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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