had plants of all types in the ground.  Now I am excited about it again, almost as much for some serious on the job training as I am for the harvest.  I've already learned some lessons, and I can see more on the horizon.

Lesson 1: Irrigation

The first thing we had had to contend with was the water situation.  Being smack in the middle of the Mohave Desert means that water doesn't stay put out in the sun for very long.  I was getting out early in the mornings and watering everything heavily, and I thought that was good enough, but  no matter what I did, the plants wilted and looked bedraggled by mid-day. My husband knew it was lack of water,  so I added a nightly watering, but still, they just wouldn't 'perk up'.

He decided we needed to do something, so we went to the hardware store to buy all of the regular drip irrigation stuff everyone uses, but instead we found some really small soaker hoses that attach to a black irrigation hose in the same way standard drip lines do. I'm here to testify that they are well worth the time, effort, and money that they cost us, all of which were minimal.  My husband laid us out a nice irrigation system in just a couple of hours.  We put the soaker lines down each row and covered them with mulch to keep the water from evaporating right off of the hoses, and so far, even on the hottest days we've had, they are doing the trick. I've had to increase the water pressure a bit as the plants have grown, but it's still much more economical, as far as water usage, than the hose ever was.

I wish we had photo/video documented the process. It would have been fun, and maybe there are others out there that are as novice as I am that could  have benefited from it.  If that's you, take my word for it, it's easy and nearly fool proof.  Give it a go!

Lesson 2: Row/Plant Spacing

If the seed package says to plant the seeds 12 inches apart, that's what they mean. Just because they are itty-bitty when you get them out of the envelope doesn't  mean they are going to fit in closer quarters later.  I know that sounds silly,  but I was trying to optimize my limited garden space, so I pushed my luck, and now I'm sorry.  My tomatoes have become sort of a giant mass of green with blooms and tiny tomatoes all over it.   That could be to my advantage in that they could actually protect themselves from the sun a bit as the summer wears on.  On the other hand, I'm already having a hard time working in them and they're only going to get bigger.  It's likely that it's going to be near impossible to get into the middle of them by the time they reach full size.

Lesson 3:  Sunlight

Again with the instructions?  If they say full sun on the package, what do you suppose they mean?  Yeah... full  sun.  I thought to protect them a bit since the lions share of the growing season here is near a hundred degrees, give or take, so I planted some things where they would get some sparse shade.  It's not exactly 'shady' so I thought it made sense.  No.  

All of this instruction reading business leads me to think I might have had better success with some of my other things if I'd started them indoors earlier in the season, like the package says.  

Lesson 4: Protection

Fencing was necessary.  My dogs thought the fresh greens were just for them.   I put some chicken wire around the two garden areas, and that worked for awhile, but it got mashed down and we had to re-enforce it with more posts.  Not a big deal, but it did get me started thinking about what to do when we are in a more rural setting. I don't have much of a pest problem here.   We're in city limits and it's just not an issue, but it will be.  I have applied some of my on-line time to researching lots of different methods to protect our garden from critters.  Only time and testing will tell the story there.  For right now our big problems are sun and wind.

The wind just beats things to pieces.  By the end of the summer all but the heartiest of the plant life out here is wind whipped, torn, and just plain worn out. Support cages and structures may help the plants over all. but the exposed areas take a lot of damage.   Honestly, other than erecting protective walls I'm not sure what can be done to prevent it.  

The sun is plentiful, and obviously necessary, but out here it's also destructive.  The difference in the daytime and night time temperatures is so drastic that lots of things just burst on the vine.  So far we haven't done anything to ward off it's effects, but we're going to have to soon. This is going to be a trial because it will require some kind of sun screen, and the desert sun's partner in crime, the wind,  tends to destroy or shred anything erected to shelter things from the sun.  

I don't plan on erecting anything permanent.   We're planing to move soon, and frankly my heart's just not in it.  I considered using conduit and bending it to sort of arch over at least the tomatoes, and then screw some shade cloth right to it, but I don't want to go to the expense and effort for all of that, especially considering I really only plan on using it for one last season.  The shade cloth will hardly last any longer than one season anyway.  I think what I will try is to just fasten it to fence posts on four corners, and 'stitch'  it to the back fence with wire. It should hold through the hottest months.  I will post as we go.   

Lesson 5: Compost

A.  It's pretty hard to mess up compost.  No meat/meat products in the compost bin, and I've heard no onions. Anything else is a go.  Coffee grounds, egg shells, the bag of almost liquefied vegetables that got shoved to the back of the fridge, last years leaves, tree trimmings, grass clippings, just pile  them up and keep them moist and  voile!  All of it miraculously turns into your best friend: dirt!  I decided to try layering everything into the  pile.  A layer of dry, such as old leaves and sticks, followed by a layer of wet, such as kitchen scraps and plant material, followed by a shovel or two of dirt.  I hose it whenever I'm out there and think of it, and it's coming along very nicely.

B.  Re-think what you are throwing away.  So much  of what we throw away can be added to the compost bin. It gets to be a habit quickly.  I catch myself when I'm shopping looking to see how much of the products I'm buying can be composted and how much is actually going to be wasted as garbage.  No, I'm not an environmental nut, green crazed Birkenstock babe, I just love watching the process, knowing the source, and getting it free and un-taxed. 

Those are the most obvious lessons for this year to date.  It's really more of an information gathering season than anything to us anyway. My husband and I are learning all we can about what has come to be called permaculture, which is just a fancy word for a more natural, self sustaining agricultural, ecological system.  It is really very interesting and the more I learn the more it all seems to be a logical and intuitive way to do things.  Maybe my rural upbringing helps.  I remember a lot more than I realized.  All combined we are getting a picture in our heads; the pieces are coming together.  Even though our little garden patches in the desert are small and flawed, I think we have learned a lot and dialed a little closer in to some more important things that maybe we wouldn't have understood otherwise.  

I'm wanting to cram too much into this blog. I want  to go into detail  about some of  our plans, the property we've found and are considering, our great off-grid ideas, and so many other things that all tie together and make such beautiful dreams,  but I think I'll save that and make it the subject of a different blog.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

At a Snail's Pace, We're Off and Running!

I've decided this blog is now going to be dedicated to success.  This is the Success Blog of Rhenda, the Representative.  How you view success is up to you, but to me it's a matter of living my life; working to live, not living to work or working for a living. How do I do that?  Well, that is going to be our ongoing project, and the subject of this blog for the next months, and possibly years.

My husband and I are adjusting our lives and changing things.  What are we working towards?  Are we working toward anything at all or are we merely existing?  Are we working just to stay afloat?  If we manage to, then what do we have? Lets say we are doing well in this world.  Perhaps we have all the trimmings that most people only dream of.  Is that what we wanted?  Is that the success we dreamed of?

I for one have determined that it's a bad trade to exchange another minute of precious time spent with the ones I love for a buck or two extra just to keep and sustain some 'things',  perishable things, trappings (aptly named).  Money, you can spend it, you can earn it. Percs, you can use them, you can earn them.  Time?  It's gone, my friends, once it is spent.  We might be smarter to stop right here, this minute, now, before we've spent it all, assess our circumstances, and make sure it's spent wisely and that the exchange is worth what we're paying.  I answered myself and said, no. Not a good trade.  Not at all.

Are you working toward a nice home, nice things?  There's not a thing wrong with wanting them or having them, just remember, it requires 'X' number of hours on the job to pay for gadget or gizmo 'Z'.  We have to work 'X' number of hours more to buy the electric to run and maintain the gadgets and gizmos we accumulate.  We could possibly, in fact we probably will have to expand out homes, or perhaps buy a new, larger home to accommodate our things.  When the gadgets and gizmos are old or obsolete, or maybe we've had them for so long that we're just tired of them now and they seem dated and boring, we will be replacing them, which will require exchanging more time on the job. We have to put up with the noise they create in our lives, and the time they steal from our relationships and what could have been family time; the 'real' goal and measure of my success.

What about retirement?  Are you working toward retirement?  Good.  Maybe that will work out for you.  It's good to plan and have clear goals. What do you want to do when you retire?  Relax and enjoy yourself?  Travel?  Sit on a beach and read?  When?  At sixty-five?  At seventy, or even seventy-two?  The age of retirement changes from year to year, and with the state of the economy, the job market and social security being what it is, I'm not willing to gamble my life and future away on a crap shoot that the government is in charge of.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

I have had a re-discovering of what I think success is,and a redesigning of my dreams of the future.  I have re-assessed my life and it's goals and ambitions.   I'm going to 'cheat' a bit and repost a part of something that I wrote a few years ago.  It was a turning point for me.   Things are not a lot different in theory than they ever were.  I've always sort of lived life by the seat of my pants, and 'gone for the gusto', but somehow now it is different in it's intensity, it's sincerity, and it's urgency.  It's what drives me.

January, 2008

As much of a done deal as all of my recent semi-traumatic experiences are, the over all effect has been pretty intense.  I'm a pretty intense person anyway, and I tend to take anything in my life that's a big eye opener and back up, apply whatever it was to the everything past and present, and re-sort the lot of it.  I've done that with all the major events of my life.  I can't help it.  If something happens that causes me to see things with new eyes, I look as far back as I can and re-evaluate everything.  I have new information now.  It needs re-evaluating if I'm going to make good decisions in the future.   It sounds weird in the telling, but it makes sense to me.

In this reorganization I've come to a few conclusions.  My priorities have been way off.  I started out rambunctious, energetic, curious, inventive, pretty carefree, and impetuous.  I have listened to the powers that be talk about what you need to accomplish in life.  I've been educated by the same system as most people.  "Sit still and be quiet!  Don't touch that!  Calm yourself! Clean your plate!  Finish what you've started!  Stay between the lines!  Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!"  I have similar ideas about what life is for.  We're supposed to grow up and behave, get educated, be "successful," don't make waves, work hard towards retirement, blah, blah. blah...  Over time all of the spontaneity and creativity was beaten out of me.

Nobody ever once told me to plan to enjoy my life.  Ever.  Enjoyment is something you can "worry" about when the "work" is done.  Then when you're old and grey you can say to yourself what a fulfilment work has been for you, right?

You know what? Most people you ask don't like their jobs.  Many of the same folks, if you ask them what do you want to do, they couldn't even tell you.  Most of us think, someplace in our minds, in the box in the back, I'd love to be a "you fill in the blank."  We don't address it because it would mean we have to address all the reasons why we aren't, and worse, why we aren't even trying.  So we work on at our mundane lives, putting one foot in front of the other for "the cause" yet to be named.

What exactly are you working so hard toward?  "Retirement."  Well, what do you want to do when you retire?  "Relax and enjoy myself."  That's not very specific, but even if it was, at 65?!  In this culture?!  Ha!  Are you serious?  Most of the retirees in this country are to preoccupied with their therapy because they're so miserable and their Xanax and their Prozac aren't helping any more.  They can't get too far from good medical care, just in case.  They base where they are going to move for retirement upon whether or not there's a decent hospital in the area.  They sit over morning coffee and a stack of pancakes, and discuss burial plots and blue cross/blue shield.  Who's on what meds, their bad backs, their blood pressure, cholesterol, who gets up the most at night to pee, on and on and on!  They try to "out drug" each other.  They compare doctors, brag about the new stuff they got, and if it's new on the market, well, then I guess they're king of the hill for today's breakfast anyway.  If you dare say to them that they should take some modicum of control to try to get healthier and get off some of the meds, take off some weight, get some exercise, they either say they're too old for that, that I just don't understand and I will when I get older (NOT!), or they get mad!  Yes, really!  They defend their misery.  Keep it, then.  I'm out.  Miserable!  Whether you're miserable in small town America, or in the French Riviera on a balcony soaking up the sun, miserable is miserable.  So scratch that argument.  I'll take a pass onwaiting to relax and enjoy.

What do you want to do?  "Well, maybe work towards a nice home and nice things."  Fine.  In ten years it's all dated and you'll either want a new one, a bigger one or you'll want to spend sixty grand adding on and remodeling it.  Try again.  "Well, I'm working to send my kids to a good college."  Good!  How noble!  All the while you pawn them off on a failing school system.  You yell at them if they make noise and disturb you while you're relaxing.  You "buy" them off to get them out of your way, and teach them to want nice things, then tell them they need to learn to work hard and save for the future to have nice things.  You huff and sigh if you actually have to get up and do anything.  You can't be bothered to actually go look at what they've been doing.  It's just child's play anyway, and "After all, child, I've worked all day, and I'm tired!"  That's nice!  You don't deserve kids.

Let's be more specific.  What would you like to do?  "Well, that doesn't matter right now.  I have plans and goals that aren't met.  I'll do what I like later on!"  Well, when and if you get that far, what will that be?

If you actually pin someone down about what they like to do, what is fun for them, what do they enjoy, half of them can't answer!   I guarantee those same folks when they're seventy, eighty years old are going to tell you what they wish they'd done.  They almost always say they wish they'd spent more time with their families.  They say they wished they'd not taken things so seriously, and just had more fun.  They wish they'd had their priorities right.  We've all heard them, and we've all ignored it.  It's cute, if sad, when an old person says it, and we say to ourselves what a good fore warning to the rest of us, but we completely ignore them.  Let anyone say something like that during their "productive years" and they're unstable, irresponsible, dreamers, can't keep their feet on the ground.  They tell you "I can't, I don't have time."

Where is it written that you have to constantly be working toward some nebulas thing in your future? Where does it say that once you've started something, no matter how horrible, no matter how futile, you must continue and finish?  Why stay in a career you hate?  For money?  What a few grand more over forty years?  A few hundred grand?  Well, is forty years out of your miserable life worth a hundred grand?  Because you are selling your life, friend, not pawning it.  Plain and simple.  You can't go back later and redeem it.  It's gone.  No home, car, monthly bills, retirement plan is worth that.  Just ask the old guy that did it.

It's a fear thing.  People are scared.  Scared of change, new things, failure, catastrophe, accidents, judgement from other people, commitment, just the unknown in general.  Be ready!  Plan for the rainy day!  Expect the unexpected.  Don't let your guard down.  Get all your ducks in a row.  Hey,  some of that's fine and good.  I get ya!  But come on!  Learn to roll with the punches!  You can't "be ready!!"  It's not possible!  I dare you to stop planning and do something.  Anything.  You don't need an itinerary to skip rocks or jump in mud puddles with your kids.  Dirty clothes wash!  Just GO!  You know what?  It might not work.  OH!  Then what?  Well, nothing.  You will live and not die.  You will in fact be just fine.  Guess what else? It might work.  Either way, the next day will come and you can do the next days business.  "Well, you're just impulsive!"  You bet, and thank God.  If having a sense of adventure and the nerve to live means you're impulsive then, by golly, you're right!

People understand this in the business world.  Everyone loves the free thinker at work.  He creative.  Everyone loves the guy who isn't afraid to take a chance.  Everyone loves the guy who can make a decision, and can speak his mind.  It's because more often than not, that's the guy who's work pays off.  It's the most productive way to work.  Why not live like that?  Life is not fragile.  You aren't going to irreparably damage it if you make a mistake.

What a privilege to be able to trust in God.  You folks who have a secularized idea of who God is and think it's just a weak man's way of coping or whatever Hollywood has sold you, you have no idea what freedom is to be had in living this way!  It's like a little kid crossing a busy street with his dad.  Dad's got a firm grip, so the child is just looking around and enjoying the sights and sounds, oblivious to the dangers and possibilities of failure.

I'm not going to waste any more time doing terrible, time wasting things.  I'm not going to remain miserable in anything anymore without making some changes. I'm planning to enjoy my life now.  I'm going to enjoy my kids and my marriage.  I'm going to make memories while I'm still able to remember.  I'm going to make decisions.  What's the worst that can happen?  I'm going to change my world today, and again tomorrow if I need to.  It's not up for a vote, and I don't care what you think.  I'd rather be a happy homeless person than miserable in a mansion.  But the best part is that neither is a permanent place.  None of it is permanent.  Ever.  From one minute to the next you can change your whole life! Don't think so?  Who cares what you think! HAHA!!  How would you know?

Watch me!

Some of the most successful people don't follow the outline.  They weren't afraid.  They were the wild cards, the loose cannons,  "impulsive" until they "made it", and then they were creative, adventurous, risk-takers. entrepreneurial!  So think... what do you want to be when you grow up?  A fireman, an astronaut, a movie star?  Take a step.  TAKE A STEP!  You cant steer a bicycle until you begin to pedal the thing!  How can we be too afraid to live?

There's a story in the Bible about a guy who leaves the country for awhile and he leaves his stuff with his servants. He gives a portion, in different measures, to three of his guys.  When he returns, he goes to each of the three to ask an accounting of their portion.   The first two guys told him, look, we took some chances, invested your money, and have good returns.  Here's twice as much as you gave us. Of course he was pleased with them.  He told them so and invited them in.

The last guy was steady, a careful planner, unwilling to "rock the boat."  He was working toward a comfortable retirement so he could finally relax and enjoy.  He was playing it safe.  "Lord, I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter.  I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth. Lo, you have yours."  His lord answered and said to him, "Evil and slothful servant! You knew that I reaped where I did not sow, and gathered where I did not scatter, then you should have at least put my money in the bank, and coming, I would have received my own with interest.  Therefore take the money from him and give it to him who has doubled his money."

Matt 9:29-30  "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will abound. But from him who has not, even that which he has shall be taken away from him.  And throw the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

You'd better invest this gift of life.  When the owner asks an accounting of you, all of your hard learned skills your responsibility, your planning, all of your stability and hard work wont add a single second to your life, and only you are responsible.  Not the circumstances, not the culture, not your upbringing, the environment, the Democrats or the Republicans, not your education, your race, your age, not the devil.  Just you.  Don't waste your life!