Garden update

Written by karen on May 1st, 2016

Challenges with the rodents continue, but a seed library meeting on Friday motivated me to double down and work harder on the garden. This weekend I replanted a bed of greens and covered it more securely (I hope). I also planted cover crop in two beds that were hit hard with rodent tunnels last fall, deciding to try to enrich the soil and not worry about what eats the plants. (And if this goes well, I may sneak in a few edible plants as things grow up.) You’d think the animals would be happy eating this and not bother the other things, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

We harvested our first few garlic as well. We only finished last year’s garlic about a month ago (and are finding store bought garlic to be quite inferior) so we are almost to the point of growing enough to last a whole year.


We are eating asparagus and strawberries from the garden, and the onions are looking very good.

I’m also realizing that the new greenhouse may be our best shot at food this summer. It was getting very hot in there last week (over 100 degrees, even when it was only in the 70s outside), so we made some adjustments — a new fan, shade cloth on the ceiling, and some nice new screen doors (thanks to the friend who originally had the greenhouse). It’s much better now.

I now have green beans, edamame, chard, radishes, and cucumbers growing in it. And just yesterday, lettuce germinated! (Yay…I didn’t know if the soil was cool enough.) Peppers and eggplants are also going in this week.

I am doing all this with the knowledge that this might not survive the hottest part of summer, but I am hopeful. Farming is indeed an act of faith.



The cussingest project ever

Written by karen on April 18th, 2016

Back in December, a friend of ours said he was getting rid of a small greenhouse and asked us if we wanted it. “Sure,” we said, especially with all the recent damage to our gardens from critters. A more sheltered environment sounded very appealing.

So in January, we went out to move this greenhouse. It was a very cold and windy day, and the greenhouse didn’t come down easy. It clearly wasn’t meant to be disassembled and reassembled. Also, the plastic material in the panels was beginning to fall apart. (Not coincidentally, the greenhouse was seven years old, which was the duration of the warranty.) The sound of the plastic panels breaking as we did this made me cringe, and by the end of the day, my hands and feet were numb with cold. Even taken apart, the parts barely fit in our truck bed, and we had to drive very slowly partly with Brad in the back.

This was the first of many times, we reconsidered the decision to proceed with this.

As with any construction here, we had to consider high winds, so the first thing we did was plan to pour a partial concrete slab to anchor the greenhouse to so it wouldn’t blow away. We also dug out the whole area that would be the interior beds in the greenhouse so we could filter all the dirt. (This is a standard part of making beds here because of all the rocks in our soil.) We also decided to put wire mesh hardware cloth about 6 inches below the floor of the beds to try to prevent rodents from tunneling in. All of this was quite a bit of work.


the site before we began


the dissembled greenhouse (ugh)


concrete done and screening down


filtering dirt

Next, we began putting together various pieces of the structure. Of course, being spring, we had some windy days during this and so had to use various bracing and hope for the best.

Along the way, more plastic broke, and it was evident that the roof needed to be completely replaced. We considered several options (the same corrugated polycarbonate material as the original manufacturer, sheet plastic, clear corrugated roofing material, etc.), and ultimately decided to go with clear corrugated. Though it wasn’t cheap, it was easy to work with and seems like it will be very durable. Eventually, we are likely to be replacing the material in the walls as well and may use the same material.

Four months from beginning to end, we finished it this weekend.

One concern we have is that the greenhouse may get too hot and kill what’s growing in it. We installed a new vent to try to forestall this and may put in additional screening and shade cloth as well.

For now, I am very eager to get things growing in here. It’s the time of the year for lots of new little seedlings to go in so the timing is great. Stay tuned for updates.




inside, including shelving


clear new roof


Off and running

Written by karen on April 8th, 2016

So our new farmers market started last week to great fanfare. We had great attendance and sold nearly everything we took. It’s a little early in the year for much from the garden so I took a lot of microgreens, bread, and other baked goods.


There were so many people there the first week that I wondered if anyone would come the next week. But then this week was just as good. A little different traffic pattern — a few less people and nearly everyone in the first 20 minutes or so — but we sold just as much. The community has shown great support.

This week I added dried beans, focaccia, and pizza dough to what we were selling. (Others are selling asparagus, but we’re opting to eat all of ours. :) One thing I’m seeing clearly is that prepared food sells faster than anything.

It will be good to have more produce available to sell as we get more into the summer.



Written by karen on April 4th, 2016

A few weeks ago, I saw an announcement on Twitter about an upcoming open house at Spaceport America. It was free, and we’d always wanted to visit, so we sent in for tickets.

For those who don’t know, the spaceport concept is to create a sort of airport for space travel. There are 10 spaceports in the country, and they are a part of the plant to privatize and commercialize space travel.

Spaceport America is about 4 hours from us in New Mexico, east of Truth or Consequence and west of White Sands. While the facility itself is state-owned, it’s main tenant and sponsor is Virgin Galactic. Other tenants include SpaceX and Google.

The open house was great. We saw the main hanger, which is an amazing building, and a training simulator of Virgin’s latest ship.

Interesting facts from our visit:

  • The huge 110,000 square foot hanger we were in (see pictures below) is LEED Gold certified. Very impressive.
  • There are both horizontal and vertical launch areas at the facility.
  • Spaceport benefits from a partnership with White Sands, giving them access to that protected airspace.
  • There are a number of revenue streams beyond the renting of space and construction of terminals for various space companies (“design your own spaceport.”). These include renting the facility out as a movie set and leasing it for events. (We learned all about this through a rather odd presentation by the Spaceport’s business development team. They seemed to have regarded everyone in the audience as potential customers.)
  • A lot of very rich (mostly older people) have pre-booked their tourist trips to space. There is no projected date for when these might happen, but it doesn’t seem like it will be any time soon.

And for those interested in a space-themed visit, this isn’t too far from the Very Large Array. There are guided daily tours of Spaceport available for a whopping $50.

After our Spaceport visit, we went to the hot spring spas in Truth or Consequences. (Yes, this town changed its name in the 1950s as a part of a contest sponsored by the game show.) They were fabulous and are highly recommended. We stayed at one on the banks of the Rio Grande, which had more water flowing than we’ve ever seen.



Garden update

Written by karen on March 20th, 2016

It’s been sunny and warm here in the days, which is motivating me to work on the garden. (Still in the 40s at night, and we had a frost last week that damaged the pomegranates though.)

Our garlic is looking better than ever this year.

DSC_2414 DSC_2411

The onions I put in a little over a month ago are doing well too.

This weekend, I planted lettuce, radishes, and green beans. The starts in the house (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) are thriving as well. And we’re harvesting asparagus.


Big news here is that we are starting a small farmers market in Portal. I don’t know how it will go (I expect more demand than supply), but I am committed to selling weekly through the end of summer. It starts Fri., April 1, so stay tuned for more updates on that.

portal farmers market flyer


Me, the human pin cushion

Written by karen on March 13th, 2016

Credit: Marnie Joyce (Note: This is not me. :)

Growing up in Ohio, I had terrible allergies. Then when I moved to California, my allergies abated. Over the last 7 years in Arizona, the allergies returned and have worsened over time. Last year was awful. Over the counter remedies and herbal potions have done little to help.

An acquaintance told me that he had found relief with acupuncture.

Those of you who know me know that I don’t like needles. When I went to Africa and needed a large series of shots, I had to get hypnotherapy to cope with it. Since then I’ve avoided shots of any kind.

But still, acupuncture seemed possible and was definitely more palatable than a visit to the doctor (something else I’ve avoided.)

So last week, on a whim and encouraged by Brad, I gave acupuncture a try. It was a little uncomfortable but overall not too bad. I was a little tense, but I didn’t pass out and got through it. (They did use very fine pediatric needles. :)

We’ll see if a) I keep up with this and b) it helps. Stay tuned.



Written by karen on February 14th, 2016

Several months ago, a friend here told me he was ordering onion sets and asked if I’d like to go in on an order. I’ve only grown small green onions before, but of course, I said yes.

Then last Friday, I got a call — the onions had arrived! How exciting.

So today, after pouring 10 loads of cement with Brad for the new greenhouse, I planted onions. The onions were a mix of short day onions — Texas 1015Y Super Sweet (yellow), Texas Early White, and Red Creole. I believe I planted about 120 of them. It was good to get my hands in the dirt again.

We’ll see how they turn out. This should be another crop that will last most of the winter.





Written by karen on February 10th, 2016

Today is one of the first really warm days this spring. It seems like it’s been a cold winter, and we are eagerly anticipating warmer temperatures and some quality time in the garden.

I’ve begun my starts in the house and am starting to think about what’s going to go into which bed.


We’ve also started clearing a space for a small new greenhouse.


I’m not deviating too much from last year’s garden, but I am planting a few new things — a new variety of tomato (Skyway, a large red tomato which is supposed to be nematode resistant and do well in heat), turnips, and shishito peppers (the last two are both things we love to eat).

Before we know it, asparagus will be popping up. We love those perennials.


Fav pics from 2015

Written by karen on January 6th, 2016

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from 2015.


A year of books

Written by karen on January 4th, 2016


A couple years ago I started doing a personal annual review in the style of Chris Guillebeau. Basically, it’s an end of year reflection on what went well and what didn’t over the year, followed up by setting some goals for the upcoming year. I’ve found it a useful process, especially as I’ve diversified the way I spend my time such that the normal professional measures don’t apply as much.

While I don’t publish all of this publicly, I did want to share one part this year.

Last year, I set a goal to read more. I didn’t have any idea how many books it would be reasonable for me to read in a year, but I set a goal of 50. Mid-year, I realized this was a pretty high goal that I most likely wouldn’t get close to. But then as the year went by, my reading rate accelerated, in no small part due to the fact that I was actually keeping track.

In the end, I read 51 books in 2015. The list is below, with those I’d especially recommend in bold. (And most of the books on the list are quite good; really, there are only a couple I wouldn’t recommend.)

Reading was one of several things I turned to this year when things weren’t going well otherwise. Other things included baking bread, gardening, sitting in the sun, walking, and writing letters. So when the depressing world news got to be too much or a conference call that had been difficult to schedule was cancelled at the last minute or someone said something mean or I just otherwise felt bummed, I tried to turn to one of these things. I think my overall health benefited from this.

And I read some great books.

  1. Everybody Matters by Mary Robinson
  2. Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman 
  3. The Importance of a Piece of Paper by Jimmy Santiago Baca
  4. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  5. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  6. Border Patrol Nation by Todd Miller
  7. A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
  8. The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
  9. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  10. Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather
  11. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
  12. Legal Research Explained by Deborah E. Bouchoux
  13. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
  14. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
  15. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  16. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
  17. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  18. How to be Both by Ali Smith
  19. To Animas With Love by Carol Smith
  20. Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
  21. The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith
  22. Perfect by by Rachel Joyce
  23. A Year and a Day on Just a Few Acres by Peter Larson
  24. The Stranger by Harlan Coben
  25. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler 
  26. The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
  27. Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Education by James A Beane
  28. The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw
  29. Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler
  30. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
  31. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
  32. The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
  33. Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  34. Cherry by Mary Karr
  35. The Fourth Hand by John Irving
  36. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
  37. Junkyard Dreams by Jeanette Boyer
  38. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet
  39. The Last Theorem by Arthur C Clarke and Frederik Pohl
  40. African Air by George Steinmetz
  41. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
  42. Tribes by Seth Godin
  43. The Last Juror by John Grisham
  44. In Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  45. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
  46. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
  47. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by  J. Ryan Stradal
  48. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  49. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
  50. To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron
  51. Let Me Explain You by Annie Liontas