Tag Archives: organizing

Seed companies don’t want you to know this one fact!

I’m feeling smug about my seeds.

My collection of seeds is all organized.  That should last until, oh, about April, if I’m lucky.  They’ll be all muddy and confused when the time comes.  Only right now I can feel smug.

I’ve got all my seeds grouped into baggies, which handily hold seed packs new and partial, and all the other odd sizes of envelopes which accumulate with saved seeds and old seeds. Today is bean planting day?  Grab the bean bag, and then I can strew around my different types of bean packets and still have the fun of “ok, here I think I’ll put some yellow beans…maybe I’ll see if any of these from 2011 germinate over here…”  I can’t micro plan too much.


Aside: mind blowing new information of 2017! 

Seeds generally have a shelf life of two years in normal storage conditions, right?  Right?   NO!  Some seeds actually become more likely to germinate the longer you save them!!!   You can bet seed companies don’t want to hear that.

I have to say my experience bears this out.  I was tracking germination rates on my old seed packets- and I’m willing to admit that I have seeds that go back to 2003 – say in 2016 I got 1 out of 3 germination on whatever tomato from these old seeds, to compensate, I put in three seeds per cell the next year.  BOOM, all of them germinate.  For a number of seeds across species (and I’m often trying old seeds because of course I want to use them up), my germination rates increased! They were doing the opposite of what I expected, year after year.

More experimentation is in order, but when my friend told me this revolutionary notion (she was reading a French agriculture book), I went “That explains my tomatoes! I thought I was crazy”


Yeah, I know, it's a dark picture. Least it hides the Barry Manilow album in the background.I like the ziploc method, because it translates well to grabbing and going to the garden, and can even save the paper seed packs from melting in the dew if they get left out overnight.  It’s happened.

I’ve definitely outgrown my Lee Valley seed saving binder, which is a good idea with limitations, but taking the tri-zip “pages” out of the binder makes them useful again – they’re really handy for all the oddball seeds or small amounts (like, I don’t have enough melon seeds to warrant a “melon” baggie).

My brain is worn out from doing my garden plan today.  It mostly consists of plotting the seed start and transplant dates for all that I want to grow, estimating quantities and therefore square footage, and then mapping which areas will be roots/greens/etc, based on my crop rotation.  Then I sort over my seeds and a shopping list is generated (it’s a short list).

Then all those dates get stretched out onto a calendar, so every few days there are certain seeds to start, or put out, or direct sow (and the quantity of each is indicated).  Some days (tomato day) are big days, but the work is distributed quite widely, done right, and the best part is I never think again about what is the right time to plant this or that, because I did all that thinking today.  I just look at the schedule and keep marching.

It’s not like it all turns out according to plan, but planning day is the single most important thing I’ve done to improve my gardening.  Success is many times more likely with a reasonably detailed plan of when stuff needs to be done and where it has to go.  There’s plenty of latitude for adjustment but the basic schedule is invaluable.

Also because you can’t learn everything all at once and still get outside, planning day is a chance to fill in some corners of research, as I add things I want to try this year (When do I have to start those?  Perennial/annual?  Do they reseed themselves/save seeds?  What do they like to grow with?), and adjust according to the  record of “mistakes” I note every year (Put melons out later!  Lemon balm earlier.).

This year I intend to give flowers a better shot, and also make window boxes.

I know some people just squint at the sun and sniff the breeze and go “time to plant potatoes”, but that’s not me.  In time the scheduling will probably become much more “instinctive”, but “instincts” are often habits created by practice, passively or deliberately.  Don’t get me started on habits.

This Tiny House Life

We live in a tiny house.

House is a generous term. It’s much more of a cabin. This tiny house life closely resembles what most would call camping. Tiny is quite accurate, though.

12 x 16´, 192 square feet (“Tiny house” is generally 200 sq ft or less). It sort of has two stories- there’s an up”stairs” more spacious than the average tiny house loft, that holds a bed and clothes and things, but one can’t walk around with the sloping ceiling.

It is also off-grid. This means we have a couple solar panels on the front with a battery bank, and a wood stove that heats the place.  We cook with propane.

I’m really happy that our passive solar worked out as well as it did. A lot of math can be done to achieve the right angles of eave overhang so that the summer sun does not shine in the windows and the winter sun does. I did no math. I looked at the sun at noon, and pointed the house at it. I guessed at the overhang. Nailed it. At summer solstice the eave shadows the front windowsill. At winter solstice the sun hits the back wall.

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Space matters I – design

Considering space, and the premium it is at in a tiny house, I chose to give a LOT of that space to insulation. Many square feet of interior space went to a double deep quilt of insulating. R28 in the walls. I think I’ll be happy forever about that allocation of space. It keeps it warm, so warm. With just the sun, even on cold days, the big south windows collect enough rays that it gets comfortably warm. On sunny days, if someone also stirs up the fire in the morning, then windows must be opened.

The woodstove takes up a big chunk of space. To keep code tolerances from stove to flammables takes space, but it’s not negotiable. We have a small woodstove, and a fire very quickly heats the whole place. Often too effectively, and windows get opened again.

Heating the tiny house, we laugh all the way to the woodshed. One cord! One. Cord! A year. That is a massive savings in energy- in our case mostly time, doing firewood.

Mud room top left, hearth bottom right- big chunks of space
Mud room top left, hearth bottom right- big chunks of space (“kitchen” top right- wall to wall counter)

One of the best allocations of space we have is a mud room. I was dubious about it at first, but it serves so many functions now! It’s a division between the outdoor stuff (coats and boots), and the indoor life of slippers and tea. That’s where the dog sleeps (His choice. He can’t take off his fur coat). It’s a cooler room to put cooler things in, and it’s an airlock. In a house the size of a room, open the door on a -10C night and all the heat whooshes right out the door. I highly recommend the mudroom, even in a tiny house.  The odd shape of it, with the angled inside door, turned out to be genius.  It works extremely well on both sides of the walls.

Space matters II- Living with less of it

Space matters. Anyone buying or building a house is saying “ok, this is how much space we’re willing to build, maintain, and heat, and we’re going to take on the challenges that come with it”. If that’s a big house, then the challenges might be paying for it, decorating it, contracting out the Xmas lights and landscaping. If it’s a little house, then the challenges are:

1 The first major difference, and also motivation, for the whole tiny house “thing” is that it forces you to face your stuff. Stuff is a major feature of modern life. It means a lot. The stuff you have can enable or inhibit what you are able to do; announce, reinforce, or create identity; and absolutely determine your lifestyle.

To live in a tiny house, implicitly, you are choosing to pay more attention than usual to the stuff you have, and probably, do without a lot of it. If your house is big enough, there is enough room for stuff to come and go, sit and be forgotten, saved – there is slush room. Stuff can be ignored. There is space for that in a big house.

Tiny house? Not one bit. Not one. There is no space, for anything to be ignored. This is a pretty big challenge. It can be an existential one, if stuff defines your identity or enables you. Downsizing into a tiny house means a lot of things. Like: I can live with less. I trust that I can access what I need when I need it (from somewhere other than the garage or attic). I can be different, my identity can be based on other than what I own.

We have largely evaded these difficult questions by having other buildings on the property (a couple of also-small outbuildings). There is NO WAY that anyone can farm, even a little bit, without a great deal of stuff. Chiefly tools. We have a lot of tools. And feed, and seed, and fencing, and hoses, and buckets and barrows. This all just lives elsewhere, not attached to our house, not heated.

I still have quite a bit of stuff, especially things that I need in order to make, build, or create things. H.W. has a lot of bicycles. But we don’t get to forget about the space our stuff takes up anymore. Everything gets critically eyeballed, sifted. Analyses are made.

2 The second major difference that I notice, is that in a tiny house, you practically live outside. One is intimate with the outdoors. A tiny house is too small to “contain” a whole life. I am always aware of the weather, the season, the time of day, the temperature, because I’m always out in it. I’ve wondered how often the average exterior door gets opened and closed on a house. I figure it’s far greater in our house. From first thing in the morning to moments before sleep, we are out and in that door. The wood’s outside, the water’s outside, the tools are outside – everything other than the basics is somewhere else, so we are constantly scampering out.

I like it. There is no way to get disconnected from time, season and place.

3 Small things are desirable. Everything is little. Space is at a premium. It’s the opposite of the wild west  (unlimited promise of the frontier)- infinite expansion is not an option. Therefore, things that are compact, that cleverly use space efficiently, that have multiple uses, are valued and appreciated (smallness and efficiency are not always qualities that anyone cares about).

Then again, some things are valued out of proportion to the space they take up. We have two (!) manual typewriters in prime space.

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Different fonts, of course.

4 Privacy. Considering we lived together for over a year in the tiny camper, the tiny house is luxuriously capacious. Still, it’s essentially one room. Smells, sounds, temperatures are all shared. Often this sucks to negotiate, but on the other hand, there’s no distance. We do things together, even unintentionally.  We are always in earshot.

5 Oh yeah, money. Much, much, much, absurdly, cheaper. Even with a ridiculous amount of insulation and eleven windows, our tiny house cost less than $5000. It could have been even cheaper, but I didn’t ferret out the rock bottom price on every single thing. Commonly, a pre-built tiny house can run a lot more, but they can also be really fancy, with Scandinavian everything and sneakily hidden washing machines. Like everything, there’s a spectrum. We are nearer the primitive end of this one.  No plumbing. No laundry.

Similar to the off-grid life, tiny house life costs the currency of energy and time. Much less money to build, or to pay for, or pay the mortgage on, but there are non-monetary costs.  More time paying attention to stuff, moving it around…

One big thing about a tiny house is that it does not absorb “mess”, at all.  If you have a long marble countertop and at one end you have a pile of bills spread out that you were sorting, there is still the impression of “clean”, because it’s mostly clean, except for that pile, which is obviously temporary – a work station.  In a tiny house, one pile of bills, or a project spread out, or a batch of canning – any workstation takes up the whole counter, maybe the whole room, and no matter how temporary it might be, it gives the impression of MESS! All surfaces are covered therefore everything is a mess! A cataclysmic mess can happen as easy as bringing in the groceries etcetera from a town trip.  On the flip side, it can tidy up in about ten minutes.  A thorough, comprehensive total house cleaning, vacuuming included, is a two hour job.

As everyone knows, the world is filling up. Some people still do have “unlimited space”, some do with exceedingly little. Tiny house means a mindset that’s the opposite of sprawl. If there isn’t enough room for anything and everything, then you have to bring the energy and time of attention to choosing what to bring in and keep; you have to be conscious.

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For those considering tiny or just tiny-curious, I highly recommend the wonderful, thoughtful, funny, why-to and how-to book on going small, The Big Tiny, by the incomparable Dee Williams.

This Off-Grid Life

It’s all about the list

The real benefit to a structured Happiness Project, or at least the structured list, is that it measures balance.  A list of certain things to do each week requires that nothing gets neglected week after week. It’s so easy, especially when you’re busy, for time to all steamroll together, and the daily actions that make you what you are or want to be get put aside “just today”, again, and still again. Then you look up and days or weeks have passed without any attention to the things you want to do.

The list makes you look up more often.  Having a checklist to report to with all the truly important things on it is an ongoing feedback device that reminds you at a glance what is getting neglected.  I love my fancy weekly “nice list”, because I can tell instantly, where there is a gap between the stars, what I haven’t been paying enough attention to and voila, my attention turns that way.  It’s a natural balance meter.

My list has two sections: eight things I intend to do daily, and eleven things that I want to do 1-3x per week.  Of course it’s all jazzed up with bluebirds to make associations to the book, and inspirational quotes and colour graphics, on a half page sheet.
The daily things -mostly quick things that still need some reminding before they become natural habit -have their little grid where I can put checkmarks each day of the week.   The other, weekly things- naturally, bigger endeavours that take some time and effort – have little grey stars to indicate desired results.  When I execute one, I get to stick one of my fancy glitter stars over the hopeful little grey placeholder.  The satisfaction of doing this is all out of proportion.

My list of the week floats around and gets a bit crinkled over the week, then I make a week-end synopsis of what worked and didn’t and do a little review and analysis on the back of the sheet before I file it where I can occasionally see all those stars from weeks gone by.

Enough with my Happiness Project – next up: advancing with our fiberglass camper reno.

Never was a list so serious

BluebirdTo kick off my Happiness Project, I made myself an official Happiness Project list.

Every project, before it can begin, requires a fancy supporting document, with at least a little colour, sometimes on the scale of a major arts and crafts event.  This one I wanted to do on my computer.

In a spectacular example of the wrong approach, I started the day with cookies, didn’t drink water, and spent nearly a day creating the list of my model Happiness plan.  The irony was not lost on me, as I flouted early entries ON the list, like hydrate; wrestled with text in a handwriting font when I could have written it by hand faster; and spent energy on an accessory, at best- creating a list instead of taking actions that were on the list.

I started out with a vision of digitally straight line tables and slick graphics, but never imagined it could take so long. I slaved away, using four different programs because I didn’t know how to make one do what I wanted, and got teeth-grindingly hungry and mad at the whole project.  I was too deep in it by then to give up, though.   There was probably a point of turn-around, where it would have made sense to write off the time already invested and not waste any more, but I missed it. Continue reading Never was a list so serious

Lists in peace

I finally updated my life into the digital.  My lists, at any rate.

The last incarnation of my “list system”, in a beloved orange clipboard, was a masterpiece of design.  I had tabbed pages (different colours), and each page had topical lists on it.  Books and Movies, Big Dreams, Sewing projects, Want list, Long-term projects, etc. The top page was always the current, top of the heap need-to-do things.  The beauty was any page could easily be replaced, top page most often, when it needed significant changes or got used up, and the overall system retained its order.  Crucially, everything that I would need to write down or collect in a list in any way had a place in my system.   See, I’m still proud of it.

Its fatal design flaw was that the orange clipboard was sometimes not conveniently around, while my laptop nearly always is.   I get why people might put everything into their phones for the same reason, but I hate typing on a phone.   So I transferred all those lists into the Journler program (Mac) that I use every day.  I made a folder – LISTS – with a master lists file that has many many short lists – old projects, new projects, current to-dos, wanted things, things to look up on the internet, etc.  Addresses and Birthdays; Books and Movies have their own files.

It’s so elegant!  I’ve no idea why it took me so long.  Continue reading Lists in peace

Happiness

I started this post as an extended review of a book called The Happiness Project, that got my wheels turning over the active and determined pursuit of happiness.  Turned out that it was a much bigger topic and focus of my life than just one little essay.

Reading the book made me realize how happy I am right now, in my life exactly the way it is. I’m well aware that many other people would not at all be happy with this, perhaps would not even be able to endure it.  I’m often perched on the edge of broke, when I work for money it’s at a job I don’t love, I’m living in my very unfinished converted barn without running water, windows or constant heat.  But in downward comparison, I have more than some of the wealthiest Cubans have.  Cuba is much better off than a lot of Africa.  Relative poverty in Canada is still unattainable riches to the  third world, and the great thing (that I’m quite grateful for), is that I rarely forget it.  I feel rich, almost all the time.  I have an abundance of time, good credit, my health, the unflickering love of friends, wood to burn and a stove to start fires in, beautiful wheels, plenty of food, clean air and water. I live in one of the most beautiful chunks of the most beautiful countries, and I really love the things I do for free.

The few aspects of my life that aren’t ideal don’t bother me that they’re not ideal, and I think that that is the real definition of happiness.  The non-ideal elements don’t throw you off the balance.  One is never going to get every aspect of your life into total alignment with your ideal vision, certainly not living as small pieces of a greater whole that is collectively terribly out of ecological harmony.  At the very least, putting off happiness until arriving at some ideal is an unreasonable expectation.

I also realize I’ve done a huge amount of work to become what I think is pretty damn happy.  I am deeply proud of being in this place, now, with a quick backward glance at struggle that at times, I barely survived.  It is not an exaggeration to say I am lucky to be alive, several times over.  But beyond luck and endurance, I am here and happy, and that is my own doing.  It does take work, and deliberate attention, and that is the gold of this book.
Oh, there’s lots more