prepping, but not a prepper...

in the vast world of hobby gardening, some folks are best described as hobby hobby gardeners. i fully accept my inclusion in said sub-group. there is no delusion of self-sufficiency or prepping for global upheaval in my endeavors. it is just a bit of fun with the (hopeful) side-effect of helping me to hang on to some shred of sanity... hopefully.

i've reminded myself of this fact on countless occasions this past week, in between thumbing through a short stack of gardening books and shuffling (and reshuffling) my packs of seeds. [aside: note how crazy sunshiney it was today yesterday (as it is now well after midnight)].

the seeds were purchased from Greta's Organic Gardens. i'm not going to pull out a soap-box about organic/non-organic plants, but i generally prefer to purchase seeds from organic suppliers as they stock more heirloom varieties (i.e., not the same peppers and tomatoes you can find in the vegetable section of your local market). beyond that, i wanted a supplier that was close to home. all of my past gardening adventures took place back home in Brooklyn, so i am experiencing something like despair at the thought of trying to grow anything in the strict confines of a Canadian Summer. this particular business is located in Gloucester, Ontario—a mere stone's throw from Montreal—so i figure, if they can grow it, so can i... hopefully.

we are members of a local CSA that provides us with ample fresh produce during the Summer and early Autumn months, so i stuck to a rather basic assortment of plants for the first year of our balcony garden experiment. i still need to find some Nasturtiums (a purely aesthetic choice, although the flowers and leaves are edible, if you like to add a peppery bite to a bowl of salad greens), but i am pleased with the stash thus far:
  • tomatoes - Victoria Dwarf, Venus, Tumbling Tom Red
  • peppers - Shepherd, Golden Treasure
  • Perpetual Spinach Chard
  • Amethyst Beans
  • Sugar Ann Snap Peas
  • Black Beauty Eggplant
  • Cocozelle Zucchini
  • herby things - Bunching Onions, Garlic Chives, Curly Parsley, Cutting Celery, Mix Basil
  • oh... and Catnip

 as for those books...

The Self-Sufficient Life And How To Live It is a gateway drug to the world of hobby farming. there is a more recent version of this book, but i have the original one. this book provides outstanding information for managing anything from a large backyard plot to several acres of farm land. be forewarned, you may feel an overwhelming urge to get back to the land after a few pages, so approach this one with extreme caution.

The Homesteading Handbook may be a more approachable (and more useful) resource for us city dwellers with country dreams. it has a lot of the usual information about planning and managing a small farm, but it has tons of information about making use of the bounty. even if your homesteading activities are limited to planting a few tomatoes in the backyard, you will find lots of recipes and instructions on how to process and preserve your harvest for later use. there are even recipes for making your own beer, wine, and an assortment of cheeses. seriously... you really need to be making your own blue cheese. stop reading and go buy this book!

The Guide to Canadian Vegetable Gardening is self-explanatory. it is relatively lite on content, but it is a useful resource for the specific conditions faced by the Canadian gardener.

The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible is the cherry (tomato) on the cake of happiness. not only is this book full of incredible information and tips for growing just about anything in containers, it is overflowing with photos of the author's plants that are beyond inspiring to the urban gardener.

and, finally, i highly-recommend two resources that should be in the library of any home gardener: Carrots Love Tomatoes  and Square Foot Gardening (not sure where my copy is at present). whether  you are a hobby farmer or merely a collector of hobby farming dreams, happy planting.


a daydream big enough for two...

i spent part of my doctoral-student days working on a study that saw me arriving to the lab around eight in the morning and heading back home at, near, or (occasionally) after midnight. said lab was located on the secure level of the building, which meant no windows... which meant no sunlight. my exposure to natural light was limited to the 15 minutes or so of driving between home and the parking lot. that number went up to 18-20 minutes if you count the occasional mid-day sprint to the cafeteria (a stone's throw from our building) to grab a slice of pizza or a cup of soup. that was the year i discovered that i belong to that tribe of folks who do not function well in the absence of sunshine. i mention this episode of self-discovery only as a means of putting my current mental state into perspective.

as i have noted on countless occasions, we keep really odd hours. this tends to mean sleeping through the only part of the day (at this time of the year) that could be described with any degree of sincerity as "sunny". it is a magical 10 (or so) minutes when the angle of the sun in the sky sends a flood of light through the south-facing kitchen window, ricocheting off every surface, and racing along the hall. the effect is so intense that it casts the pale walls in a wash of color approaching a brilliant orange. then, as if someone turned off the "warmth", everything settles into the many underwhelming tones of mid-winter. it is enough to make you understand why some animals choose hibernation over having to look at that much grey.

i decided to distract myself from the seasonal blahs by daydreaming about gardening... which led to looking at gardening videos... which led to looking at seed catalogs. it is a slippery slope made that much more treacherous when i got my favorite animator involved. so, now we are awaiting the arrival of the seeds ordered a few days ago, and i have been elected Chieftain of the Balcony Garden Project. okay... so i gave myself the title, but it was understood from the beginning that this would be my domain. he volunteered to provide "gorilla strength" (lug soil up many stairs, carry/move around full pots, and all the rest) if and when needed, but the planning and propagation is all up to me (and my special brand of OCD). luckily, this task is smack dab in the middle of the center of my happy place. bliss!

oh... and i dug up a bag of cat grass (it's actually a mix of grain seeds) and planted a little pot for my two best girls, but the little one pretty much pounced on it and claimed it as her own. after many attempts at climbing into it, she finally gave up and settled for rolling around on the floor with the pot. there was a great deal of much-needed laughter on my part.

she eventually drifted off to sleep. grass has that effect on some people, or so i'm told.

i was in no mood to (inevitably) walk around sweeping up clods of wet soil, so i eventually had to take it away, which was not well received. that is the 'i'm gonna knock stuff off the table while you're trying to fall asleep' look right there.

i placed the mangled remains on a sunny shelf, where it will (hopefully) survive long enough for them to get a few more nibbles in the coming days.

as for that grey and black cardi that was causing me much grief, i am about 72% done with one sleeve, and i have accepted the fact that it will get done when it gets done. i did, however, finally get around to washing some yarn that i spun up late last year. i may talk more about that process next week... maybe.

or... maybe i will be too busy rolling around in seed packets. daydreaming. just me and my best boy.


[insert the sound of screaming]...

i am sipping an emergency cup of don't be crazy tea. allow me to explain.

so, i've been working intermittently on that grey (and black) cardi. the original plan pipe-dream called for it to be completed by the end of this week, but sanity interceded and the target date got pushed back to maybe sometime next week... maybe...? after changing my mind at least a hundred times, i finally knitted the ribbing on the collar...

and the lower edge of the body. sexy, no???

all that was left at this point was the front (zipper) band and the sleeves. the zipper felt too much like the final element of the garment, so i put the stitches for the first sleeve onto the needles and carried on with my task...

until i was almost ready to begin the cuff ribbing, when it occurred to me that this sleeve was a bit wider than desired.

seriously, i shoved a fist in there, and there was still room for a friend. that is more sleeve than anyone needs.

i should note that this realization occurred at about three o'clock this morning [yes, we do keep odd hours around these parts], so i crammed the whole project back into the bag before i did something rash, like ripping out the whole sleeve. fast forward to about three in the afternoon, and... well... i ripped out the whole sleeve. seriously!

it's a problem of slope. i was decreasing roughly every 2.5", which is pretty standard for this type of sleeve. [the stitch markers help me to keep track of the decrease rows so that i can satisfy my special brand of OCD when i get to the second sleeve—and, yes, that one stitch marker flipped the other way around is making me very uncomfortable].

this sleeve, however, needs a more drastic slope. so i did what one does in these situations. first i found a spare circular needle (left) a few sizes smaller than the working needle (right)...

the cardi is knitted top-down (start at the neck, finish at the hip), so i went back up to the first row of grey stitches after the black/grey section (basically, back to the armpit region), and picked up that row of stitches with the smaller needle.

once i had that whole round of stitches on the new needle, i removed the working needle (and the stitch markers) and ripped out all that hard work. my people refer to this heart-breaking process as frogging.  so, there i was with the armpit-level row of stitches all ready to go.

oh... and this.

after unraveling the inevitable tangles, i managed to organize all the frogged yarn into a ball.

i will transfer the live stitches back to the working needle as i knit the next row, and i have to do a bit of math to determine a new rate of decrease, but that will happen when my inner voice quiets down. until then, i'm gonna pour another cup of calming tea and watch the latest episode of The Doctor Blake Mysteries followed by the latest episode of Shetland—because nothing cures a bout of temporary insanity like an extra helping of murder tv.


there be sheep...

(relatively) short post this time, as i am dealing with some back pain (a souvenir from a nasty accident many years ago) accompanied by a headache from the bowels of Hades. moving on...

there's been some serious progress on that grey cardigan i casted on about four weeks ago. it is now a grey and black cardigan, and... here's the best part... there be sheep!!! 

i'm pretty much making this one up as i go, so i don't want to say too much about it until it's done—which, based on previous knitting efforts, could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. the back/body of the garment is about an inch away from completion, which leaves only the sleeves, front band, and collar to go before i can officially call it a FO (finished object). i've already found the perfect black/silver zipper, and i even took the (wholly unprecedented) step of knitting up a swatch of the bottom ribbing for the body and sleeves. that's commitment, people!

there's been zero spinning this week. i had hoped to finally get around to plying the last of that beige yarn from my New Year's Day post, but the bobbins of singles are going to have to wait until my back is up to sitting at the wheel. [total aside: that attractive device that holds the bobbins for plying is called a lazy kate (not to be confused with a lazy susan, which usually holds very different tasty things)]

on the domestic front, it's pretty much been life as usual. we are making tiny steps toward finally settling in to the apartment. there is still no progress on the walls (unless you count the two closets i painted last summer), but we have stopped changing our minds about paint colors, so that's a victory of sorts... i guess. we still have to trek down to the laundry room (in the basement, which is a joy when you live on the top level of a four-story walk-up), but we've (sorta) settled on a washer-dryer combo for eventual purchase... once the electrician gets around to rerouting the power so that we don't end up in darkness anytime someone makes the mistake of turning on the microwave and kettle at the same time. first world problems... i know.

the kitties have been doing their best interpretation of the Prince(ss) and the Pauper. i have a bad back, yet i have to stand when i'm in the studio as Baby Bear has been holding a vigil on the extra chair. note the two velvet pillows for Her Royal Highness' comfort.

meanwhile, Mama Kitty has been spending every non-waking moment curled up, hobo style, on a recycling bag full of packing paper (thanks, Amazon). it's her happy place. who am i to judge???