Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring fever

Peach tree in bloom

It's spring! The peach trees are blossoming, daffodils and dandelions are nodding, and the bushes are starting to bud out. Early planting season was about a month ago, but now I'm starting to get that spring fever itch. Time for planting another round of lettuce and onions, cilantro and peas, arugula and radicchio. Time to get a little dirt under my fingernails and get the first blush of sunburn on my neck.

Seriously, the tomatoes are getting out of control. I'll never try to "get a jump on" the tomato season again by starting them so early (10 weeks out). I had to transplant them again because they are getting so big, they didn't fit under my growlight any more! I'm worried that they are getting a little spindly even in a South-facing window. This is my first year to grow from seed, so I don't expect to be perfect, but I hope that my mato babies do OK when I transplant them into the garden. In another week or so I'll start trying to harden them off by putting the pots outside for a few hours every day. I'm crossing my fingers for the countdown until April 15th.

Tomato trees
I found another way to plant tomatoes if I run out of room in my new lasagna garden. My parents and I went to the new Organic Gardening place on NW 36th and Penn, Organics OKC, on Saturday. They just happened to be having an open house, and I got a free sample of this cool thing called a SmartPot.
The manufacturers claim that the SmartPot is superior to other types of pots for container gardening because of the better drainage, reduced heat retention (a benefit in our climate), and better root aeration. I can't comment on that, although there are some linked studies on the SmartPot site, but I am willing to try it out with a tomato plant. My problem with tomatoes is that I am always running out of room for them. There are a limited number of garden sites that are both sunny and which were not used for tomatoes or peppers in the last two years. So I'll give it a go and let you know how it really performs.
How's your spring coming along?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book winner is...

Commentor #9: anthy! You have won the book Newspaper, Pennies, Cardboard, and Eggs--For Growing a Better Garden: More than 400 New, Fun, and Ingenious Ideas to Keep Your Garden Growing Great All Season Long.

Please comment in with the address where you would like the book shipped. If I don't hear from you by Tuesday evening I shall draw a new number from the number generator.

Ironically, my own garden was covered this morning by a late March snow storm. Hopefully the hardier seedlings will survive.

Full disclosure: To date, Peak Oil Hausfrau blog giveaways have not been sponsored by any authors or publishers, but financed by yours truly as thanks to all my readers for your interesting and thoughtful comments.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gardening on the cheap giveaway

The gardening season in OKC is starting to swing. My tomato transplants are getting unreasonably huge, early-season seedlings and seeds are planted out in the garden, the lasagna garden has been uncovered to warm up the soil, and our peach trees have been pruned. (Still have to prune the other trees). I am counting the days until I can plant my tomatoes - I fear I may have to transplant them to larger containers again before April 15th!

As high gardening season approaches, you may have a list of things you need for your garden. If you are like most Americans (and me), you tend to buy things that were made specifically for one purpose, and that includes gardening. This is a mindset encouraged by our consumer culture, a need for convenience, and our current home aesthetic.

Now, I do firmly believe that the right tool can make a job 1000% easier (for example, a tile cutting machine vs. a manual tile cutter makes a world of difference). However, it is often less expensive to use what you've got around the house - or "waste" products from other people - for garden chores rather than buying specifically-made items. Plus, you are recycling something instead of using more of our resources to manufacture a new item.

At least for me, it takes a while to get in the creative recycling mindset. But "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" - that mantra of our great-grandparents may be coming back in style.

Hence, my giveaway today! In honor of the resurgence of gardening and to help you garden for cheap, I present Newspaper, Pennies, Cardboard, and Eggs--For Growing a Better Garden: More than 400 New, Fun, and Ingenious Ideas to Keep Your Garden Growing Great All Season Long.

Want a (possibly used) copy? Comment in! I will draw winners on Friday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Designing events to engage

After a year of giving speeches, presentations, teaching classes, and hosting events about Transition Town OKC, we decided to mix it up a little by changing our typical format to something more interactive. We hosted a 1 1/2 hour event called Discover Transition, which was designed to be an introduction to the Transition Town model for people interested in starting their own initiative, or considering attending our Training 4 Transition event on April 10 - 11.

At past events, we've used a Power Point, tried to encourage some audience participation, and occasionally included some kind of "envisioning a positive future with less energy" activity. This time, at our first TTOKC-hosted public awareness evening, we took a few cues from the Transition Handbook on how to engage with people. Our schedule proceeded like this:

- Start with a prop: one cup of oil launches the introduction.

- Power Point: The Transition Town model

- Activity in teams: "All of these things are like the others," examinining items in a bag to see what they all have in common (they are all made of oil-derived polymers)

- Power Point: The need for an energy transition

- Activity: In partners, discuss three things you will miss about the cheap oil age and three things you will look forward to about an age where oil is no longer cheap

- Power Point: 12 steps of transition model (with examples from Transitions around the world)

- Activity: In partners, design a tour of an OKC that has $20 / gallon gasoline but is thriving because we have completed our energy transition

- Power Point: TTOKC activities, ideas for change, resources

- Activity: Post-it note wall with four colored post-its for each person (One thing I can do, One thing TTOKC could do, One thing city govt. could do, One other thought)

You can see we changed pace and activities frequently to keep things flowing. An hour and a half was definitely cutting it close for this amount of information and interactivity, but people seemed to stay engaged and interested.

As far as logistics go, we had cake, cider, and water available, fresh flowers for the sign in table, name tags, bookmarks and registration forms to hand out, Post-its for the Post it activity, and an email sign up list available. We also had our props: a cup of used motor oil in a glass jar and two bags full of oil-derived objects (plastic toys, polyester clothes, CDs, nail polish, Tupperware, etc).

We were able to offer this event at very low cost to ourselves (no cost to participants) due to the generosity of our local Sierra Club, who loaned us the space and their projector, by providing refreshments ourselves, and using low-cost marketing tools. Marketing was done via our website, our Facebook page (which we recently started), through Constant Contact mailings to our email list, and the Sustainable OKC listserv.

I enjoyed not having all of the attention be on ME throughout the evening- letting people chat, network, and generate ideas with each other was great. I think we'll use this revised format again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Magical thinking

Peak Shrink has an interesting post on The Tyranny of Positive Thinking, a review of Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In it, she expresses the same frustration I've felt when dealing with our cult of positivity.

I believe that I can improve situations by the way that I think about them and how I interpret them. I believe that, by envisioning a positive future that INCLUDES the harsh facts about peak oil and climate change, I can work toward that future by coming to terms with the massive changes that will be occurring and taking steps to prepare for it. A positive vision helps keep me motivated.

However. There is a pathological brand of positive thinking that demands that we be happy at all times, that we neither admit nor experience pain, unhappiness or depression. In order to achieve this type of happiness, the high priests and priestesses of the cult of positive thinking make recommendations like "don't read the news" and "get rid of negative people."

In other words, deny reality, hide from reality, and don't let your friends and family experience any real emotions. You don't want to hear about their difficulties with cancer and death, financial troubles and lost jobs - it'll just bring you down. Without all that negativity, you can float about in a bubble of pretense, your life padded on all sides by smiles and affirmations.

That same cultish positivity goes a step further to promote the idea that "wishing makes it so." While research that I've read seems to back up the effects of positive goal-setting and mental envisioning, these people believe that you can magically conjure up riches and wealth just by imagining it - hard enough. Not imagining and then working towards it - but just by being positive and believing.

The dark side of this is that you can then blame people who are poor, unemployed, sick, injured, or diseased for their own misfortune. Nothing to do with the realities of the physical world, history, biology, or sociology. Nothing to do with the unjust and environmentally harmful systems that are built into our society. It's just that they must not be thinking the right thoughts! Those Negative Nellies are bringing all that cancer/genocide/war/infertility/poverty on themselves! If they'd just get with the program, they'd be healthy, rich and happy.

I have one friend, for instance, who hates it when I talk about problems like oil depletion. "Enough of that doom and gloom!" she cries. "Let's talk about solutions!" Well, excuse me, but until you understand the depth, breadth and scope of the issue, you can't even begin to imagine the magnitude of the changes that are going to have to occur - and which we are going to have to work towards.

Someone who doesn't understand the fundamental facts around peak oil is likely to think that we can just slap a PV solar band-aid, or some electric car Neosporin, on the problem. Someone who does understand the problem knows that we've got serious gangrene in our system and we're looking at radical amputation of our car culture, entitlement thinking, and globalized industrial consumerism.

From what I've read about survival and trauma, one of the keys to dealing with a trauma appears to be avoiding the feeling of helplessness. In that case, in order to deal with the traumas we are experiencing now, and will experience in the near future, we have to believe that we can actually achieve good things by taking action. If positive thinking - looking on the bright side and finding the opportunities - helps you and those around you to prepare for the collapses we are facing - then look on the bright side. It helps me.

But if positive thinking causes you to shun all news and discussion about peak oil, unemployment, bank failures, and environmental catastrophe, then you are only setting yourself up for failure. If positive thinking causes you to avoid your friends and family who want to discuss and prepare for these "depressing" issues, you've shot yourself in the foot. And if positive thinking causes you to think that these problems are all going to go away without any investment or energy on YOUR part, then you really are doomed.

Sticking your head in a hole, no matter how bright and shiny, isn't a long term success strategy. Short term happiness (from oblivious ignorance or denial) is no substitute for long-term happiness (survival, healthy relationships, and peace of mind knowing you have helped preserve our future and a future for our children). Choose wisely.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mato babies

Tomato transplants
This is my first year to raise tomatoes from seedlings. There was an effort, last year, that was abandoned due to poor planning. This year, I'm serious. I got out my grow light and my timer, and started my seeds about three weeks ago. Yesterday I transplanted my initial seedlings from small pots into these larger pots, which I had saved over the years of buying tomato and other plants from Horn Seeds.
Originally, I thought, why not just start the seedlings in the big pots and save myself the trouble of transplanting? Then I found several sources that suggested that the act of transplanting was actually beneficial to the plant - the shock strengthens them somehow.
I've got 2 or 3 plants each of:
Egg Yolk
Royal Hillbilly
Arkansas Traveler
Black Cherry
Orange Banana
I've got quite a variety of tomato plants - and I'm growing more transplants than will fit in my garden. I've got yellow, pink, red, orange, and purple/black. I've got cherry, paste, jumbo, and medium sized tomatoes. I'm very eager to see how they compare. And since they are all heirloom, I plan to save seeds from the best of them - another skill I want to learn this year.
All the seeds are from Baker Creek Rare Seeds; some are from prior years and some I ordered this year. My old seeds I keep in a crisper double-bagged inside two plastic bags. I was pleased that all the old seeds (from 2 years ago) sprouted, especially since I gave quite a few of those seeds away to friends at various seed swaps. Wouldn't want to be giving away sub-par performers!
April 15th is our traditional tomato planting date. I wonder how large my tomato babies will be by then?