Saturday, June 15, 2013

Everybody Loves a Good Story

I just read The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gotschall. The title caught my attention. We humans learn things more effectively if information—fictional or nonfictional—is shared in the form of a story or a game. That's one reason school is so boring; not enough storytelling going on. Factual information is no different than fictional information, it can be presented in a story format. We could argue that much of what is presented as history is actually fiction. But sidestepping that debate, even something as fascinating as history—a natural story—can be obliterated by pundits with stuffy presentations.

I'm interested in how to weave a good story. The Storytelling Animal gave several insights to the process, but also went down several loosely related tangents. Like how the human mind will fabricate stories from a limited amount of information in order to make sense of something that happened, or what dreams mean. Some of these tangents were interesting; some strayed farther from storytelling than was interesting for me. Gottschall addresses all areas of storytelling which includes eroticism. There may be some brief sections that are offensive to some individuals.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Double-decker Square Foot Garden Box

Root plants that need more depth

My square foot garden boxes are only six inches deep. For most plants that's enough soil as long as the plants have adequate space around them to grow. The beauty of square foot gardening is the grid system that divides your garden into one-foot squares. If you are planting carrots, which only need about one inch spacing between mature plants, you can put sixteen carrots in one square. If you are planting leaf lettuce you put four plants in a square. For a large vegetable like cabbage or cauliflower you only put one plant per square.

But what about root vegetables, like carrots, that are longer than six inches? If your soil only goes down six inches that will stunt growth. I've planted two squares of carrots in six-inch deep soil. I plan to harvest them when they are still small. We like the baby carrots we get at the store and I thought this would be like having baby carrots.

There is another way to solve this problem. You can build portable, double-decker square foot boxes. It's just like building a four-foot by four foot garden box only on a smaller scale. For a portable square, I felt like two inch by six inch lumber was too big and heavy so I used one inch by six inch lumber cut into one-foot lengths. Once you've built the portable boxes you just place them on top of individual squares in your garden, fill them with Mel's Mix (developed by Mel Bartholomew in the All New Square Foot Garden) and plant as you would in any other square. Because the double-decker boxes are portable, you just move the box to a new square when it's time to rotate crops.

Here's the square for the carrots
I made two portable squares and I'm using one for carrots and one for potatoes. The carrot square I filled with soil and planted sixteen carrots. For the potato square I actually scooped out some of the soil from the original square, planted the potato eyes and just covered them with soil. As the green plants break through the surface I will add more soil and continue to do so until the double-decker box is full. This is supposed to encourage a lot of root growth and the potatoes are part of the root system.

For the potatoes, no soil in the double-decker part yet
I'm excited to see how the double-decker boxes work out.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

We are what we eat; we are what we think.

We Are What We Eat

Over the past ten months I've learned first hand that what I eat determines what my body is made of. All the really unhealthy foods I used to feed my body have been replaced by the healthiest of foods: leafy greens, vegetables, beans, mushrooms, and fruit—lots of fruit.

Last Saturday I attended a library event in my community. Some health personnel from a local hospital were there providing basic health testing. So I sat down to see how I would do. For comparative purposes high blood pressure is defined as 140 / 90 and that's about where my blood pressure used to hover before I  changed what my body is made of. My blood pressure on Saturday was 114 / 76. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, mine used to be three to four times that, Saturday it was 162 mg/dL. Glucose, for a person who has eaten in the last two hours, should be less than 140, for a person fasting at least eight hours it should be less than 126, my glucose level was 97. And, I had eaten a large meal less than an hour before the test. Finally, I have now lost sixty-eight pounds. To say the least, my body has changed.

As good as all these indicators are, I believe they are only that, indicators. What I'm eating is changing the very make up of the cells that are my body. Not only is the body fat mostly gone, but what is left: muscles, bones, blood, brain, and skin are all changing; they are healthier, more resilient. This doesn't happen over night; I believe I will continue to feel the improvements for several years to come. I feel great now. I can hardly wait to see how I feel two years on.

I used to think there's no fighting genetics, if your genetic makeup is inclined toward high blood pressure and high cholesterol then that's your lot in life and you do the best you can with what you have. I still believe we have to do the best we can with what we have, but I've proven we can do a lot more than is realized, even by many within the medical profession. I just read an article by a medical doctor about blood pressure. His introductory remark was that opinions about blood pressure among health officials vary broadly. The medical profession seems mostly preoccupied with treating blood pressure. I believe high blood pressure is just a symptom of the problem. We can treat it with medications or solve the problem by removing the cause. Cutting salt from your diet and eliminating foods that cause accumulation of body fat will in many cases solve the blood pressure problem. And, the best part, after you go through detoxification, the foods you eat taste really good. Unfortunately, many doctors are trained to prescribe medication to address symptoms.

We Are What We Think

I just read the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman. As it turns out, how optimistic we are has a major impact on our wellbeing: physical, mental, economic, and yes, spiritual. Optimism determines how likely we are to persist on a difficult course especially when the odds seem stacked against us. But false optimism will not work, and even a genuine optimistic outlook, by itself, does not bring the desired results. Seligman articulates his case for optimism—tempered with a level of pragmatism—very well. Optimistic people tend to see their problems as originating from external sources and being temporary; pessimistic people tend to see their problems as originating from internal sources and being permanent. Pessimists can justifiably change their thinking. All problems are not caused by the pessimist nor are the problems permanent.

Even though he has dedicated his life's work to understanding optimism and depression, he has the wisdom and common sense to realize that what brings meaning to life is a sense of commitment to something greater than ourselves. When we have that, optimism can be the catalyst that keeps us going.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Building a Square Foot Garden Trellis

All Stops Are Out

The threat of spring frost in Utah is over by about the last week of May. I have been taking the covers off the garden beds during the day for about two weeks. Now I can leave them off at night too. The peas we planted on March 30th are about seven inches tall and their long, delicate tendrils are reaching out looking for something to attach to. It's time to build trellises for the vines that would otherwise spread out across the ground without something to climb.

When it comes to gardening and creative ideas Mel Bartholomew is the pro. In the All New Square Foot Garden he suggests putting plants that will need a trellis along one side of the garden box and, if you live in the northern hemisphere, to use the north side of the box so the shadows cast by these plants will not shade other sun-loving plants in the box. Here is a trellis he features in the book.

What You Need to Build a Trellis

For one trellis you need two pieces of 3/8 inch diameter rebar in two foot lengths, two pieces of 1/2 inch diameter electrical conduit in ten foot lengths, two right-angle connector joints for the electrical conduit, and nylon netting to string across the frame. I found everything I needed at a home improvement store except the netting. In my area, the only place I found netting was in the garden department at WalMart.

Rebar at each corner, 2 five-foot lengths of pipe shown on the ground,  connectors and four-foot length of pipe resting on the box
Connectors for pipe

Building the Trellis

The trellis is easy to build. Cut one of the lengths of conduit into two five-foot long pieces; these are the vertical sides of the trellis. Cut a four-foot long piece from the other piece of conduit; this will be the crossbar at the top. You'll need a hacksaw to cut the conduit. If you don't have one you may be able to have someone at the home improvement store cut the conduit for you.

The rebar is the foundation for the trellis. Outside the box where you want your trellis, pound the rebar into the ground at each end until only about six inches is still visible. Slide one five-foot piece of conduit onto each rebar then connect the four-foot cross piece using the right-angle joints. The only thing left is to cut the netting to the appropriate size and tie it to the frame. 

Now you have a nice-looking, sturdy frame for your peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and other climbing vegetables to grow on. By keeping these vines off the ground you use less space and you protect the vegetables or fruit from insects. Even though this frame is quite sturdy, Mel says it will need additional support if you are growing vines with heavy fruit.

Here's wishing you the best of success in your garden. May your vegetables bask in abundant sunlight.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Here's To Your Health and to Your Self-esteem

The Food Lover

There was a guy that loved to eat. What could be better than eating really tasty foods? When he was at a restaurant, he was there for the food not the ambience.

He believed good tasting food didn't come from a package and so he would take the time and effort to make recipes from scratch. He had a subscription to America's Test Kitchen. He followed food blogs, and he liked seeing tasty-looking food dishes on Pinterest. In a pinch though, if it was late or he was tired, he wasn't opposed to eating prepackaged food. 

Over the years he slowly put on pounds. When he was out and saw another guy with a big tummy he would ask his wife, "Am I as big as that guy?" She tried to be kind. Finally he had to admit he was overweight, really overweight. He was not very physically active, it was too hard to pack all that weight around. Getting up and down took real effort.

You Shouldn't Have to Starve

He really believed you shouldn't have to feel like you're starving all the time to lose weight and keep it off. He knew any diet that required counting calories or keeping track of food consumption would not work over time. With those diets the dieter usually has a weight loss goal. If the goal is reached—and frequently it isn't—the dieter stops worrying about keeping track and goes back to old eating habits. The end result is always the same; the weight comes back. He didn't want that to happen.

A lifestyle change was what he was looking for. He reduced the amount of highly processed snack foods he ate, and he tried to cut back on his use of sugar. He managed to lose twenty-five pounds and felt good about that, but he had a long way to go and he had stalled. He wasn't really losing more weight.

Then he came across the book Eat to Live, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Dr. Fuhrman recommends natural foods and for the most part eaten in their natural state: leafy greens, vegetables, beans, mushrooms, and fruit. He recommends a strict six-week program to get your body off all unhealthy foods and to break addictions.  This was more radical than what the food lover was looking for, but he was sick of being fat. This book gave hope. He figured he could do the six-week program and then decide if he wanted to stay with it.

No Starving, Great Eating

The results were immediate and significant. At the end of the six weeks he had lost another twenty-five pounds. Best of all he felt great and he wasn't starving! As his taste buds recovered from years of being subjected to unhealthy foods and too much salt and sugar, food was tasting better all the time.

Hello out there. I know I'm getting visitors to my website, but I don't know if anyone is really reading it or if they just land, see what it is and fly. If you got this far, I figure you're reading it.  I'd love to hear from you. The story I just told is about myself and it's true.

Building Confidence

The point is, I'm losing a lot of weight and my self-esteem is improving. I've learned that self-esteem comes from accomplishing things for yourself. It comes from learning to be self-sufficient. So I'm also growing a garden, not just any garden, a square foot garden. I have five times the number of vegetables in my garden this year than usual, using less than a third of the space. Vegetables that will provide much of what I eat throughout the summer and into the fall.

I'm excited, but it doesn't stop there. I'm taking back my life. I feel more independent. I have cut out TV; I did that several years ago and what an improvement. I spend more time studying and I'm learning wonderful things. The more independent I become the more I want to do things for myself. I especially don't want to rely on the government to take care of me or solve the problems in our society. Independent thinkers, millions of them, are where the solutions to our problems lie, not with bureaucrats or power hungry politicians.

I'm looking for like minded people. As I learn and grow, as I become more independent, I look more closely at those who seek to govern and the direction they are taking our society.  I believe this is true of all independent thinkers. But as individuals we have no chance of taking back control of our society. As millions of independent thinkers we will have the power to change the direction of our society, regardless of what country we live in, and whether we all believe exactly the same way.

The Garden

We harvested the first vegetable from our garden: radishes. The radishes are for my wife; I'm not a big fan, but we all had to try one. It was a fun event.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Healthy Living and Becoming More Self-sufficient

My Garden

Well the frost came and the frost won, kind of. My garden boxes were covered with canvas tarps and I still had damage to my cold-intolerant plants. The eggplant and spaghetti squash are goners. The tomatoes may survive. Their roots look undamaged and there are a few tiny leaves, but the four inches of beautiful green growth is gone.

Before: Look at the tomato in the lower right corner.

After: The same plant, all the top growth is dead.

I know there are ways to protect cold-intolerant plants from frost, but I still haven't figured it out, short of building a greenhouse or waiting to plant until all chance of frost is past. I want to plant these cold-intolerant plants earlier for a longer harvest season. I know a Wall 'O Water works because I used some several years ago, but they are hard to get off the plants once the cold weather is over and they're heavy and would smash the soil in my garden box, something you don't want to do in a square foot garden. I'll have to experiment with this.

I had two pepper plants: one green, one red. The green pepper is probably a casualty, but the red pepper looks just great. All my other cold-tolerant plants came through the frost without any problem.

The pepper that survived.

The green pepper, it may have a chance. Those are peas in the background.

Self Confidence

Being in control of my diet, more in control of my personal health, and succeeding at growing a large variety of healthy foods is a huge boost to my self-confidence. I am doing this. I'm cultivating the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that will make up my diet. I know exactly what went into the food I will be eating and there's no long list of ingredients I can't pronounce. Ingredients whose base terms sound like derivatives of sugar and salt. I'm learning as I go. I'm doing my little part to improve the environment. And, most important of all, I feel closer to nature. I'm developing a greater respect for the earth and a desire to live in harmony with it. Psychologists and feel-good coaches tell us if we are self-confident we will be more successful. I think that is turned around. When we are successful at doing something we feel more self-confident.

Healthy Living

Shouldn't foods that are healthy for our bodies taste good? Genetically speaking, I think our bodies want to be in optimum condition so they should thrive on healthy foods. That means healthy foods should taste good. And I've learned they do!  But before I could discover this I had to break my addiction to unhealthy foods. I started out strictly following the healthy eating program explained in Eat To Live by Doctor Joel Fuhrman. It was probably about two weeks before I began to notice healthy foods tasted good and were satisfying.

In hindsight, I realize I was being overpowered by my addiction to bad foods; my taste buds were desensitized. Now that I've been through detox, healthy foods taste really good. I still have cravings for foods I was addicted to—addictions never go away completely—but the cravings are less frequent now. On occasion I have given in to a craving and eaten some unhealthy food. It still tastes good in my mouth, but how I feel afterwards isn't worth the fleeting high. I give in to those urges a lot less frequently.

Addiction is a strong word, and the right word. Addiction means our thinking and our senses are out of balance. Addiction leads to over consumption of food; our bodies crave addictive foods even when we have recently eaten. Dr. Fuhrman says true hunger doesn't crave certain foods; addictions crave certain foods. I think most Americans are addicted to unhealthy foods. I have no statistics or recent polls to support that, although I'm sure there is information available. I don't need them, when I'm out around people, my eyes tell me it's true.

I visited a website that was touting a weight loss program. It had a catchy little animated sequence accompanied by audio narrative (all very professionally done). The narrator explained how, using his program, you could eat some of what he called the bad foods and still lose weight. He talked as if the bad foods were the only foods that really taste good. As if good foods are like taking bad tasting medicine. Isn't that backwards?

Although I eat mostly leafy greens, vegetables, beans, and fruit, I'm not a vegetarian. I do have a few small portions of meat a week—not every day. It's usually chicken, turkey, or fish. To me healthy food is fresh, unprocessed food. The more processed a food is the more unhealthy it is. Often what makes a particular food unhealthy is what we put on it. You can eat a completely vegetarian diet and still eat a lot of unhealthy foods. Sugar, salt, and refined white flour top my list of unhealthy foods.

I prefer to eat my vegetables fresh and uncooked, but when I do make soup or cook vegetables I try to use my Sun Oven. I love my Sun Oven. It uses no energy except the sun and the food cooked in it is always good. I'll have more to share about my Sun Oven in coming blog posts.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ahhh! Save the Square Foot Garden

The first big test

There is an alert for a hard frost in my area tonight, May 1, 2013. I hope my tomatoes and peppers survive the night.

Here are my plants two days ago.

Spinach on the left radishes on the right.

Green pepper upper left, spaghetti squash lower left, and a Roma and cherry tomato lower right

Red pepper upper left, peas lower left, and two Early Girl tomatoes lower right
Last night, April 30, 2013, it got down to around 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are the covers I had over the boxes, the one on the right blew off during the night. I went out early this morning and put the cover back on.

This morning we celebrated the first day of May with a spring snow storm; it was typical, by 9:30 a.m. there was no sign of snow, but the cold left its mark. The tomatoes in the box where the cover blew off were looking wilted, but the pepper plant looked ok. In the box that didn't lose its cover, the pepper plant was looking wilted. The tomatoes looked at least better than the ones that were fully exposed to the cold.

The cover material is see through, but the manufacturer says it will protect against frost. After last night I wasn't convinced. So, with freezing temperatures in the forecast, I'm taking extra precautions tonight. I left the covers in place and put tarps over them. 

For the third box, I took the cover off and laid down a plastic tarp. This box is almost completely planted with vegetables that are supposed to tolerate the cold. All the plants are still quite small and shouldn't be damaged by the tarp. There's a little space under tarp because of the wooden grid.

At least with my square foot garden boxes the area is small enough I can easily cover them. 

My fruit trees are another problem.

All the trees are in bloom except one peach tree that always blooms later than the others. The trees cover a much bigger area than the garden boxes. I put sheets over parts of each trees, but I have no idea if that will help at all. Here are my fruit trees.



Every year freezing temperatures get to the fruit trees. Some years blossoms survive and I've had a good yield; some years I've lost everything. Last year I got no fruit from my favorite apple tree. Tomorrow brings a brighter dawn, I'll see if any of this paid off.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Square foot gardening - Soil mix and what really makes a garden a square foot garden

Weight Loss

I've lost sixty pounds! I got on the scale this morning and my weight has fallen below 200 pounds  (And, for the record my blood pressure this weekend was 103 over 75.) While most people my age—let's just call it over sixty—are gaining a few pounds each year and have resigned themselves to weight creep as a natural part of growing old. I have countered that.

I have my body back. I feel great, more independent, and healthier. Although I still have forty pounds to go, I know how to lose weight and I can do it. Now I want to learn how to grow the foods that help me lose weight. That's why I'm so excited about square foot gardening.

Vegetables In Our Garden

On March 30th we planted radishes, carrots, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, peas, and green onions in our first square foot garden box. I've never planted this early before. My garden is too wet to till on March 30th, but with Mel's mix I don't have to till the ground. Mel's Mix is always light and fluffy and ready for planting. Today is April 26th, we should have radishes in about two weeks and two varieties of lettuce within two more weeks. Radishes aren't my favorite vegetable, but my wife likes them. I'm going to eat a few when they are small; I'm sure they will be good in a salad. The other vegetables have all sprouted. I'll be harvesting by the time I'd usually just be planting.

Mel's Mix - from the All New Square Foot Gardening Book

There are only three ingredients in Mel's Mix:  compost (with at least five different ingredients in it), peat moss, and course vermiculite. The mix is equal parts of each: 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. Sounds easy doesn't it? But this part was a little tricky. Compost and peat moss are carried at garden centers or home improvement centers. Vermiculite, especially the course type, may be harder to find. I found some at a large nursery. Later when I was wandering around a big-box home improvement store I saw a couple of dusty bags on a top shelf in the back corner of the garden department. Don't confuse vermiculite with perlite; you need course vermiculite.  Here is what I bought.

The ingredients are forrest humus, chicken manure, worm castings,  bat quano, gypsum,  kelp meal, oyster shell, etc.  Delightful stuff! and plants love it.
You can make your own compost, but that takes a while. I didn't want to wait to start my garden so I bough compost. The close up above shows the list of ingredients.

Each package tells how many cubic feet are in the bag. Unfortunately each bag has a different volume so you can't take one bag of each and mix them together and be done with it. You have to do some figuring to get the proportions right. And the peat moss is compressed so when you open it up and fluff it out it doubles in size; you used the fluffed stuff when measuring.

The compost was the smallest bag so I used it as a measuring container. I dumped the compost out on a big tarp then filled the compost bag with vermiculite and dumped it on the tarp. I did the same for the peat moss making sure to break up the compacted chunks before they went in the measuring bag. With all three ingredients on the tarp I pulled one side of the tarp over the top like I was going to tip the whole thing over, but I stopped before the mixture spilled onto the grass. Then I took the opposite side of the tarp and did the same thing. So the ingredients rolled around on the tarp. It didn't take long to have them thoroughly mixed together. The I slid the tarp up to the garden box and actually did pull the tarp until the mixture rolled into the box.

I built a four foot by four foot garden box and per Mel Bartholomew's instructions—more at my post— it is six inches deep. If the garden box were one foot deep it would take sixteen cubic feet to fill it (4 ft x 4 ft x 1 ft), but since the box is only six inches deep you need half that, eight cubic feet, to fill the box.

Mel's Mix is great. It's full of nutrients that plants love and it really holds a lot of water. The soil stays moist and creates a perfect environment where vegetables can sprout and grow.

A Square Foot Garden

Using this system, you really do garden in square feet. This is important because it keeps you from over planting. With traditional gardening you make rows and plant your seeds. I always had great plans for planting part of a row with something like carrots and staggering the planting so the carrots didn't all mature at the same time. But with row planting techniques—sprinkling the seeds along the row—the seeds are so tiny, I'd end up planting a whole package before I got very far down the row. That's a lot of carrots! I might use another seed pack and plant more a few weeks later, but by then my interest was already waning because I knew I was going to be out there on my hands and knees thinning the crop a few weeks later. And by then I'd be combatting weeds too.

With the square foot garden it's completely different. Here is what my square foot garden looks like before I put in the soil. I used one inch lath strips connected with zip ties to make the grid.

The grid is removable. I took it off before I filled the box with Mel's Mix. Then I put the grid back; it stays in place through the entire growing season. Each square foot is like its own little garden. You plant a different vegetable or flower in each square. Depending on the vegetable, you may have from one to sixteen plants in a square. For large plants like cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes (vine type only), cauliflower, peppers, or kale you have one plant per square. For small vegetables like radishes, carrots, or green onions you have sixteen plants per square. For medium vegetables like spinach, beets, or onions you can put nine to a square. And for some what larger plants like leaf lettuce, Swiss Chard, or arugula you put four plants per square.

The great advantage of a four foot square box is you can reach into it from the edges; every square is accessible without stepping into the box. Once you have the Mel's Mix in the garden box you should never step on the mix. Next up planting vegetables and protecting them from the cold.

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Square Foot Gardening - Building the Garden Boxes

Before I get into square foot gardening, I just have to say something about my diet. When I was addicted to unhealthy foods I think my taste buds became desensitized. I was always putting salt or sweetener on the foods I ate, as well as other spices. Then I read Dr. Joel Fuhrman's book Eat to Live and of course he discourages the use of extra salt and sugar or sweeteners. He would talk about salad and vegetables as being delicious. I have to admit I had my doubts. But I wanted to loose weight and was willing to give it a try.

This is a lifestyle change for me, not a temporary diet. So I made a concerted effort to reduce the amount of salt, sugar, and other sweeteners in the foods I eat. And surprise! As my taste buds become more sensitive, the natural foods I eat taste so much better. Now I get excited about the flavors in my salad and that's important because salad is the foundation of what I eat. I'm not talking about just leafy greens—though I've discovered many different kinds and most of them are good, it's carrots, artichokes, cucumbers, peas, edamame, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and beans—all types of beans; they all tastes so good. Even cauliflower and broccoli taste good. I don't smother my salad with a heavy dressing either. I use a small amount of olive oil and vinegar or an O and V-based commercial dressing. That's it.

As good as salad is, the real flavor sensation is fruit. When I bite into an apple or an orange or a banana or a piece of pineapple my taste buds are overwhelmed by the flavor. Frequently I find myself thinking, Wow! This is so good. The flavor is so distinct, so sweet. And it isn't just the first bite. I might eat two apples and it's like an absolute flavor festival right up to the last bite. Dr. Fuhrman is right, the food is delicious. I never would have guessed my taste buds were so desensitized.

This is why I get excited about my square foot garden. Everything tastes better when it's fresh, and it's hard to get fresher than from your own garden. In The All New Square Foot Garden, Mel Bartholomew explains all about how to build the garden squares and what to fill them with. He's very clear about what to do. Get his book or borrow it from the library. What I want to share is my experience building the garden squares and using Mel's system.

Building the garden boxes was fun and easy. That I was excited about doing it probably helped, but really building the boxes wasn't hard. You use two inch by six inch by eight foot long boards. For one box you need only two boards. I had the lumber yard cut the eight foot long boards into four foot lengths. My boxes are four feet square. You can make the boxes in rectangles if that meets your needs. You also need wood screws that are at least two and a half inches long.

As you can see from the picture the garden box is just a box you can place on the ground. You don't have to dig into the ground. Because the boards are long and awkward, I had my wife help me build the boxes. I put three screws through the width of the first board (the board at the bottom of the picture) and into the end of the second board. To keep the first board from splitting, because I'd be going across the wood grain with the screws, I drilled holes in the board before I put in the screws. You don't have to drill holes in the second board because the screws go in to that board with the grain. Once I drilled the holes in the first board I just put the two boards together and screwed in the screws. I also put black garden mesh underneath my box (not black plastic). It isn't necessary, but I had some available so I attached it to the bottom with a staple gun. Hopefully it will help keep weeds from growing up through the soil I'm going to put in the box.

The next step will be to make the soil, called Mel's Mix, to go in the box. You don't use any of the dirt from your garden. And then divide the box into sixteen square feet.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

I'm Shedding Pounds and Feeling Great

A New Direction

In the last nine months I have lost fifty pounds; needless to say, I'm thrilled. I'm following Dr. Joel Fuhrman's diet plan from his book Eat to Live. This is a lifestyle change for me, not a diet.

For comparative purposes here are pictures of me in 2005 and in April 2013. I'm not the most handsome guy in either picture, but at least now I'm not so fat.

Sheesh, even my eyelids were fat.

You are what you eat. We've all heard the saying. I was overweight; something was out of balance. I finally had to admit that what I was eating was the problem. Dr. Fuhrman's plan has worked for me. I can live eating this way. I don't have to count calories, or portions. I eat as much as I want of good foods and my hunger is satisfied. I am eating much larger amounts of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit than I ever have before. I have not changed my exercise regimen, which is low-moderate activity. Now that I've lost weight I do feel like doing more things. I will increase my activity level, but I didn't have to do so to loose weight; the lose was strictly from a dietary change.

With my new eating habits, my backyard garden has moved up on the priority scale. I've always had a vegetable garden, but over the years my luck at growing different vegetables hasn't been the best. Partly because as summer heats up I get tired of all the work and the weeds get the best of me. But also, I've struggled just to get different vegetables to sprout and grow.

Two weeks ago my wife and I attended a class at our local library on square foot gardening. The things we learned are so counter to traditional row gardening it's astounding; square foot gardening gives us hope for a garden like we have never had before and with considerably less work—I hope. Square foot gardening is the brain child of Mel Bartholomew. His book All New Square Foot Gardening is a great guide.

So, I'm taking this blog in a new direction. My goal is to lose another fifty pounds. I intend to use my garden as a major source of the leafy greens and vegetables I eat. That's a big order and one that I have yet to achieve. I will chronicle my weight loss and my garden success on this blog.

Dr. Fuhrman's plan is based on eating mostly leafy greens, vegetables, beans, and fruit, and on getting back to eating foods in their natural state as opposed to the highly processed foods that we are constantly bombarded with in the media and that get the most prominent position on shelves at the grocery store. Everybody has an opinion about what healthy eating means.  Even the experts differ wildly about what makes up a healthy diet. Just look at the number of diet plans and healthy cooking books on the market. There may be other ways to loose weight; I'm doing this. In addition to my weight loss, I will also keep a log of my blood pressure level, cholesterol levels (total, good, and bad cholesterol), and triglyceride level. Few will dispute results.

On December 8, 2012, my blood pressure was systolic 141 over diastolic 75; high blood pressure is defined as systolic above 139 and diastolic above 89. On March 30, 2013, my blood pressure was 98 over 74. I can't remember my blood pressure ever being this low, not even as a young man in the military and in fairly good condition. I have taken blood pressure medications most of my adult life; both of these readings are influenced by that. I hope to be off medications after my next medical exam.

My last blood test was on August 17, 2012, about two weeks after I started my new-eating lifestyle. My cholesterol readings were: total 137, bad 72, and good 29; acceptable levels are total of less than 200, bad between 70 and 100, and good above 40 ( that's for males, for females it's above 50). My triglycerides were 178; acceptable is less than 150. I still need my good cholesterol up and my triglycerides down, but for me, this is a really good report. Previous blood tests have always come back with all my numbers on the wrong side of acceptable benchmarks, and some of them way over the mark. After a mere two weeks on this diet my numbers showed significant improvement, even though I still have a ways to go.

As I considered this lifestyle change I wondered if I could be happy eating a diet of almost entirely leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit. Dr. Fuhrman suggests giving his diet a six-week test. At the end of the test period I had lost about twenty-five pounds, I felt much better, and I learned that, with a lot of variety, I liked the diet and could follow it. After nine months I quite enjoy this way of eating and I've gained an appreciation for many leafy greens I had never eaten before. I still haven't tried dandelion greens, but I will.

During the six-week test period I went through a withdrawal stage. I didn't realize how addicted I was to bad foods A food addiction is every bit as real as other addictive substances. I've kicked my addiction, but I have to admit I still get a craving for certain foods. It isn't very often though and with a lot less intensity. When I get a craving I eat a piece of fruit and that satisfies my craving; in fact, I enjoy it more than whatever I'm craving. I know because early on I'd give in occasionally and eat the bad food (not during the six-week test though). That really made me feel worse, physically and psychologically.

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