Progress Report

What I Learned So Far…

I learned a ton of stuff in the last year. I started thinking and planning and learning about homesteading in fall of 2019, before the shit hit and everyone went garden nutty. But it was a fun year to learn gardening.

What I didn’t know only 2 years ago is embarrassing to admit. Once, I was given a glass jar of milk by a manager that was helping me shop. He said it was about to be pulled off the shelves because of the date but it would be good for a few more days and he gave it to me free. I took it home and did not understand that it was not homogenized. I didn’t even know what that meant. And I didn’t understand that it was supposed to have the cream at the top and just needed to be shaken. But I thought it was bad, so I threw it out!

Another thing I didn’t understand was how you managed and ate out of a garden. Like what you could just harvest when needed vs. what needed to be harvested at once. Succession planning to help with the pacing and all the different ways you have to learn to preserve your food. I had no idea about canning, fermenting, dehydrating, freeze drying, and storing food. I’m still learning the details of all of this, but now I at least *get* how it works.

I also didn’t understand how and why you started seeds early vs. direct sowing them vs. buying starts. Or things like first and last frost dates, zones, etc. Or how certain crops grow better in the fall than in the spring. It was all just like, when you are in kindergarten and you plant a bean in a styrofoam cup. That was the extent of my knowledge about growing things.

It made me more irritated at the people who just cast me aside when I asked for help to learn to grow food. People who just wanted me out of the Church garden and said, “you just plant a seed and water it. If you need help doing that, maybe gardening isn’t for you.” Obviously there is a learning curve to this. No, it isn’t rocket science, but you need to know some basic things and that takes awhile. Experience is key here. The reason it is key is because so much of gardening is trial and error, and it is ok to fail. Plants want to grow, but there are a lot of variables that are constantly changing, so some will succeed and some will fail every year for everyone. These are things I did not know.

I wish I had taken more pictures of the harvest I did last year. It wasn’t a lot, but from about July to the September wildfires, every time I went to the garden, I came home with a small bunch of produce. Here are some of my little victories from the last year:

First seedlings. The pic shows a starter tray with separate little peet moss cubes of dirt with little leaves coming out of them. I think these were onions. My son accidentally dumped these out on the way to the community garden. We replaced them with sets I bought at the farmer’s market. They did well and we still have onions from this crop to use.
First squash. This grew so well and so big. I had no idea.
We started composting in earnest. We put in all of our food waste except meat into our compost bin along with leaves and yard waste. The can literally never fills up. It composts very nicely and it the easiest thing ever to do.
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. Little did I know that there would be a pandemic that would shut down the world. This was the only place I was allowed to go.
My community garden got much more lush than I thought it would. Things grew and produced, despite my novice experience.
A little handful of produce almost every day. This pic shows cucumbers, peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes. About a handful each.
Our first almost entirely garden meal. Zucchini pancakes, green beans, and watermelon that a garden neighbor grew and gave to me.
We started incorporating more and more of the food we grew into our meals. I doubt we will ever be food independent, but it does make a dent. This meal is borscht and rye bread that was inspired by my twins’ visit to their bio father’s family who are immigrants from Belarus.
Salsa/Pica de Gallo was a garden goal of my husband, Nik. We did not get a lot of peppers, but this is 100% from our garden (except for the lime juice and salt). I didn’t even bother canning it because I knew it wouldn’t last long.
Cleaning and organizing our kitchen to move from a processed food prep kitchen to a working gardener’s kitchen was a bit of a challenge. My kitchen is small and is not really set up to have a large pantry or counter space to work. But, I think about how the pioneers did it over a wood stove within a one room cabin and I think we are probably going to be ok. Here, I have organized and braille labeled all of my spices and bottles of oils and vinegars.
First fermenting. These are pickled beets and cucumbers. This was a bit of a failure as they were very salty. But we learned about using the right salt and watered them down to remove some of the salt taste. Edible but definitely a do-over.
Bread making was not really made with garden products, but part of eating unprocessed, organic foods. I also have made buttermilk biscuits and pie crusts this year.
First water bath canning was a success. This applesauce was good. It is not too hard to water bath can, just time consuming.
My son, Avery, is a child of the corn. He is standing in cornstalks. This corn grew well but was burnt by the wildfires. Not literally, but we had ash and air quality readings of over 500 for over a week and could not harvest these when they were ripe. They did well but tasted not great.
Ok, maybe they were bored this year, but I was able to get the whole family involved in gardening. On this day, where Avery is driving a wheelbarrow, we all shoveled compost into my bed to prep it for next season. Avery said, “we are all working together as a family!” It was a nice moment after the wildfires had everyone feeling down and crappy.

We have had a few delays this year setting up for our expansion. But I am excited for what is to come. Raised beds are being prepared. Supplies and seeds are gotten. I’m waiting for April 23 for soil, which is not ideal, but we will make it work. I can start some seeds and do some container gardening until then. I want to keep track of the harvest, and do more preserving. I do not have a pressure canner, but maybe that is something we could work on this year. We still supplement with farmers market, azure standard, and other organic stuff, but we have definitely become more in charge of eating high quality, non processed food this year. I can absolutely tell a difference in my health. So, even though my big project is to work on my kidney transplant this year, I will continue to expand my skills and grow more of our food.


A Long September

The Community Gardening season is wrapping up. I have to have my plot clear and mulched by October 26th. There is no winter gardening here. I get that they want a clear change of seasons so new people can apply for plots and plots aren’t neglected, but I kind of think that plots should go from January to December and you could just renew and keep going.

For a first-ish year gardener that knew nothing, I think it went very well and I learned a ton. I do want to try to bring my garden up to my home and see what I can do there. With the spared energy, I think I can do so much better.

September has been difficult. We had very poor air quality caused by massive wildfires for about two weeks. I could not safely go to the garden then. So, even though I got several ears of corn eventually, they were past ripe and did not taste the best. All of my other plants did ok during the wildfires, even though they did not get watered for two weeks. I was also hospitalized with a kidney infection and was on several different IV and oral antibiotics, so the rest of September was tough. I had to get the kids started in their routines in both virtual school and homeschool. I barely got through the days, and gardening fell into low priority.

If, under the same circumstances, my garden was up by the house, I could have participated much more with very limited treks out in the bad air, and some watering could have been done. We also started having (alleged) trouble with our HVAC, which is very bad when the air is making you cough when you are already sick on antibiotics and you are having to go to the hospital during a pandemic. It was a bad month.

This garden is tied directly in to my kidney disease in multiple ways. For awhile now, I have been trying to eat better to at least maintain my GFR (a kidney wellness number) and stave off dialysis or transplant. It also helps a lot to just feel better and more energetic day to day. When I have a kidney infection, I have to make a choice between infection ruining my kidneys, and taking antibiotics, which can ruin my kidneys. My GFR went down to 14, (out of 100, a rough estimate of percentage of kidney function) and that is the lowest it has been. I felt like I can’t win, and it has been depressing.

Along with unprocessed, low protein food and filtered water, exercise and sweating have been my other two tools to help combat the day to day fatigue and pain as well as try to maintain or raise GFR. Sweating can actually act as dialysis. I don’t naturally sweat a ton, so I was using steam rooms to help. But the steam rooms have all been shut down during the pandemic. Exercise helps with a bit of sweating as well as mental and physical health, but with the antibiotics I was on, I was not allowed to exercise or lift anything over 5 pounds. (And I eventually found I couldn’t lift anything much over 5 pounds. It was like all my coordination went to hell.) So, sometimes it feels like things are conspiring against me.

Other times, maybe I should give up and just go on dialysis or try to have a transplant. Maybe I would feel so much better. But it also feels like you are exchanging one disease for another.

Someday I will write about my experiences with nephrology and how I got here. Besides ordering blood tests to see where I am, I find nephrologists to have been almost useless for me, and I am finding that many other people have had that experience as well. Money comes from dialysis and for-profit dialysis centers that pay doctors more than they can get from other sources. It does seem to be a conflict of interest. But that is another story for another time.

But to look at the good side of things: I grew lots of squash, peas, beans, onions, corn, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, herbs and radishes. Of those, the corn was not so good, the radishes made lovely purple flowers but no radishes, and my carrots were pretty small (I think they needed thinning.) Everything else did very nicely.

I also fermented pickles and beats, canned salsa, made homemade bread, stored lots of frozen onions and put fresh beans and tomatoes and onions in countless recipes.

We also learned to buy some items at farmer’s markets and have a farmer’s market box delivered once a week. As well as having the milkman deliver once a week. When you decrease processed foods and grow your own food to supplement, buying organic and local is not that much more expensive.

I have gotten more organized about meal planning and storing food. Another goal I have is to store the recommended two weeks to a month’s worth of food. I still haven’t accomplished that, but I am much closer to knowing how to do that. We have cleaned out the garage, and put together a couple of metal shelves and have gotten more organized with what we have. Ideally, I would like to make a “working” storage pantry, rather than just having a bunch of canned or freeze dried food that sits for 20 years. In this case, you have a month of surplus or more, but you work out of it, replacing it as you go. I’m looking it to services like Azure Standard to create a “larder” of supplies. I didn’t really grow enough food to store this year, but I can more easily see how this can be done.

I have drawn up a plan for my backyard to support a garden next year. I need to hire some help to get it set up initially, but then I think I can be much more independent with it. I would have started it already, but we are now in the midst of figuring out our HVAC.

It was a long September, but I am hoping for a better October and most especially hope for some really good news in November.

Garden Life in General

Expectations: Both Lost and Found

This is a very basic drawing of my lot I found in some house files. My backyard is a bit of a trapezoid with one curved corner cut out of it like a bite out of a rectangular-ish cookie.

I have had a different attitude about trying, now my 4th or 5th time, to garden and become more sustainable. This time, its just “do it, mistakes will happen, learn from them and go on.” Before, I have asked a lot of people for help, and gotten not so great results as far as people thinking I couldn’t take on whatever it was I had in mind to do, and discouraging me from trying. Now, I am just like, I am going to try and take it as far as I can.

But I still know that I need help and advice. And that is why I hired a consultant to help plan a backyard garden for me that would do the following:

  1. Grow as much food as possible on my small lot
  2. Do it in the most environmentally sustainable way
  3. While taking into consideration my HOA constraints
  4. And accommodating my disabilities
  5. And fit into a reasonable budget, or that I could phase in over time

I live on a small lot, I have a nutty HOA, I have some disability needs, and I have limits on how much I can implement. It would not be an easy job, I get that. So, I don’t know. I probably did not vet enough the person I hired, but he seemed willing and I thought that was enough.

I had to “fire” him recently. And it has been a weird, confusing, keep-me-up-at-night experience.

Although I did not set out with the idea of hiring a person with disabilities for this, we often try to employ disabled people when we can. It became clear to me early on (although I can’t be 100% sure) that this guy had some type of disability. So, I was determined to do everything I could to be accommodating.

That probably turned what could have been a wasted hour and $0, into wasted weeks and months and several hundred dollars.

Sometimes, one can be too accommodating in an effort to be inclusive and promote disabled people’s employment. In the end, the  goods have to be there, the product made, the service provided.

In the initial hour I met with him in a free consultation on zoom, I noticed all kinds of red flags. He seemed lost or kind of stoned. He thought I lived on an acre instead of a tenth of an acre (after me telling him and showing pictures of my yard), he got my name wrong, he got guinea pigs mixed up with guinea hens multiple times, he seemed awkward and confused. But he did seem to know permaculture and seemed to be excited about it.

I am not one who is big on etiquette. I don’t get hung up on eye contact or firm handshakes or the proper Emily Post way to do things. I try to give people breaks when they misspeak or forget small details. I also thought I saw the possibility of neurodivergence or at the very least, a guy who gets along better with goats than people. Ok, fine. As long as he can deliver the goods, I don’t care.

But more red flags kept showing up. He didn’t seem to have a method for me to pay him. I asked about a credit card system or wiring him money via PayPal or Apple Pay. He gave me a PayPal account, but when I tried to pay him, his account didn’t exist. He finally gave me an address to send a check to, but to this day has not cashed my check. When asking him direct questions about things, he is evasive with answers. I started trying to ask just more yes/no questions. And asked about preferred ways to communicate. He always came back with generalities that everything is fine.

But then I started just getting kind of a creep vibe from him. Not like I was in any kind of danger or anything, but just that something more than not being a people person or maybe having some spectrum-y quirks that was kind of off. Now, as a blind person who has been judged in the past because my blindness makes other people uncomfortable, a thing that is more about them than me, I am sensitive to this enough to reflect on my uncomfortable-ness. Is this more about me than him? But I have a billion disabled and autistic and non-people person friends who I feel fine around and value. I don’t feel like I have any serious issues with people who don’t communicate traditionally. But still, this process was getting weird and totally not fun. But I had paid the money, and it was still like, weird or whatever, if he can delivery the goods, I’m fine.

He did not explain his process or the steps of working on the project. He came for an hour and walked around my house a bit, took some pictures, and then was like, “I’ll see you with a plan in about 4-6 weeks.”

Huh? Don’t we have to measure? Don’t we have to maybe talk over specifics? So, I thought I would be proactive and gave him a list of specifics and a crude but possibly helpful “floorpan” of my backyard. He thanked me and said he usually just had a survey he had people fill out, but did not give me a link to the survey. Later, suddenly another guy is coming to take measurements. Great, but hmmm? I feel like I was beating him to the punch of how to do this job or…something??? It was really confusing.

He often would “thank me for my vulnerability” when I had just outlined or reiterated what my priorities were. This seemed like some level of the professional version of pick-up artist creepster level negging to me. Telling you I need tactile borders around spaces to plant things is not a vulnerability, its just what I want. I felt like I was constantly bringing up my disabilities, which I never saw as the hugest deal of this project, but it just felt like we weren’t understanding each other.

I could go on with a bunch of other little things that by themselves were not a big deal, but collectively were getting harder and harder to take. But I was still mostly about, if he delivers the goods, its fine. I can deal with some level of social uncomfortableness.

I was actually pretty excited to see his plans for my backyard. I was hoping his plan would be what I needed to figure out what I could grow, where I needed to put different plants to grow best, what kind of unique things could be done to maximize space, etc. This was a time to make changes as well, but I expected that to be more about tweaking at this point. I had been waiting and waiting for this for months to make a bunch of decisions for the fall and winter.

But when he came to show us his work, I was a little flabbergasted. He had done this elaborate plan on my front and side yards that was completely unrealistic, while pretty much ignoring my backyard. I had told him that the front and side yards were HOA controlled, and I could only do small, stealth things there. I could perhaps change a bush from a decorative one to a berry producing one. I could maybe plant some dwarf trees or bushes on the side yard. But the backyard could be whatever I wanted it to be. He had hardscape sidewalks that were unrealistic to the space and the grade of my terraced front yard. He had it packed with plantings. If it would have worked, it would have been very beautiful, but it would have costed thousands upon thousands of dollars I don’t have and would not have been approved by the HOA because it would look so different from the rest of the neighborhood. We talked extensively about this issue. I even showed him some other yards and the small changes they were able to make. But even when I would ask him about items in his rendering, like what is this square or what is that, he couldn’t always tell me. Once he crossed a rectangle out as if it were a mistake. A few minutes later, he told me it was rain catchment. I asked him what other rectangles or items were and he could not tell me. When we got to the backyard, he had done a few things, but left a lot of open space. He didn’t include the One tree I asked specifically to keep. One of the things I don’t like about my yard now is the open space is just dusty and grows weeds. I asked him his plan for that and he didn’t seem to understand my question. And then he said it could be covered in clover. Clover is fine, but I was thinking, I waiting weeks and paid you $$ so you could tell me to put clover in my yard? I had already googled that.

My husband Nik was at this meeting, and had met the consultant for the first time. I know that with my partial vision, it is hard to know what I can see. But Nik is obviously totally blind, and there was no effort to include him in the presentation. I know it is something people have to get used to, and so I was trying to model how to do that by describing what I was seeing, which was tough because I was struggling a bit to see, too. But he did not pick up on this or try to verbally describe anything. So I know Nik was often lost. I felt bad because he gave up an afternoon to do this with me. At one point, still thinking that something was done to the back yard, he asked about how many raised beds could fit back there. The consultant started furiously drawing random squares everywhere. No scale, no intention. Then counted them and said 25. These 25 beds would have been like 1-2sqft. It was just awful.

So, he didn’t bring the goods. When he left, Nik was like, “I know I haven’t been a part of this process up to now, but what the hell was that? Was that what you expected?” No, no it wasn’t. But I should have known before this that it wasn’t going to go well.

Still, I took a few days to think about what to do. I took some wee hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep to think about this as well. I so wanted this to go well, but 1) hardly anything we talked about was in the plan. He called it a brainstorming session. Wasn’t brainstorming what we had been doing 2 months ago? What? and 2) He made me feel really stupid and uncomfortable in every interaction. I did not want to feel this way anymore.

I have always admitted that I am a newbie at this. I have no doubt that this guy knows more than I do about soil and permaculture and compost and all of that. But I began to realize that this just wasn’t about a guy who is neurodiverse or who is not a people person. This is a guy who is arrogant, disorganized, passive aggressive, and doesn’t listen. One can be both disabled and a jerk. Despite his soft-spoken hippie ways, he was just a little TOO into his permaculture supremacy to really work well with a neophyte like me. I am not perfect, but I am trying to learn and do the right thing. There are people who have helped me for the general joy of helping someone to share in what they love, not lord their superiority over me. So, I was done.

But I suppose I have to watch this next time. In the disabled community, we try to support each other and not talk badly about someone. There are blind people I am not particularly fond of that if they are getting screwed, I am there for them. And if someone started speaking negatively about them, I would defend them. We watch out for each other (to an obvious extent. I am not defending blind murderers or rapists or anything like that, of course.) But we try to stick up for each other and be supportive.

But in this case, I think I took it too far when…if I would have read him as non disabled, I would have been finished with him after the first consult. This is a guy who did not have his shit together as far as being a business person, and a guy who has a level of arrogance that is quite uncomfortable to deal with. And he is probably disabled. In our work, we talk constantly about having high expectations for people. And I failed to do that in this case. We all spend a lifetime trying to examine our own prejudices, and I am still working on it obviously.

Still, I can’t get myself to write a non-anonymous bad review. I feel like he has gotten enough problems. And I guess I still have a hard time putting down a disabled person. If someone came to me and asked for a point blank reference about him, though, I will refer them to this post. I have to re-examine the limits to my loyalty.

So, that was a bit of a downer. But I am actually getting excited about taking over the planning of the garden myself. I know I am apt to make some mistakes, but I have already made a bunch of mistakes already and have learned so much from them. I have asked so many people to help me by leading me down the correct path in this over the years, when no one can figure out what I can do or can’t do and they have often made their own judgements about this. It is time I just learn by doing it myself. I can still ask for help for parts of it, but I have to be the one who leads and decides and fails and succeeds.

Gardening is a lot of information, but it isn’t rocket science. I can have high expectations for myself as well. Onward!

Life in General Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

I Grow Food!

When I was pregnant, I walked around announcing: “I grow humans!”  Now, I can affirm that “I grow food,” which is not quite on the same level, but still rather amazing. Whether you want to attribute reproduction (human or plant varieties) to the miracles of intelligent design or evolution…its pretty wild to experience it.

Lots has happened since I last posted. (Its been a minute, hasn’t it?) Nothing majorly impressive as far as output, but just in my own learning curve. And I still have far to go in acquiring these most basic of skills that really everyone should know at least a bit about. It’s distressing how much basic skills we let go by the wayside and just trust a huge industrial complex to take care of our basic needs.

I put way too many wild flower seeds in the magic flower pot. But I kind of like it out of control like this. That’s what wild flowers are supposed to do, right?

I have joined Melissa Norris’s Pioneering Today Academy and am working my way through her different classes. She is ultra organized and very helpful. But sometimes I think I still learn more from Jess at Roots and Refuge, who is not so organized or purposeful, but if you can wade through her stuff, she explains the exact things I was wondering about really well. So, between the two of them and some others, I feel like I am very slowly but surely gaining a LOT of new knowledge.

I also hired [name redacted] to help me out. I will have to ask him if he wants me to link to him or put his whole name here. But for now, we will stick with first names. He is a local permaculture guy who is helping me see what I can get out of my small plot of land and where things should go and that sort of thing. I am discovering that Julian is probably a little what I tend to think its neurodiverse, which makes me have to keep pretty organized and push out info to him in a way that makes sense. I can work with neurodiverse people just fine, as I often enjoy their way of looking at things differently and can be super creative. But I think we miss each other at times, as I am not fluent in the language of permaculture and gardening yet, so it is hard to be really concrete about what I want when I don’t know what it is or the terminology. But I am trying to be more clear while still giving him the freedom to do his thing.

The backyard raised bed has remained unchanged for weeks. Nothing has died, but nothing grows past its seedling stage. There are lettuces, spinach, radish, carrots and onions planted here. All shade tolerant plants, but still not enough sun. The onions were planted as sets, but the others were planted as seeds. Nothing has grown or died.

One reason I need his help is that my garden box in my backyard has failed. I suspected it might due to the lack of light coming in through the shade of the giant plum tree that owns my backyard. The decision becomes whether to take it down, if vigilant pruning will help. or what else can be done. Julian told me that landscapers install and prune things in such a way to make you have to keep calling them back for more business. He said my plum tree has not been pruned the right way and that is one of the reasons it grows prolifically and uncontrollably. If it had been pruned from the bottom up, it would have been a lot less of a Goliath that it is now. This does not surprise me.

My herb garden pots are doing ok. Because we had so much rain, they have grown slower than normal, but they have grown a lot since the rain stopped, so I think they will be ok.

A close up of a pot of sweet basil.

It is probably good that I am not going to get a huge harvest this year. I am a little overwhelmed by the prospects of all the different ways to can and preserve the food. I am moving a bit at both ends. My garden is really at this point an experimental sampling. Whereas on the other end I am learning about preserving and preparing whole foods and trying to eat better. For a while, (probably always, actually) I am going to have to supplement with farmers markets and that type of thing. Nik has been getting a few things at farmers markets. And so we are getting better at doing that. One advantage of the quarantine has been that farmer’s markets have gone digital and want you to pre-order off an app. This is a huge help when you are blind and can’t just walk around and see what there is to buy. So, now we can buy online and then we just have to find the place for pick up when we get there. Much easier and more accessible.

These walla walla onion sets were purchased at the farmers market the same time as the ones in the backyard. The ones at the community garden have grown significantly.

I do notice a huge difference when I eat better sourced whole food and less processed food in my health. I have joined a Chronic Kidney Disease online support group, and am learning a lot about kidney diets that improve health that I was never told by a renal dietitian. Sure, there is limiting your protein and phosphates, but when you can eliminate much of the toxins found in processed foods, your kidneys have that much less to deal with. Kidney disease makes you feel sick because your body is carrying around such a toxic load all the time. (And often due to anemia, which is because kidneys also regulate red blood cell creation. ) There is not a simple solution to anemia, but it just makes sense that the less toxins you put in your body, the less your kidneys have to deal with and that hang around in your body.

Squash is doing very nicely. I am not a big squash eater, but I will have to find some ways to incorporate these into our diet. There are three plants with multiple squash that are doing quite well.

An aside, also learned that regularly sweating (yes, sweating, sorry) helps eliminate toxins from your body, and especially helps with the skin itch that is so common with kidney patients. I don’t really regularly sweat all that much, but I can if I really exercise hard. So, I am trying to start doing more hard cardio so I can sweat some crap away.

A grassy decorative plant and my metal water jug. Having plants to take care of gets me out more and walking quite often in the quarantine. Maybe a bit of summer sweat as well.

I am not anywhere near perfect about not eating processed foods, but I do notice a definite improvement when I cut way down. Its the difference between facing a day in pain and fatigue so bad you are struggling to stay awake and get through the day to feeling pretty damned functional. Its huge, and it takes work, but is not that hard to do.

Green beans are happening on this bush bean plant. I’m not sure there will be enough to do anything with, but the experience of figuring out how they grow is important, too.

Pea plants are crazy! I had no idea! But again, they are growing and I am learning about what they look and feel like, how big they get, how to trellis them, etc.

Nik’s and my garden goal this year as far as actual food is to make and can some pico de gallo. No, it isn’t the most important food in the world, but its a place to start. We have tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cilantro doing pretty well. If I get the hang of canning (I don’t have a pressure cooker at this time, so its just water bath canning for me at this point) I may also can some bulk buys from the farmer’s market as well.

Nik is very excited about these jalapeño peppers. He wants them to go red so they are plenty hot.

I am 50 today. (WUT???) So sometimes it is hard to feel like it is too late to make changes or improve things or have enough energy to grow food, etc. I was a bit depressed by my lackluster backyard raised bed. But I suppose you just have to work with what you have and who you are and where you are and most especially keep going. So many disabled people are shut out of ways to take control of their own health and gardening and other outdoor pursuits. So I know it will take time to figure out everything, but it is worth trying. I also like that gardening is one of those things where it connects you with others in a way where it circumvents disability, (like figure skating has done for me in the past) because people are so enthusiastic about it that they just want to share it with you and they don’t much care who or where you are, as long as you’re there for it. Its an interesting community.

I was having trouble taking pictures of the tomatoes, but there are some little green tomatoes in there somewhere.

Garden Life in General

Disabled Gardening in the Time of Corona

My goodness, this past week has been difficult and confusing in my professional life. I made some mistakes, others made some mistakes, and things just did not work out in a satisfying way for me. Its no great harm done, but I found myself a bit anxiety-ridden, depressed and stressed out. Its probably time to take a social media/general media break.

I, like many people, have some stresses and challenges with the quarantine. I am a high risk person. I have extended family members who are even more at risk than me. I have had difficulties with grocery and supplies as a nondriver. But I am also very fortunate. We DO have enough supplies. People HAVE offered help. We ARE still working and earning money. This time has not been all that particularly hard for us. We are privileged.

But I think I got a little just a little burnt out of the disabled community this past week.I’m probably not being 100% fair here and this is more about me being in a grouchy mood more than anything. Its not that many of their complaints aren’t perfectly legit and they do need a voice. I have some of the same gripes. But JUST SO MUCH COMPLAINING about themselves. Just so much me, me, me and my problems and no perspective on other people’s or how we might work together to solve problems. No, it isn’t all disabled people, I just had an earful this week and it just drove me over the edge. And then I had media requests that is a whole ‘nother complicated component to that about what is a sad, sob story problem inherent to the poor Deafblindness and what is a systemic societal problem that really could mitigate a lot of those sob stories. But people want a human face with a pitiful problem. And not solutions. But I am digressing, like, a lot…

I am slightly envious of all the people who can just get in their cars and go off and hike somewhere pretty. My only refuge has been gardening lately. It is such a funny time to have started this project. I started it because I am interested in learning what a sustainable world looks like. I also get here that there are systemic issues around unsustainability that are largely (beyond voting and advocating) beyond my control. But what IS in my control. What can the average person do to be sustainable? And I found through a lot of research what it may possibly look like. It looks like growing and sourcing food locally and sustainably. It looks like lowering your carbon footprint by decreasing energy consumption and using alternative energy. I am just a neophyte at this, so I am still processing what it may look like for the average person and what the responsibilities are. I also learned that to do any of this, I needed a whole set of skills I don’t have and many, many others also don’t have.

This is not my first try at gardening. But this is my first try doing it alone, without direct help (although I am getting lots of help through books and articles and resources such as those.) Before, I think I fell into a common disability trap. I felt like I was so incapable that I needed someone else to supervise me and show me the way and preapprove everything I did. But I struggled to find willing help.

I once asked to sort of apprentice any gardener at a church community garden. I just wanted to be their slave and I would do whatever they said in their garden and I would ask questions and learn as I went. I lived close to the church, within walking distance, so I thought I might help by being available to water and check on things. But I got radio silence. I had been attending this church for years, volunteering, attending, participating as well as I could. And although no one was overtly mean to me, I was not included. I went there for ten years and with a few notable exceptions, no one said more than “hi” to me. They did not allow me to become a member (by just passively not following through with steps on multiple occasions till I gave up.) They got incredibly defensive when I asked for basic accommodations (i.e. the sermon emailed to me beforehand so I could follow along.) It wasn’t that they were any different than any other church in regards to people with disabilities. Churches are not covered by the ADA and most churches do not do a lot to provide accommodations to the disabled. They were just REALLY, REALLY defensive when I tried to build awareness and plan for more inclusiveness. I worked on a national project to make the churches of this denomination more inclusive, and I saw the same reaction everywhere. This church completely ruined me for thinking that education is what people need. I had thought, “they just don’t know better and if we can just kindly educate them, they will come around.” I started to see that education does help with some people, but for the majority, education and awareness campaigns aren’t enough. They need to be pushed and have actual consequences to coerce them to be inclusive. Otherwise, they just will not care enough to do it themselves, and will become resentful when asked.

So, asking to be a garden slave became just another one of those things. I thought I could be useful. I felt more like a pariah. After some gentle nudging on my part, I was finally offered “a row.” They gave me my own row. To do what with, I had no idea. It was maybe 4 feet long and stuck on the end of another person’s plot. It was impossible for me to really figure out where mine started and hers started. And since it was made so clear to me that I wasn’t to touch anyone else’s plot, thus I muck it up, I became very self conscious to do anything with it. I had wanted someone to explain to me, by me feeling the leaves and them instructing me, what was a weed, and what was a thing I just planted. How far apart to plant, what to plant when. I  got told to stay in my row and just stick some seeds in and see what happened. I felt like I was 5 years old and not ready to learn real gardening with the grownups. I even got told I could only plant flowers.

I shouldn’t have let that get to me. But I did. I think I visited the garden once or twice, then abandon “the row.” Which, I am sure, earned me a bunch of “I told you she couldn’t garden” from the church garden nazis. It was not the best way to handle it. But I was so exhausted with the whole church thing, I didn’t care anymore and just let it make me feel crappy. I was so glad that the city community garden plot application process was just about completely anonymous. They did not have to know I was disabled, just that I lived in the district. I only told them after they already offered me a plot. They did not have a chance to tell me I couldn’t do it. I should have started with the community plot and skipped the church one. Even though I was waitlisted for a couple of years, this was worth it.

Sometimes the internet is the great equalizer. Jess and Miah from Roots and Refuge tell me almost weekly on their vlog to just plant things. Just start. You will screw up. It’s ok. Just try different things. I get to see Ben and Meg from the Hollar Homestead put the insulation in their fixer upper wrong and come back and just fix it with only slight embarrassment and repercussions. They experiment and then they try again. No one is calling the authorities on them and telling them they can’t do it. No one at Lowes is saying they can’t buy stuff for their garden without a non disabled to help them. I forget how easy it is for ablebodied people to just try things without anyone’s (major) judgement and criticism. They encourage me to try things, too. They don’t know they are talking to a Deafblind gardening dummy who flunked church plot gardening slavery. They are talking to everyone. But, sometimes, disabled people just need to block out all that noise and think of themselves like they count as everyone, too. I deserve to try and fail just as much as anyone else. I deserve multiple tries. I deserve to look like an idiot and do it all wrong until I figure out how to do it right.

A lot of times, I see this thing that happens with disabled people. If we get a shot at all to learn something new, we get ousted at the first mistake when everyone else gets a learning curve. For example, one thing I see over and over is mom’s of blind teenage girls who won’t let them shave, wear make-up or do their hair when all the other girls are. Shaving and hair is entirely tactile and can easily be done by a blind person. Make up can, too, but it is more visual and takes a little more work and practice. Parents forget that blind people don’t start at the same place necessarily as sighted children. Sighted kids have probably seen their mom working a curling iron for years. Unless intentionally shown, blind people may have not. So, they aren’t going to start in the same place, but they can end up in the same place if given just a chance. They may start by not even knowing where to hold the curling iron or where the hot parts are. Or how to move it through their hair. But with 1-2 extra lessons, they can catch up. But I see moms who have a bad first experience with their child and a curling iron and say they will never do it again. So then you have a bunch of blind adults with “blind hair” (a short, plain haircut.) All teenage girls screw up their makeup. Blind kids will need more practice and time to get it right. But they aren’t given the opportunity to fail, so they never get the opportunity to succeed.

I know I am digressing a lot here.

So, how this relates to gardening is that we are often not given the same opportunities as others to try things. And it is sad in this time because getting groceries when you can’t drive is tough when all of our usual methods are being taken by sighted drivers who have never gotten delivery before. And although I cannot in the least claim success at gardening yet, I am seeing how useful of a skill this could be for many disabled people who are not being given these opportunities. Or maybe like I used to be, think that it is just not something disabled people can do at all. But I think lots of people could. And then instead of relying on people to get groceries or getting food boxes, we could contribute our own food and even share with others. I know that some people’s disabilities make the physical aspects of gardening difficult. But I have also seen many wheelchair gardeners and certainly deaf and blind gardeners and gardeners with developmental disabilities and many others. It may not totally replace needed food, but it could certainly add to the stores.

I also realize that this can’t necessarily help things like, NOW. But we need to not only take care of immediate needs, but look at long-term solutions. I am not a fan of what I have been experiencing the last several weeks, which is constantly trying to keep the stream of food running through my house without a car and without grocery clerk help and without many options. I have kind of an MO for just checking out and doing shit myself when it isn’t working out. That has both good and bad points, I am sure. I got sick of the problems with public schools so I started homeschooling. We got sick of employment discrimination so we started our own business. I guess now I am getting sick of my version of food insecurity so I am going to figure out how to take care of at least some of it myself. I know this isn’t everyone method of handling things, and I get that. But it is mine and what makes me feel better. And a lot of times has worked out quite well for me.


A radish start, finding its way through the bark mulch.


Of course, I will not check out of the food system this year or probably never,  so I have been learning new strategies for getting food as well. I feel like I have been learning every day how to handle the lack of delivery options and I keep adapting and keep adapting. By the end of this, I will have so many new methods of getting supplies. Plus, I feel like I will have learned a lot about gardening and will be set to produce even more food next year.

There is now stuff planted in the community plot. I am more confident that it will peek through the leafy mulch I used down there. I don’t feel ready for a larger ground plot this year, but maybe in the future?

I have already failed in gardening. But then I just start over. My tomatoes and peppers went nowhere, even when I had them in the house. I am learning about the special warm climate and humidity needs of these plants. I will try again. And maybe fail again. I replanted the lettuce because nothing happened there and Nik (who had sowed the seeds) informed me that he really could not feel if the seed went in the hole or not because they were so small and sticky. So when we replanted, we did use the planting square and the spoon and funnel. We’ll see if those take. If they don’t, well, I might resort to just throwing the whole envelop around in the dirt. And I am very, very confused about mulch. It will get sorted out. But I have little baby onions starting. And radishes. And I have planted down in the community garden, now. I am ridiculously happy about this.

Spinach leaves peeping through.

This post has many meanders because I have been in a bad, sad, confused mood. But my point is, I guess, if there is one….that we as disabled people need to try more things for ourselves and find more solutions for ourselves. Even if we fail several times. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still advocate for the systemic barriers in our way. I am not discounting these very real challenges. But also, I’m trying to focus on what I can do and learn and take care of myself. I am feeling sucked dry by all the complaining of how things are so awful for us and am trying to replenish with what I know is good and capably in our hands.


Garden Progress Report

More Stuff Planted, and Spinach in Stasis?

Spring is here! Our frost date has passed and I am getting in gear.

I planted some radishes in my backyard bed.

My raised bed filled with soil and covered with bark mulch.

I planted carrots and green onions for the bed as well. (Also some peas, beans, and uh, I forget now. Some other stuff.)

A tray with 48 newly planted seeds.

Four trays of seedling planters on a black metal patio table. Each tray is covered with a plastic lid.

And I have this tray of spinach and lettuce that has been gestating in this tray since March 14. It took two weeks to see any growth, and then I did see some and I was excited! And then…nothing. Nothing has died, and nothing has grown any more. The plants you see still have their (what is the word?) starter leaves and have not grown or shrank and died or done anything for 2 more weeks? What gives? Any ideas? I am the first to admit I don’t know what I am doing.

My tray of spinach and lettuce barely startling.

Also, went zen planting a few things in pots. The wildflowers and marigolds are doing well in the terra cotta pot. Then have these other grasses and umbrella plant, which my son named “Jerod,” because, I guess, why not? These are ornamental, and were meant for maybe indoor plantings, but I felt like they were lonely and needed to be outside together with their friends.

My terra cotta plant has lots of green seedlings growing in it. There is a group of grassy plants and river rocks in a green ceramic pot. In a metal watering can, there is an umbrella plant.

Also, some of our perennial ornamentals that have been here since I moved here are in bloom. I do think about removing these eventually so more space for productive plants, but they’ve been with me a long time. I’m slightly (but no overly) sentimental.

I believe this is a rhododendron bush with bright red flowers.

A close up of a bright red rhododendron bloom.

I am unsure what type of flower this is. It looks a little like white lilac petals on a bush.

Next week, I will be working in the community garden (which now has water!). So, hoping to get some stuff going down there.

I have some thoughts about the Quarantine and how it has been affecting us as disabled people and how it relates to food access, and how disabled people are vulnerable to times like these but also very much discouraged from learning to produce their own food. Also, some thoughts on acreage real estate coming up, but I did want to get a little progress report in here before I forget all the stuff that has been done.

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!