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December 2010

Fall-to-Winter Garden Update

Today is November 5th and tonight it's supposed to freeze. I am partially amazed that it's getting cold so soon this year, in spite of knowing that we are going through a solar cycle of reduced sunspot activity that will mean cooler temperatures for the next 10 years or so.

As soon as I found out about the upcoming freeze, I starting planning for my winter garden. Basically I want to save the plants that are currently growing, and see if I can continue to grow some veggies well into winter. So yesterday I took apart the bean trellis that I had created out of a modular tomato cage kit (I never did get any bean vines...the bunnies conspired against me and ate all the seedlings) and started building a small greenhouse structure around my two primary garden beds.

Ye olde bean trellis before the plague of bunnies.

The greenhouse framework takes shape.

It started raining so I went to Home Depot for some supplies and continued the rest of the construction today. I have to say that I had a blast building this thing! I felt like I was playing with tinker toys! I used zip ties and string to tie the structure together, and hammered the vertical supports into the ground for extra stability.


Once I was happy with the framework it was time to improve the soil. I decided to use a lasagna gardening method of layering all the amendments around the existing plants. I layered a bit of peat moss, diatomacious earth, steer and chicken manures, vermiculite, crushed eggshells and other kitchen scraps, and topped the whole thing off with leaves from the yard. I'll continue to add leaves, peat moss and kitchen scraps throughout the winter to help keep my plants cozy. By spring, I hope that I will have happy new soil to start with.

All tucked in for winter.

Next it was time to install the heat source. I decided to use a very simple, cheap and low tech source of heat: Indoor/outdoor C9 and C7 Christmas lights! They were easy to attach with zip ties, and should keep all the plants cozy and warm (not to mention festive).

As I was working I could feel the temperature dropping. My fingers got a bit stiff and it was getting harder to tighten the zip ties. Good thing I had a cozy hat and scarf to keep the rest of me warm!


See the zip ties sticking out of my pocket? 

I had just finished stringing the lights, and was about to start creating a nice little greenhouse by carefully and attractively arranging 4mil plastic sheeting around my framework, all the while getting fab photos of each stage, when nature said "F-you very kindly, but I don't think so." 

It started raining.

I got the lights hooked up to the electricity and hastily cut lengths of sheeting and draped them over the frameworks, anchoring the bottoms with rocks, all the while getting colder and wetter.


And then the rain turned to ice pellets.


I rushed around getting all the tools and leftover bits inside, and then I remembered my tomatoes! NOOOO! I couldn't let them freeze. So I went out and picked all the tomatoes off of the vine, ice pelting down all around me. I guess I'll try pickling the greenest tomatoes, and see if the others will ripen on the window sill.

Look at all these beauties:


All summer long I think I got 3 puny, sickly tomatoes. It was just too hot for them on the deck. Then fall came along and that tomato plant became lush and thick with fruit and blossoms.

Tomato plant on 11-1.

After a while the ice stopped and I came back out to get this picture:


It looks so cozy and fun in there that I wish I could shrink myself down and wander around. And yes, I know how weird that sounds. But it would be fun!

Tomorrow should be nice and sunny, so I will be able to finish the greenhouse properly. I want to attach the plastic to the framework, making sure it's all properly sloped for water runoff and make access panels that I can open to get at the veggies and for ventilation on nice days.

But now it's time to go start supper and spend the rest of the evening snuggled up in front of the fire.

Recommitting to Paleo (the Butter Post)

I've been drifting in my paleo diet over the past 4 or 5 months. O, let me count the ways:

  • eating rice or corn a few times a month to several times a week
  • eating potatoes several times a week
  • consuming processed foods such as chutney (my favorite way to eat eggs is fried in butter and covered in cheese, chutney and chili sauce - which is mostly paleo, except that commercial chutneys have sugar)
  • eating out at Waffle House about once a week (meats and eggs are fine, but I won't lie - I go there for the hashbrowns which are fried in very bad oil) 
  • eating about twice a month at a local Korean place, where I am certain there is gluten and HFCS in all the sauces, the ricecake wraps are most likely made with wheat flour, and I drink the "happy wine" - a fairly sweet rice and corn wine.
  • and there have been more than a few "lost" weekends recently due to overconsumption of alcohol that makes my liver twinge just remembering.

I am starting to notice little things creeping back into my daily life that I do not want: more allergies, carb cravings, bloating after many meals - particularly meals eaten out, more gas, etc. I've also noticed that drinking raw milk, which never used to bother me, has recently started making me bloat.

There are a lot of good things that I am doing with my diet, like cooking with lard, butter or coconut oil, and eating a lot of grass fed meat and pastured eggs. Some of my veggies are even home grown. I haven't used sugar in ages. I read labels pretty religiously, choose things with the purest, simplest ingredients, and mostly make things from scratch. I cut out diet sodas about a month ago and haven't looked back. But all these good things don't counteract the damage I am doing to myself, and I've decided to get back on the plan.

I'm not quitting everything cold turkey due to financial reasons. Right now any money we spend needs to be put to good use and I am not throwing away all the groceries I just bought. That being said, when the potatoes are gone, I'll start buying sweet potatoes. When the cheese runs out, I won't be replacing it. I've already stopped drinking alcohol - that last hangover left me with plenty of resolve.

For me the hardest thing to give up is going to be dairy. I LOOOOVE my glass of milk per day (sometimes two) and I put cheese on everything. In an attempt to eat more fish, I started putting herring on rice-crackers with cream cheese, and now I still eat the cream cheese, but not so much the herring. I drink my morning coffee with about a 1/2 cup of half and half (I'd prefer heavy cream, but can't usually find any without fillers and emulsifiers, so I started drinking the half and half, which is only cream and milk). And then there is the yogurt, the goat cheese, the occasional cave-aged gruyere...Basically, a large proportion of each grocery haul is dairy.

So what am going to do? I am cutting out all soft cheeses immediately. Also gone is my milk and half and half. This morning I used coconut milk in my coffee, and it was...tolerable. Not fab, but I didn't really notice after the first few sips. As I said, when all that lovely cheddar, asiago and parmesan is gone, I won't replace it, and I suspect that we will slow down on what we still have.

I know some folks who are doing the Whole30 paleo diet, which is basically a very strict paleolithic diet for 30 days. No Neolithic foods at all. No dairy (no butter, even), no alcohol, no grains, no white potatoes, no sugars or sweeteners, no legumes. Just meats, eggs, veggies, some fruits and nuts, and healthy fats (animal and vegetable), excluding butter. I'm pretty much on board with this entire plan, including ditching the dairy, especially after reading this post on the Whole9 website. But there is one thing I'm balking at - that no butter thing.

See, I'm not convinced that the dairy factor is that simple. Here and here are a couple of articles written by doctor and paleo blogger Kurt G. Harris about dairy that make me question one particular assumption in the Whole9 post. I'm not doubting the science they cite, but they make the assumption that dairy is going to have this huge negative effect for most folks, and should just be avoided. 

I believe that if dairy is going to affect a person, it's usually exacerbated by other bad things like gluten, which causes leaky gut. I suspect that my recent bloating problem with milk is due to the crap that I am eating, and the possible gluten I've been getting at restaurants, because this is the first time since I started drinking raw milk and eating paleo that I've had a problem. I agree that I probably need to reset my baseline and so I will stop consuming dairy for at least 30 days. When the 30 days is up, I will try some milk and see what happens.

But my big question at the moment is: Does butter contain enough of these milk proteins to be a problem? That is what I have to decide.

I mostly cook with lard anyways, but I always use butter for certain things like eggs, baked things like potatoes, sweet potatoes and apples...At this point, I'm not going to stress about it. I think that butter and dairy are the least of my problems, and I'm sure that I will improve immensely by ditching all the things on my bulleted list. In addition, I'll go dairy free and quit drinking for 30 days, and maybe I'll even leave out the butter.

I have no idea what is going to happen to Stoney's Pub nights, though. Sheesh, we'll all be a bunch of tee-totalers. Maybe we should take up knitting and checkers. Hmm...geeky board games, anyone?