Books and Media

Book Review: Joel Salatin’s “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”

I have been reading about 50 books at once about gardening and permaculture, and I wasn’t making headway, so I decided to choose a book. I have heard the YouTube Homesteaders mention Joel Salatin so often, I began to think of him as some kind of agro-cult leader. I watched a Ted Talk by him and found him entertaining, so decided to read one of his books. Bookshare had “Folk’s, This Ain’t Normal” so I went with it.

This book was published in 2012, I think, so it’s a little dated. But on the other hand, it was surreal to read it now, in the current crisis. It is alarming how vulnerable we are and how little we understand about where our food comes from.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book. It was educational, entertaining, and enlightening. As I have freely admitted, I have a lot of gaps in knowledge about agriculture. I am certainly one of the people he makes fun of in the book who don’t know how chickens lay eggs and the like (well, I actually knew THAT, but I have a lot of other majorly embarrassing gaps.) This is good in a way, because I have no preconcieved notions. I never knew who Monsanto was till I heard about them a few years ago, and only in the context of how bad they were. I have also heard of the problems with corn subsidies and high fructose corn syrup (I had read Omnivore’s Dilemma), so none of that stuff was surprising.

My main connections to anything agriculture related are from my first boyfriend, Kory and my husband, Nik. Kory was from deep in the heart of the Sandhills of Western Nebraska, and I lived out there for awhile as I had a job taking care of his little sister. To say that Western Nebraska was a culture shock would be an understatement. I can’t saw I learned anything in depth about ag, but I did see evidence of the level of actual real and practical skills that everyone had out there that we urbanites did not. This knowledge that comes from rural areas is what keeps all of us in the city alive, yet they continue to be looked down upon and under underappreciated. Kory’s grandparents farmed on hundreds of acres. Dinner was the main meal of the day and it happened in the middle of the day and you had to be prepared for whoever showed up. The milk was tinged green from alfalfa and the 4H steer was cuddly and sweet as a dog and would lick your hands and nuzzle against you, but everyone could simultaneously grow close to him and know that soon he would be sold to be slaughtered. Sometimes, Kory’s friends would bring over some sausage for us and be sure to let me know the name of the pig it came from, the one I met last week. I was probably the closest to the food I ate there as I had ever been. In my teenage naiveté, I asked people how they survived on the very small IGA grocery store they had there, that didn’t even have salsa! “Honey,” said the grocery lady amusedly, “we make our own salsa here from our gardens.”

Nik grew up in an island in the Baltic Sea. Gotland, which is part of Sweden. His family had a 200 acre dairy and potato farm. In comparison to Kory’s family, who I think did not think too hard about putting Roundup on the wheat crops, Nik’s dad, Hans sounds like an early revolutionary. Every time I told Nik about something in Salatin’s book, he would launch into a story about how his dad did the same thing or something similar and all the other farmers thought he was crazy. He rotated crops, used the cow fertilizer and compost to care for the soil, and never used pesticides or growth hormones. Hans’s farm was organic before Organic was a thing.

(Also, like Salatin, Nik seems to have some childhood PTSD about chopping firewood to heat the house. I never heard so much good natured bitching from Nik every time I said something Salatin said about chopping firewood.)

So, even though parts of the book were somewhat preachy, I felt like the first 3/4ths of the book were very informative and a good lesson about how we all need to be more responsible for ourselves and less uninformed about our food. The vulnerability that many of us are feeling right now during the Corona virus quarantine really slams this message home. Care of the soil was something that I was completely uninformed about and have learned a lot.

Like Michael Pollen in his book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I am also torn about vegetarianism. Salatin makes a strong case for the damage of soybean crops and monoculture, and the fact that you cannot have an animal-less bioculture and grow edible food. Herbivores like cows, sheep and goats are a vital part of the soil ecosystem and could not just be eliminated from our agriculture. And we humans are one of many omnivores in the world that also  keep a delicate food web balance running effectively.

My son is a vegetarian and I respect that to the point where we often make two versions of things like chili, and we eat vegetarian way more than we would if he weren’t in the family. But I don’t think vegetarians totally have it right when they say “cruelty free” food. Monoculture crops picked by poorly paid and abused migrant workers is not cruelty free, and Salatin claims that it kills more animals (of the micro bacterial sort mostly) than does responsible Omnivorism. From a bio-ecosystem perspective, I don’t think we can eliminate herbivores and other animals from the system and survive. However, certainly we could utilize animals in a responsible way and end the horrible conditions of factory farms. We certainly could eat a good deal less meat than we do now as well.

Still, the moral dilemma of killing animals for food is troubling for me. Salatin and the homesteaders cast it off to the side a little too easily, even though I do believe they treat their animals relatively well while they are alive. But they are killed upon adulthood and it is hard to cast that aside. Would it be possible to utilize animals for their grazing and soil building essentials to our web and not kill them? Nik says no. In some ways, we have to control for population and decomposition. This is something I still ponder and is still troubling to me. I eat meat. I know some of what I do and say is hypocritical. But I am trying to learn more about this. Right now, I feel torn.

I’m not so torn about the last 1/4 of the book. I simply disagree with Salatin. He goes off on a several chapter libertarian rant about regulations and taxes. I am glad to better understand some of the ridiculous regulations that put small farmers at an impossible disadvantage as compared to industrial farms. I did not have any idea of this, and I can relate, believe it or not.

In my world of disability, I see another version of this all over the place. Regulations put in place to “protect” the disabled actually protect big business. For example, nursing homes are largely for-profit businesses that make money by having bodies in beds and getting reimbursed by insurance companies like medicare. To make a profit, which is their goal, they cut costs as much as they can. They don’t hire enough staff, they don’t feed enough food, and they don’t have enough medical supplies to help prevent disease. Disabled people who need care can be assisted better at home or in small community setting that they control. The costs are lower, the quality is higher, the self determination is better. But the legislation and rules are set up to favor nursing homes instead of community care. The rules are scaled for large nursing homes, not small home settings so it is really hard for an individual to comply with all the rules. People end up being imprisoned in nursing homes against their will. They try to change the regulations, but they are up against a strong, well funded nursing home lobby.

Salatin describes something similar with small cottage industry farmers. The regulations are set up for industrial scale farming. A small business cannot afford to follow the rules, but also shouldn’t need to. For example, animal processors are supposed to have a metal detector, which is a huge expense, to make sure their meat doesn’t contain metals from the assembly line. But at small butchers, they hand process one animal at a time, there is no chance of a stray piece of machinery getting into some random piece of meet. but they are still required to buy this huge, expensive machine.

These types of regulations are problematic and need to be changed. Perhaps a different set for small scale farmers, or an outcome-based inspection where meat is tested for pathogens would be more effective. But I do not think regulation should be eliminated altogether. There is a working theory that some of the viruses coming out of Asia are coming from Wet Markets, where animals are sold live and butchered right in front of the customer with no regulation. (This is not meant to be anti-Asian, as these markets are in many places throughout the world. I would rather deal with the actual issue than blame an entire race/ethnic group.) It seems that some type of regulation of wet markets in the future might be in order to prevent virus pandemics like we are seeing now.

Salatin believes that we should just be responsible for ourselves and get informed about food and “let the buyer beware” and that would solve any problems of de-regulation. But I don’t think everyone can be expected to be educated about everything. Its true, we should be more educated about our food because that is so fundamental to life. But I cannot be an expert on all types of food, water, sewers and the best way they should be run safely. People go to school for a long time to learn these things, or have a lifetime of experiences. Sometimes, you want to turn things over to people who know more than you. I can’t know everything about cars, cardiologists, heating and air conditioning, pharmaceuticals, etc. etc. to make good decisions. I have to delegate some of this to someone. Its probably a little stupid to say a person can’t sell the milk that just came from their cow, or that people in Colorado can’t catch their own rain water and use it. Regulations can get to a point of ridiculousness. There has to be some checks and balances. But I don’t agree that deregulation is the answer to everything. Deregulation is actually just a different form of regulation.

Which gets us to his rant on taxes. I don’t deny that there are problems with taxes, especially for folks that are land rich and cash poor like most farmers. But it is interesting to hear a libertarian view of taxes. It seems to require denying a great deal of actual reality.

Salatin says that we should be more responsible for our own health. And that by eating better, being closer to our food and understanding and being responsible for what is in it, we will be healthier. I agree with him. However, he seems to think poor eating and lifestyle choices are the only reason people may need medical care. In my world, where probably 4/5ths of my social circle are disabled people, I think he is denying a big part of what health care actually is for.

The vast, vast majority of the disabled and chronically ill people I know are disabled and have needed health care through no fault of their own. I think there is a possibility that some chronic diseases are caused by environmental factors (such as factory, processed food or pollution) but most people who have a chronic illness and have gone on a whole food diet may have improved their health, but still are in need of medical care for their illness. At this time, food and pollution do not account for epilepsy, type one diabetes, cerebral palsy, most blindness and deafness, most kidney diseases, spinal cord injuries, aging, etc. My Deafblindness and kidney disease are congenital, there is no known thing I or my parents could have done to prevent my need for medical care. For those suffering from Corona virus right now, there was little they could have done in say, Germany, to have prevented a zoonotic spreading of the virus in a wet market in China. Washing hands may help, but it is not a guaranteed preventative. If we are going to send our young people to war, we are going to have disabled people. We are learning more and more about causes of cancer, but as my biology professor once said, cancer is a necessity in nature, if nothing else kills you, cancer will. Health care is something where we do have some limited control, but by no means do we have any kind of definitive control. I am not responsible for having kidney disease. I can do things to help myself stay as healthy as possible, but I cannot cure myself through will alone. The vast majority of the sick and disabled people I know and know of are in the same boat.

Aging brings disability. Every person, unless they die suddenly of a heart attack or in a tragic car accident or some sort, will get sick, disabled and need medical care. Everyone. You will become disabled unless you die suddenly first. This is just a natural part of life.

Taxes are not forced charity as Salatin believes. Taxes are a form of cooperation and collaboration to better handle things that benefit all of us in a more efficient way than any one person could handle alone. Survival of the Fittest for humans has not been so much about who was the strongest physical specimen or the smartest, it has been about how well we collaborated. This collaboration is how our little, puny bodies were able to hunt huge wooly mammoths. And then, after teaming up for the kill, the bounty was shared. Not just for the actual hunters, but for the women who gathered and cooked for the village, gave birth to its children and cared for the sick. For the children, themselves, have contributed nothing yet but who were the future, and to the elders who don’t contribute anymore, but who were the wise past.

Since EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON who does not die suddenly will become sick and/or disabled in their lifetimes, taxes for healthcare is a form of collaboration that is meant to help all of us. It does not matter how healthy and from scratch you eat, how much country air you breathe, or how much firewood you chop to get exercise. Sickness and disability are part of the human condition, and thus, healthcare is something we all share a need for. There is no getting out of it. The “community” cannot care for a spinal cord injured person’s lifetime needs with bake sales and chili cook offs. It requires the participation of everyone to make any kind of quality of life for people who are sick. And although it may be true that the government over regulates some things and does not tax fairly on others, taxes are in general the sign of a healthy, functioning collaborative society.

So, I am happy to have been introduced to Joel Salatin and learned much from his book. I am very glad I read it and will probably read more. His book was easy to understand, folksy and entertaining. I learned a lot and he has an immense amount of information to bestow upon us. But, although I agree with a lot of what he claims “ain’t normal” in our society, he lost me at the end with the deregulation and taxation is forced charity crap, which just read like a privileged white man who thinks he is infallible and immortal. (Also, a heavy dose of sexism dots around this book often enough to give you a headache from eye rolling too much.) Although I would call him a Grumpy Old Man, I get the reason he is called a Lunatic Farmer.

Disability Adaptations Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

Labels, Labels, Labels

Just a short progress report to say I did get some plant labels and braille them. I tried them in my braille writer but they slipped around too much and kept brailling over what was already brailled. (I know you can apparently get a tape label attachment for a braille writer, but I don’t have one and don’t know whether it would work for such short “tape” anyway.) So it was the good old fashioned slate and stylus that came through. I had to push pretty hard, though.

All my attempted methods of labeling these little plastic suckers. A braille writer on the left, a crazy slate that I won in a door prize at a convention that allows you to do braille from left to right and not in reverse (but the labels were too thick for it.) and a standard slate and stylus, which requires me to emboss from right to left and in reverse.
The winning strategy, a standard slate and stylus. I don’t use a slate very often, but I am very glad I have this skill. Its the only thing that always works for stuff like this.
A couple of my peat pots labeled with braille plastic markers. These say “pepper.”

In other news, I have heard that because of all the shut downs, we still don’t have water at the community gardens. This creates a little dilemma. It still does rain a good deal right now, so I could plant things (was planning to start after our frost date in early April.) and let the rain take care of them. Or I could start everything I was going to plant there, here. But I’d have to go down there and get some soil for little starter plants, carry them back, carry them there, etc. etc. I know some people are hauling their own water, but they have cars. I can’t figure out how to haul that much water for beginning planting a mile without a car. But we will see what happens in the next couple of weeks. Maybe the water will turn on. I’ve emailed the garden manager guy just to say hi, but have not heard back.

I’m also in email communication with a permaculture design guy. We are trying to see if we can set up a remote consultation. My main goal there, besides just learning, is to get advice on the best use of the small amount of land I have.

Finally, my marigolds and wildflowers in the pot are growing. So, my first signs of success is not food, but I will take it.

This terra cotta pot has a few green sprouts coming out of it. The official start of my garden!
Progress Report

Seeds have Started

Well, since the entire world decided to start gardening this week, my little seed planters I ordered are now out of stock. I may get them in the next couple of weeks, we will see. So, I did go ahead with some peat pots I had to start planting spinach and lettuce. I put those in a tray with a plastic lid for a makeshift greenhouse, and I think those will do fine outside.

50 of my peat pots in a tray filled with spinach and lettuce seeds. This tray has a transparent plastic lid.

Even though I planned out what will fit in my garden spots, I am unsure as to how much we will actually eat, store, whatever. I guess I will figure it out as I go along. If I don’t have enough, well, I am no worse off than I am now. If I have more than enough, I am hoping to preserve some, give away some (we have a homeless shelter nearby) or give some to our guinea pigs, who can eat almost any plant. I’m sure by next year, I will have a much better idea of how much I want to plant of each thing.

I also filled up the famous Home Depot pot with just dirt from our ground (the peat pots are filled with potting soil) to see how things do in our dirt. Its pretty dark and mulchy, actually, because it has been mulched several times. In the pot, I planted some marigolds and some wild flowers.

Large, terra cotta pot filled with soil and sitting on our porch next to a black metal glider.

I planted 2 tomato plants and 2 pepper plants in bigger peat pots I had. I’m keeping those inside for starters.

Two small pots with pepper plants in them on the left, with two small pots with tomato plants in them on the right in a window sill.

I am trying to figure out how to keep track and label all of these. I am thinking of trying those plastic label sticks with a slate and stylus (hand-poked braille). It might be kind of hard to poke them, but I’ll see how I do. I have a Perkin’s braille writer as well, so if I can hold them in there properly, I can try that, too. I could also label the plastic with brailled stickers, but they have a tendency to fall off. For now, I am just memorizing where I put everything. But I can see this needs to find a solution for larger planting.

I also spread around my pine straw bale today. Originally, I was going to use the straw for just in between my three garden boxes. But then I got the community garden and so only decided to do one box for now. So, I just laid it out in my yard. It wasn’t big enough to fill the whole yard, but I thought it might help control weeds for part of it. Maybe I was just bored today.

My raised bed with pine straw around it.

Speaking of my community garden plot. We went to visit it yesterday, but didn’t do much, just pulled a couple of weeds. The padlock to the shed was changed… a brand new lock identical to the old one that is still inaccessible to me. This kind of stuff happens all the time. I explain myself, I put in a link that showed the kind of lock I need, I even offer to pay for it and get it myself, but people don’t understand. It always seems to take 3-6 tries to get something changed to an accessible something. Even something as cheap and easy as a padlock.

Not much else to be done until the weather is just a bit warmer and/or I get my little seed starter trays. But here is a nice bush in our yard:

I don’t know what kind of bush this is, but it blooms these white flowers every march, then it never grows leaves the rest of the year. Weird.
Disability Adaptations Food Preservation Life in General

What a Weird Day

The world has shut down and its snowing (a slight bit) in mid-March. Strange. I’ve been sick (no, I do not think I’m THAT kind of sick. I think I just have a cold with fatigue and a headache…no fever, no cough) so because many of my friends are people with suppressed immunity or other health issues and I am a person with other health issues, I have pretty much sequestered myself to home.

A conversation with my kids:

Me: I’ve never seen anything like this before (the response of the world to self-quarantine during the COVID 19 crisis.)

Aaron: Even during the Spanish Flu Pandemic?

Me: How old do you think I am????

My kids have always been homeschooled, so we already know how to schedule ourselves and be disciplined about self-learning. In some ways, things won’t be that much different. But the outside classes they have gone to have been canceled, Boys and Girls Club is closed, and my one son did choose to attend an alternative high school program this year (where they largely sort of set their own agenda) and he is now home for the next 2.5 weeks at least. For me, it means that I will have kids 24 hours a day. I usually had kids in the mornings, but in the afternoons and on Wednesdays all day except lunch time, I had no kids. It was the time when I worked on work and other things. So, for me, its 24 hour kids. But we will still continue to do school in the mornings as always, and they will have to entertain themselves in the afternoon.

I’ve had to be a little creative about getting groceries, since–ahem–all the healthy people with cars have gone out and hoarded everything in the stores and not left much for those who have more difficulty getting groceries like–ahem–the disabled, sick and financially vulnerable. But I think we will be ok. We usually shop once a week via Shipt delivery service, but drivers are hard to come by now and even then, there is not a lot at any single store you can send them to. So, I am trying to diversify my shopping. Nik walked up with the wheel cart to New Seasons (expensive, posh store) and got some things last night. We will do a Safeway delivery in a few days (more expensive, but possibly more reliable.) I am not sure what amount of groceries they will end up delivering. We also put in a Schwan’s order, but that won’t come for two weeks, and I got some non-perishable dry goods from Public Goods, which will probably be delivered in a week. We won’t starve, but damn if I didn’t use all my money doing that. It was not in the budget!! (I do Dave Ramsey $0 budget.) I’ve even got an order in for toilet paper, but it won’t come until April, so we shall improvise until then. (We have enough that we MAY squeak by before having to resort to leaves and grass!)

I’m hoping that people will calm down in a week or two about this. They are making it hard for those who struggle to get groceries in the first place, which are a lot of the same people who are the most vulnerable for getting sick, too. But all my YouTube homesteading “friends” are sitting pretty. Jessica of Roots and Refuge talked about it a bit here. It really makes a lot of sense to have a surplus of food standing by like they do. So with gardening, comes canning/preserving. And I watched Jessica’s canning videos. Canning is a bit of a challenge when you are blind because you have to be so careful to not touch the things that have been sterilized. But I had to learn adaptations for sterile procedure as a home health care worker, and I have not killed or infected anyone yet, so I do think with a few extra tools there are adaptations for this. I am just learning, and on Youtube, I can’t entirely see and understand the tools she is talking about, so I would need to go to a store and feel them and do a few practice batches to get the hang of it, but I’m sure it can be done. If you are blind and you have canned at all, let me know your hacks.

Of course, my future canning aspirations ain’t helping me now! But we will get through with a hodgepodge of delivery and hoofing it solutions, I am sure.

I was looking forward to the community garden orientation meeting, but it was canceled and now they are going to send us emails with the info. I am usually all for emails instead of meetings. Meetings can be really hard for me to communicate and get what is going on, but in this case, I was hoping to build some community. Now it is too cold again to garden for a bit, and people are isolating themselves even though we are allowed to go to the gardens, so I guess I’m on my own to build community.

I was able to get the soil in my backyard bed, then just put some cardboard on top and I got a couple of bags of mulch I will put on later as well. One issue I am having that I was unprepared for was that my orthostatic hypotension is wreaking havoc on my gardener life. This is when you have a severe drop in blood pressure when changing positions. I squat down to do garden-y things and then I about pass out when I get up. I get exhausted after about 10 minutes of this. So, I had just six bags of soil to put in the bed, and I kept having to go sit on the big boulder next to the bed to recover. So I would do a two minute thing, recover for 5, do a two minute thing, recover for 5, then be about ready to collapse after 30 minutes and have to stop.

It doesn’t surprise me that problems with my kidneys and health are turning out to be a much bigger deal for me in this project than Deafblindness. That is the way it ALWAYS is. People think deaf blindness is such a big deal, but there are always work arounds there and it doesn’t discourage me at all. Not being able to physically get things done and feeling crappy is a much bigger obstacle. So, this is why I only made 1 of the 3 raised beds, and also why .09 acres is probably plenty for me at this time. This will be slow going.

But I got this little wagon/stool/kneely pad thing which I think will help somewhat. It’s an old lady stool for sure, but I think it will help a lot.

This is a little green plastic stool with wheels. The stool part can come off and it can be sat on or turned over and kneeled on (it has a foam pad on the underside). It also can tote tools around in a little wagon so you don’t have to get up and fetch them so much.

Someone also gave me this–I don’t know what to call it–garden stencil thing. It is a 1′ square piece of plastic that has several holes in it. The holes are lined up to sow 1, 2, 4, 9, or 16 plantings per foot. it also includes this little poky thing with tactile notches on it that let you measure how deep to plant seeds, and it comes with a funnel where you can pour the seed down the funnel into the hole. I don’t think this is entirely necessary for blind people for planting (or anyone else for that matter) but it was given to me so I will give it a try and it might come in handy to help keep track of what I planted. So that was a neat thing to get.

This shows the little green plastic garden stencil with its little hole poker on the side. I think the funnel is on the underside.

I am going to plant some starter things this weekend as well. But I have been a little sick and my dirt is currently outside under a very light sprinkling of snow, so I think that may be reason to go take a nap today and try again tomorrow. It sounds like time will be on my side for the next few weeks.

Keep healthy out there and be well!

Compost and Soil Disability Adaptations

Planning and Prepping Progress with Bonus Heinous Home Depot Trip!

I have gotten a lot of little things done in preparation for starting my sorta-almost first garden. I did start a small garden a few years ago when I had people telling me that I couldn’t grow things in my backyard. I had a little 2X4′ box that I planted a few things in and had some success. I had great corn, carrots, radishes and my lettuce actually grew well but was eaten by critters. I failed with cucumbers (did not grow at all) and maybe one other thing that I don’t remember. I am sure the cucumbers were my fault. I still don’t understand how cucumbers grow.

I’m ever so slightly smarter now in terms of knowing to look at frost dates and different growth times for different types of plants. I did finish looking up and OCR-ing all the seed packet info, but then I found something a little easier. GrowVegis a web-based garden planning database that has a yearly ($29.99) subscription. I am still using the trial but so far it seems to be somewhat accessible. I give it a C+. The main part that is not accessible is the drawing tools where you actually design your garden. That uses flash and flash ain’t accessible. Supposedly, it will be updated into a non-flash version this year, but I still doubt that the design tools will be accessible. Still, even if you just plunk your plants down anywhere on the screen (basically what I did) it will organize them into a planning schedule and give you sort of a digital “Clyde’s Garden Planner” type of spreadsheet which works way better for me. It also gives lots of info on plants and even links to buy seeds from several catalogs. Because it is flash based, it doesn’t work so well on tablets and phones, so that will be nice when that changes. It does offer a “read only” version for devices.

This is a screen shot from my iPad of the read only spreadsheet of plants I downloaded info for. The read only is inaccessible (just easier to screen shot) but on the desktop, it is possible to follow this spreadsheet, or you can look up info for each individual plant which is somewhat easier in some ways.

With my husband, Nik’s, help, we also put together a corrugated metal 5×3′ raised bed. Nik and I have a long marital history of building stuff without good access to directions. Sometimes we are able to find good directions online, but mostly not. We have built bunk and loft beds, baby changing tables, play kitchens, outdoor playhouses, kitchen chairs, and all kinds of stuff with no instructions that are accessible to us.

How do we do it? We don’t jump in. We get all the parts out and stare at them for a long time. By stare, I mean we sort and feel and try pieces together and discuss what makes sense. We sort of write our own directions in our heads. We sometimes have spent more time staring at parts and prepping than it takes to put a thing together. We have made mistakes before, but we don’t tighten anything too tight until we are certain, so we just take apart and fix our mistake. I don’t think we have screwed up anything too badly (although the loft beds with dressers and desks underneath were killer, and I did those with a broken foot!!!)

So, this raised bed was pretty straight forward and was just tedious more than anything. We had to screw in 64 bolts and nuts. We did make some minor mistakes but nothing that was too time consuming to fix. I actually bought three of these, but we just did one for this year. I bought them when I thought I was not going to get a community garden plot. But then I did, and I don’t want to overwhelm myself and shoot myself in the foot.

This photo shows my corrugated metal 3×5′ bed that is in its trial space in my yard. It is close to the path that aligns my back porch.

So, this spot is a trial because I am trying to take a few days and observe how much sun it gets and whether this is the best spot. I put some cardboard down already to try to kill off the weeds. But if we move it, we will just move the cardboard.

OK, on to the soil. I certainly hope I can make enough compost for next year because buying soil was a bit of a nightmare, but it is kind of our own fault. Ok, I want to blame Nik, but I can’t totally because I did go along with it. I found reasonably priced soil at Home Depot, and they deliver, but it was going to cost $35. Which, yeah. People always say how much money we save on not having a car, but disability is expensive in many other ways, one being grocery and other delivery fees. Well, Nik insisted that we could just call an Uber and get it home for $8-9. I was wary of putting a bunch of soil bags in someone’s car, but he was like, oh, no big deal. And so I stupidly agreed to this.

So, we ordered online for pick up the next day. In this way, we did not have to ask for help to find it at the store and could have it already paid for and reduce the amount of communicating I had to do with them (always a plus for me as a hearing impaired person.) So we take the train and the bus to the Home Depot and make our way across the stupid parking lot to get our stuff at customer service.

Well, we went into the garden center and I immediately came across a terra cotta pot. I have been looking for a pot for annual flowers for the back porch and did not want plastic. I could do wood or metal or even ceramic, but they were expensive and I did not want plastic. So, I wanted simple terra cotta, and boom! there it was. I mentioned this to Nik and he was all “get it!” And I don’t want to right now because I will have to carry it and deal with 8 bags of soil and mulch and I don’t want to deal with that. Nik is all, “I will carry it!” I tried to tell him we could come back later and get it but he was all, “We found it now, we might not be able to find it later.” Fine. Another stupid thing I agreed to. Nik carries the pot.

Do you know how hard it is to walk around blind and deaf in Home Depot with your 250 pound blind husband carrying a big breakable pot? Do you know how many DOGS there are in Home Depot when you are trying to do this with a guide dog?

Nik and I kept getting separated and so I finally had him hold my  non guide dog elbow to keep us together. This meant he could not use his cane as he was holding the stupid pot in the other hand. This meant that my guide dog had to guide for the mess of us which was now like, 4 feet wide…..while other dogs constantly were coming up to her and smelling her privates. Even though she was doing really good, there isn’t much you can do when another dog has its nose under your dog’s legs except stop. These dog’s parents wanted to then discuss all things cute dog with me, which happens everywhere, but they were oblivious to my deafness, or my need to get myself, guy with pot and guide dog safely to a customer service desk without loss of life and limb. Really? It’s not even the dogs that are the problem here, its the dog parents.

I get to customer service, and I think, “I’ve made it!” Now all I have to do is get my stuff and get outside to an uber. But NO! I have to go “over there.”

Blind people are always told that they need to go “over there” but we never find “over there.” No, it doesn’t matter how vigorously you point, we still don’t know where “over there” is.

This is not a good picture, but I was trying to get a pic of my guide dog and the pot when we were dragging it all around Home Depot.

After coaching the customer service person through some better directions, we made our way down to the tool rental area. When we got there, we realized that she could have just said for us to go to the far right front of the store instead of the insane directions she gave us. Anyway, after traveling what seemed like miles through the entirety of the store, we still weren’t done. We were directed to go out a door to the outside. Then we were told several times that we needed to bring our car around to the back of the store. Ok, an uber is never going to find this. Can’t we just take our stuff on a cart to the front of the store.

No, because it is on a pallet.

A pallet? Geez. This is 8 bags that Nik and I could easily throw in someone’s trunk. But they had it stacked and tightly wrapped on a pallet that would only fit in a truck. As I tried to talk them out of the pallet (which I did not want at my house), Nik starts looking for UberXL’s for a SUV that could take this pallet.

But there are no XL’s. We have noticed that with the COVID 19 virus epidemic, Ubers have been a little harder to come by. Fair enough. But my Home Depot guy had abandoned me after telling me that no Uber is going to want to take stinky soil, Nik could not get a Uber anyway, and we are stuck with a pallet. I had had it. Let’s see if we can get this stuff delivered.

So, the guide dog that attracts all the dogs and their people, the Deafblind person, the blind person who can’t use his cane because he is carrying the stupid pot, and said stupid  pot go back to the tool counter, get directed “over there” back to the customer service desk, and make arrangements for delivery. By this time, I was about mentally fried with communicating with all of these people who don’t seem to understand or care about our predicament and so–I decide to just take an Uber home (a regular one, but still). So, now….instead of paying $35 for delivery, I have paid $35 for delivery, $9 for Uber, $2.50 for bus fare and spent 3 hours of my Sunday afternoon in a state of anxiety at Home Depot. Win!

While waiting for our Uber, I decided to just take pics of the pretty flowers.

But look! Here is that @$%$#& terra cotta pot safe at home!

The pot, sitting empty on my back porch. It looks smaller than it felt in the store!

And look! The very next day, a nice delivery driver brought the stuff, piled them in my yard (without the pallet!) and all is good and now we have dirt.

Pic shows my metal raised bed with cardboard lining the bottom and bags of soil neatly stacked on either side of it. Wasn’t that easy?

Whew! I have dirt, I am farmer! If I have to do this again, I will skip the drama and just pay for delivery, though.

I’m pretty ready to go now. I just need to wait for the last frost. I may start some seeds inside, but I don’t have too many containers for that, and I am done with Home Depot for a bit.

Disability Adaptations

The Fun of Reading Seed Packets While Blind

So, today was tedious. I want to start planning what I will be planting and gathering information, but its hard when you can’t read your seed packets, well, at least I can’t just flip them over and glance at them like youse all do!

I got seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, cuz that seems to be where all the cool kids go. I don’t know a lot about seeds or even what would be good to plant here, so I got things we might like to eat. I was hoping that the seeds had a QR code or a website that would tell me what they said on the back of the packet. ….and they kind of did and kind of didn’t. So, this is where technology comes in.

To find out what the seeds are in each packet in the first place, I used an app called Seeing AI. I hold up the packet to the iPhone camera and it scans and OCR’s the print info. This is an imperfect system but worked to get the basic info from the packet.

I am holding up a seed packet to the camera so Seeing AI can scan it.

If all goes well, it will both read the text to me, and/or put the text up on the screen, in which then I can use my braille display to read it.

This shows the iPad screen with the info that was scanned off the seed packet and my braille display next to it which is blue toothed to my iPad. OCR is not perfect, but you can get the gist of the print material.

What it took me awhile to find, however, was the good stuff. I wanted to know info like how deep to plant, how far apart, etc. Finally, I used Aira. Aira is a virtual visual interpreter service for the blind. I call, a live Aira agent answers, and I show her through my camera lens the thing I can’t see and she tells me what she sees. She told me that the info I wanted WAS on the packages, but it was sideways. Oh, OK! Since Aira costs money after 5 minutes per task, I had her read me the first one and put all my other packs in order, then I started rescanning the packs sideways with Seeing AI. And then, I came up with this:

This is a screenshot that shows how Seeing AI will scan a table. The headings are all first, then the data for each heading, so you have to match data to heading.

Because Seeing AI kind of scans weird and I don’t want to have to keep doing this every time I want to read the package, I started a word document where I was collecting the information. I did find some information on the Baker Creek website that gave growing instructions, so I cut and pasted that as well. Its a lot of work, but I can save this info forever and when I buy new seeds, I can just add to it as I go.

This shows the Word document that I have going on my computer that collects info about the seeds from my various sources and scans and websites and puts them in one place that will be way easier to access in the future.

I didn’t finish today! I got through about half. I will finish the others in the next couple of days. What would make this a lot easier is if Baker’s Creek would put in all the seed packet info into the product description on the website. Also, I’d buy the Whole Seed catalog if it came in a digital format I could read with my braille display (like ePub). (hint, hint)

My seeds laid out in the right order and direction with the help of the Aira agent. I still have a few to scan.

But this weekend, I will be putting together a raised bed for my backyard, and I am still working on sourcing potting/garden soil for it. (Its hard to carry big bags on the bus with a guide dog taking one hand, so I am looking for delivery or task rabbit options. ) So, we will be back outside, hopefully, and done with this tedium.

Compost and Soil

Yay! Compost!

Today I started a simple Compost pile with one of those galvanized steel cans that you burn trash in (has holes in it.) The kids think it looks like Oscar the Grouch’s trash can, so it is now called Oscar. We also cleaned up the yard a little and put moss remover down on the patio. After some yard clean up (still do not have all the weeds, but used a bunch for compost today) we had almost a full can filled up. I threw in some dead leaves and gave it a stir, so hopefully it won’t cause any issues for us.

Photos show Oscar, our 20 gallon compost bin. One shows Oscar hanging out by the fence, and the other shows a peek at the start of our compost pile.

Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

Clearing Out the South 36

We call the Community Garden plot the South 36 because it is 12X3 so 36 acres, I mean square feet. There is an orientation meeting in early April, so I might know what the hell I am doing, but we went and cleared the bed on Sunday. My first barrier is the shed door lock. It is a combination lock and I can’t see combo locks. I can use the ones that you just push or slide the buttons by memorizing where the buttons are, but the ones where you turn a dial, blind people are out of luck. I asked if I could change the lock to one I could use, and explained the problem to the garden organizer, but I don’t think she understood what I was saying (I even included a link to a type of lock I could use.) She said she had new locks on her desk. So, I think she thought I meant that the lock was old and rusty and that’s why I can’t see it. She will put on a new one that I still can’t see. So, I can’t just do it without anyone noticing (like I have sometimes done at gyms) because other people use the lock. But its kind of like…how much should I make this a thing in a new community? I hate always starting out as the pain in the ass who constantly needs something. I already have had to convince her to use 711 relay when I paid my dues over the phone. I have been using Aira (a virtual visual interpreting service) to open it, which takes forever but does work. This last time, my son opened it.

In any case, we tore everything out of it and put some mulchy compost in it. I know about square foot gardening and have been learning about “Back to Eden” Gardening, so I will probably do some kind of combination of those methods. I will reserve things for that plot that need lots of sun, but still have not planned out what to plant and where.

These pictures make it seem like I made Nik and Avery do all the work, which is kind of true!

My 10 year old standing on a pile of compost.
Our guide dogs hanging out of the way while we worked. My yellow lab is on the left, Nik’s mostly retired Golden is on the right.
My son got into driving the wheelbarrow. This is all the stuff we pulled out of the box, heading for compost.
Nik stirring some compost into the bed.
Garden Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

Tour the “Acreage” As Is (The “Before”)

I live on a 0.09 acre lot. Yes, my acreage is 9/100ths of an acre, and that includes my house that sits on it, the sidewalk in front of it and the driveway behind it. I don’t plan on being able to be food independent on it, but I plan to make use of the space as best I can in a manner that makes it more useful and sustainable. I have ideas on how to do that, some can be implemented immediately, others are years off. But this is just to give an idea of what I am working with and the state it is in now. I think the easiest way for me to do this is to write descriptions in the body of my copy for those who need visual descriptions of pictures. I will always try, to the best of my ability as someone who can’t see pictures well, to describe them. But let me know if something does not make sense.


So this is my house in the burbs from across the street. It is a two-story house (Well, 1.5 story). It is kind of grayish, beige with darker trim and a stone framed porch stoop and part of the front of the house is also stone. (Its like, stone facade, of course.) It has cement block terracing up to about 2.5 feet on each side of a short cement path that goes to some steps to the stoop. On either side of the house is a small front yard that is managed by the HOA. My family owns this home, I do not technically own the house. Its complicated and I will maybe discuss that more later on. When I moved into an HOA neighborhood, I really didn’t understand what that meant. I thought they just took care of the parks and maybe told you not to keep your old beater up on cement blocks in the front yard. I did not know how much power they had or the sometimes ridiculous rules. So, the HOA manages the front yard and there are a lot of rules as to what I can do with it.


This shows the left side of the front yard. There are a few bushes along the house. I don’t know what they are. The grass is maintained by the HOA but it doesn’t look that great. I’d say this area is maybe 10X15 feet?


This is the right side of the front yard. Pretty much the same as the other side.


This area is to the left of my house. It is only about 6 feet wide. I am guessing I only “own” the right three feet. It doesn’t get a whole lot of sun and so I’m not sure if anything can be done here.


This is the right side of my house. It is a long strip of bark mulched waste. It is pretty big actually. At the front of the house is about 6 feet. It widens in the rear to about 13 feet. The A/C is near the rear and it has a slight slope to it. But other than that it does nothing and gets decent sun. This is HOA controlled, but I wonder if I moved my back fence up to the front, would they even care? It seems like this could be better utilized.


This is the back alley of my house that shows the driveway and our fenced in backyard area. The van is not ours. I am “storing” it for a friend of mine. Its a little rusted out and I have gotten HOA grief about it being there, so at some point it will have to move. I am still trying to work that  out, but it has been low priority. It has been there so long there is a hornet’s nest behind the side view mirrors. Anyway, if I ever do get it out of my driveway, I feel like my driveway could have potential. We don’t drive, so we don’t use it. (Our garage is just storage.) At least, it could be container garden. It gets good sun. But I actually would love to extend the fence around it and have a deck there or just more backyard or something. Again…HOA. Sigh.


This little strip next to our driveway…I am wondering if it could be utilized. It is mine until the fence changes styles. It is a strip of about 2 feet of bark mulched space. We are at the end of an alley, so we are kind of hidden back here in some ways. So, maybe we can sneak some stuff in there?


So, this is the backyard looking from the back porch. It is maybe 30 feet by 18 feet at its widest, and then narrows as you go back. When I moved in, it was landscaped with most of the trees and bushes that are shown around the perimeter. It had sod in the middle. The sod was diseased with a sort of yellow mold. We did two attempts at sod, and both were problematic (you can see some of this in the front yard as well.) In the winter, the patio always gets mossy. I don’t really know how to destroy the moss without that chemical powder. If you know a better way to deal with moss, let me know.


Here is another view of the backyard from the back looking towards the house. I have too many trees in the yard. Behind me live a leaning cottonwood tree and a maple. To the right is a lovely plum tree that doesn’t give plums. It is the king of the yard and takes over everything. To the left is an apple tree that doesn’t grow apples. In the middle of the yard are lots of weeds. A gardener came in once and stuck a device into the ground and said “You can’t grow a garden here, there is not enough sun. Sorry.” I don’t understand that because everything grows here. It can get pretty lush. I’m going to try to grow a garden here anyway (in raised beds) so we will see.


This is not on my property, but I just got this garden plot from a community garden about .5 mile from my house. It is a raised bed about 3×12 feet and right now in this picture it is full of weeds and last years garden hangers on. It is a really sunny spot and I am excited to try this this year.

Here is an area that is across the street from me. I’m just bookmarking this for the future. It is owned by the city and maintained by the HOA. There is a ravine and a stream behind the fence and light rail tracks beyond that. I think it was not big enough or stable enough to put houses on so its just kind of there. I’d love to maybe make this into a small community garden for the neighborhood in the future.

Well, that is what I am working with. It is not a lot. But I recall Jess from Roots and Refuge talking about making whatever space you have being your classroom. So that is what I intend to do. I don’t know if I will ever be able to move out to more space. I would love to live on like, an acre or two but within city limits. But this little .09 acres is a good enough place for me to start.