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Archive for July, 2013

Have read a few interesting articles lately that were passed on by my science buddies.

First is how to be a productive procrastinator, via Lisa. I think i have a lot of potential for using this technique, as i find myself being incredibly productive while i avoid working on my thesis.

Second, via Melanie, is about surviving the rat race that is tenure track… by not racing. Some very good advice in there. I have been pretty good in grad school about not subscribing to the whole “good graduate students work 80 hours a week” insanity or the list of things i must accomplish to succeed, like networking (i hate networking) or attending as many conferences as possible, or publishing x number of papers. It may all come back to bite me in the butt later if i ever try to get a tenure track position, but whatevs, i’m having fun now.

And a third linked to by the above article about life-work balance in academia. Now, this one is interesting too, and brings up good points about how weird it is to expect ourselves and our colleagues to work so goddamn hard that we have to give up most other aspects of our lives. The emphasis here, as it is in many articles written about life-work balance, is on splitting oneself between career and family and how we women can’t have it all if these crazy career expectations continue.

All fine and good, but i am bothered that in the discussion of life-work balance, life = children. Life does not equal children. It’s unfair that, in our consciousness, life = children for women and thus women have to choose between a career or raising children (or be mediocre at both), yet not many people feel that men have a similar choice to make. For men, life = life apparently, and more work means fewer adventures with friends, wooden canoe building, and brewing beer. In fact, life = life for everyone, and anyone can choose to make their life revolve around kids. Parents bemoan that they can’t possibly work the same hours that their childless colleagues work if they are to be good parents. Why the hell aren’t people without kids complaining that they have to work insane hours and they don’t have time to play city league softball or volunteer at the animal shelter or write a novel? It’s all crazy- the hours and hours of work for shit-tastic pay (shouldn’t forget here that science grad students get paid to go to school; not all disciplines are so fortunate), the stress of trying to be known by lead scientists in your field, the race to publish papers to beef up your CV… Forget the damn kids, our whole lives are suffering because we’re trying so hard! My dog is bored, my garden is neglected, I barely see my friends, and I’m getting skinny-fat for chrissake!

Ahem. So. Life-work balance. What i aim for is to do what i want. Maybe what you want is to spend time with your kids. What i want is to spend time with my husband (yeah, we got married, whut!), make sure my dog is happy, grow beautiful veggies, pickle and jam everything in sight, get off my ass, chat with my buddies, see my family, go on adventures. That’s what i’m going to try my best to do.

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Occasionally the New York Times publishes articles like this one on the crises modern agriculture brought on by gawdawful weather. Some discuss government-paid crop insurance and lament the plight of farmers across the country. This one actually mentions compost as a way to ameliorate the effects of drought, as well as gray water systems, and the importance of maintaining seed banks so that we can weather the weather with drought- and heat-resistant varieties of crops. I’m going to go ahead and add a plug against big Ag companies that promote and sell and monopolize crops with single varieties that are bred or genetically engineered to do well in shitty soil with lots of synthetic fertilizer. Bad idea. We need to be increasing the genetic diversity of our crops and animals, not whittling our base down to a teetering giant disaster waiting to happen.

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Stringing up the tomatoes

On the Seattle Urban Farm and Coop Tour last weekend we visited a house over near Madison Ave that had quite an impressive garden and produced meat and held farm to table dinners and everything. Very cool- 41 Legs Farm. They manage to make enough money selling extra plant starts and garlic to fund their gardening hobby, and take donations for their farm dinners to cover those costs. Very, very cool. Kinda want to be like them when I grow up.

In addition to being impressed with and jealous of their huge city lot and nice set up, I learned a new technique for growing tomatoes. They had their tomatoes trimmed down to one or two leaders and strung up vertically on tall supports (which I’ve seen before- I think most commercial tomatoes are grown this way) but they had also trimmed the lower leaves off the vine to allow more air circulation between the plants and prevent disease. They had some rule of thumb like for every foot above four feet the plant reaches, trim off one foot of leaves from the bottom, or for every 2 feet of growth, trim off 1 foot of branches below… Can’t quite remember.

This weekend I did the same for my tomatoes… Kind of. I don’t follow the trim to two leaders rule, but I do trim out suckers, especially on indeterminant (sprawling) plants so mine end up with 4-5 leaders each. I tied closeline-like cords from the garage to the tree across the top of the garden bed (stronger than tying individual plants to individual posts) and hoisted long floppy vines up off of the tomato cages. Then David helped me remove the wall o’ waters that have been around the plants since transplant.

Side note: Last year we left the wall o’ waters on all season because they’re hard to get off once the plants are so big, but the fruits that grow within the wall o’ waters invariably get eaten by snails who think it’s cozy in there. This year we slit the wall o’ waters open- linearized them like a plasmid, if you will- and slinked them out from under the bushes. Next time we use them we’ll have to circularize them with clips, but they’ll be easier to put on the plants that way too!

Next I clipped off all of the leafy branches growing within the tomato cages- up to about a foot and a half off the ground. I left the fallen leaves on the soil under the plants (apparently tomatoes like to eat the composted bodies of their fallen comrades) and then spread a layer of hay on top to insulate the soil even more from water loss.

The bed looks good now- the vines will get more light because they’re not piled on top of each other, the plants will get more air between them and hopefully we’ll have fewer losses to snails and rot, and we can actually see where the fruits are to pick them!

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Garlic!

Just harvested my first ever crop of garlic this morning! The bulbs aren’t gargantuan, like the garlic David grew on the farm in Olympia (pictures coming soon), but they are reasonably sized considering the amount of effort i put into them.

Sara’s garlic growing method:
1. Shove garlic cloves pointy side up into the ground, about 2 inches deep and 6 inches away from each other. Do this in early fall.
2. Cover soil in between with hay, fallen leaves, or other mulch. The garlic will send up shoots through even a thick layer of mulch.
3. Totally neglect your garlic all winter and spring. No water, no pruning, no weeding because the mulch keeps the weeds down. Also, forget what variety you have planted. Maybe you wrote it down somewhere? Nope… Damn.
4. In the summer, when a good portion of the leaves have turned brown and the stalks start to fall over (falling over may or may not be caused by chickens breasting them over as they search for bugs, as it was in my case), loosen the soil with a digging fork and pull the garlic heads out!
5. Save the best looking ones to plant this coming fall, even though you want to eat them. Curse yourself for not writing down what variety these were, because they turned out pretty well!
6. Tie all the garlic up in small bunches of 10 or so (or braid it!), and hang in a coolish dry place that gets some air circulation, like the open garage. I’m going to let mine dry in loose bunches for a bit then braid it tightly.
7. Eat, share with friends, use for pickling over the next year.

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Kefir buzz

Trying to get back into blogging slowly. Have been in the garden and kitchen and pantry plenty, making jams and real fermented pickles, and even butchering our pig, but haven’t been writing. But, I have so many other things that distract me from finishing my PhD, this may as well be one of them!

A while back I wrote about flavoring kefir with jam to make a delicious and nutritious drink. Usually I just stir it in with a spoon. This evening in a fit of “get me away from my computer!!” I decided I’d blend the kefir and jam with the beat stick. (Clever name I just came up with for the hand-held stick blender). The result is glorious! Blending makes it frothy like a pisco sour or… something else that’s sour and frothy. Mango lassi?

The kefir: home cultured with grains and whole milk, past it’s normal drinking stage and super sour, super chunky.

The jam: a blackberry-rhubarb concoction that’s more like syrup that I made from berries picked down on the Olympia farm and fresh rhubarb from the market.

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