Monday, April 4, 2011

Sustainable lifestyle, a hill of beans one bean at a time.

The other day I was reading this post on Pam's English Cottage Garden and, through Pam's eloquent description of Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a book I'm excited to get from the library--I loved Kingsolver's Animal Dreams and several other of her books I'd read a long time ago) I discovered this post on Jan's Thanks for today blog.

Not only are there some terrific give aways involved (Really. They are terrific. Don't believe me, check it and see!), but a lot of links to lots of other garden bloggers with some very interesting things to say about sustainable lifestyles.

Now, I'll be honest here, the first thing I did after reading Pam's and Jan's posts was to google "Sustainable Lifestyle" to figure out exactly what that was supposed to mean.  Ok. Found it on Wikipedia and it's a fairly broad term.

But that brings up my next question--and no, it wasn't "what of the many things I do on a regular basis to help the earth should I blog about?"--it was actually more along the lines of " I do anything on a regular basis to help the earth?!?"

I like a clean and healthy planet, of course, but in my real life there's an effort to find the balance between what we should do and what we can do with the resources we have here and now.

I'd love to purchase only grass-fed beef and grow a huge garden plot to supply all our vegetable needs for the year, but also need to be mindful of meeting our food needs within our food budget, andour yard is not so big and not so sunny and is governed by its own set of condo rules and regulations.

Which means 1) I'm not going to be raising urban chickens, but also means 2) I'm in exactly the same boat as a very large number of other people. 

To quote my favorite FlyLady saying: sometimes you just have to hit a lick at a snake.  Which is a way of saying, "heck, even if it can't all be done and done perfectly, maybe I'll just take a stab at it and see what does get done"

So, what do I do, exactly? Well, I'm glad you asked...

I compost, for one--not a huge series of self-heating bins in different stages of composting, but a converted trash bin that I can put by my door and fill and fluff and, when completed, spread over my gardens.  It works for my situation and my gardens seem to really like it--plus I get a real kick out of getting useful stuff out of my garbage scraps--my inner Rumpelstiltskin spinning gold out of straw!

I shop with reusable bags--I made the 2 above a few years ago out of some favorite fabrics from my stash (lots of free patterns online to do this) and have since sewn another (currently in Rose's room holding the latest haul of library books) and amassed a few others from various sources.  

My brother gave me one of them (from the grocery) last year as a gift bag with a birthday present--they tend to be cheaper than paper gift bags and can be reused many more times after the big day is over--pretty clever idea, I think!  

And, at least around here, you get 5-cents off your grocery receipt for each bag you bring--not enough to buy a Prius or anything like that (at least in my lifetime of shopping), but after a few visits that packet of seeds is paid for, right?

I pick plants that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds--but I need to fess up that this is just self-serving on my part.  Really, I didn't even know this was a sustainable practice until I read it on a couple of posts linked to Jan's blog (above), especially this one from Betsy S. Franz's Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog.  I actually just like butterflies and bumble bees and have only ever seen a hummingbird once in my life--I'd really like to see another one sometime before I die!

I built a trellis out of found materials.  Ok, so I did it mostly because I like the rustic look and partly because there was no harm in trying something for free--still, no fossil fuels used in production and no harmful chemicals into the environment--win-win!

As I've recently posted, I grow my indoor seedlings in "fossel fuel free solar growing system" (yeah, I hear you, putting seedlings in a bright window probably doesn't count, really, but there you have it--and if blogging about it encourages someone else who doesn't have the space, money, or desire to go out and get a big seed starting system to give it a go in the window, that's not a bad thing)

But really, the big thing I'm proud of is taking a stab at growing thingsSimple, but big.

When we lived in our apartment, my garden looked like this:

(and, yes, it did usually feature some of Rose's toys in some way or another--this was one set-up when she was 6, some game about exploring the jungle or something like that--turns out these are the only really good pictures I took of the balcony garden, but they make me smile because they remind me of my 6 year old Rosie)

The "garden" was small, used soil donated from my parents' garden, and it tended to look especially hodge-podge before the plants grew enough to fill in, but we got to enjoy the flowers and have some meals' worth of green beans, lettuce, and tomato for our trouble.  Again, it was really very self-serving as I got to enjoy the gardening and the fresh produce, but that just couldn't be helped, right?

These days we're on to some bigger areas and more experiments to see what does and doesn't work around here, both decorative and eatable. 

Last year we ate a bit of this:

and some of this:
and a bit of this:
 and this:

Which couldn't be any fresher or more locally grown if it tried.

(and, yes, I do know those are a lot of pictures to say "I grew some food" but it's dreary outside today and Spring still isn't sure it's going to stay, so please just indulge me here this once...)

Now the astute reader will notice that while I talk about sustainable measures, at the same time I'm really just going on about things that I enjoy:
  1. making free enrichment to make my gardens better
  2. shopping with pretty bags and saving pennies each time
  3. planting things that will attract things I want
  4. getting a free trellis that I like the look of
  5. eating fresh delicious food for pennies...
Ok, I won't argue that I benefit from it (benefit a lot, actually!) but maybe sharing things that benefit us and help our world at the same time is a useful thing to do?

I've learned so much about gardening from other garden bloggers out there and gotten lots of great ideas.

But I also had fun reading the links from bloggers who have answered Jan's challenge and written about their own projects in sustainable living.

Like Cinj's making produce bags out of sheer stash fabrics, and Ramble on Rose's rain gardens (never heard of that before!), and Jezibel's painted rain barrels (check those out, they're really neat!), and Patty Hicks' milk jug tomatoes (I'm dying to see how those come out!).

Crazy thing about blogging is that it's a great way to share ideas that might suit someone else, too, and in doing so "hit a few more licks at a snake," if you follow what I mean.  (And also I enjoy blogging, but let's leave that part out of it for now, shall we?)


  1. I think you are doing great! I do much of what you are doing, and I don't raise chickens either. If more people did just a little, it would be better for all of us already.

  2. Thanks, Masha--and I couldn't agree with you more about little bits being able to add up to something big!

  3. what a freakin great post this was. I'm digging the bags, and your message.

  4. Hi Daphne, I'm so sorry it took me so long to get over here and read your post! Somehow, I skipped over a couple of posts that had linked to the project and only now realized I had missed yours! And I'm sure glad I read it because it is just lovely! You really pulled several things together, all of which you enjoyed doing in the first place & weren't even doing 'purposely' to win any awards or anything like that...and there you have it, you're contributing to sustainable living! Believe me, I had no idea what it was, either, until I started reading garden blogs a couple of years ago! And you do as much or more than I did when I began this project last year! I am learning from others, just as you've noted. I didn't start composting until last year and I'm thinking of more and more things to do, simply by reading posts like yours. I love the idea of a birthday gift given in a reusable tote! That is cool;-) All of your photos tell a great story about you and you should feel good about all of it. Thank you so much for coming over and linking this wonderful post. Good luck to you!

  5. Thank you for your kind words, Jan--funny thing, now that I've got sustainability on my mind, I'm seeing things to improve upon everywhere!