Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sustainable in the Suburbs?

When we were kids, the area where we live would have fit pretty squarely into the category of rural. Twenty-some-odd years later, we're undeniably suburban. The population in our community (counting the eight nearest municipalities) went from 23,148 in 1980 to 45,771 today. Some of Chester County's biggest challenges these days are trying to plan for smart growth while preserving our agricultural heritage and open space.

So why do we choose to stay here? Well, for one, the Gardener's family has been in this end of the county since at least the early 1700s, and the house we bought was actually built by his uncle in the late 1960s. Most of the members of our family still live within a half-hour drive, and we like being able to stay close. Mostly, we feel like it's important to stay where we were raised and try to make a difference in the future of our community.

That being said, we recognize that trying to "homestead" in the suburbs comes with its share of challenges. For one, prices are high here. Another big one is the fact that it's basically impossible to live without at least one car. And perhaps the biggest one is the fact that we just don't fit in. We're sure our neighbors must wonder what the heck we're doing when we're plowing up big sections of our previously manicured lawn, hanging our undies out to dry, and picking dandelions. They're probably also worrying about what we're doing to their property values. Maybe one day they'll ask us for tips on starting their own vegetable gardens, but in the meantime we're always trying to maintain a level of orderliness that will keep the peace.

But there's a lot of good to be found here as well. I feel lucky that within about a 10 mile radius we have producers of local organic dairy and meat products, mushrooms, honey, flour and livestock feed, not to mention at least four CSAs, five farmers' markets, and three wineries! Within 50 miles we have the big city of Philadelphia, numerous universities, and great restaurants and breweries. We have access to culture and forward thinking, as well as hundred year old farms and small town community spirit.

The suburbs are constantly getting a bad rap as a comatose land of consumerism and conformity, but I don't think it has to be that way. I'd like to hear about some of your experiences in trying to live self-sufficiently on the outskirts, or tell us why you think "sustainability" and "suburbia" are simply irreconcilable!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mulch Madness

We finally broke down and bought a load of much needed mulch. This mulch mountain is what 8 cubic yards looks like, after having probably 20 wheelbarrow-loads already toted away.

Our mulching projects went in order of urgency - first, the apple and hazelnut trees we planted in the fall, then the much-neglected blueberry bushes we planted two falls ago, and then our perennial beds containing our hops vines, chicory, blackberries, mint, rhubarb, and our newly-planted strawberry crowns. Here you can see the hops bed, with some daffodil bulbs strewn in, and with plenty of room for the chives, lavender, sage, rosemary, and thyme I'll be planting soon.

With Sprout being born right at the time when this work should have been done last year, it just didn't get done, which meant that later in the season the weeds got pretty unmanageable. This year, all the heavy lifting should pay off with healthier plants (and happier neighbors too, I'm sure). Our next project is to put down a layer of cardboard and then mulch the walkways between our vegetable beds to cut down on mowing and trimming, and to get us a step closer to the colonial-kitchen-garden inspired and more suburban-friendly design we have in mind.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Out on the Line

It's now been about five months since our electric dryer quit working and we decided not to fix it. During the winter, our "Study", the room with the wood stove, was where you could find our temporary clothes line, tied to and strung between two extra dining room chairs which were weighed down with boxes of encyclopedias. Now that spring is here, I'm so glad to be able to take the laundry outside to hang in the breezes and sunshine!

We decided to relocate the line from halfway across the back lawn to just a few steps from the deck. Inspired by a post on one of our favorite blogs, we designed our upgraded new poles to resemble telephone poles, complete with blue glass insulators, and we have plans to add clothes-pin-holding "transformers" and bird silhouettes just for kitsch. I see no reason why chores have to be boring, or why utility can't also be artistic!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Bunny Egg Day

We dyed a dozen of our hens' eggs this weekend.  I'm pretty sure it's the first time we've ever dyed brown eggs, but they came out brilliant.

They made for a tasty breakfast.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cold Frame Progress

It's been about a month since I planted some kale under the glass and its looking pretty good.

I absolutely love this kale! We collected the seeds from our biennial kale in its second season.  It grows a thick almost shrub like trunk at the base and sprouts new leaves late into the fall. The flavor is less bitter than most store bought kale and it self seeds like crazy.

In the center you can see some baby cabbages.  It may look really crowded in there but the cabbage is an early maturing miniature cabbage.