Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunburst Farmers Market

I took a trip out to Sunburst Farmers Market on Saturday, on a tip from Liz Paulk. The market is fairly straightforward to get to--drive east on 82nd, past the loop, until you get to MLK. Turn south, and you see a sign for it almost immediately. When I arrived, there was a lot of business, with cars coming and going along the dirt road leading to the market.

The market itself is in a largish corrugated metal building (which neighbor Upe, an architect, would say is part of the architectural vernacular of west Texas), painted a cheerful blue.

Inside, the space is a bit cramped, but it certainly has a nice selection of different things, including fresh produce, local eggs, honey, canned goods, and baked goods.


Some of the produced that I noted included green beans, several kinds of peppers, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and eggplant. Oh, and melons, of course, which are everywhere in abundance right now. I'm sure there were even more produce items, but I was too excited by the baked goods and eggs to pay attention--I mean, vegetables versus banana bread? Come on! Just look at it here! Which would catch your eye?

I spoke briefly with one of the owners, Amy Jones (seen here in this photo below), and learned that the market is really part of Sunburst Farms, so this is about as close as you can get to picking it yourself.


Amy pointed me to a website, localharvest.org, that is a clearinghouse for sustainably grown food. Here is a link to the page on Sunburst Farms. Amy has degrees in agriculture, and an interest in working with people who are interested in gardening, so my sense is that she would be a good resource. Her contact info is on the Local Harvest site.


My overall impression of the market was that it was clean, friendly, and had a large turnover of goods. It would be possible to get there by bicycle, but probably not a lot of fun, owing to the distance. Traffic along 82nd doesn't seem especially bad, however. A better option might be to carpool.

Here in LBB we've talked among ourselves about how a good farmers market would do a lot to enhance the quality of life on the Llano, and while Sunburst is not the picture of large, diverse markets we find in bigger cities, it does have a diversity of locally grown produce/goods, and the feel of the market is fresh and clean. It's a bit more hassle to travel out there to buy food than it is to pick it up while we're in Market Street (and you know I love Market Street!), but perhaps the story of food is about more than convenience...




Friday, August 29, 2008

Rainy day in the garden

It's Friday, a scheduled writing day for me. I have an idea for my next book, so I thought I'd take my sketchbook out to the garden this morning and jot down some essay and illustration notes. Shortly after I got out there it began to rain lightly, and I discovered that those big ol' sun umbrellas make pretty fair...well, umbrellas.

Here is a snapshot of the rain coming down.

Golf, anyone?

An interesting post/commentary on the environmental costs of golf courses by Susan Harris over on Garden Rant.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I Was a Teenage Bee Paparazzi

Seen this morning while out watering the transplants:



Also seen were dozens of her busy little sisters, plus a green metallic bee, and one bumblebee, all of whom were oblivious to my paparazzi camera. Since they didn't swarm me, I'm presuming that these are the European honeybee, and not the Africanized HB.

Now if they would just go over to the winter squash blossoms and get that action going...

UPDATE: Add one black-bodied bee the same size as the green metallic bee, and two tiny little bees I also couldn't identify.

Rain: results in.

That big rain we had a week and a half ago is showing up in the form of blooms--for some of these plants it's the second time around this summer...

Here are a few shots of the garden showing off.



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Plant sunflowers. Help bees.


(This is not a picture of sunflowers, but this purple sage was not only on fire with sunlight this morning, it also sported one bumblebee and several honey bees...)


Idea for the Day: Plant sunflowers. Help bees.

Two things that seem like good ideas to me...planting sunflowers and helping bees, I mean.

Nancy McIntyre sent along this link to the Great Sunflower Project.

It offers ordinary gardeners a chance to participate in a study that is trying to track bee numbers. The site offers lots of good info about bees in general, including how to identify the more common ones in your garden, the fact that bee stings are over-hyped, and how to create a "bee garden." It is also very easy to sign up for the study, after which they will send you sunflower seeds (sometime next year, since it is too late to plant this year). Doing the study itself seems very easy, and requires only 30 minutes of your time.

It looks like some of the seeds they sent out this year failed to germinate, but hopefully they've got that worked out now. In any case, participation costs the gardener nothing but a clear spot in a sunny part of the garden.

Since they make an attempt to send sunflowers native to your region, I'm thinking that might be Maximillian sunflowers for us?

I signed up! I'm clearing out a spot for those sunflowers now! I'll be back in a minute...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Action needed

Jordan Messerer, a longtime bike advocate and commuter here in LBB, was asked by Councilman Joe Klein to serve on a committee to advise the city council on matters concerning bike use. Now Jordan reports that the council has decided that LBB doesn't have any need for such a committee, since there isn't any need for paying attention to the concerns of cyclists.

Surely it isn't necessary to point out the many benefits to the city if we make it safer for cyclists, and more bike friendly? OK, I will anyway: good for the environment; good for our pocketbooks; makes us less dependent on foreign oil; promotes a healthy lifestyle; makes LBB a better place to live.

The last one alone should be reason enough to interest the city.

Isn't it time for our city leaders to...well, lead the way?

Please, send an email to your councilman. Call the mayor's office. Tell those people we put in office that we need bicycle advisory committee to the council. We need to be encouraging cyclists and making this a bike-friendly city. To do so, we need a committee!

Here is Mayor Tom Martin's email address: TMartin@mail.ci.lubbock.tx.us

Jordan also provided links to a map of Lubbock's bike routes, as well as a study on ways to make LBB more bike-friendly.

LBB Bike Route Map
LBB Bike plan

Gardening on the High Plains

Jordan just sent along this link to a good site for LBB gardeners: Gardening on the High Plains

Looks like it's got some good stuff. I'll read it and post a quick review later in the week.

Jorge at work

Our neighbor Jorge came over yesterday and we dug up some irises to transplant to his garden.


First, I showed Jorge the drill on a patch in the back yard, then we moved to the front yard, where he dug some up himself.


While we were out front, more neighbors (John, Carmen, Maria, and a friend of Maria's) stopped by to see what was going on.


Further supporting my hypothesis that gardening is some of the the glue that binds the neighborhood...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

From the Department of More Alarming News

In addition to honeybees, bumblebees also seem to be mysteriously declining. What's going on, people??? Read the buzz here.

Cuttings


I need to thin out some of my irises, and neighbor Jorge is coming over later this morning to get some of the leftover bulbs. I like this part of gardening, passing along the growth. It's easy, keeps the costs down, and best of all, it just feels so darn friendly.

I also have a big beavertail cactus (thornless prickly pear, Opuntia) that I need to hack back. Cacti are ridiculously easy to start, require virtually no maintenance other than the occasional pruning, and this one is especially easy to be around, since it doesn't stab you all the time. I'd like to pass along the pads if someone wants them...

All of this leads me to announce the grand opening of a sister-page to this blog, a community bulletin board that I'm calling "Cuttings." You can find an explanation and link on the sidebar to the right. My hope is that it could become a place for neighbors to share items and make announcement about goings-on in the 'hood. Check it out!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Farmers Markets: Lubbock's Nessie?

Good farmers' markets in LBB--are there any? Or are they just mythological creatures--something we'd like to believe in, but deep down, in the grown-up part of our hearts, we know it's just wishful thinking?

If you know of any, let me know through the comments below. I'll visit what's available and do a review.

Post yer intel here!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hung Out to Dry

Why is it that we don't hang our clothes outside to dry anymore? Don't we all remember that fresh, crisp smell? Or the pretty sight of sheets flapping gently in the wind? When did we all leave it behind? Ah, sweet childhood. You are so distant on the long horizon.

I'll tell you when we left it behind: when we figured out it's easier to pop a load in the dryer than it is to bend, stand, stretch, and pin. Repeat.

Not too long ago friends Kurt and Jordan were waxing poetic about the joys and eco-merits of hanging laundry. Upon further grilling from the women in the group, they admitted that, ahem, in their respective households, there either wasn't that much laundry to do, or that someone else (read: a woman!) was contributing to the labor.

My memory is pretty faulty sometimes, but I do remember how much work it was to hang laundry. Of course, I was shorter then, so maybe that was part of it...Joys and merits, indeed.

Still, Kurt and Jordan got me thinking. Dang 'em.

It is dry here on the Llano, and sunny most of the year. And the dryer is one of the biggest energy users in a household. So as I continue to try to reduce my impact on this good green earth (or, brown, if you live on the plains), it makes sense to hang clothes once in awhile. During the summer, all I ever wear are shorts and T-shirts, so that shouldn't be too much of a burden to hang. And even if I were to reduce my dryer-use to only 3/4 of what it used to be, it is still a reduction.

So there, Jordan and Kurt. I've decided to take the plunge and hang some laundry. Shut up.

I have this left-over T-bar from the clothesline that used to be in our backyard. These things are probably tucked away in yards all over America, yanked unceremoniously out of the ground when the dryer showed up. I thought it would be a nifty idea to bring mine out of retirement and plant it, plus a mate (to be found later), somewhere in the patch of land at the back of the backyard that I call "the farm." Leaving aside the practical benefits of a clothesline for a moment, since my romantic notion of the farm is that it puts "cute" back in the word utilitarian (cutilitarian?), an eco-meritorious clothesline would be just the aesthetic ticket to add to my compost bins, crops, and future home of chickens.

Unfortunately, it looked like the best place to stick one of the posts was situated right where I suspected some gas/power/sewer/water lines probably ran. Being a responsible citizen (and afraid of blowing up), I had the foresight to call the hotline for excavation. This set into motion a rather involved protocol, involving a whole list of parties who expect to be notified when excavation occurs, including, among others, Texas Tech University. Who knew TTU would be interested in my clothesline post?

The next day, I awoke to find these strange markings in the alley:














Unfortunately, even with all that marking, I'm not sure if it is all right to dig where I want to. I mean, does "XL OK" mean "Dig here"? Or does it mean "There's a big pipe under here, you suicidal ding-dong"? (Something I could sort of figure out by, let's see, the presence of a big gas meter...)

And what about that mysterious yellow arrow, pointing to...nothing?

To make it more confusing, hubby Walt reported that someone from Atmos Energy (or maybe Lubbock Power and Light, or maybe Xcel Energy--who knows) came by and told him that the gas line probably runs straight from the back bathroom to the gas meter--right through this spot, marked with an LP&L flag that reads "Clear."



















None of this leaves me feeling all that confident about sinking a post-hole digger there. I have an idea, though (thanks to Walt, who is skeptical of this whole enterprise, for legitimate reasons that I'll explain in a future post). Stayed tuned for further updates on my adventure in laundry drying...

Unless you don't hear from me again, which might mean that I've blown up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rain

Early Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of heavy rain. Maude was up too, scurrying around in a worry. I got up and went into the front room, where I laid down on the couch and held her. Harold joined us, and Gracie, too. Then Koho. It was quite a canine crowd, plus cat.

Around 5 AM I got up to check on my rain barrels. I had taken them out of commission earlier in the summer, just to see if they were the source of all the pesky mosquitoes. The mosquitoes still came around whenever we got rain, but not as heavily, so I thought I'd try to make the bug screens that they came with a little more bug-proof. (BTW, I always use mosquito dunks, but they don't seem to help much.) The lids has always been very loose-fitting, and I've been suspicious that the screens themselves weren't that effective. So I taped plastic across the top and weighted them down with small bricks. We'll see how it goes.



Anyway, I went out to check on how they were collecting, since it was apparent that we were getting a LOT of rain. Sure enough, I had left the drain valves open on the overflow barrel, and so lost some water there.


On my other, homemade barrel, I was having trouble, too. Seems that, yet again, the gutter had filled with trash from the pecan tree and water was backing up under the eaves and coming down inside the utility room. I waited until it seemed like the lightning was slowing down, then quick-like-a-bunny climbed up on the roof and cleaned it out. Probably not the smartest thing to do...

That dang gutter has been doing this since practically the day we installed it. The guy who put them in was able to put screens on the others, but for some reason couldn't figure out a way to put a screen on this one, since there weren't any shingles under which to slip one edge. Disgusted with how many times I'd had water raining down inside the utility room (not to mention how much of it was not going in the collection tank), I decided to fix it once and for all. Here is my solution.














Not too bad, but we'll have to see how it handles the leaf tonnage in a couple of months.

Er, the astute reader might have noticed that that is a metal roof I was standing on in the middle of a thunderstorm. Don't try this at home, kids.


I also installed a little tube thingy to which I can attach a hose to handle overflow in heavy rains. Since it only takes about 10 minutes to fill the tank in a good thunderstorm, overflow needs to be directed away from the house and out into the yard, where it can do some good. Here is the tube thingy:






















The rain barrels collect a total of 200 gallons, which sounds like a lot, but it isn't really. I mean, it's not like you can just hook up a hose and deep-water all the flower beds more than a couple of times from that. Instead, what I'm using them for this year is to water in transplants, as in the case of this Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), which I moved from a spot where it wasn't getting enough sun. A little dab each morning seems to go a long way:




















I also use it to water my pitiful climbing rose once in a while (peeking out here on the right in this picture)...


Otherwise, the rest of the garden is more or less on its own. It has to make do with whatever rain we're gonna get in a season. The results from Saturday's rain are already starting to show:



The rain gauge said 2.5 inches. I said, Wow.

I had been wondering what to do with the bare spot below the utility room window, but after messing around with the rain barrels to prep them for collecting, I got to thinking about how much I admire the hardy, utilitarian look of my homemade tank. So now I'm thinking that instead of putting in yet another planting bed (perhaps something like a kitchen garden in a raised bed), I may just put in a bank of tanks, for a total of three. This is the spot I'm talking about. If you do some mental squinting, maybe you can see how lovely all that rainwater collecting would look...


Let me know what you think. Planting bed? Or bank of tanks? Or some combo of the two?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Eating Local" means "My Backyard"


I've always been more of an ornamental gardener than a food crop gardener, but lately I've been becoming more and more interested in eating locally. The local farmers markets don't seem all that terrific, so in this case, eating local means food that I've grown myself. Part of the reason I'm especially interested in it now is the result of a couple of books I'm working through on my summer reading list, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

I'll post a review of these later, after I've finished them.

One of the main reasons I've never gotten very big into food crops is the simple, if embarrassing, fact of my kitchen laziness. It's not that I don't enjoy growing things, and it's not that I don't enjoy cooking things. I simply don't enjoy the in between steps of harvesting, washing, prepping, and storing of vegetables. I mean, shelling peas??? Washing spinach??? Come on!

Still, the case against the high fuel costs for the way we eat in modern American is compelling. Not to mention the case for improving our diets by eating seasonally. So, I've decided to start easing into it this summer. In the spring I planted tomatoes, four kinds of peppers, and two kinds of squash. So far, it looks like only the tomatoes are going to come through, I think in large part owing to some problems I had getting my drip irrigation to deliver water. I think they simply weren't getting enough, and I didn't realize it until it was too late.

I've decided to persist, though. Failure is only total failure if we can't learn from it and move on. So I've ordered some things to plant this fall: garlic, arugala, and spinach.

I'v also ordered plans for a chicken coop. If this seems like a big leap, let me say that Ive wanted to raise chickens for years. Years. And now that a neighbor has a sweet little flock of three, I feel emboldened to try it myself. First a coop, however...

I have actually owned a chicken...for a single day. She was a rescue who, sadly, was killed by one of my dogs after I brought her home. I won't go into that tragedy here--it's a long story, and one I still find very upsetting. It is, however, the reason I won't get any more chickens until they have a coop in which they can be safely locked at night. The dog who killed the chicken has since passed on, but we still have three. Emma was a hunter, and the three we have now are not, but I've decided nevertheless not to take any chances.

Anyway, the check for the coop is in the mail. We'll see where this adventure goes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Starting out in the evening.


I went out to the garden this evening and sat for a while, glass of wine in hand. (I lathered up first with the mosquito repellent.) It's been a long time since I've paid any attention to the garden, and it shows. I went first to check on the crops, which are so-so. The tomatoes seem to be coming along, and in about a week we'll be busting out in ripeness. Everything else, though...I dunno. Maybe I'll harvest some squash and peppers, maybe not. I think I didn't monitor the water closely enough this year, and they just didn't get enough. I had some trouble getting the drip irrigation to work.

After I checked on the food crops, I set up the little sprinkler and watered down one of the ornamental beds, mainly to prep it for weeding. There's a lot of elm and pecan seedlings, woolly mullein, pokeberry, crab grass, etc. A little attention will make quick work of it tomorrow morning.

I don't know why I've been neglecting the garden. It takes so little to encourage things to grow and keep it neat, and I have always loved doing so. I think it has something to do with dealing with my parents health the past couple of years, but I don't know exactly what. A garden is about life, and trusting the future, and eternity, and I guess I haven't been in that place lately.

Anyway, I don't really know where this is going, but I think it's time to find out.