Sunday, March 28, 2010

Seed starting: What have I done?

Two weekends ago, the kids and I took on our seed-starting project. After all, that's what the books said to do - start around six weeks ahead of last frost date. Right now, I'm wondering, what have I done?

The peat pellets did well. Far too well. Within a few days we had some early sprouts:

The kids were thrilled, and each day had to check progress. And one week out, we had actual plants:Another week later, and I'm stumped. With temps still sometimes getting below freezing at night, we're not to the point of transitioning outside. But I'm drowning in sprouts - some of which have already outgrown their peat pellets and needed to find a new home.

The tray of seed starts is still on my table, and my already crowded countertops are overwhelmed with pots. And I have company coming in four days...Any brilliant ideas of what to do for housing these guys for the weekend?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

GPB: Sweet Sixteen

No, I'm not talking about my Final Four bracket. That long ago was shot. (And I don't want to talk about it.)

Instead, I'm talking about what are our top tips for staying green without losing your head or your wallet. It's over at today's Green Phone Booth.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Carrot soup

Carrot soup. I know it sounds wierd, but try me on this one.

I had the opportunity to meet a talented caterer turned grad student last fall while working on a commercial shoot, and she made this amazing carrot soup. It was light but full of flavor, and we had to get the recipe.

Finally, after some work on reducing the recipe to a normal-sized batch, she finally shared it. I tried it without the curry, and it worked great, too. A tip from her to get you started:

There are no hard and fast rules about ingredients. That’s the beauty of soups –you adjust to your taste. Ingredient quality, however, does matter to the outcome.

Sweeter carrots and onions result in a better soup. Carrots from the farm markets are the best. Really big, gnarly carrots are a little bitter. Don’t use precut and prepeeled carrots –they are tasteless.

Allison's Carrot Soup

1 lb. carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
12 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. minced ginger root
2-3 c. low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 c. almond milk, approximate – may need a bit less
small amount olive oil to cook onion and spices
salt to taste, use coarse salt at end of cooking process

Over medium heat cook onions in olive oil until golden but not browned. Add garlic, ginger root and curry powder and saute a minute or two longer. Don’t let curry powder and garlic burn –smells hellatious, so stir frequently. Meanwhile in saucepan bring broth and carrots to a boil and cook until tender, not crisp tender but soft so they blend well.

Cool contents of both pans then add an amount of both to the blender with a quantity of almond milk –go easy on the milk as too much thins out soup and makes it bland. If the soup remains too thick add more chicken broth to the blender. Once carrots and onions are blended add them back into saucepan and reheat over low heat.

Instead of croutons or crackers serve with roasted pumpkin seeds.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thanks, Mr. Weatherman

No matter how warm and sunny - close to 70 - the weather gets, the thrill of snow doesn't elude my children.

Yes, after a week of gorgeous weather, they were talking snow for this weekend. So much for walks at the park.

My oldest paid keen attention to the forecast. This morning, after breakfast, she drew open the curtains and impatiently announced, "But there's no snow!"

Kind of hard to happen when it's 45 out at 9 a.m. Not that I'm complaining, but now I've got a 4-year-old to answer too...

GPB: Dyeing to be natural

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm writing about options for Easter egg coloring and whether people really want spinach-flavored eggs.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Seed starting - A few quick wins

Seed starting is great if you need the thrill of quick successes in the garden. It's especially helpful when you have two little helpers you're wanting to get interested in the process.

This weekend, we took our first stab at starting seeds for summer 2010. Last year wasn't as successful - we managed to start leeks, only to lose them in the transplanting process. This year, we're hoping for better results.

We went the route of least mess and invested with a pack of peat pellets, mostly because we'd saved the tray from the year before.

The kids had the fun of putting the pellets in the slots.

The were amazed to watch them grow as the pellets soaked up the water, and eagerly watched as I poked the first few holes in the top to add the seeds.

And then the toddler came back to the table with forks. Yes, forks. You have to rip apart the peat pellets somehow!

After getting the gang back under control, we planted a variety of seeds to try our fate. This year's batch included heirloom tomatoes, early broccoli, bok choi, rainbow chard, onion seeds, cucumber, squash and one watermelon under diress. I figured it would be a great way to show how all seeds and plants are different sizes and grow at different speeds.

Morning came, and we carefully lifted the top of the container. No change. But within three days, the broccoli were beginning to sprout. Next was bok choi.

And then came rainbow chard. The first flash of red brought squeals of excitement from my 4 year old. So far, nearly everything has sprouted, except for the squash, tomatoes and melons. The broccoli sprouts are nearly an inch tall already. It's amazing how fast some things will grow.

So if you're looking for a few fast wins when gardening with your little ones, try seed starting indoors with a few of the options above.

If you have other vegetables that are easy to start from seed, please share your successes!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Confessions of a multitasking mom

Priorities. It seems I have too many. And too few resources to treat them all with the attention they deserve.

Confessions of a Multi-tasking Mom: Going Green In Indy
Sure, this sounds like the lament of a working mom. But it's true of any person, I think. We have so many hours in the day, so many resources we're blessed with. And in the end, we have to make choices.

And so goes it with making choices for my family and the world around us. I have great intentions. But I can't do it all.

I value the few hours a day I have as a family - the whirlwind hours of 5:30 to 8:30, where juggle dinners, diapers, playtime, bathtime, stories and struggles of not wanting to go to bed. Many days, I wind up exhausted, and often my husband and I are right behind them in going to sleep.

So that leaves me with a shortage of time. And so each hour is wasted as little as possible. Need to cook? The kids join us in the kitchen, despite the frustrations that accompany it. Want to garden? They're right beside me starting seeds and commenting on which are sprouting first. Doing yard work? Bring your own shovel and watering can. It may feel like play to them, but they're quietly learning a lot about how we take care of this world.

Those busy hours are springboards for interesting conversations. This morning's rush was punctuated by a discussion of where food comes from (from my 4 year old), which led to a talk about how fun it is for us to garden. We talk about how recycling allows us to make new stuff from old, and we talk about how we can help others by donating things we may no longer be able to use. Most talks aren't nearly as deep, but the point is, we talk. As a family. And that time's important too.

So while much happens in our family hours, much is left on the table. Like the dishes. Or the laundry. My household is far from perfect, and it shows. I choose some time-savers too without even blinking. For all of my homemade meals, there's plenty of frozen finds too. For all of my applesauce making in the fall, I still use fruit cups by spring. For all of my homemade cleaning solutions, I still have my stash of Clorox wipes. For all of my high-efficiency appliances, I'll still dry my dishes in the dishwasher - or put it on the one-hour wash to save time. Certainly not anything to scold me over, but it's a decision nonetheless.

Life is a series of choices, big and small. There are times when we can invest a lot in green living, and there are times when we pick and choose. Right now, forces at work, with my family and with my health mean I'm scaling back on a few of those smaller choices. But as the springtime comes and my health (God willing) improves, I'm sure my energy will return and I can put a renewed focus on things I've left behind.

In the end, I don't think any of us can do it all. Nor should we attempt to. But the aggregate of us making changes, big and small, can make a dramatic difference in this world.

This is my submission for the March APLS carnival on making choices, hosted this month by wikeorama.

Irish eyes are smiling

St. Patrick's Day is the one day of the year my husband's family claims their Irish roots. (Of course, it's his excuse to invest in a few good beers, but I suspect it has as much to do with March Madness as anything.)

And I admit in years past to have been a sucker for "Kiss me, I'm Irish" or "I'm your lucky charm" T-shirts that were oh-so-cute on the little ones. But the idea of a shirt for one special day has lost a lot of its appeal in recent years.

This year, the kids are old enough to get into the idea of St. Patrick's Day, and we opted to celebrate it with an all-green dinner. No green eggs and ham for us, though. We're tapping into my oldest child's imagination for our menu this year. If you've got a preschooler too, feel free to borrow an idea or two!

Green pasta (pasta with olive oil and some green herbs, likely basil and oregano, and garlic)
Green olives
Green grapes
Green salad (interestingly, she says with nothing on it but dressing!)
Shamrock pretzels (finally, a use for the green sugar from Christmas cookie decorating! A note: This is the quickie version with refrigerator dough, if you have a bit of time, here's how to get started with a yeast-based recipe.)

Still haven't talked her out of green cupcakes. I suspect that will be a battle to the end.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bloomington Winter Market

It may techincally be spring, but winter markets are in full swing. If you're missing your springtime fix of plant starts and produce, look no further!

A few weeks ago, we finally had the chance to check out the Bloomington Winter Market . If you've ever had visions of a winter market being baked goods and canned veggies from the previous fall, think again.

We were impressed with the variety we found. Plant starts - something I'd written off in Indiana as being unavailable until Mother's Day. Produce. Eggs and cheeses. Herbal teas and yarn. Even salmon, our big splurge for the weekend.

The Bloomington Winter Market is smaller than the one in downtown Indy but worth the drive if you're looking for something a little less crowded. This is the last weekend for Bloomington; it's open until noon at Harmony School. If you're headed south this weekend, check it out!

Fairy Garden Kit Winner

The winner of the fairy garden seed kit is Mia J. Please contact me with your mailing information at goinggreenmama at gmail, and I'll get it sent to you.

Thanks to everyone who participated! Look back here for another garden giveaway later this month.

Check back on the comments page if you're interested in great ideas on how parents have encouraged their kids to get active in gardening. There's some great ideas. But the best story comes from Alycia:

My daughter has helped me in the garden since she was a toddler also. Her
favorite thing to grow has always been radishes, a very unusual choice for a
little one! Aside from often trying to harvest them too early, our "girlie girl"
was known for pulling the, wiping them off on her jeans, and eating them....dirt
and all!

Have a great week!

GPB: Calling names

This week, I'm writing at the Green Phone Booth on how marketers are trying to make sense of the green mommy "markets." Where do you fit?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Full of $^!+

This weekend, we took advantage of the warmer weather and drove to Bloomington. There we checked out the winter market (more on that later), got down and dirty in a park and visited an organic gardening store.

You would have thought my kids had died and gone to heaven. No, it wasn't because of the plants to explore, because there weren't any offered for sale.

Instead, it was all about the poop.

My daughter's been obsessed with the idea of worm poop as fertilizer ever since we experimented with some last year. (No, worm castings don't smell, it's a dark-brown consistency, and truthfully looks like a heavier (but not clayish) dirt.) In the height of her curiousity, she even asked a poor worm on our driveway after a rain, "Hey worm, did you poop?" I'm not sure why she wanted to know. I don't know that I want to know.

So at the garden store, she flocked to the gardening "enhancements" area, and proudly pointed out the worm poop to her toddler brother. They mushed the bag and looked at the sample baggie of worm castings. They banged on the different packages of enhancements and noted which were softer and which were not.
But the highlight of our excursion was learning that there just wasn't worm poop in this world. Oh yes, variety is the spice of life, and you can have it in your castoffs too. Chicken. Seabirds. Bat guanos from around the world. (The garden catalog even had a world sampler!) But in the end, we stuck with the garden-variety earthworm castoffs, which worked for us last year quite well.
At an age where you're already dealing with the "shock value" of potty talk, poop is all the rage. And they love getting away with discussing it in the context of gardening. It's quite impressive to a four-year-old. Days later, my kiddos are still talking about the trip.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Giveaway: Fairy Garden Seed Kit

My daughter and I have gardened together since the time she started toddling. While we've graduated from a tiny, beach-sized watering can to a desire to play with all of mom's gardening equipment, it's been an interesting journey to share.

Imagine giving her her own garden. Yet I'm crazy enough to do just that. Tucked in her Easter basket this year will be her very own seeds to do damage with.

Want to let your little one do the same? (Or is your inner child tempted?) Next week, I'm giving away a Fairy Garden Kit from Nature's Crossroads, a Bloomington, Ind.-based seed company.

The garden kit, which can cover a 4' x 4' garden space, contains "fairy seed mix" (clover, chamomile, bachelor's button, sweet pea, and cosmos), toy fairy, baubles, and instructions.

To enter, tell me your favorite way you've gotten a little one interested in nature, the environment or gardening. (If you don't have a little one, that's OK, just share your favorite gardening tip for the group!)

You can get a second entry by subscribing to my RSS feed.

Contest ends March 12 at midnight.

(Disclosure: Seeds are provided by Nature's Crossroads.)

GPB: Trippin into agritourism

Today I'm over at the Green Phone Booth blogging about agritourism. Don't let the name scare you. It's just a fancy way of saying you're getting dirty and checking out the world!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The public school problem

This week, we did the seemingly unthinkable. We signed our child up for kindergarten.

I realize parents do this every year, and for many of us, our hearts wrench at the idea of our babies growing up. But for our family, we had a challenging decision to make. It was whether or not to go public.

You're probably wondering how a family who's underemployed can seriously consider going private. Here's why.

I'll set the test scores and desire to have my family's values reinforced at a greater level than can be done in the public schools aside. Those were serious considerations, but we thought still that private school tuition was unattainable given our limited budget.

But we had to face reality. In Indiana, a cut in property taxes is causing chaos for school districts. Teachers are being cut. Services are being cut. Transportation is being weighed.

And even if we're at status quo for the next school year, we'd be forced to drive over our lunch hour to the schools to either pick up or drop off our child, as kindergarteners are only bussed in one direction. For working/student parents, it's difficult to rearrange schedules on a consistent basis.

In other words, IF we were lucky, I'd be able to do a swing from work to school and back in maybe an hour. Consider the time wasted, the mileage, the gas and the wear on our vehicle.

I don't necessarily believe school should be scheduled at the convenience of the parents, but the realities of this society are that many parents are balancing multiple work and school responsibilities. And the fact that you now have several classes of families making special round-trips to the school each day is an environmental mess.

We finally did the math, and we were surprised. We factored in the cost of daycare and after-school care (only needed on my husband's school days), the impact of the mileage. The full-day kindergarten tuition we thought was vastly unaffordable actually made better financial (and environmental) sense than anything else. And the shorter drive to the school - even without bussing - was a much better decision for our family. In the end, we'll save some stress and have less hours in the car. And that's the best choice for us.

What I'm saying is, if you're making a big decision that you think's already made for you, you might be wrong. What's on the surface unattainable might in reality be the best decision for you.