Tomato, green beans, and kale harvest and preservation

garden in the sun, inside, md

The weather was not cold and quite refreshing this past Sunday, and so my partner and the kids decided to have an impromptu barbeque and harvest some of our permaculture garden‘s bounty. My almost-four-year-old son was intrigued enough to join me for negotiating the kale plants and crawling the tomato jungle to extract the ripe specimen. We ended up with two large heaps of kale and two large bowls of tomatoes.

kale tomato harvest light, md
As my son and I have collected our treasure, the sausages were ready, and we sat down to a simple supper of sausages, steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, hummus, stir-fried green beans with onions, and fresh cherry tomatoes just off a bush.

Once the supper was done, I have set out to wash and sort tomatoes. The split ones went directly into the blender for a cold tomato soup. As I didn’t have cucumber or celery this time, I have put in some bok choy leaves I had in the fridge. All the ingredients were piled up in the blender, ready to be refrigerated until the next day, when it took one minute for me to get a freshly-blended cold tomato soup for lunch.

After the sorting and putting the split tomatoes aside for the soup, I have ended up with two bowls – one with large beefsteak tomatoes, only some of them ripe, and a full heaping bowl of smaller, cherry, and plum tomatoes. The beefsteak tomatoes were so heavy that most of them were lying on the ground, to the sheer pleasure of various slugs and bugs. I have made an executive decision of ripening them off the vine, so as to have a chance at us, and not the bugs, consuming them.

Three of these tomatoes were quite ripe, however, and so I have made a simple pasta sauce guided by the following recipe. I have substituted some of the herbs, adding dill (as I had a lot of it) and lots of fresh basil from the garden.

tomato sauce pot, md

The pasta sauce came out delicious and I have frozen several containers of it for the future.

tomato sauce, md
I have decided to freeze most of the kale for future use in smoothies, soups, and salads, and to put aside an equivalent of a store-bought bunch of kale to make a kale quinoa salad.

The kale freezing process involved stripping kale leaves of the hard veins, ripping them into smaller pieces, and washing them. This was done in batches, followed by blanching the washed leaves: throwing them into boiling water for about 3 minutes, dunking them into an ice bath with a slotted spoon, draining them, drying them a bit, and then stuffing them into ice trays. Once they were frozen, I have popped them out, sorted them into zip lock bags, and placed them in the freezer. The two large heaps of kale resulted in just under 6 ice trays and a salad.

frozen kale, md
For the large quantity of smaller tomatoes, I have decided to make oven version of sun-dried tomatoes. They came out delicious and I have since been adding them as toppings on salads and hot dishes.

oven-dried tomatoes, md

Inspired by my tomato and kale adventures, the next day I have gathered some of my scarlet runner bean pods — those that looked the most full and ready. There are still a few ripening ones, so I have left them for later.

green beans, md
I have then peeled them and will be following the instructions from EarthEasy to dry and save them for seeds, as there are not that many of them.

beans, md

The garden is beautiful, and it is a pleasure to spend time surrounded by its lush greenery. Being in the midst of the leaves whispering in the wind, butterflies and buzzing beetles zooming about, birds chirping at the bird feeder, and ripe fruit hanging in the depths of my tomato forest, gets me breathing deeply, letting go of fatigue, and feeling grateful for this green ecosystem full of life, on my doorstep.

garden in the sun, kale, md

View from under the gazebo

towers, md

Tomatoes covering Towers 1 and 2

garden from the window, md

View from inside the house that brightens my day without fail

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Loss of power or gain of time?

It had been a very productive and busy morning this past Friday: I’ve taken care of many errands and was setting things up to have a no-distraction writing session in the afternoon. The baby drifted off to sleep, I tucked her in, and came downstairs to get into the zone. Unexpectedly, the room appeared quite dark, and, as I looked out the window, I realized that it was due to a large storm cloud hanging ominously overhead. The thunderstorm hit in about two minutes – just enough time for me to pull the stroller inside from the back yard.

I had foresight enough to save all of my work on the computer, just before the power started fluctuating. In a couple more minutes, I heard a gust of wind outside and a loud bang upstairs as the bedroom door slammed shut. I rushed upstairs and found the baby wide-eyed and awake, the plexiglass cover from above the air conditioner gone, air conditioner itself threatening to plunge down, and sheets of rain coming through the now-open window, soaking the curtains, the walls, and the two puzzles mounted on one of the walls.

In a few minutes, I have managed to put some towels on the floor, and half-lowered half-dropped the air conditioner (my, are those things heavy!) onto the towels, with the rain lashing through the window and water coming out of the AC. A few more moments, and I was able to remove the protective foam padding we had for the AC from the window sill and slide the window shut.

Results: soaked walls, floor, puzzles, curtains, AC, and myself, baby awake and unhappy to be so. A change of clothes later, the baby in my arms, we’ve descended downstairs to discover that the power had gone out in the entire building. So much for an uninterrupted writing session.

I have fed the baby, and, once the rain was over, we went out to examine the damage. Our gazebo miraculously stayed put (thanks to all the grapevines, tomato vines, and bean stalks firmly wrapped around its supports. A neighbour’s gazebo was not as sturdy, it appears. I have searched the nearby yards for the plexiglass that got ripped out of our window, and have found two pieces in another neighbour’s yard. My partner has later located the third piece on the other side of the building, presumably deposited there by the wind.

At this point, it was around 4pm, and we had no connection with the outside world, except for a cell phone, which is not, should I say, smart. That is, it’s a phone without a collection of apps or a data plan. I’ve been mostly wondering whether (a) my son’s daycare had the luck of not losing power, and (b) how large of an area has been affected and how long it would take to restore the power. I finally got through to my partner, after trying for over half an hour, and he said he would take care of finding that out. There I was, with a tired baby fighting sleep, at least two hours to wait to find out the details once my partner and son got home, and no way to do work. This could have been an annoying setback. I could have focused on the fact that I would not get any work done that day, and stressed over it. But I strive to shape my own reality, so instead, I have chosen to look at it as an opportunity for electronic detox.

For an hour or so, I read a wonderful book on Waldorf philosophy – Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – and the baby, surprisingly, was happily playing nearby, occasionally getting my attention for a feed, a change, or an engagement with a toy. When my people got home, they brought dinner, so we didn’t have to figure out the cooking arrangements without electricity. My chief concern was that if the outage lasted longer than 24 hours, we would have to find a way to relocate the contents of our freezer to someone with power and freezer space, or all the food would spoil. Aside from that, things were not bad.

We spent some time outside with what felt like the entire neighbourhood. Kids were out of doors as no electronic means of distraction were available. Adults came out, smiled, made meals together, borrowed necessities, and talked long through the night. The place felt alive. We came inside, pulled out the bongos and maracas, and sang and played in candlelight. Later the rain started again, although not as strong. The kids had a bath with candles lighting the room, and we told stories and sang songs. We ended up going to sleep early, in a true darkness, for a change, as opposed to the bright outside lights that usually penetrate our windows at night.

In the morning, we were the first ones up and out, it seems. My partner dug out an old propane camping stove, and we made delicious farm-raised eggs with organic tomatoes, sprinkled with cayenne pepper, and boiled some water for tea.

lossOfPowerBreakfastsm

He had a massage appointment that morning (the massage place got the power back at 8:30am) and took both of our phones with him, to charge them there. In the meantime, I stayed home with kids, played floor games, read books, made a necklace with my son, had some snacks, and sang more songs. My partner got home, and around 12:30, as we were putting the children down for a nap, the power came back up.

A friend of mine was going camping that weekend. I gather, it didn’t happen since the rain was so strong. Without planning it, we managed to have a “camping” adventure at home with flashlights and candles, without noise and electronic distractions, with a breakfast cooked in the fresh morning air, a dark night, and an early rising. It has been a wonderful energetic reset where we took things slowly and enjoyed each others’ company, letting work and interruptions wait.

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Seize the power of short time intervals

There are multiple ways to occupy your baby for 10-15 minutes and many activities do not take longer to complete. Seize those short intervals to get daily chores out of the way.

One of the hardest things to get used to when you have a baby is constantly being interrupted, and, no matter what you are doing, having to drop that activity to tend to the baby’s needs. “Being in the zone” becomes so rare and treasured that we resent spending that uninterrupted time on chores. As I’m writing this, my baby is talking in her bed as she has woken up after about 15 minutes of sleep, 10 of which I was there with her, and my older child is arguing with me over what he wants to have for lunch that has already been prepared and set in front of him. Needless to say, I shall have to take a break before completing this, as writing is not an activity easily completed while tending to other things.

There are many chores that can, however, be done when you know a window of time is small or the level of interruption will be high.

  • You can sort and put away a bin of laundry. I sing to the baby while doing this, to keep her entertained. If my older child is home, I offer him to get involved, and although the process is not efficient by any means, it keeps him engaged, teaches him a skill, and gives us bonding time. Same strategy works for putting away dishes, loading a dishwasher, tidying up the toys, putting washed laundry into the dryer, watering plants, and many other quick household chores.
  • You can put together and eat a quick snack, with the baby either being on you in a carrier or playing alone. Mothers, especially those of us who are nursing, need frequent filling snacks to keep up the energy and milk production, and very often we keep postponing this until that magical moment when we can sit down to a quiet meal. Since that rarely happens if you are alone at home with the baby, seize the opportunity of a quiet moment to nourish yourself. This can be a great time to let the baby explore a new food in a high chair, with your supervision. If you have an older child, they can have a snack alongside you.
  • Take your supplements, do oil pulling, give the baby their supplements if any, – get those daily upkeep tasks that do not take much time out of the way.
  • You can grab a shower, dry brush your body, brush your hair or teeth, do nasal lavage, or perform any other body maintenance ritual while your baby plays with a bath toy. I use a “comfy chair” (Monty Python rocks) – a baby rocking chair – so she can safely stay in the bathroom while I’m in the shower. Both of my babies loved their rocker, and have invented ways to rock themselves vigorously to their overwhelming amusement. An older child can play in the tub while you are there, for an impromptu middle-of-the-day water activity.
  • You can do a short exercise or a stretching routine, balance on a yoga ball or a balance board, lift free weights or a weighted ball for a few minutes. If you have space, hula hooping or a jump rope are a great way to reset. Dancing to an energetic song or going through some movements of a belly dance are great ways to shake off muscle stiffness and get centered, before moving on with the day.
  • You can do some food preparation in a short period of time: roast vegetables, scramble some eggs, make buckwheat, quinoa, or rice, cut up veggies or fruit for a snack, brew some tea or coffee, pull food out of the freezer to defrost, refill a water filter, assemble and set a slow cooker dish for cooking. Instead of spending a larger chunk of time in the evening making dinner, a couple of the short intervals throughout the day is plenty of time to create the elements of a healthy meal that only need to be combined and perhaps reheated at the end of the day. Same goes for the next-day lunch preparation: if various ingredients are already chopped up, all it takes is to assemble them into containers and pack the lunch bags later.
  • You can get outside for 10 minutes with the baby, take in some fresh air, pull a few weeds or do some light gardening tasks, just sit or walk outside to get grounded and reset.
  • You can spend a few minutes doing a puzzle, reading a few pages of a book, or doing something else for relaxation. The key here is to have the puzzle set up, the book ready, or whatever activity you would like to do laid out, so you don’t spend the precious time on fetching the required items only to find yourself needing to respond to the baby’s needs before you had a chance to relax. Avoid checking email as a way to relax: email has a tendency to put one in reactive mode, wasting the time better used for relaxation. Random surfing or checking social networks are also not useful relaxation options, as it’s too easy to find yourself emerging on the other side with a sense of wasted time and mind overwhelmed by irrelevant information.
  • Drink a cup of tea, set an essential oil diffuser with a calming or energizing scent, play a quiet melody.

There are many more possibilities. Be creative – see what you can get out of the way in 10-15 minutes, and once the longer stretch of time is available, you can spend it on what you want rather than tend to a million of short chores.

Revel in the abundance that an hour or more of uninterrupted time gives you when the baby is asleep or entertained by someone else. Use the shorter time intervals available to you throughout the day to get daily chores out of the way so they do not encroach on that time.

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Permaculture towers after 50 days

Afternoon garden, light, permaculture towers, day 51, mdIt has been 50 days now, since I have planted seedlings into my permaculture towers, following the garden preparations and the building of the towers, and 27 days since my last update on the towers.

On July 4, after a few days of 35+C weather, it has been a relief to wake up to an overcast sky, with occasional sunshine and a cool breeze. Seizing the chance, off I went to the garden. The night before, my partner guiding the kids in a distraction dance, I have been able to pick out most of the weeds in the garden. It felt so good to just loose myself in a pure physical activity, creeping through the towers in a quest of cleansing.

I have harvested the rest of the radishes, and set off to plant seeds. The following were added to the towers: Reine de Glace crispleaf lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce,  Komatsuna mustard greens, Cardinale crispleaf lettuce, Rouge d’hiver lettuce, beets, red spinach, snow peas, cauliflower, broccoli, dill, and scarlet runner beans.

The tops of the towers have gained some edible flowers: Cosmos and Marigold. I have also planted verbena, broccoli, dill, and basil throughout the garden.

I have planted lots of seeds all over the garden on July 4. Here are the plants with photo thumbnails for May 27th (day 1), June 10th (day 14), June 20th (day 24), July 4th (day 38), and larger photos from today, July 17 (day 51). You can click on the thumbnails to see more detailed, larger photos.

Due to the fence and the tomatoes overwhelming the sunny side of Towers 3 and 4, the photos from those towers are basically all tomato. Not much I can do to capture the growth of anything else. Yet dill and eggplants are doing well, under all that tomato goodness.

As the Towers and the garden have gained new plants, I include the updated drawings.

Garden

July 4, 2014 - Garden plan, md

Tower 1

July 4, 2014 - Tower 1, md

Tower1, Stevia, md Tower1, Stevia, day 14, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 24, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 38, md

Tower 1, top, stevia, day 51, md
Stevia on top of Tower 1. The plant has been trying to recover from the squirrel attack – it has not grown taller, but additional small leaves have sprouted closer to the base. The leaves you see infringing on the tower top are tomatoes growing from the side. This is a recurring motif in the current state of my garden.

Tower 1, sunny, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 24, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 51, md
This lovely tomato forest includes Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and buried underneath it butternut squash in one section, and in another –Alba Regie sweet pepper mostly eaten by the same animal as the stevia, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, md Tower 1, sunny, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny, day 24, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 1, sunny, day 51, md
Beefsteak tomatoes, an Alba Regie pepper somewhere in there and the giant leaves of spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper in the next. Tomatoes and the squash pretty much rule the first tower. I had to install a movable fence to contain this wild greenery. Peppers are flowering but someone keeps eating the leaves. Perhaps the same vicious squirrel with big pointy teeth. I shall attempt to spray the peppers with a jalapeño solution once more.

Tower 2

July 4, 2014 - Tower 2, md

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 14, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 24, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 38, md

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 51, md
Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2. Both are getting munched on by an unknown organism or two. The holes in the leaves are likely from snails and have gotten a bit less of a problem after I have placed egg shells under the pepper plant. The chamomile appears to be too delicious for fluffy sharp-teethed creatures.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 51, md
Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next. The basil is very strong and happy. I have used it today in a delicious thai spicy eggplant dish, and the flavour is great. I can no longer locate the sweet pepper under all the tomato branches without risking breaking them.  I shall just trust it’s there and we’ll see if it grew any better without being chewed on and with sunlight filtered through the tomato foliage.

Tower 2, sunny, md Tower 2, sunny, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 2, sunny, day 51, md
Matt’s Wild tomato, lemon thyme somewhere underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section. Tomatoes and squashes are very happy. Lemon thyme is no longer visible. I think next time I will plant smaller herbs and peppers above the tomatoes, since the latter are so prolific.

Tower 2, sunny 2, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny, pepper, 38, md

Tower 2, sunny, pepper, 51, md
Closeup of the Romanian sweet pepper in the next section. It appears to have been too hard to access for a mysterious sharp-teethed animal, and has reached the fruiting stage.

Tower 2, shady, md Tower 2, shady, day 14, md Tower 2, shady, day 24, md Tower 2, shady, day 38, md

Tower 2, shady, day 51, md
Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one. I have put crushed egg shells around some of the plants to deter snails, but considering the almost-completely eaten leaves I would venture a guess that whatever is eating the kale on this tower is from a larger species. Since I have lots of kale in Towers 3 and 4 that is not being so completely consumed, I figured this was my “planted to share with nature” kale.

Tower 3

July 4, 2014 - Tower 3, md

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, md Tower 3, top, nasturtium and carrots, day 14, md Tower 3, top, day 24, md Tower 3, top, day 38, md

Tower 3, top, day 51, md
Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by a few growing carrots (you can see the tiny leaves picking out from under the nasturtium leaves). The nasturtium is big and happy.

Tower 3, sunny, md Tower 3, sunny, day 14, md Tower 3, sunny, day 24, md Tower 3, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 3, sunny, tomatoes, day 51, md
Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section (impossible to show anymore), and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley (also covered up), and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber (still growing). The tomato forest is overshadowing everything else.

Tower 3, shady 2, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 24, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 3, shady 2, day 51, md
Two green kale and two oakleaf kale plants in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale plant in the next one. They taste great in salads and I now harvest some every few days.

Tower 3, shady, md Tower 3, shady, day 14, md Tower 3, shady, day 24, md Tower 3, shady, day 38, md

Tower 3, shady, day 51, md
Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale plant in the next section. A small scarlet runner bean plant is showing at the bottom of the tower. Another one got consumed by local fauna.

Tower 4

July 4, 2014 - Tower 4, md

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, md Tower 4 top, nasturtium and radishes, day 14, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 24, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 38, md

Tower 4, top, nasturtium, day 51, md
Nasturtium – Empress of India, with encroaching tomato leaves almost covering it. The tomatoes take over everything.

Tower 4, sunny, md Tower 4, sunny, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny-shady, day 24, md  Tower4, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 4, sunny 2, day 51, md

Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers. It is impossible now to capture the tower from the same angle as the first two photos, since the West fence is now in place, so I had to instead provide a side view, capturing the first section with rosemary. The next section is shown as part of the next series of photos. The tomatoes, the dill, and rosemary all seem to be doing well. I’ve picked out most of the dill by this point, so I planted some seeds along the fence next to the scarlet runner beans.

Tower 4, sunny 2, md Tower 4, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny, day 24, md Tower 4, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 4, sunny, day 51, md
Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom. Can’t tell where anyone is, except maybe the dill poking through? Me neither. At this point I don’t want to disturb the tomatoes so as not to break them, and the fence is in the way to reach underneath. I shall just have a mystery harvest once the time comes.

Tower 4, shady, md Tower 4, shady, day 14, md Tower 4, shady, day 24, md Tower 4, shady, day 38, md

Tower 4, shady, day 51, md
Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale. The kale plants are doing well. Tomatoes are infringing on their territory. Along the bottom, between Tower 4 and the lemongrass, I have planted sweet peas, on June 1st. A few of them came up now and nothing seems to be eating them.

Tower 4, shady 3, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 24, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 4, shady 2, day 51, md
Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant. Cilantro has gone to flower. The rest of the greens are growing happily and I harvest kale and Swiss chard every few days.

Aside, borage, lovage, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 14, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 24, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 38, md

Aside, borage and lovage, day 51, md
Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2. On the last tow photos, borage is on the left and blooming in beautiful blue flowers.

Aside, calendula and watercress, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 14, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 24, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 38, md Aside, watercress, day 38, md

Aside, calendula, day 51, md

Aside, watercress, day 51, md
Calendula at the top of the first photo, watercress lower, following few photos – reversed: calendula being at the bottom, and watercress at the top. Now I have to take pictures of them separately, as the tomato forest blocks the calendula. Both plants seem to be very happy, and I have used watercress in salads.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 14, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 24, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 38, md

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 51, md
From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash. You are going to have to trust me on this. The giant squash leaves and the tomato branches are hiding the rest of the plants. I use chives and green onions in salads quite a bit.

Aside, grape vine 1, md Aside, grape vine 1, day 14, md Grape vine 1, day 24, md Grape vine 1, day 38, md

Grape vine 1, day 51, md
Grape vine 1 is climbing the gazebo quite happily. There are black bugs eating through the leaves. I remove them and drop them in a bowl with soapy water on a somewhat regular basis over the last two weeks or so.

Grape vine 4, md Grape vine 4, day 14, md Grape vine 4, day 24, md Grape vine 4, day 38, md

Grape vine 4, day 51, md
Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3. The black bugs are present on this vine to a much lesser extent, and I’m removing them as well.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, md Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 38, md

Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 51, md
Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement. Comfrey is growing giant leaves. The lilies stopped growing. I suspect it is due to me replanting the same bulbs every year. Perhaps they have grown as much as they can. The grape vine was heavily affected with what I guess was downy mildew. I have removed quite a few affected leaves, and it seems to be recovering well.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 14, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 24, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 38, md

Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 51, md
Grape vine 3 is happily growing up the shepherd’s hook with a bird feeder and a bird bath. Lots of black bugs had to be removed from this one as well.

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, md Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, day 14, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 24, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 38, md

Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 51, md
Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right. Lemon verbena is growing happily and turning into a small bush. Lemongrass has recovered from being trampled during the fence reconstruction and seems to be full of life as well.

Aside, Grapefruit mint, md Aside, Grapefruit mint, day 14, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 24, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 38, md

Aside, grapefruit mint, day 51, md
Grapefruit mint. The mint is doing well, and I have used the leaves in salads and cocktails.

Aside, garden mint, md Aside, garden mint, day 14, md Aside, garden mint, day 24, md Aside, garden mint, day 38, md

Aside, garden mint, day 51, md
Garden mint. Happily growing in its pot, and I have used the leaves in tea a few times.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 14, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 24, md Aside, russian sage, day 38, md Aside, winter savory, day 38, md

Aside, russian sage, day 51, md

Aside, winter savory, day 51, md
On the first two photos: left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley. Because of the sun, the recently-installed West fence, and the tomato overshadowing the savory, I have taken the third photo from the other side, with lily of the valley being at the top, the winter savory on the right, covered by a tomato branch, and the Russian sage on the bottom left. At this point, there are so many tomato branches and leaves, that I have to take pictures of Russian sage (first large photo) and winter savory (last photo) separately. Both seem to be quite happy.

Aside, currants, md Aside, currants, day 14, md Aside, currants, day 24, md Aside, currants, day 38, md

Aside, currants, day 51, md

Aside, currants, closeup, day 51, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence. Both are growing well, and the one in the corner of the garden has a few delicious black currants. I put cones around them to contain the sprawl.

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 14, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 24, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 38, md

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 51, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry. I have put a cone around the blackberry bush to contain it. So far no berries.

Aside, raspberry, md Aside, Raspberry bush, day 14, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 24, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 38, md

Aside, raspberry bush, day 51, md
Raspberry bush along the building. No berries here either.

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 10, md Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 38, md

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 37, md
Scarlet runner beans along the West fence. I have planted these on June 11. Quite a few of them are now happily growing up the support.

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Bolting and fungi in a permaculture garden

This morning, before the +40°C weather hit, I put out some more egg shells into the garden to discourage snails from chewing through the leaves, and sprayed the plants with the jalapeño infused water, to deter squirrels. Not five minutes after I have sprayed, a neighbour of the squirrel persuasion came to visit. It circled the garden perimeter on the fence, sniffing suspiciously, and decided the garden did not hold any bounty of interest. I’ll take it as a good sign.

Before spraying, I have poked at a few more radishes on top of Tower 4, and pulled out those that either looked ready or threatening to become inedible hard roots. There shall be a salad tonight.

garden_june_30_2014_harvest_radishes_dill_med

It has been very hot for the past few days. We have spent quite a bit of that time at a beach or relaxing inside, and during that time, our cilantro appears to have bolted (which means the flowers are out and the plant is going to seed). Unfortunately, it grows best in cool, moist environments and does not like hot weather much. (Welcome to my garden of 10+ hours of hot burning sun every day, dear cilantro.) This is the exact same experience I have had last year. Shade did not prevent this rapid flowering. So, sadly, cilantro leaves are no longer flavourful, and the only thing to do is to let it go to seed. I think next time I shall plant it in the ground, as opposed to a tower, so that it can easily self sow.

One of the two dill plants has gone to flower as well. I have gathered up the stalks with the flowers to preserve for the pickling time. Dill will likely be another plant I would like to move outside the tower. Interesting thing I have learned, is that dill and fennel will cross-pollinate, creating less-than-optimal results for both plants. I shall keep that in mind if I am ever to introduce fennel into the equation. I will still plant dill and basil in close proximity with tomatoes, as they act as pesticides keeping tomato horn worms away.

One of the grape vines worries me as well (not that it ever gives any fruit, it just grew in the garden without any encouragement on our part): it has light green spots on the leaves, and some leaves are curling and have dried-out regions. After a bit of investigation, I think the vine has been chosen as home by downy mildew. Most sites do not list natural ways to deal with it: controlling it includes selection of the spot to plant the vine and picking a resistant genetic variant (since it just sprouted on its own, no input had been possible on our end) or applying pre-infection fungicides (which we have not done) or, less effectively, post-infection fungicides. As we do not want to spray anything toxic, I welcome alternative suggestions on how to approach this.

It looks like very hot days this week, with thunderstorms promised tomorrow (truly an Ottawa Canada day: go outside for a certainty to get burned and a chance to get struck by lightning), so I shall leave the harvest of greens until the plants can drink in the sunlight and the rain.

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First harvest

Wednesday morning, I have spent some time in the garden placing crushed egg shells around the plants in the permaculture towers that showed signs of snails partaking in the leaves. Egg shells also provide minerals to the soil as they break down, so I figured I would annoy the snails and feed the garden in one go.

While in the garden, I have seen a few Easter Egg radishes poking out of the ground ready for picking, so I took the opportunity to pluck those out. Seeing how some of the greens had juicy-looking leaves, I could not resist to harvest some for a quick salad. This made for the first official harvest that made an entire salad (besides dill, parsley, cilantro, and onions I have occasionally been picking).

garden_june_25_2014_harvest_radishes_kale_chard, med

A fresh salad of kale, Swiss chard, radishes, with a little olive oil and vinegar made for a perfect summer dish. Sharing the bounty in the evening with my family, it felt very rewarding to have grown this delicious food ourselves. Our daily watering ritual gives me time to reflect on the green life enveloping the permaculture towers, and be grateful for having access to land.

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Permaculture tower progress

Morning garden, permaculture towers, day 24, medIt has been almost a month, since I have planted seedlings into my permaculture towers, following the garden preparations and the building of the towers. Each day I marvel at the strong green plants sprouting out of the towers. Some are already blooming, a few small green tomatoes have formed, and with each rain things get greener and wilder. Here is a progress update on the plants, with photos on May 27th (day 1), June 10th (day 14), and June 20th (day 24). You can click on the thumbnails to see more detailed, larger photos.

Due to the fence that is now in place, it is a bit hard to take photos of the sunny side of Towers 3 and 4. Thus it is not easy to display progress clearly. I also have to really try to find the time of day when the sun is not too bright: lately the sky has been cloudless, and so it has been hard to get clear pictures that are not overexposed.

I have planted sweet peas, snow peas, and scarlet runner beans around Towers 3 and 4, on June 1st, and some scarlet runner beans on a small patch by the West fence, on June 11th. I have also thinned the radishes on top of Tower 1, on June 15th, and replanted those I pulled out into the top of Tower 2, around the hot peppers and chamomile.

Tower 1

Tower1, Stevia, md Tower1, Stevia, day 14, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 24, md
Stevia on top of Tower 1. The plant is generally happy and is sprouting new leaves. However, some time in the second week, someone (I suspect, a clumsy squirrel) broke the top of the plant off. I have collected the leaves and used them in salads. The plant seems to be recovering well.

Tower 1, sunny, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 24, md
Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and butternut squash in one section, and in another –Alba Regie sweet pepper among strawberries, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash. Very few strawberries have survived being transplanted, so I have pulled those out to allow more space for the living plants. The tomatoes, peppers, and squashes seem to be happy and growing well.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, md Tower 1, sunny, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny, day 24, md
Beefsteak tomatoes, half-dead purple basil, Alba Regie pepper and spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper and strawberries in the next. As expected, the purple basil did not survive, as it was dying even before transplantation. The tomatoes, peppers, and squash are doing well.

Tower 2

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 14, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 24, md
Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2. I have covered the top with straw to hold in the moisture and prevent extensive soil movement during watering. I have also transplanted radishes which I have thinned out of Tower 4. They did not like it much, so I’m not sure how many will survive. It was that or throw them out, though, so I figured I’d give them a chance. Next time, I might make seed tape instead of planting directly into the ground.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 24, md
Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next. As opposed to the purple basil, the columnar basil seems to have taken to its spot well, and is putting out new leaves. The tomatoes and peppers are growing quite happily.

Tower 2, sunny, md Tower 2, sunny, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny, day 24, md
Droopy strawberries, Matt’s Wild tomato in their midst, and lemon thyme underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and more strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section. Tomatoes have grown so much already that they are overshadowing lemon thyme. I shall keep an eye on it – it might need to be transplanted to get enough light. Most of the strawberries have died in this section as well, so I cleared them away. The squash seems to be doing well, and the tomatoes are blooming and already putting out fruit.

Tower 2, sunny 2, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 24, md
Closeup of strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the second section from the photo before, and a single Romanian sweet pepper in the next section. Strawberries removed, the tomato is growing a bit slower here, but seems to be strong. The pepper plant is blooming.

Tower 2, shady, md Tower 2, shady, day 14, md Tower 2, shady, day 24, md
Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one. Slowly but surely the kale is growing, although someone seems to find it tasty. I have put crushed egg shells around some of the plants to deter snails, but so far I’m unsure whether it’s the snails that are causing the damage.

Tower 3

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, md Tower 3, top, nasturtium and carrots, day 14, md Tower 3, top, day 24, md
Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by carrot seeds. Very few carrot seeds have sprouted – I’m not sure whether my neighbours of the squirrel persuasion have had a paw in that. I had to remove quite a few weeds from around the towers, as the organic straw sprouted, encouraged by all the watering. The nasturtium is growing rapidly and has put out two flowers so far. The few carrot sprouts are growing slowly.

Tower 3, sunny, md Tower 3, sunny, day 14, md Tower 3, sunny, day 24, md
Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section, and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley, and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber. All the plants seem to be quite happy. I have already used parsley in salads quite a few times, and the tomato is growing fast.

Tower 3, shady 2, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 24, md
Two green kale and two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next one. The greens seem to be happy in the semi-shade provided by the towers. We water daily unless it rains.

Tower 3, shady, md Tower 3, shady, day 14, md Tower 3, shady, day 24, md
Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next section. All of the greens seem to be growing steadily. Along the bottom, between Tower 3 and the grape vine, I have planted scarlet runner beans, on June 1st. So far (day 20), two plants have sprung up so far – one with two leaves is visible at the very bottom of the photo.

Tower 4

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, md Tower 4 top, nasturtium and radishes, day 14, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 24, md
Nasturtium – Empress of India, surrounded by radish seeds. The radishes have sprouted and I had to thin them out, transplanting a few into the top of Tower 2. The nasturtium is growing slower than the one on Tower 3. The radishes are quite happy.

Tower 4, sunny, md Tower 4, sunny, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny-shady, day 24, md
Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers. Lebanese cucumber leaves got eaten by someone, so the plant is not doing well. It is hard to capture the tower from the same angle, as the West fence is now in place, so I had to instead provide a side view in the last photo, capturing the first section with two tomatoes and rosemary. The next section is shown as part of the next series of photos. The tomatoes, the dill, and rosemary all seem to be doing well.

Tower 4, sunny 2, md Tower 4, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny, day 24, md
Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom. Aside from the sad fate of the Lebanese cucumbers described in the previous paragraph, the rest of the plants are doing well. I have used the dill from both sections in salads a few times as well.

Tower 4, shady, md Tower 4, shady, day 14, md Tower 4, shady, day 24, md
Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale. The kale plants are doing well. Along the bottom, between Tower 4 and the lemongrass, I have planted sweet peas, on June 1st. So far (day 20), a few of them have sprung up.

Tower 4, shady 3, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 24, md
Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant. All of the greens are doing well, and I have already used cilantro in cooking. Along the bottom, next to winter savory, I have planted snow peas, on June 1st. So far (day 20), a few of them have sprung up.

Aside, borage, lovage, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 14, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 24, md
Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2. Both plants are happily growing, although borage is being overshadowed by the raspberry bush, while the blackberry bush is growing over the lovage.

Aside, calendula and watercress, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 14, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 24, md
Calendula at the top of the first photo, watercress lower, last two photos – reversed: calendula being at the bottom, and watercress at the top. Both are growing well, and watercress is flowering.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 14, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 24, md
From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash. The lily of the valley and the chives are being mostly overshadowed by the grape vine, with the chives putting out flowers but not growing much. I have been harvesting the onions and some chives for salads. The squash is doing well. The grape vine is detailed in the next series of photos.

Aside, grape vine 1, md Aside, grape vine 1, day 14, md Grape vine 1, day 24, md
Grape vine 1, came with the property, does not give fruit. This grape vine has grown rapidly during the previous three summers, and despite a part of it being destroyed during construction last year, it’s coming back strong. I have installed plant supports behind it to help guide it towards the gazebo and have started training it on one of the gazebo pillars.

Grape vine 4, md Grape vine 4, day 14, md Grape vine 4, day 24, md
Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3. This vine did not give fruit last year and most of the leaves last summer have been destroyed by pests. I have covered it for the winter (as I did with grape vine 1) and it seems to be coming back well this summer. I will be looking into ways to control for pests without using harsh chemicals.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, md Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 14, md
Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement. Comfrey is growing giant leaves, and is now largely in the shade of the rapidly growing Grape vine 2, which I have started to train along fishing line attached to the gazebo. Otherwise it would overgrow the small piece of land by the porch and will not let anything else get any light. The lilies are growing as well.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 14, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 24, md
Grape vine 3, next to fence (to be reconstructed), with tulips and hyacinths. The tulips and hyacinths have bloomed and I have removed them to make space for the bird feeder. I have kept the bulbs to be planted in the fall once more. I have installed the shepherd’s hook with a bird feeder and a bird bath, and have started training the grape vine to go up the pole. It has been hard to attract birds to the garden so far, since the feeder is too close to the building – yet we have little option regarding its position. I have tried leaving a trail of seeds from the tree where birds chirp in the morning to the feeder, and someone has definitely eaten it, but since the seeds in the feeder are not diminishing, I’m assuming we have provided dinner to a larger bird or a squirrel, against which this feeder is protected.

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, md Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, day 14, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 24, md
Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right. Lemongrass got a bit trampled during the installation of the South fence (I’m guessing the workers assumed it was a weed, or just plain didn’t look where they were stepping), but has survived. It has not grown much, however, and I’m not sure if our climate is favourable to its growth.

Aside, Grapefruit mint, md Aside, Grapefruit mint, day 14, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 24, md
Grapefruit mint. A little unhappy after replanting, the mint has come back in all of its might, and is now growing new leaves. I’m keeping it in the pot, knowing how easily mint can take over the garden.

Aside, garden mint, md Aside, garden mint, day 14, md Aside, garden mint, day 24, md
Garden mint. Kept in a pot for the same reason as the grapefruit variety, it has been quite happy once the roots took.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 14, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 24, md
On the first two photos: left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley. Because of the sun, the recently-installed West fence, and the tomato overshadowing the savory, I have taken the last photo from the other side, with lily of the valley being at the top, the winter savory on the right, covered by a tomato branch, and the Russian sage on the bottom left. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the sage has put out purple flowers. The lily of the valley has flowered already, and all of the plants seem happy.

Aside, currants, md Aside, currants, day 14, md Aside, currants, day 24, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence. I know that one of the bushes is black currant, yet unsure whether the other one is black or red. So far neither has gone past the green berry stage, so perhaps we shall discover their nature this year. The first photo has been taken from the spot where the South fence now resides, and so the last two photos are taken from the opposite side, with the larger bush being on the right. The smaller bush is depicted in the photo series below as well.

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 14, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 24, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry. The blackberry was hardly flourishing last year, and so I assumed it would not have survive the winter. However, once the garden was cleared of weeds in the spring and the towers installed, the bush started growing. We shall see how it progresses. The mystery perennial plant has been replanted from the South-West corner of the garden where it has bloomed next to the rose for two summers. It has happily taken to its new place and has put out new leaves.

Aside, raspberry, md Aside, Raspberry bush, day 14, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 24, md
Raspberry bush along the building. I have removed a large number of smaller raspberry plants that have sprung up around the garden, but have left the “mother bush” alone. It seems to be growing well, overshadowing the borage plant. Hopefully we get some berries this year – it only gave us a handful last summer.

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 10, md
Scarlet runner beans along the West fence. I have planted these on June 11, and so far (by day 10) one has sprouted.

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Clear one drawer a day

Pick a shelf, a drawer, a cupboard, or a desk top. Sort through it, throw out what you do not need, group things in a logical manner. Step back, survey the fruits of your labour and take a deep breath. Now there is one less obstacle in your everyday life. Pick another one tomorrow.

I don’t mind cooking or doing dishes, yet I dislike cleaning. Growing up, my cousins and I used to clean my Grandma’s three-room apartment every three days: dusting, vacuuming, washing floors. This was the most boring, repetitive and thankless activity, when all I wanted to do was to sit in the fresh air on the balcony and lose myself in a good book. Thus cleaning is one of the things I am known to procrastinate.

Cleaning is easy when all you have is a sofa, a coffee table, a lamp, and a strategically placed tall floor vase to accentuate the tumble weeds flowing across the otherwise empty room, in a modern décor setting. When you have children, plants, pets, books, toys, and all the resulting mess covering horizontal surfaces in an abstract painting style, you can rarely find the floor, let alone clean it. Thus the first step to cleaning is tidying up. This I do not mind doing, yet once things are out of sight they are out of mind, and it’s our drawers and cupboards that harbour most surprising collections of items.

Don’t you hate it when it takes you an inordinate amount of time to find what you are looking for, and then you have to dislodge half the cupboard to actually extract the object? Then you are staring at all the wonderfully useful but completely disorganized things that blocked your way, and thinking: why on Earth are they not somewhere more logical? Well, I got tired shuffling around baby cups (my son has not used them for at least two years) to reach saucers in my kitchen cupboard (which we use a few times a week). And I remembered the wise adage of “clear one drawer a day”.

We often make such a mountain out of starting any endeavour, as we expect it to be long and arduous. Fifteen minutes later I was staring at my cleared cupboard (the whole three shelves! – I went all-out), and thinking: is this what I have been putting off for months, while wasting time and energy cursing at things toppling out every time I extracted a saucer? That was silly!

The baby decided the time for playing quietly was over, and so my cleaning deed for the day was done. If I had a chance to harness the high of the achievement, I would have cleared another cupboard. Today I have spent ten minutes reorganizing the neighbouring cupboard, and I now can easily find each item in it: things I need more frequently are closer, everything is grouped by use, and I have extra space. It feels like I can breathe easier in the kitchen, even with the cupboard doors closed. Curious how we create this energy-sucking clutter when it takes so little time to set things straight.

Don’t allow the clutter to accumulate. Spend 10-15 minutes a day to keep your physical and mental space free of obstacles.

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Imagine the consequences

Before performing an action, imagine the process of doing so and the consequences stemming from it. Decide whether you truly want to proceed. It can be a powerful deterring or motivating tool.

An overwhelmingly familiar option of eating something you know you are going to regret is a perfect opportunity to apply this tactic. Say, you have decided to avoid a certain food (gluten, dairy, sweets, carbs, small animals, or that deliciously decadent piece of chocolate cake) for whatever reasons. Yet you have a very strong craving for it and are succumbing to the temptation. Before taking the plunge, imagine in detail having that food. The most satisfying first bite, the smell, the taste, the less satisfying fifth bite (by the law of diminishing returns), imagine licking the crumbs from your fingers and the feeling you will have right after.

Is it ecstasy or regret? Was the food as wonderfully delicious as your craving has led you to believe, or was it disappointingly unsatisfying? Often when we abstain from certain foods, we tend to imagine them to be way more delicious to us than they end up being. And now that you have “eaten” the food, how will you feel in half an hour? Bloated, disgusted at succumbing to the temptation, vowing to compensate for the deed by running around the block 15 times, or worse – popping pills to cover up the damage?

Many times, this exercise is enough to deter you from actually eating the food, and the craving becomes less strong. You might have to repeat it the next day, but often the imaginary consumption is enough to prevent the real one. If, however, after going through this exercise you are still drooling for that piece of cake, I say, go for it! But first decide to have no regrets.

You can flip this trick around to help motivate yourself to do something you dread doing. Hate cleaning the kitchen floor? Starting is the hardest part – use your mind to make it easier. Imagine what you would have to do to complete the action: fill up a bucket, find a mop, rub resistant spots, for a whole of, maybe, 10 minutes. Imagine the result: a spotless floor on which your baby can crawl without you cringing, at least until the first subsequent food preparation. The action would not seem so daunting any more (as you figured out the steps to complete it and the time it would require), and you’d be excited for the result. If an action is too big to fully plan, it’s a sign you need to split it into smaller tasks.

This applies to anything you want to motivate yourself to do: writing a report or an essay, sorting laundry, reading a textbook chapter, doing an exercise routine, or clearing out an overflowing drawer. See the result in your mind’s eye, and reaching it will seem much easier.

You will often find that after completing the action in your imagination, you do not have as strong a drive to go through with it in real life. This is a great tactic to use for either holding back from doing something, or motivating yourself to go ahead.

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Planting seedlings into permaculture towers

Following the garden preparations and the building of permaculture towers, I have planted different types of large and cherry tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, carrots and radishes, butternut and spaghetti squash, kale and Swiss chard, cucumbers, and a variety of herbs. Below are the photos and notes on each plant’s uses, environmental preferences, and useful plant combinations. Please note that “shady side” in my garden implies only partial shade, as we get lots of sunlight and heat during the summer.

The full plan of the garden includes 4 plant towers (T1 to T4), four-stone path where we have the barbeque set, a few bushes, herbs, and flowers planted in between the towers, and the gazebo to cover a paved patch of the garden.

Garden plan, med

Since my planting completed just as our fence replacement was supposed to start, the gazebo has been shifted over the towers while the construction has been done, so the photos reflect that.

Tower 1

Tower 1 plan, med

Stevia
Planted 1 on top of Tower 1. Loves full sun. Naturally sweet plant, the leaves can be used to sweeten drinks and salads. The sweetness comes from two chemicals: Rebaudioside A and stevioside.

Tower1, Stevia, med

Stevia on top of Tower 1

Purple Basil
Planted 2 in Tower 1, under tomatoes, looking droopy upon transplanting – I don’t think it shall survive. Basil has always been tricky in my garden.

Alba Regie Sweet Peppers
Planted 2 in Tower 1 – one in top third among strawberries, next to beefsteak tomatoes, another in bottom half above spaghetti squash, both on sunny side.
Endangered Hungarian heirloom.

Lipstick Sweet Peppers
Planted in Tower 1, above strawberries, top row, sunny side.
Early, heavy yields.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, med

Beefsteak tomatoes, half-dead purple basil, Alba Regie pepper and spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper and strawberries in the next

Strawberries
Once we had removed the stone tiles that covered the part of our yard that is now a garden, three years ago, strawberries have sprung up. Since then they have taken over a large part of the garden and I had to remove them to make space for the towers. In the process, I have transplanted some to Tower 1, sunny side, top half. Most of them did not survive the transplant shock, but a few plants are still fighting.

Beefsteak Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 1 in rows 1 and 2, on the sunny side, next to basil, between sweet Alba Regie and Lipstick sweet peppers.
Flavourful tomatoes, got seedlings from a friend.

Tower 1, sunny-shady 2, med

Closeup of Lipstick sweet pepper and strawberries

Butternut Squash
Planted 2 in Tower 1, bottom row, next to spaghetti squash, sunny side.

Spaghetti Squash
Planted 1 in Tower 1, bottom row, next to butternut squash, sunny side.

Yellow Cherry, Gold Nugget Tomatoes
Planted 1 in Tower 1, lower third, sunny side, above butternut squash, under the strawberries.
Early cherry tomato.

Tower 1, sunny, med

Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and butternut squash in one section, and in another -Alba Regie sweet pepper among strawberries, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash.

Tower 2

Tower 2 plan, medGerman Chamomile
Planted 1 on top of Tower 2, next to a red bell pepper.
“It has been said that if you have a failing plant, simply plant chamomile next to it and it will revive.”
Likes full sun

Hot Thai Peppers
Planted on top of Tower 2, next to German chamomile.
Chili plants love heat and full sun, and there are several ways to preserve peppers.

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, med

Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2

Columnar Basil
Planted 1 in Tower 2, within the top third.
Planting basil with tomatoes protects them by repelling insects. Basil prefers partial sun.

Fox Cherry Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 2, top row, sunny side, between columnar basil and Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes.
Loves full sun, very prolific.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, med

Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next

Strawberries
Transplanted some to Tower 2, sunny side, top half. Most of them did not survive the transplant shock, but a few plants are still fighting. Strawberries produce more in full sun.

Matt’s Red Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 2, next to strawberries, in the top half, on the sunny side.
Deep red cherry tomato.

Lemon Thyme
Planted in Tower 2, sunny side, in the bottom half above the butternut squash, under the Matt’s Wild cherry tomato.
Good to use in marinades that call for lemon, likes full sun to part shade.

Butternut Squash
Planted 1 in Tower 2, bottom row, under lemon thyme, sunny side.
Butternut squash prefers direct sunlight.

Tower 2, sunny, med

Droopy strawberries, Matt’s Wild tomato in their midst, and lemon thyme underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and more strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section

Romanian Sweet Pepper
Planted 2 in Tower 2, one in top third, next to strawberries and Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes, another one in bottom third, under fox cherry tomatoes, both on sunny side.
Romanian heirloom, very sweet.

Tower 2, sunny 2, med

Closeup of strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the second section from the photo before, and a single Romanian sweet pepper in the next section

Oakleaf Kale
Planted 4 in Tower 2, in the top third, on the shady side.
Prefers full sun or partial shade. Unsure if that’s the Red Ursa or Russian Kale, will have to find out once it grows.

Tower 2, shady, med

Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one

Tower 3

Tower 3 plan, medNasturtium (Empress of India)
Planted 1 on top of Tower 3, surrounded by carrot seeds.
Loved by predatory insects and bees, edible flowers. Likes full sun.

Carrots (seed)
Planted on top of Tower 3, surrounding the nasturtium plant.
Will need to try mixing with radish seeds, perhaps the next batch.

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, med

Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by carrot seeds

Japanese Pickling Eggplant
Planted 1 Tower 3, lower level, sunny side, next to cucumbers.
Likes full sun.

Bellstar Red Tomatoes
Planted 1 in Tower 3, top row, sunny side, above parsley.
Early plum tomato, likes full sun.

Tower 3, sunny, med

Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section, and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley, and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber.

Spacemaster Cucumber
Planted in Tower 3, bottom row, on a sunny side, under the parsley. Two plants did not want to separate root systems, so I planted both together.
Likes full sun, compact and good for pickling when smaller.

Curled Parsley
Planted in Tower 3, mid-way down, on a sunny side, under the Bellstar red tomato.
Likes full sun.

Tower 3, shady 2, med

Two green kale and two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next one.

Green Kale
Planted 6 in Tower 3, top half, shady side.
Likes full sun.

Oakleaf Kale
Planted 4 in Tower 3, next to green kale and Swiss chard, second half, shady side.
Prefers full sun or partial shade. See Tower 2 for more.

Tower 3, shady, med

Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next section.

Swiss Chard
Planted 3 in Tower 3, on the shady side, middle rows, next to green kale and oakleaf kale.
Loves to be planted next to green beans, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes.

Scarlet Runner Beans (seed)
Planted around Tower 3 base, on semi-shady side.
Attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and Russian women interested in permaculture.

Tower 4

Tower 4 plan, med

Nasturtium (Empress of India)
Planted 1 on top of Tower 4, surrounded by radish seeds.
Loved by predatory insects and bees, edible flowers. Likes full sun.

Easter Egg Radishes (seed)
Planted on top of Tower 4, surrounding the nasturtium plant.

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, med

Nasturtium – Empress of India, surrounded by radish seeds.

Barbeque Rosemary
Planted in Tower 4, sunny side, below Brandywine tomatoes, lower third.
Prefers full sun, attracts bees and hummingbirds.

Brandywine Tomatoes
Planted 3 in Tower 4, middle row, sunny side, under dill and above rosemary.
In need of lots of sun and pruning.

Early Roma Tomatoes
Planted 1 in Tower 4, top row, sunny side, above dill, next to red cherry tomatoes.
Disease-resitant, need at least weekly watering.

Red Cherry Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 4, top row, on the sunny side, next to dill.
Pinch out side shoots regularly.

Tower 4, sunny, med

Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers.

Dill
Planted 2 in Tower 4, under tomatoes, in the top third, on the sunny side.
Loves full sun. Plant next to cabbage or onions, but keep away from carrots.

Lebanese Cucumber
Planted 2 in Tower 4, lowest level, two together since the root systems were attached.
Prefer shade in hot climates
Try to keep the roots cool by applying mulch
, to avoid cucumber beetles that can destroy the plants.

Japanese Pickling Eggplant
Planted 1 Tower 4, lower level, sunny side, next to cucumbers. See more in Tower 3.

Tower 4, sunny 2, med

Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom.

Green Kale
Planted 10 in Tower 4, top half, shady side. See more in Tower 3.

Oakleaf Kale
Planted 3 in Tower 4, next to green kale and Swiss chard, second half, shady side.
Prefers full sun or partial shade. See more in Towers 2 and 3.

Tower 4, shady, med

Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale

Cilantro
Planted 1 on the shady side in the top third of Tower 4.
Sensitive to heat, prefers full shade in hot climates
.

Swiss Chard
Planted 2 in Tower 4, on the shady side, middle rows, next to green kale and oakleaf kale. See Tower 3 for more.

Tarragon
Planted 1 in Tower 4, top row, shady side, above green kale, next to red cherry tomatoes.
Full or part sun, likes moisture.

Tower 4, shady 3, med

Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant.

Sweet Peas (seed)
Around  Tower 4 base, in the ground, on sunny side.
Prefer cool days, are great climbers.

Snow Peas (seed)
Around Tower 4 base, in the ground, on semi-shady side.
Prefer full sun to partial shade.

Plants in-between towers and around the garden:

Borage
Planted 1 in the ground, between Towers 1 and 2, close to the house.
Loved by bees, with edible purple flowers. It likes full or partial sun.

Lovage
Planted next to borage, between Tower 2 and the house, in the shade.
Likes full sun or partial shade

Aside, borage, lovage, med

Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2

Calendula
Planted 1 in the ground, between Towers 1 and 2.
Full sun, tolerates moderate shade.
Attracts butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.

Watercress
Planted between Towers 1 and 2, towards the house, in a small hollow I have formed, so that the water pools in it. A few days in, the plant is already flowering.
Full sun, tolerates light shade, grows best in semi-aquatic environments.

Aside, calendula and watercress, med

Calendula at the top of the photo, watercress lower

Chives
Planted 1 in the ground, next to Tower 1 and green onions.
Prefers sunny locations. Plant on the edge of the garden to repel insects.

Green onions
Next to chives and lily of the valley, there are some green onions that have sprouted from an old onion I had in the pantry. They seem to be thriving.

Lily of the Valley
Pulled out some to place Tower 3, and replanted it next to chives. Left the remainder between Tower 3 and Tower 4, it was still blooming.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, med

From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash

Grapes
There are random vines coming up all throughout the garden. The largest vine is by the porch that I train to climb up the gazebo. Another smaller vine is on the other side of the porch, among the day lilies. It usually climbs up the other side of the gazebo and towards the window. Third vine climbs up the middle of the South fence. None of these vines produce berries.

Aside, grape vine 1, med

Grape vine 1, came with the property, does not give fruit

I have purchased and planted another vine last year – Concord Purple Grape, which is now next to Tower 3 and close to another gazebo support. Last year it did not produce berries. We shall see what happens this year.

Grape vine 4, med

Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3

Comfrey
Planted 1 separately from the Towers, next to the porch with the lilies.
Will grow in full or partial sun. Might take over the garden as it spreads like mint.

Day Lily
A few of them are coming up next to the porch, surrounding the comfrey plant. I usually replant the bulbs in the fall or leave the existing ones in the ground over the winter.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, med

Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement

Hyacinths
Most have finished blooming and I have pulled out the bulbs to be planted in the fall.

Tulips
Done blooming, pulled out the remainder of the bulbs and saved them for the fall.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, med

Grape vine 3, next to fence (to be reconstructed), with tulips and hyacinths

Lemongrass
Planted in the corner of the garden next to lemon verbena and Tower 4.
Full sun, natural insect repellent
The plant got somewhat trampled during fence replacement, but seems to still be alive.

Lemon Verbena
Planted along the South fence, next to lemongrass, close to Tower 4.
Full sun, natural insect repellent

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, med

Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right

Grapefruit Mint
Planted in a pot, as mint frequently takes over the garden.
Likes full sun or partial shade

Aside, Grapefruit mint, med

Grapefruit mint

Garden Mint
Planted in a pot, removed all the parts of the root system that has spread throughout the garden from the previous years.
Prefers cool moist areas but will grow in full sun.

Aside, garden mint, med

Garden mint

Russian Sage
Planted in the ground, between Towers 3 and 4, next to winter savory, partial shade. Drought-tolerant. Planting sage with onions, carrots, cabbage or turnips protects them by repelling insects.

Winter Savory
Planted in the ground, between Towers 3 and 4, next to Russian sage, partial shade.
Needs at least six hours of sun.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, med

Left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley

Black Currant
I have two bushes, both of which have been planted last year, yet I do not recall if both are black or one is red. They are planted next to each other along the South fence, next to Tower 2.
Permaculture favourite, since they can bloom in partial shade.

Blackberry
We have planted a blackberry bush last year, but it did not look like it was taking to our garden very well, and with the raspberries spreading like wildfire, I thought it was overrun. However, something is coming up along the window that does look like blackberry. We shall wait and see if it recovers.

Aside, currants, med

Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry.

Raspberry
We have planted Killarney Raspberry bush last year, and although it has not produced more than a handful of berries, it has spread through the garden quickly. I have removed some of it to pass on to a friend, leaving the initial bush. So far it is growing rapidly.

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Seven dishes in one hour of effort

During the day, I sometimes get a hour or so when the baby is willing to play by herself. This happens most often around mid-day, when I’m hungry enough for lunch. I do my best to take advantage of that time, to cook up a few dishes, tidy up the kitchen, and fit in a lunch for myself. Today I decided to document what I did.

Omega bake

Preparation

I take some time each morning, while feeding the baby, to think of what I need to accomplish for the day, and how to get the simplest and quickest things out of the way at the outset, so I can focus on others, more labour- or thought-intensive ones. As part of that planning, I note things that I can cook while doing something else in or around the kitchen, without it taking much effort. Things like boiling eggs, roasting a squash or beets, setting meat to defrost, or starting bone broth require little attention, yet when you need them for a dish, they are ready to be used.

On Sunday, I have set some chicken thighs and ground beef to defrost in a bowl in the fridge. Yesterday, the day was full of baby care and garden planting, so I did not get to cook. One of the first things I did this morning, was to fire up the oven to 350°F and bake two small salmon fillets for about 25 minutes, as I knew I would be needing them later in the day. It is also best to bake or roast things in the morning in summer, as it gets way too hot during the day.

Seven dishes in one focused hour of effort

I have set the oven to 400°F as the heat is not too bad today, and have started a frying pan with some olive oil, as I wanted to make a French-herb-inspired stir-fry. I chopped 3 garlic cloves and 1/2 large pink onion, set them to sweat in olive oil, and got to chopping a zucchini and 3 medium carrots. Once the garlic and onion were ready, I added beef and left it to be browned, stirring once in a while.

While the beef was browning, I took out the defrosted chicken thighs, seasoned them with salt and pepper and put them into a casserole dish. Once the oven finished heating up, in they went for 35 minutes.

In the meantime, I have cracked 10 eggs into a bowl and added another thinly chopped zucchini to it, to get started on the omega breakfast bake, based on a recipe from The Paleo Primer. The beef was ready, and so I added the zucchini and carrots to the stir-fry, cut up the beet greens I had remaining in the fridge from the last week’s organic box, and added them in as well. Next the spaghetti squash that has been in the fridge for a few days went into the stir-fry. I mixed it up and let it simmer to let the zucchini and carrots soften.

Next, I have shredded the salmon fillets with a fork, combined them with eggs, added some salt, freshly ground 4-peppercorn blend, and chopped dill from the fridge, and mixed everything together for the omega bake.

Some organic tomato sauce, dill, herbes de Provence, black pepper, and tarragon went into the beef stir-fry. I have covered it with a lid, and let it cook for a few more minutes to bring out the flavour, before turning off the heat.

At this point, the thighs were almost done, and so I set out to prepare the next batch to go into the oven: the omega bake and the sweet potatoes. For the omega bake, I have oiled two glass bread loaf pans with coconut oil (I usually make two at once), and have poured the mix into them. Sweet potatoes took very little preparation: just putting them into a casserole dish and poking holes with a fork in each one to let steam escape. Preparation finished, the thighs were done, and omega bake pans and sweet potatoes went into the oven. Omega bake takes about 35-40 minutes in my oven, and sweet potatoes would remain for about half an hour longer.

As I am recovering from a cold (and a wicked ear-exploding pain the night before), I try to incorporate onions and garlic into my diet, and since I had half an onion left over from the stir-fry, I decided to make lunch with it. While looking for sweet potatoes, I have discovered two small white potatoes left over from the organic box. Lunch was decided: fried potatoes (I indulge myself once in a while), and an onion-containing salad. As that did not provide for much protein, I have also decided to make salmon salad.

I have heated up some bacon grease in a skillet, and peeled and sliced potatoes in the meantime. In they went with occasional stirring, and I focused on the two salads. A quarter of the remaining onion went into each. The salmon salad is a variation on tuna salad from Well Fed 2, only I prefer salmon as I find tuna a bit too dry. Adding some chopped parsley from the fridge to the tuna and onions, and covering them with lemon juice, salt, and fresh-ground pepper, I let it marinate. In the other bowl, adding chopped dill and a chopped tomato to the rest of the onion, and seasoning with organic sunflower oil, salt, and fresh-ground pepper, gave me the Russian tomato dill salad we used to make.

Little was left. I have chopped up a stalk of celery for the salmon salad. We ran out of pickles (oh, the horror, – Russian household without pickles!), so I skipped them in the recipe. I then proceeded to tidy up the kitchen and wash dishes while the potatoes were finishing up and the salmon salad marinating. Once that was finished, in went the celery, about two tablespoons of chives, and some olive oil mayo. The salmon salad was ready, and so were the potatoes.

It was time to change the baby, and she was excited to play in the living room, allowing me a bit of time to have lunch. While I was eating lunch of potatoes, salmon salad wrapped in lettuce leaves, and the tomato salad, the omega bake loafs were finished, and the only thing remaining were the sweet potatoes, which just needed to be removed from the oven, half an hour later.

So, in about an hour (plus some unattended oven time), I have ended up with seven dishes:

  1. Roasted sweet potatoes (likely to be part of 2-3 dinners)
  2. Two omega bake loafs (breakfast for two adults and one child for 4-5 days)
  3. Roasted chicken thighs (protein for dinner and perhaps a lunch from leftovers)
  4. Ground beef spaghetti squash stir-fry (at least one dinner and perhaps a lunch from leftovers)
  5. Salmon salad (enough for two lunches)
  6. Fried potatoes (lunch)
  7. Tomato dill salad (lunch and a bit left over for dinner)

In the process of cooking, I have also boiled the tea kettle a couple of times, making infusions of stinging nettle (for myself and for the plants), camomile (for an eye compress and drinking since the baby is teething), and breathing tea (to help me recover from this latest cold). I have also refilled the filter, taken supplements, given the baby probiotics and vitamin D, washed dishes, and tidied up the kitchen. One productive hour, wouldn’t you say?

What are your efficiency tips in the kitchen?

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Permaculture tower construction, cooking session, and belly beads

Belly beads - Fire opal - closeup, smTo pick up on our permaculture adventures: we have constructed The Two Towers. It took most of the day today and here are the details.

The straw was supposed to arrive on Wednesday, and so I have decided to make Tuesday a day to cook and catch up on beading and other things. I have made two strands of belly beads: Fire Opal and Blue Lagoon, and have put together designs for a few more. Baby and I went for a walk to ship some items, snuggled, played, and spent the rest of the day at home. I have put together the fencing for one of the towers on Sunday using twist ties we had lying about, and have completed another one on Tuesday.

Among our garden adventures, I have made chicken bone broth, and so on Tuesday, once the boys were out, the baby and I got cookin’. I made yellow chicken and potato curry, curried butternut squash soup, curry squash chicken sliders, steamed some broccoli, and cut up some fruit for snacks. I even remembered to make myself a smoothie of kale, a half-eaten apple (kids love doing this, don’t they?), some frozen blueberries, ground flax seed, hemp seed, and water. I have also made a batch of sangria, although using grape instead of orange juice (as I didn’t have any) made it a bit too sweet for my liking.

Belly beads - Wild Flowers - closeup, smOn Wednesday, I worked in the morning, and had a friend come visit around noon. Our  kids played and we chatted. Our organic box arrived later in the day. I have assembled the fencing for the remaining two towers using cable ties, and have worked on the lovely Wild Flowers belly beads in dark blue and purple glass beads, with amethyst, lapis lazuli, and blue crystals. Later Sebastien stopped by with the straw. We were all set for planting.

On Thursday, I made beet and sweet potato soup in the morning, and later, as the baby settled to sleep, I stepped outside of our yard looking for wooden sticks to put into the towers. Luckily, as the fences are currently being replaced by the rental corporation, part of a neighbour’s lilac bush got sheered off, and they had no problem with me taking the branches. It took a while to separate them into small enough pieces, armed only with scissors and a rather dull pair of secateurs, yet that meant I did not have to go any further to find wood for the towers.

To clear space for the first two towers, I have transplanted several offshoots of my raspberry bush into a pot for a friend. (I have planted the raspberries last year and they have already started to take over the garden.) The mint ended up with the same fate, as it also loves to spread itself around.

Once that was done, I have started to set up one of the towers. As our plot of land is small, I had to work on one tower at a time, clearing out plants to make space for it. I have assembled the tower from the fencing rolled into a cylinder, held together by twist ties, and attached it to four poles rooted into the ground by cable ties.

Tower 1, empty, md

First empty tower with four supports

An approximately two-inch layer of straw went onto the bottom to act as a barrier for weeds from the garden soil.

Tower 1, bottom layer, md

Bottom layer of straw

The process consisted of layering straw on the outside, while putting soil in the middle, interspersed with a few wooden branches to hold in the moisture.

Tower 1, bottom, md

Packing in straw and soil

Tower 1, 1 quarter full, md

Straw outer layer and soil inside

Packing the soil against the straw was slow work, as I had to ensure the tower was even, the straw layer thick enough to hold in the soil, yet not too thick for planting, and the soil and sticks packed in tidily. The baby waking up part-way through the first tower did not speed things up. She decided it was the perfect time to play and be held, so I took a break for a couple of hours after the first tower, spending time with her, grabbing some lunch, and eventually settling her back to sleep.

Tower 1, md

Wooden sticks inside the soil for moisture retention

Tower 2, half full, md

Half-completed tower

First tower, about 2/3 completed

First tower, about 2/3 completed

As the tower was packed, the fencing bulged a bit on the sides and settled lower to the ground, leaving the tower shorter than 4 feet. The tower came out a bit tilted. The plastic supports do not appear to be very sturdy, so I shall go to a hardware store later today to search for something stronger to reinforce it. With the strong winds we have, I want to make sure the tower is sturdy enough to weather them.

First tower completed

First tower completed

It was a good thing I talked to the man doing the work on the fences in the neighbouring yards. Apparently our fence is to be ripped up next week. He came over to look at our yard, and said that we’d just have to move the gazebo over (as opposed to disassembling and removing it completely) and take hooks off the fences. According to him, there is no need for me to transplant the black currant bushes away from the fence. He had also complimented me on the towers and said it’s too bad more people are not planting gardens. Indeed, it is somewhat of a concrete jungle in our neighbourhood.

The second tower took less time, with the baby sleeping through most of the assembly. I have been making sure to pack the straw and soil more evenly, approaching the tower from all sides, to avoid tilting and bulging, and stopped frequently to evaluate the result. However, the tower still ended up settling lower, even though it came out more straight than the first one. I guess, that comes with using flexible fencing. As long as it stays sturdy enough though, I don’t see a shorter tower as a deal-breaker.

Tower 2, wooden sticks, md

Second tower with wooden sticks inside

Tower 2, 3 quarter full, md

Second tower, more than half full

Tower 2, almost complete, md

Second tower with a soil pile

Two towers, side, md

Two towers completed

For the next tower, I would have to extract all of the strawberries I currently have growing in the garden, to make space for it. So the plan is to do it tonight, planting them into the existing towers, as it’s not going to be so hot in the evening. We shall see how much I end up accomplishing, after needing to get to a hardware store before then.

Two towers, md

Garden with the two towers

It has been sunny and quite warm all day, although not without a refreshing breeze and an occasional cloud. As I write this, there are peals of thunder and now the pattering of rain outside. I have finished the towers quite timely, it seems. Let’s hope that the rain will ease up tonight so I can transplant the strawberries into a tower.

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Permaculture garden preparations

It has been a busy, productive and fun weekend, with lots of playing, fresh air, and garden preparations, so much so that I had no time to write this until Wednesday evening.

On Friday, I ventured out to pick up a roll of garden fence and a few poles, to get ready for the construction of plant towers.

On Saturday, my son and partner have gone to a store in the morning to get a birthday present for a party at a climbing/crawling/swinging entertainment venue they were attending later in the day. In the meantime, I dealt with the chaos in the kitchen, and have gotten lunch ready, so that there would not be much stomach space left for the usual fare of pizza or hot dogs (seriously, I cannot believe this establishment caters to children). Having had lunch, they took the gift they bought at the store along with some Russian-English translation cards I made, and set off.

I was left at home to tend the baby and plan the garden, as we were getting seeds the next day and I needed to know what to plant. (The four unlabeled circles are the spots for the plant towers.)

gardenPlan600

I have spent some time looking into bird feeders, as I’d like to bring the birds into my tiny garden to help with the garden insects. While searching, I have found this lovely solar-powered garden fountain that birds are supposed to like as a bath. I don’t know about birds, but I’m in love with it. Perhaps some day…

green_ceramic

I was not so lucky finding a bird feeder I liked. The one that struck me as the most aesthetically pleasing, is made of plastic, and according to reviews is utterly destroyed by squirrels. You do recall my squirrel issue? Well, I have set out to find a feeder with squirrel protection, and have found one, together with the pole for it. I have also looked into getting a ladybug house, but, according to some, ladybugs do not have a nesting instinct and so it is futile to get such a house: they won’t live in it.

I have ventured out in the afternoon to get organic tomato plants from a friend: large cherries, beefsteak, brandywine, and roma tomatoes, and to acquire the bird feeder, the pole to hold it, and some tent pegs, to further secure the towers.

I have stayed up late Saturday night, drawing out the towers and the plants to go into them at different levels, on sunny and shady sides. Planning is half the fun, although I had to guess how many plants could possibly fit into a tower while leaving proper spaces between them. As I have never planted in a tower, I had assumed 5 rows with about 8 plants in each, alternating between two types of plants per row (sun- and partial-shade-loving) and between the rows, so that hopefully the same type of plant does not overpower its neighbours, possibly helps them out, and is easy to distinguish when grown.

towers 1, 2, md

towers 3, 4, md

We shall see where this logic leads me. I’m sure the reality will be different from the plan, as it depends highly on the availability of seedlings and seeds, the final tower height, and so on.

On Sunday, my partner and son went to get the car fixed and to get groceries, allowing me to briefly review my copy of The Edible Balcony and come up with some more plant possibilities for the towers. I have also calculated that I needed about 2 cubic yards to create 4 towers, each 4 feed high with radius of 1 foot, and so I have ordered organic mix of peat moss, manure, black peat loam and mushroom compost from Manotick Gardens.

Greta’s organic seeds and seedlings was our destination for the afternoon. It is a beautiful piece of land, with fish ponds, a chicken coup, and greenhouses full of plants. We spent at least two hours there, my son running around reveling in all the green space, my partner keeping an eye on him, and the baby cuddled up in my ring sling, while I listened to Sebastien‘s plant recommendations and gathered up the seedlings into trays. We also got some seeds for peas, beans, kale, lettuces, carrots, and other plants to be started throughout the summer.

Seedlings outside, md

I have spent some time in the evening clearing out a corner of the garden for the soil that was to be delivered the next day. I had to replant a black currant bush and a mystery flowering plant (I can’t recall its name, but it has been growing back ever since I had planted it 3 years ago). I have also cut some tulips and hyacinths to put in a bouquet, and dug out the bulbs from other flowers that have already bloomed, to save them for next year.

Monday was Victoria Day in Canada, making for a long weekend. The soil was delivered in the afternoon, and the driver said he could not drive up to our back yard, since if he left deep tracks on the lawn, our rental corporation would be after him. We have come to a compromise of dumping the soil near the parking lot on a lawn (since even our rental corporation would hardly object to some organic soil feeding that wilting lawn corner). This meant that we had to transport the soil from the parking lot into our garden.

It was an arduous job, more so because I could not help much due to tending to both kids. Once the baby was asleep, my three-year old woke up and decided to help papa. This involved a toy truck and shovel, running barefoot on the grass between our yard and parking lot, and lots of excitement. My partner had to use our little wooden wagon without its sides, and two garbage cans, into which to shovel the soil. We have broken the wheels off our large garbage can in the process – they have just popped off, so we’ll have to figure out a way to fit them back on.

Wagon, md

Shoveling soil, md

Dumping soil, md

Once the soil has been moved, my partner had settled down with a cold beer, and I had engaged my son in starting the seeds we got the day before. He quite enjoyed scooping the soil into the planting trays, scattering the seeds, and watering them. We continued playing outside after dinner, as the weather was still not too hot, my son had lots of energy, and my partner needed more rest.

Lots of activity over the weekend, and at this point we are all geared up to plant, lacking only the straw that is to come later in the week, and wood sticks that Sebastien suggested we incorporate into the towers to hold moisture.

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Mother’s Day, belly beads, and permaculture adventures

It has been a few busy weeks, and it seems the next few shall bring much activity as well, so it took me until Friday to write this post. With the spring coming, I’m working on a fresh new product line of belly beads and planning my garden using the permaculture approach. And so far it has been an exciting adventure with lots to learn.

We had a lovely Mother’s day. My partner made banana oatmeal pancakes, and we spent the morning at home playing with the kids. In the afternoon, we set off to our respective adventures. The baby and I went to Mothers, Midwives & Babies: Celebrating 20 Years of Ontario Midwifery, and my partner and son spent that time at the Aviation Museum. It was great to see the midwives, get a tour of the new birth centre in Ottawa, view a collage of old photos documenting the history of midwifery in Ontario, and spend time with friends outdoors while kids played around us. Afterwards we came home and had a relaxing evening with Thai takeout for dinner and more quiet play.

bellyBeadsMd

For the past couple of weeks, I have been working on belly beads and loving it. I have initially thought of making belly beads for pregnant bellies only, but then I tried some on and realized how wonderful they feel. They also do seem to make me a lot more aware of my core muscles – which makes me remember yoga a lot more often. I have been wearing some around the house for the past few days. The Canada Post lady delivering a package smiled in surprise – I thought to tell her that, yes, I just belly dance all day, hence the attire.

I have incorporated gemstones, crystals, and Czech fire-polished beads into the designs, and have tried two- and three-colour combinations so far. They come out vibrant and light. I added a small drop to each one to hang over the belly button, as an accent. Some of them are being field-tested by friends and so far I’m getting great feedback. A friend has mentioned that her daughter would love some, and so I shall be testing out belly beads for children. And there are beads in the works for two friends who wish to celebrate their beautiful growing pregnant bellies. It is shaping up to be a very exciting and fulfilling project.

Bright side of life cards, etsy, front hyacinth, md

If I did not have my hands full before, I’m certainly lining things up to be busy this summer. For three years now, we have been growing some food and flowers on our tiny plot of land. Some plants in some years gave plentiful harvest, but we have to struggle with a clay-filled shallow soil, lack of an external water hook-up, and hours of blazing hot sun that burns down plants even when they are watered every day. And although I have grown some beautiful flowers that made it onto the postcards, so far nothing that requires even partial shade has survived a summer, and our daily watering ritual includes hooking up the garden hose to the kitchen sink, which requires partial disassembly of the tap. Last summer, watering was a bit easier since there was so much rain, but few things ripened as there were not that many sunny days. It is a delicate dance between scorching heat and never-ending rain, not with any consistent results.

Oh, and squirrels. Did I mention squirrels? If we actually manage to grow anything edible, before we even know it’s nearing a ripe state, squirrels consume half of it and scatter the other half. Strawberries, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, flower bulbs and petals, – you name it, they eat or destroy it. And peanuts are to be stored in my flower beds, since that’s the best hiding spot in the entire neighbourhood. The flowers can just move over in their opinion. To be fair, I cannot blame the squirrels from picking on me, as most people in our town house complex have their back yards paved with large square stone tiles and do not suffer anything to grow if they can help it.

So this year I am attempting to put more thought into the garden design, and I have been looking into permaculture with the help of the wonderful Dasha and Sebastien from Agape Gardens. I have been watching Geoff Lawton’s inspiring videos on transforming dry terrain into luscious gardens and learning how permaculture designs use the natural features of the land to create a viable food-producing ecosystem.

Our rental corporation is planning to replace all the fences, and so we have to be constrained in our design, to prevent the trampling and destruction of the plants during the construction. So for now nothing can climb fences or grow too close to them, which is unfortunate. Since we have so little space and so much sun, we have decided to go vertical and create plant towers. That can allow us to plant flowers or root vegetables (such as carrots, beets, potatoes) on top, heavy vegetables (squashes and such) on the bottom, and things like strawberries, tomatoes, and greens on the sides of the tower. The herbs can then go on the ground around the towers. The towers will also allow us to create some shade and hopefully prevent the plants from being scorched if the summer is very hot.

If anyone has any ideas on how to deter the squirrels, I’d love to hear them! I have tried black or cayenne pepper sprinkled on top of the plants, but it gets washed off by the first rain, and squirrels seem to ignore it in any case. We cannot put any wire or anything spiky on the ground, as we do have children and a cat who can get hurt by it. We are planning to get a bird feeder to attract the birds to the garden for insect consuming purposes, and perhaps squirrels will take more interest in the feeder than in the plants, but I have my doubts. After all, flower beds are a great choice for peanut hiding, and the towers will likely be as well.

Lots to learn, and lots to plan and implement. I am excited to try this approach and see where it takes us.

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Spend some time with yourself

With so many demands placed on us by other people, we often forget to allocate time for ourselves. Setting aside even fifteen minutes of alone time is vital, so you can take a break and regroup.

We all know well the never-ending string of things that need to be done: work, child care, errands, dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, – and before you know it, bedtime comes and we realize that we had no time for ourselves for the entire day. “Tomorrow”, we say, “I shall make time to relax”. Tomorrow comes, new duties and errands take precedence, and the cycle keeps on going. Break it and schedule some alone time – your errands can wait a few minutes, and you’ll enjoy them more and be more efficient at them afterwards.

When I say “alone time” I do not mean time to exercise or take a shower (although it is important to find time for those things). I also do not mean time to surf the web, answer email, or go grocery shopping without the kids. As much as that might feel refreshing, it is not quality alone time. I mean having a quiet few minutes to yourself to have a cup of tea in peace, to read a few pages of a book, to meditate, to get some fresh air, or to immerse yourself in a relaxing bath. For me a few minutes with an audiobook and a puzzle or a beading project are a great way to take a break from work and home obligations, so I can come back to fulfilling those with new strength.

Planning to have those breaks can also serve as “the light at the end of the tunnel”, since you will be anticipating the alone time. That time, by the way, does not have to be quiet: you can go the other way and put on an energetic tune, stretch, dance, play a musical instrument, or do anything else you would love to do by yourself. One important factor is being fully present in the moment and enjoying it. This is why surfing the web is not a good choice: we tend to get distracted and carried away by what we see, and before we know it, our limited alone time is over and we emerge no more rested or satisfied with the experience than before.

Choose an activity that is engaging and pleasurable, and dive right in – you will be more productive and less stressed afterwards.

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Control your atmosphere

Shape your surroundings by controlling sound levels, lighting, temperature, and other environmental factors, to help you be more productive, to reduce stress, and to motivate yourself.

If you have ever worked at an office with fluorescent lighting or no daylight, or lived in a building where floors are being varnished or walls painted, or walked by a noisy construction site, you know how extremely distracting and unproductive such environments are. Some of them are hazardous to your health, some are “merely” irritating, and there are many shades in-between. When you can effectively control these environmental factors, you can direct your energy better.

Control your mood and productivity with music. If you are most productive with an energetic melody playing in the background, put it on. If you need to destress or calm your rowdy toddler down, try putting on some zen music with nature sounds. Exercise is good to a good beat, and so is cleaning. Cooking for a party can go smoother if you play a selection of music in the same style as will be played at the gathering itself. Vacuuming with the baby in the sling or turning on the dishwasher produces the white noise helpful in lulling the baby to sleep. At other times, eliminating the noise can be what you need: noise pollution can be quite an irritant and get your stress levels up. Use the music and sound barriers as tools to enhance your mood and environment.

Control your alertness with lighting. Pull open the curtains to let the sunlight in and waken up your senses for an afternoon play session, cleaning, or doing creative work. Close the curtains when putting children to sleep to create a subdued quiet atmosphere. Dim the lights for a relaxing bath and try lighting a candle. If the flame is too bright, use a tea light holder that diffuses the light. Use a Himalayan salt lamp for a soft glow when resting. Have a bright directed light when reading a book or chopping up ingredients.

Control your comfort level with temperature and drinks. (This might sound weird, but stay with me here.) A few degrees difference in temperature can make us feel too sluggish or too frozen to want to do anything. Open a window to let some breeze in – it will help you feel energetic on a warm day. Keep the room on a cooler side when sleeping – you’ll likely sleep better and wake up easier. Cold and uncomfortable? Pour yourself a cup of hot tea (that’s where the drinks come in) and have a warm foot bath. If you put a drop of Eucaliptus oil into it, you’ll also breathe easier. Hot and foggy? Take a contrast shower, with alternating cold and warm water, finish with cold, and dry yourself vigorously. Have some cold water with a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber. Substitute gluhwein for tea or beer for cold water if an occasion calls for it.

Have some fun and play with the possibilities. Diffuse some essential oils to clear out unpleasant smells and to either invigorate or calm yourself. Dry brush your body to wake your senses up. Do a quick yoga session to stretch tight areas. Remove clutter from your desk to avoid distractions. Breathe deeply. You can control many aspects of your environment: make it work for you.

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Split your project into tasks

Having a series of smaller tasks to do makes your project less daunting and allows you to complete something when only a short period of time is available. This gives a quick boost of satisfaction from the accomplishment which serves as encouragement to do another task.

The hardest part of any project is starting it. The second hardest part is continuing it to completion when the project stretches over an extended period of time or requires intervals of waiting between stages. To tackle the first part, I suggest to get everything you need prepared for the project before you start. Chopping and measuring all the ingredients before you cook makes for a smoother and more pleasant cooking session, and results in fewer forgotten steps and missing ingredients. Same goes for other projects. I also suggest to trip over your to-dos: use the space you will need for something else in the near future, which will constantly remind you of the project you have on-the-go.

To continue making progress on a longer project, split it up. For example, say you want to make printed paper invitations for a party, that you would distribute to your playgroup. You need to (a) come up with the wording; (b) decide on the recipients; (c) come up with the design; (d) assemble the design and wording; (e) print the invitations; (f) distribute the invitations. Each step by itself is well defined and not very difficult. Most of them are not time-consuming either. You can come up with the wording while taking a shower, or breastfeeding, or cooking, or at any other time when you have a few minutes to think. Jot it down and you have completed a task. Deciding on the recipients can be done in a similar manner. The search for the design could be as simple as opening up your software of choice and selecting the colours of the background, the text, and the font. Perhaps you decide to add an image in as well. Putting in the wording and tweaking the appearance will complete the most difficult task (especially for those of us who are perfectionists) since it requires the most creativity. Printing is trivial. And the last step is remembering to bring the invitations with you, which you can assist by putting a reminder in your calendar.

Once you complete the first small task, the ease of success will fuel you desire to take on the next task, to get more accomplished and finish the project sooner. Each task will bring you closer to the end, serving as motivation for the next task. It does not seem like much if all you have done on your project in a day is come up with some names and a few words, as we would in the example above. However, once you realize that it brings you two steps closer to completing the project and is about 30% of the entire work, it will feel a lot more relevant and rewarding.

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Easter memories and experiments

Easter paski and eggs, md

The coming of spring has brought to me the memories of Easter at my grandmother’s place in Russia: sunlight streaming through the lace curtains, smell of baking wafting from the kitchen, a plate with a large paska covered in snow-white icing towering over a ring of brightly-coloured eggs surrounding it, and a promise of a long lazy weekend full of family and delicious food. And this year for the first time I have decided to bring some of those memories to life.

Once children have entered my life, I have come to appreciate the importance of traditions on a whole new level. What we do in these busy years creates our kids’ childhood: something they will come to remember later, hopefully with a fond smile. And despite my lack of interest in any religious take on Easter, the celebration of spring and fertility sings to me. Kids love messy projects, and what better way to create fun Easter traditions than dye some eggs?

I have decided not to involve myself with artificial (even “approved”) food colouring, and stick to a few simple ways of using vegetables and spices to create several colours. We had boiled two dozen eggs, and created four different dyes: golden orange with onion skins, blue with blueberries, pink with beets, and dark yellow with turmeric.

How to dye eggs with natural dyes:

1. Boil the eggs and once done, run cold water over them so they peel easier afterwards.

2. Boil 2 cups of water with your choice of colouring material for 15 minutes. Per 2 cups of water, use:

– 2 tablespoons of turmeric to get yellow dye, or
– 1 cup of blueberries to get blue/grey dye, or
– 2 cups of shredded beets to get pink/purple dye, or
– skins of 5-6 onions to get golden orange dye.

3. Let the dye cool to room temperature and add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to each – it helps set the colour.

4. Now the fun step in which the kids can participate: lower the eggs carefully into the containers with dyes and put them into the fridge overnight (I used glass containers).

5. In the morning, the kids can carefully remove the coloured eggs and set them on a plate or tray to dry.

It is best to choose white eggs as they pick up the colour better than the brown ones (with the exception of the golden orange of onions that works equally well on either). Turmeric is easily staining so be careful. I must say, the best colours came from beets and onion skins. The boiled blueberries gave a not-very-interesting grey colour, and attempt to eat the blueberries themselves afterwards revealed them not very palatable, so it feels like a waste to me. The beets can later be sauteed with some coconut oil and roasted walnuts and consumed as a salad.

The making of the paska from scratch takes a better part of the day. Going the old school way, I used the cans from tomato juice, coconut milk, and other ones I had around. Starting up the yeast, beating the egg yolks with sugar, beating the whites with salt, kneading the dough, and waiting in-between different stages to let the yeast work their magic, followed by baking and decorating: this project is lengthy. I found kneading the dough very grounding though, letting myself be taken by the memories with the rhythm of it. Fingering zen indeed.

The paska itself is about as unhealthy the creation as they come, but as I do not bake often, I have resigned to that. It was the process that captivated me. The only variations on the recipe were using coconut sugar instead of white, and putting couscous dyed with beets, turmeric, and blueberries on top of the paska, to mimic the coloured grains used in fertility celebrations. That made for a better alternative to artificially-coloured sprinkles from a grocery shelf. My three-year old loved helping out with the paska top decorations.

Easter paski, md

On Saturday, we were invited to a friend’s gathering with about 15 children, and everyone had to bring 10 Easter eggs per child, stuffed with little treasures. We had no plastic eggs (and no way would I be purchasing those), so we made eggs from the empty egg cartons loosely following a simple recipe I found online (except we used green paper tape instead of gluing them with flour). After much internal debate, I have made ten charms in a style similar to my Blessingway beads, only with butterflies, dragonflies, and keys as charms, and with a lobster clasp to use them as pendants, treasures, or to attach them to anything random. The charms made for less a choking hazard than a single bead (although anything going into those small eggs is potentially a choking hazard), and ended up being treasured by girls and boys alike.

Easter charms, md

The gathering was a potluck, for which I had made mashed sweet potatoes with coconut oil and Himalayan salt, Italian meatballs with spaghetti sauce, and a batch of home-made sangria. Kids had an Easter egg hunt and lots of playtime indoors and outside. And for adults it has been a long relaxing afternoon filled with smiles, conversation, good food, and merry drink.

Overall, Easter has been a great opportunity for cherishing memories, experimenting with beads, food colours and baking, and fun activities with family and friends.

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Trip over your to-dos

Place prepared items for your projects in strategically irritating places, triggering your desire to get rid of those items. You will realize it will take about as much effort to complete the project as to relocate the items or to keep tripping over them.

I absolutely despise a messy desk. Therefore I always place anything that needs to be done with the aid of the computer onto my desk. Having the items where they do not belong and seeing them every minute I am at my desk, makes me take action quickly so I can clear the desk. Things that need packaging, Blessingway beads that need to be listed on Etsy, receipts for insurance claims, books to review, new books to be entered into my book catalogue before being placed on a shelf, – all those are placed onto my desk and usually gone to their appropriate places within a day or two at most.

In my studio, I only have two desks: one that holds beading supplies and has limited space for beading designs, and another one that almost always has a puzzle in progress. However, when something needs to be done within a day or two and I have just completed a puzzle, I use my puzzle desk to set up everything I need to complete the task. That way, I will get to it within a day or two, because it will be very frustrating for me not to be able to do a puzzle whenever I wish. (Yes, I’m a puzzle addict to that extent. Imagine not being able to touch a puzzle for a week!) Similarly, if I have some designs set out on my beading desk, I have to assemble the pieces before creating new designs, otherwise I will not have space for them. This ensures that I complete the necessary tasks quickly, before I move on to something more pleasurable.

On a smaller scale, I leave things on the stairs to remind me of outstanding tasks. My studio is on the top floor, kitchen and living room on the main floor, and laundry and pantry in the basement. This means that I can find myself in the studio needing something from the basement or the ground floor, and before starting on a project I would have to go down the stairs to bring things up. Instead, I anticipate where something would be needed next and leave it on the stairs going in that direction. That way when I do traverse the stairs, I grab whatever is lying there, reminding me that something needs to be done. And conveniently enough, it needs to be done on the floor to which I’m already going.

Make it easy and rewarding for yourself to do what you know needs doing by making it irritating to NOT do it.

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Start multiple projects

To facilitate switching among different types of activities, prepare all the materials, equipment, and information required for several projects. That way, when you have a few minutes, you can start working on one of your projects, instead of procrastinating or attempting to gather up everything you would need, just to find yourself having run out of time.

This sounds like a counter-productive tip: after all, many people are notorious for starting several projects at once and rarely bringing any to completion. However, what I mean here is: gather up all the things you would need to complete a task, and set them aside. That way when time presents itself or the inspiration hits, you are not bothered with logistics, and can start working on the project right away. This also gives you an advantage of noticing if items required for a project are missing, ahead of time, and being able to acquire them before you start.

For instance, I always have a book ready and a puzzle laid out on the puzzle table, so that I can read a few pages or put in a few puzzle pieces for relaxation when I have time. My baby often gives me 15-minute time intervals to do anything, before she needs attention. This means that I have beads set out in designs ready to be assembled, photos for postcards I send as a gift with purchase, together with the card stock and markers to create the card vignettes, recipe books ready with a sheet of paper and pen to jot down ingredients for grocery shopping, dishes soaking to be washed, files open to be edited, and so on.

If the baby feels like riding in the sling, I can vacuum, water flowers, put away dishes, do whatever I have ready to go that requires movement and is not hazardous. If she feels like playing in the living room, I can write a blog post, list items on Etsy, do some code changes, stretch, or do yoga. If she wants to swing or play on the bed for a bit in my studio, I can take photos of items for Etsy, work on the packaging or jewellery designs, relax for a few minutes over a puzzle, dry brush, or soak my feet in a bath. And if she wants to cuddle and feed, I have an audiobook ready to go on my nano, which I might listen to as we lie down in bed and she slowly drifts to sleep.

If you take a few minutes to prepare the settings for working on several projects, you will find getting started on them a lot easier, and procrastination would not seem as attractive.

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