Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Garden blues

Our vegetable garden is just not off to a very successful start this year.  When we first started planting from seed, the chickens were accessing the garden, munching to their hearts' content.  We brought home starts for the greenhouse, but the door wasn't latching properly, so they got in and ate all of the cucumbers, eggplant, and broccoli.  We replaced the starts, fixed the door, reseeded the outside beds, and kept going.

The peas tried to come up, but something has been eating them.  For some reason, the beets just won't grow.  Our weather has been unseasonably cold and rainy (payback for the mild winter and early spring, resulting in a major slug invasion), which might explain why so many of my seeded veggies are still little stumpy sprouts.

We have planted the greenhouse, and we should at least have lots of tomatoes and basil.  They are doing well.  But our broccoli hopes have dwindled each week as one after another animal has busted into the garden and eaten every last one of them.  We thought we were safe when we constructed a chicken fortress, entirely enclosed by chicken wire (which will also allow us to stay out past dusk on occasion without fear of raccoon massacre.)  But, the goats have pried fencing apart 3 times now, devastating anything remotely yummy.

We love our goats, but milking was abandoned years ago out of frustration.  Now, they are pets that live in the barn.  During the winter, I feed them in the morning and at night, but that is all.  I can't keep up with vaccinations or hoof trimming, so I just feel guilty for being a bad goat mom.  They are so sweet and affectionate, and, for the most part, they have a great life here, but I think they could do better than us.  So, I'm considering finding them some greener pastures.  It really is about time we did something to make our lives easier instead of harder.  But, the yard will be so lonely without goats...

I plan to replant today for the 3rd time, but we'll have only a few broccoli plants, no corn at all, and the sunflowers and nasturtiums that usually line the edge of the garden will be missing.

The good news is that our broody chicken hatched a baby turkey, and it seems to be doing well. I have hopes that a few more of the eggs she is sitting on will hatch so that we take one small step toward breeding our own turkeys.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recycling an inflatable mattress:

My daughter wanted to have a slumber party for her 7th birthday, so we had 3 girls over for the night.  My plan was to blow up the inflatable mattress and have 2 girls in her loft bed with 2 on the floor underneath.  The mattress is about 3 years old, and has been used quite a bit for camping trips, tent camping in the backyard, and sleepovers at the high school where my husband works (something the students get to do occasionally.)

I was disgusted to find, as I unpacked the mattress, that I must have failed to thoroughly dry it before packing it last time it was used, nearly a year ago.  The soft surface was covered in a thick layer of mold!  I used layers of blankets for the girls to sleep on and threw the mattress outside to deal with later.

On the next dry day, I used a bit of bleach (I know, I know) in a spray bottle to try to kill the mold, hoping to salvage the mattress.  Then Mike reminded me that, the last couple of times we used the mattress, it deflated by morning.  I was still thinking I could scrub the mold off and maybe patch a leak, just because I knew I couldn't bring myself to throw this huge amount of PVC into the trash.

Here's what I know about PVC: The manufacturing of the stuff creates dioxins, which are leaked into the environment.  People who work in PVC factories frequently get throat and lung cancer from breathing the fumes.  People who live in areas surrounding the factories have a much higher incidence of cancer, and PVC companies spend huge amounts of money making settlements in order to keep the information from making the news.  There is no safe way to dispose of PVC.  Burning it creates nasty toxins.  If you just leave it in a landfill, it photo-degrades, releasing dioxins into the environment.  The stuff is evil.  And it is everywhere, because it is such a perfect material for things like air mattresses, raincoats, and shower curtains.

So, here I was, knowing all of this because I once watched a really great documentary called "Blue Vinyl", and with a queen-sized pile of moldy PVC serving as a new kind of home decor.  What is an obsessive-compulsive recycler to do? 
First, I began by cutting the seams of the mattress, along the sides.  I found that there were flaps inside holding the top and bottom together so that, while inflated, it would maintain a mattressy shape.  So, I cut these apart as well.
And, like other normal people, I saved each and every one of these clear flaps of pvc, because you never know when they might come in handy, right?

As it happens, one of my dogs has had some kind of stomach upset lately, and it has been pouring rain for days, and she therefore has opted to spew feces all over our covered back porch, which is the launching pad for the dog yard.  This porch tends to be decorated with all sorts of flotsam, with the dogs spending so much time there, and I had just finished spraying it down once again before I stared on my mattress deconstruction project.  As I cut the top surface away, I suddenly realized the practical purpose:
It is the perfect size for the porch, and will make future clean-ups much easier.  I folded the bottom segment and stored it for now.  I am thinking of using it as a booth floor at Cracked Pots, or a mat for my studio floor, or for putting down when I cut glass outside.  The sides of the mattress were also cut out, in one long strip about a foot wide.  I might use that to sew some handy waterproof totes.

I feel pretty triumphant for managing to keep this thing out of the waste stream....for now.  Unfortunately, this material will not last forever, and will probably make its way to the garbage can, little by little, despite my best intentions.  This is the problem with plastics.  We can recycle and reuse, but they do eventually get thrown out.  This is my second air mattress, and I will not buy another one.  They are so useful, and my daughter is begging me to replace it, but there has to be a better way.  We will be camping at the end of this month, and I really hate sleeping on the cold, lumpy ground.  I would love suggestions for an inexpensive, eco-friendly way to create a somewhat soft bed.  Feel free to send me ideas.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A very busy June...

My blogging has focused on the farm lately, but my studio work has been just as demanding.  Over Memorial Day Weekend, I finished grouting the 2.5' x 4' mosaic panel that I've been working on since March, which will be delivered tomorrow.  (The photo above is the top portion of the panel, featuring Mt. Rainier as seen from Federal Way, WA on a clear day.)

I knew that I would be barely making the deadline, but a guy stopped by my place on May 5th to ask if I could squeeze in another project.  He is part of a group that holds a race each year, and they will be cycling past my house on June 5th.  Each year they hire a local artist to create 12 creative, funky awards to give the winners of the race.  They have a tiny budget, and it was kind of insane to say yes, but I couldn't resist.  Each day in the studio, I would warm up by making one 6" x 6" plaque, and I just finished grouting them yesterday.  Each one is done onto scraps of wedi board given to me by my friend Frank, a top-notch tile installer, and I used all scrap glass and mirror.

This week, I'm preparing for a workshop I'll be teaching at Hexen Glass Studio (  I will be teaching how to use mosaic in the garden, discussing bases and adhesives for exterior use (which translates to many architectural applications as well).  Students will mosaic onto salvaged cement pieces, creating recycled garden ornaments.

On Monday the 7th, I'll be exhibiting at the Green Enterprise Conference near Elma.

Olympia Pediatrics is holding their open house on June 10th, celebrating their new clinic and the art that makes it stand apart from every other pediatric office in the area.  I was privileged to coordinate with two other artists; muralist Heather Taylor-Zimmerman and textile artist Janice Arnold.

Then on the 18th, the Federal Way Senior Center will hold its celebration and unveiling of the new art on their site, which also has an amazing community garden and a food bank. 

I'll be starting on a project for a private home next week; glass-on-glass mosaic cabinet doors that will feature irises and Western Tanagers, and will be lit from inside.  In addition, I'll be working on inventory for July's Cracked Pots Recycled Garden Art sale.  And I actually have several projects planned just for us, including our stair risers. 

So, I don't just run the chicken infirmary, chase goats, harvest mushrooms, tend bees, weed, plant, clean and parent.  I'm multi-dimensional!