Thursday, May 31, 2007

90% Reduction Plan

All right, I’ve been working on my reduction plan. I know I’m doing this at the last hour, but here goes. This project is going to be hard to do with two people in the house (at least for the summer), one of whom isn’t involved. But I’m going to do my best.

1.) Gasoline. Current Usage: 336 gallons per year. Goal: 50 gallons per year. This will be tough, given that I live in an area without public transit. My primary destinations are: school (5 miles round trip, 3-4x a week, depending on the semester), the artists market (10 miles round trip 1x per week), my grandmothers (20 miles round trip, 1x per week), and church (10 miles round trip, 1x per week). I also occasionally have to run to the store as well. That’s 60 miles, or roughly 2 gallons of gas, a week. Right there that’s a 104 gallons a year, or more than twice the allowed limit. But, I still use another 232 gallons of gas a year, and there I definitely have opportunities to cut. So here’s my plans to cut:
-limit trips to the store and farmer’s market to no more than twice a month, preferably once. (Save in the event of an emergency.)
-limit social outings to twice a month.
-limit trips to the library to twice a month, and only then on the way home from church (it’s on the way).
I’m also going to Canada for ten days in August (a trip that I’ve all ready had planned) so that will burn some gas. But, I am going by bus so that will fall under public transport.

2.) Electricity. I’m screwed as far as getting down to 90kWh per year is concerned, since I have an all electric house. Since my power is renewable –at least the first 300 kWh/month –this is not the highest on my list to reduce below the 300 kWh/month mark. Toward that end I’ll be making some changes though:
-keeping the ac off as much as possible (once the smoke clears, at any rate)
-unplugging the microwave when not in use
-reducing the amount of laundry I generate, and always using the clothesline
-trying to cook only two or three times a week, and trying to bake only one day a week.
I’m not going to be getting rid of my fridge like some are doing. I use it to keep leftovers, and to freeze food for future meals. This is crucial to my being able to eat right during semesters. Once I get out of school this won’t be so much of an issue.

3.) Heating and Cooking Energy –not applicable; included under Electricity usage above.

4.) Garbage and Recycling. Garbage –for my personal trash production I’m almost there. I’m going to work on reducing the amount of packaging coming into the house. I’ve been working on this for some time but obviously have more work to do. But how the devil do I reduce the amount of cat litter and waste? Any ideas?
Recycling –I am a BIG recycler. I try to recycle everything, including a lot of things that would go into other people’s trash. Cardboard boxes, cans, plastic bottles, and glass, all go to the recycler. I’m not sure how much I produce, so I need to measure this, but it’s obvious I need to cut down on the number of canned goods and boxes coming into the house.

5.) Water –I’m going to install rain barrels to use for watering the ornamentals (when it finally rains again). And I’m going to start using more graywater. I also had to talk to my brother about his water usage yesterday. Not because of this project really, but because of the drought and my pocketbook. The boy is a water hog –he can’t stand taking less than a twenty minute shower everyday. (Sometimes twice a day.) He has literally doubled my water usage in the few weeks he’s been here. So I spoke with him and he’s agreed to do better.

6.) Consumer Goods –I’m about there right now, thanks to compacting and a frugal sensibility. I need to find out how food plants fits into this though.

7.) Food. I’m going to get all my fresh fruits and veggies exclusively from my garden and the farmer’s market. I’m going to start eating more fresh foods as opposed to bulk. I’ll start canning and freezing more of my own food instead of buying so much canned foods. I’m going to reduce the amount of dairy and all processed foods still further –crackers, chili, etc. I am also going to extend my garden beds so that I can grow more of my own food, and this fall I hope to try my hand at small scale grain production (in the form of oats).

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The A/C went on tonight

Not so much because of the heat as the smoke from all the wildfires. We're not just getting the smoke from the big fire in Georgia; oh no, now there are wildfires in Northeastern Alabama as well. Including a small one that is only about 30 miles or so from my house and has me on edge. I'm thinking of getting a kit together just in case. We were all having a lot of problems from the smoke, so I finally broke down and turned the A/C on. Hopefully I can turn it off again in a couple of days. But hey, the central heat and air system was out entirely for nearly two months, and that has to be some kind of a record for Alabama, so I'm not doing too bad!

Tomorrow I'll post my emissions reduction plan. And tonight I'm going to pray for rain.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Outbid by the rich

I was going to write about my plan for reducing my emissions today, but this is on my mind so I want to talk about it. The issue in question is the availability of clean, wholesome food, and access to it. The reason I’m concerned is because it is becoming harder and harder for the poor and even the middle class to get access to decent food. The ingredients for salad cost upwards of five dollars in almost all places, more in some and of course it varies by the season. Most salads will last the average family one, maybe two meals. You can buy a month’s worth of moon pies, for example, for the price of one salad. It is currently much cheaper in this country to eat a lot of processed foods rather than wholesome fruits and veggies, and never mind whole grains! Whole wheat flour is three times as much as white flour here, and a finished loaf has the same differential. When you’re on a tight budget, that stings. I know first hand about budgetary pressures. I have been poor most of my life, and while I eat healthy I often have to buy canned fruit from the supermarket rather than fresh fruit at the farmer’s market because I just don’t have the extra money.
This came to the front of my mind because of an issue that has recently occurred here. Now, I want to say up front that I don’t blame the farmers and don’t hold any grudges. They did what they had to do to survive. Goddess knows it’s hard enough for farmers to survive these days. Its society and those with money to whom my anger –and I am genuinely angry –is directed.
Over the last couple of years a small group of local farmers has started using natural, organic practices. Most of them aren’t certified because they can’t afford it, but I know these folks and what they use. They were looking for a market for their products, so they started coming to the local farmer’s market near my house on Saturday. In the afternoons they’d take the leftover to the artist’s market at the local artist collective. Here was natural, organic, local produce available for the first time in this area. Furthermore, while it was more expensive than the conventional produce, it wasn’t unreasonably so. You could get produce, herbs, free-range eggs, even natural pasture-raised meat and chicken if you pre-ordered. And local organic honey to boot. The people in this area aren’t very well off, and many of them are truly poor, but a lot of them were suddenly able to get fresh organic produce for the first time in their lives. And as for my fellow artists at the collective, we were ecstatic. We know the importance of local food and we had all been trying to find a source of local food, especially organic local food. And though we aren’t well off either, we still managed to buy from them. Within weeks they had a devoted customer base at both locations.
And then it all came crashing down when the seasonal farmer’s market over on the rich end of town opened. The group went over there the first Saturday to try their luck. Keep in mind this other market is more than 30 miles from where I live. This is the land of gated communities and country clubs we’re talking about. Doctor’s, lawyers, politicians, and executives live there. The cheapest house I’ve ever seen advertised in this area was a cool quarter of million dollars. Most of the houses there are considerably more expensive. The rich folk ate up the idea of fresh, local, organic produce. Of course they want to feed it to their families. Who wouldn’t, in the age of melamine and such? The farmer’s group has sold out there every week. Furthermore, the people there are willing the pay much, much more than what we can afford –several times as much, in fact. So, there won’t be any more local organic produce for the poor and the artists here for a while.
We’ve been outbid by the rich.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007


Allright, I’m going to write a post that has almost nothing to do with sustainability, except for the aspect of community. Pardon the disruption from your regularly scheduled programming, but this is really important to me. First, you should know that my family was not the nicest family in the world. Far from it; we were so dysfunctional (in addition to being really poor) that we made the Simpsons look normal. I never had a birthday party growing up. Not even a cake or presents or anything like that. It wasn’t because we were too poor; my brothers all had those things. It was because I was a girl and not worth such things. As I said, my family wasn’t very nice.
Today is my birthday. Tuesday I had my first ever birthday party. It was thrown by my grandmother. You have to understand also that she is not my “real” grandmother. There is no blood between us. This started out by me helping her out when she needed it, and gradually we adopted each other. And Tuesday she threw me a surprise party. Complete with food, cake, and many of my friends.
THAT’S the power of community.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

90% Reduction: My Stats

Here is my baseline for the 90% reduction campaign, starting on June 1st.


1. Gasoline
U.S. Average: 500 gallons per person per year
Goal: 50 gallons per person per year
Me: About 336 gallons per year, or about 2/3 of the average. I think that I have significant opportunities to cut in this area.

2. Electricity
U.S. Average: 11,000 kWh per year, or 900 kWh per month
Goal: 1100 kWh per year, or 90 kWh per month
Me: A few months ago I began an electricity diet. My average over the past year is 619 kWh per month. However, over the last several months my usage has been slightly above 300 kWh. The latest bill, which came in Friday, was the lowest yet -309 kWh. The bottom line is that I am currently using about 2/3 the electricity of the average American household. Also, I am also on the waiting list for Green Power Switch, a TVA program which sails renewable energy to consumers. When I get onto the program, the first 300 kWh of my electricity will be from a combination of solar and wind power. I do not see this a cop-out or a final solution, but merely as a stopgap until I can cut my usage still more. This program may not always be available after all, I may not always be able to afford it, and the less I use the more is available for someone else.

3. Heating and Cooking Energy –currently not applicable, as my house is all electric.

4. Garbage
U.S. Average: 4.5 lbs per person per day, or 1642.5 lbs per year
Goal: .45 lbs per person per day
Me: Here’s another area where I was surprised at how much I consume. For my personal trash production, I produce about 3.5pounds per week (as a conservative estimate), or 11.1% of the U.S. average. However, when you factor in cat litter and its, um, accompaniments, I produce about 40.3% of the U.S. average. This obviously will have to go down. I’m not sure how I produce this much –I throw away almost nothing; mostly packaging that can’t be reused or recycled.

5. Water
U.S. Average: 100 gallons per person, per day
Goal: 10 gallons per person per day
Me: Somehow I use about 67 gallons a day, or again, 2/3 of the U.S. average. How this could be is beyond me. I need to look at all of my systems again.
Problems: My brother will be living with me over the summer while he works at a nearby factory to save money for school. This will complicate my calculations for the next few months.
Deviation: I am NOT going to be able to get down to 10 gallons a day (except under emergency conditions). This is because of myself, my pets, and my garden. So I am changing the goal just a bit. My goal is going to be 10 gallons a day for myself, 5 for my animals (counting them in total as half a person –my Siamese will not be happy with this distinctions), and 20 gallons for my garden. That give me a goal of 35 gallons a day, about half what I use now. (Plus 10 more per gallon over the summer while my brother is here.) I am also looking at greywater systems and rainwater catchment systems.

6. Consumer Goods
U.S. Average: $10,000 per household per year
Goal: $1,000 per household per year
Me: Without counting my tuition and books (which I can do nothing about until December of 2008) I am about there. Being a compactor really helps with this. My tuition and books are currently about $5300 per year.
Without tuition and books, I’m about at goal.
With tuition and books, I’m at 63% of average.

7. Food
U.S. Average: ?
Goal: Local -70%, Bulk -25%, and non-local/Processed 5%
Me: This one was hard for me to estimate. Local -15% (and growing); this is all of my fresh fruits and vegetables, and my free-range eggs.
Bulk- probably about 50%; this includes dried beans, pasta, rice, various flours, powdered milk, oats and (I think) raisins and nuts.
Wet/processed -35%; this includes organic dairy, ice cream, canned and frozen veggies and fruit, juice concentrate, pasta sauce, salad dressing and other condiments, and the occasional box of Annie’s mac and cheese or can of Amy’s chili.
Minor Deviation: I’m not counting free food in this, as I have no idea where it comes from, and as broke as I am, I’ll take it anyway. Its less than 1% of my diet, at any rate.
EDITED TO ADD: I made a mistake with the garbage calculations. I forgot to take into account the fact that my brother has been living with me the past week, so the garbage calculation should have been for 2 people, rather than one. This changes my garbage production to 11.1% without the cat litter, and 40.3% with it, so its not as bad as I thought.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another Piece of Lawn Done Gone

Yesterday after the rain stopped, I went outside, took up my trusty shovel, and began to dig up a patch of lawn. I’ve been doing this every time it rains here lately, while the ground is nice and soft and the grass is somewhat easier to dig. My goal is to dig up a patch of lawn after every rain and plant something until I no longer have any lawn left. All ready I’ve dug forty of fifty square feet of lawn. (And that’s not counting what I seeded with wildflowers.) I don’t just do this willy nilly. I decide in advance where I’m going to dig after the next rain and what I’m going to plant there. Last time I planted some melons and basil. This time I transplanted some herbs –lemon balm, greek oregano, thyme, pineapple sage, and rosemary –and some flowers as well. Hopefully, if I can keep this up, in a year or so I won’t have much of a lawn to speak of. My lawn-worshipping neighbors will, of course, be absolutely horrified. ;-)
In the meantime, I’m slowly sketching out and planning the front garden. I am also of course, working on what I got. I mulched all the beds again today (especially the potatoes) and planted some more cherry tomatoes. I also potted my two new lavender plants. I’ve also vacuumed and picked up the house, did laundry, started the dishes, and started cleaning the much reviled bathroom. I’ve had quite a day –and it’s not over yet! Sharon and Miranda have finally posted the “rules” for the 90% reduction in emissions over on Miranda’s blog (see link on mine to Simple Reduce). In a few days I’ll set down and calculate my baseline and post it here.
How is the coffee reduction going? Not bad, actually. I get a little grumpy in the morning without my usual two cups. It’ll be even worse when I stop drinking it at all. But I’m going to stick with it. This is the best thing to do for the planet. (And it won’t hurt my pocketbook any, either.)

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Confession to Make

I have a confession to make: I used the dryer the other night. Not because I really wanted to, but because at the time it seemed like I had no choice. I have my brother’s cats with me while he’s in school because he can’t have them there. They’re nice cats and they get along well with my animals, but one really, really likes to mark his territory. Not on the floor thank goodness –but on any handy pile of fabric. I’ve been unable to break him of it despite trying. So, I keep him locked out of the bedrooms and the laundry room and keep the couch cushions on end when I’m not using them. That’s not as big a sacrifice as it seems –I rarely set on the couch unless I’m watching a movie, and that isn’t often. That works out well. But the other night he somehow got into my bedroom and you guessed it –he peed on my bed. I didn’t discover this until I was about to crawl into bed about ten thirty –and what’s worse, I had just changed the sheets earlier that evening. Since I only have two pairs of sheets, this was obviously not good. Being sleepy I did the only thing I could think to do –threw the sheets in the washer and then dried them. Finally, I put the fresh sheets on the (cleaned) bed about eleven thirty and went to sleep.
Now, why am I confessing this? Because I think it points out the ways we’ve been taught to do things and highlights one of the arguments against change. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that they just can’t do things any differently because it would be impossible or too difficult. Laundry is a case in point. I’ve heard a lot of people say they would never give up their washer and dryer come hell or high water. Now, I just don’t think dryers are necessary. (Washers are another story; I’ll give up every appliance in my house voluntarily if I get to keep the washer –even a communal washer –but if push comes to shove, even that’s negotiable.) That’s what the sun is for. Line-dried clothes may be stiffer, but they smell so much better. What else could I have done? I could have thrown the sheets in the washer, and laid a blanket over my bed for the night, and used another to cover with. Inconvenient? Yes. Difficult? Not really. Impossible? Certainly not. Sometimes eco-friendly alternatives just require a little bit of thought. Hard to do at eleven pm, but not impossible. ;-)
We’re getting rain here today. If it dries out later I’m going to go transplant some herbs. Otherwise, I’ll be stuck working here in the house today. Which means, among other things, cleaning my much neglected bathroom. Can’t you tell how thrilled I am at the prospect?

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Monday, May 14, 2007


I had a busy weekend here at the homestead. Saturday morning I planted a whole bunch of wildflowers out in front of my place. I have two long stretches of grass out by the road that are hard to mow, and since I’m trying to phase out the lawn anyway (and the mowing) I decided to plant wildflowers there. I got a box of wildflower seed cheap. It has everything from calendulas to daisies to foxgloves in it. I mowed the grass down real low, dug out all the weeds that I could, and then scattered the seed across the area. Then, I went back and forth over the grass tamping down as much of the seed as I could. While I was out there doing this, several of my neighbors came by, either driving or taking their morning walk or jog. Every one of them looked at me like they thought that I am either crazy or mentally handicapped. Or both. ;-) Oh well.
Saturday afternoon I went to the artist market, as usual. That evening I was supposed to mow the lawn, but I had a message on the machine that one of my friends’ two year old daughter was in the hospital having seizures. So I spent the evening at the hospital with her. The little one is all right (for now) but they don’t know what caused it. The pediatric neurologist refused to come in to see her because it was Saturday. My opinion of that man is not printable.
Sunday was devoted to church and yard work. I got most of the lawn mowed and got my sunflowers planted. And I harvested half my peas! All four of them. The plants got stunted by the bad frost we had. I was surprised to have any at all, so hey, I’ll take what I can get. I have raspberries and early tomatoes coming on as well. My pole beans are reaching for the sky and my okra has sprouted. Yay for gardening!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Giving up coffee and bananas

All right, as part of my effort to reduce my emissions to 7% of the U.S. average, I am “voluntarily” giving up coffee and bananas. I put that in quotation marks because I always thought someone would have to pry my coffee cup from my cold dead hand to make me give it up. ;-) Bananas will be the easy part; they may be my second favorite fruit but I’ve all ready reduced the amount I eat significantly in my effort to reduce my footprint. Mostly, I but them when my brother is hanging out here because he loves them and they’re healthy. Being a college freshman his diet isn’t the best in the world. Pizza and Mickey D’s from what I understand. But he loves those bananas –I’ve seen him eat a whole cluster in a day. (And then wonder a loud why his stomach hurts.) So I’ve had a tendency to keep them on hand when he’s here to help him improve his diet. But I digress. The point is –there won’t be any more bananas in this house, unless I grow them myself or get them locally. Since neither is currently possible, that’s out of the question.
Now for coffee. Ouch. I love coffee. It’s one of my treats. There is nothing I love quite so much as a good cup of coffee. Especially first thing in the morning, and especially on chilly winter mornings. But no more. I’ve giving it up to help the planet. Now, before anyone warns me about going cold turkey, relax. I know better than that. Starting tomorrow I’m going down by half the amount I normally drink. I’ll do that for about two weeks, then reduce that still further to every other day. And then nothing, nada. By the second week in June I intend to be completely done with coffee. I’ll probably be grumpy over the next few weeks as I face withdrawl, but that’s nothing compared with climate change.
I hope. Wish me luck.
And don’t anyone dare tell me I should give up chocolate. Oh the horror! Chocolate is a health food, you know.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Jam on the floor and the tenderfoot with poison ivy

The aftermath of canning made my kitchen look like a disaster area. It wasn’t as bad as it looked certainly, but it looked awfully bad. I don’t think it would be so bad if it hadn’t been my first time. There was jam everywhere –counters, stove, sinks, towels. I only made the mess worse by cooking dinner before cleaning up (including fried squash) so it took forever to clean up. I thought I’d gotten it all, but then when I was getting breakfast this morning I stepped in something sticky, and sure enough, there was strawberry jam on my kitchen floor! Not the best way to wake up in the morning. ;-)
I also got poison ivy yesterday. I was hanging up my laundry and noticed this vine that has sprung up all over my yard. Robbie noticed it too and asked “Is that poison ivy?” I had no idea; I’d never seen it before (go ahead and laugh, I deserve it). Neither of us were sure. But by last night I started itching, and this morning I had a horrible rash. I went to spend the day with my grandmother like I always do on Tuesdays and today she took one look at me and said “Where’d you get the poison ivy?” She practically made me bathe in hydrocortisone, then when she learned I had no idea what poison ivy looks like she dragged me out to the woods at the edge of her retirement community and showed it to me.
Now I’m sitting here at the computer, benadryled but still itching, and ruefully licking my wounds. Yep, I’m a tenderfoot greenhorn all right –but at least I admit it!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Strawberry Jam

I have five pretty jars of strawberry jam cooling on my kitchen counter. I should have had more, but I messed up the recipe. That’s okay though; at least it worked! Or appears to have worked, as I can’t test the seals until tomorrow morning.
Canning day didn’t start auspiciously. Last night before going to bed I cleaned down the entire kitchen, right down to scrubbing the stove grates. I thought that all I would have to this morning would be to wipe everything down with vinegar. Wrong. My cats decided that they had to check out my handiwork overnight, and I got up to find cat hair all over the stove and counters. So I had to clean them again.
After that, I cleaned the jars, lids, and bands, and set them to dry. I took the strawberries from the fridge and discovered that I’d accidentally left some water in the bowl and overnight some of them had started to spoil. There wasn’t enough left to make some the jam, so I had to go to the farmer’s market to get some more.
That was when my luck started to change. A friend had asked me to run him up to this place that’s hiring this morning so he could get an application. I did that before going to the farmer’s market, and when we got there it was just after noon. The truck from the strawberry farm was late today –it was literally just leaving, so they had buckets of strawberries to pick through! And when the lady in charge learned that I was trying to learn to can, she not only made me a deal on a GALLON of strawberries, but gave me some tips on how to can them!
We came back to the house (my friend hung around to help) and washed the strawberries. I wiped everything down with vinegar, assembled the tools, and spread out some clean towels. Then we got to work. I used the recipe from the Ball Blue Book. We hulled two quarts of strawberries and crushed them with a potato masher. Then I mixed them in my big stockpot with six cups of sugar and brought it to a boil. I reduced the heat to a soft boil and cooked it for a little over the recommended forty minutes, until I was sure it had gelled. I think I actually cooked it a little bit too long, but it still came out all right. At the same time I heated the jars and the lids. Then we packed the jars, leaving the required 1/4” headroom (which I actually measured with a ruler, lol), sealed the jars, and processed them for 15 minutes in the boiling water canner. They’re now cooling on the kitchen counter.
Overall, how did it go? It turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be. I was really nervous. The whole process took about two hours from start to finish. It was a lot easier with two people; packing and sealing the jars was much easier with four hands to do all the work.
The jam itself came out really good. We ate much of the leftovers, and the rest will go with breakfast tomorrow. Even if the jars didn’t seal right, I’ll still have jam, as I have some freezer containers and will freeze it if the canning doesn’t work. So, I’m going to have several pints of jam to last me the next year –for the cost of a few strawberries, some sugar, some lids, and some time. They are local strawberries and I know exactly what’s in that jam. And of course, tonight I get to have a strawberry pie. Hey –I have to eat up those leftover strawberries somehow.
Here’s to eating local!

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Big Step

Tomorrow I’m going to take another big step on the road to independence. I’m going to can for the first time. I’m nervous, but I have all the stuff and I’ve read the instructions, so hopefully it will go well. I’m going to start with one of the easiest recipes –homemade strawberry jam. The strawberries are local, of course. I’m almost as excited as I am nervous. I’ll post about how it goes, of course. I’m also working on a long article for another venue that I’ll crosspost here, hopefully tomorrow.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

I'm back

My apologies for having gone so long without a new post. I got caught up in the last few weeks of school. Between 20 page term papers, finals, and projects, I haven’t had much spare time for anything, much less for blogging. I have been working on my garden (I have too, if I intend to have anything to eat from it!) and here is what I have growing right now:
3 kinds of tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, pole beans, potatoes, oregano, basil, calendulas, nasturtiums, lemon cucumbers, zucchini, two types of lettuce, crookneck squash, okra, two kinds of spinach, swiss chard, melons, and sweet potatoes.
I’ll also be planting corn, winter squash, pumpkins, and watermelons in the next few weeks. That’s just in the vegetable garden of course –I also have lots of flowers. The five Roma tomato plants, which were purchased, all ready have flowers on them –so I should have tomatoes soon! My raspberry bushes are also flowering, something I didn’t expect this year. All the blackberries died, unfortunately, and because of that and some other issues, I won’t be ordering from Gurney’s again. I hope to have a big enough harvest to practice canning.
In other news, NPR has been doing a special on climate change. They’re going to be doing this for the next year, and thus far it has been fascinating. Here’s something I heard today about where people tend to emit the most CO2: 50% tends to come from heating and cooling your home, 25% tends to come from driving, and 25% tends to come from lights, refrigeration, food, etc. What this means in practice is that you can reduce your CO2 the most by turning off the AC and staying home more.
That’s all for now –I’ll write a bigger post tomorrow.

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