Thursday, July 2, 2015

The New Adventure

I promised I'd link you all up to my new blog once it went live, so here it is! If you missed the last post about why I'm starting a new blog, check out my previous post! That has my probably long winded explanation as to why I'm starting this new chapter in my writing.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you'll follow me on this new adventure!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Endings and New Beginnings

I graduated from college a little over three weeks ago.

It's still really weird to say. It still doesn't really even feel real. It probably won't feel real until fall hits and I don't go back to classes like I have for the last sixteen years of my life. But a little over three weeks ago, I walked across a stage with 6 of the other Horticulture graduates, shook the hand of the dean and my Plant Genetics professor, and just like that my undergraduate career was over.

Now what?

That's the question I've been asking myself for the last three weeks. I went back to my hometown for a while to help my family out with my sister's high school graduation among other things so I've had a lot of time to sit and mull that question over. And I've realized that, at this point, I don't know. I don't know what's next. And right now, I think that's okay. This summer, I'll be working part time as a gardener at a country club until anything full-time (either in hort or in some other field) rolls around. Otherwise I'll just be figuring out this new part of my life that is, frankly, sorta freaking me out right now.

This last semester was incredibly hard. There were points where I didn't think I'd graduate on time or even make it through the semester with the last shreds of my sanity. Thankfully, I've done both. But now that it's over, I think my brain needs some chill out time.

So what becomes of my blog? I've realized that maintaining a blog titled "The College Gardener" doesn't make a whole lot of sense once the author is no longer college. This blog has been with me since the beginning of my foray into horticulture and I've become so fond of writing here. But I think that now that college is over, it's time to move on to something different. But I definitely don't mean I'm going to stop blogging. On the contrary, I hope to blog more. But I've decided to retire this site and start up a new one, with a new name and a new platform. I've been working on it for the past few weeks and it's almost ready. Rest assured I'll be posting the link here and on my other social media outlets for everyone to find.

The new blog is going to be a bit different from this one. I'm hoping to focus a little more on my writing instead of simply relaying current events and projects like I did on this blog. It will also be on much broader of topics. Gardening and horticulture will still be large elements, but my passions for food and nature will not be ignored as much on the new blog. So look for that coming very soon.

So, for my penultimate post, I would just like to send a "Thank You" to anyone out there who has ever read this blog. Some of you may never see this thank you, but I don't mind. Doesn't matter if you've only stopped by once or if you've read every post (those of you who have, please let me know so I can thank you properly!!). You all have made this a spectacular journey.

Much Love,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring is Here!

One day it was winter and the next it wasn't. Just as winter was starting to become unbearable, we were hit with rising temperatures into the 50s and even very, very low 60s. It was like the universe answered all of the north's silent (and not so silent) prayers for spring. The warmth is making me even more excited to get done with my degree and enjoy a summer of growing food, working (hopefully!), and hanging out in the Twin Cities. 

Sunshine and 60 degrees on campus.

One exciting, new piece of life is that I've signed on as a member of Southeast Como's FairShare Farm! FairShare has a really neat model that allows members to pay a small, one-time fee, work a few set hours per week at the farm, and then receive a portion of every harvest. No one has their own individual plot, but all the plots are shared and rotated every year in keeping with good crop rotations. So it's somewhat like a CSA and a community farm smooshed into one. I'm just excited to be working with others who share my passion for gardening and meeting people from my neighborhood at the same time. 

One of the old grain towers near my house.

Otherwise, things are pretty normal. I'm heading home to Michigan for spring break on Saturday, leaving my roommates to have fun in the Twin Cities without me. But it'll be great to have a relaxing week of sleeping and taking care of myself. I'll also be helping out my dad who's having surgery on his knee while I'm home.

Once I get back, it's full steam ahead on seed-starting. The only thing I have going right now are perennial, native, pollinator friendly seed mixes started in some makeshift greenhouses (juice containers with holes poked in them) sitting outside. Since they don't mind the cooler temps, I've left them to generally fend for themselves with the occasional watering. I didn't want to start anything else until after spring break because I didn't want to leave newly-started seeds on their own for eight days... But I'm planning on some small space gardening at my own house as well as having things to grow at FairShare. I have some dry beans that I want to grow simply for seed-saving purposes (with the couple of beans I have, I wouldn't be able to grow enough to eat), as well growing some mini-bell peppers in pots for the ledge outside. I have several tomato varieties I'll probably offer to start for my family members as well. 

The last project I have are some perennials that I grew from cuttings in plant production last semester. I have some rugosa roses, a hydrangea, a mum and a pretty crispy-looking cold-hardy hibiscus (don't know if that one has made it...). I attempted overwintering them in our cooler stairway area and once it warms up even more, I'm going to set them outside, throw on some fertilizer and see if they come back. 

I'll probably have a seed-starting post up eventually, but this semester has been way more crazy than I thought. Plant genetics has been tricky and keeping up with it is requiring tons of work. But I just have to keep it up until the beginning of May...

Hope you all are enjoying the lovely spring weather, wherever you are!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Grow Your Food and Eat It Too

Now that my semester is up and running more smoothly, I've been given a few seconds to write a blog update (finally!) about what I've been up to lately.

The first large portion of my time has been taken up by applying for jobs. It's like having a whole other class with the time and effort I've been putting into searching for openings, writing cover letters and submitting applications. I don't want to go into too much detail about how everything is going, but overall I'm feeling positive about the process as a whole.

The second large portion of my time is, obviously, classes. This semester has felt pretty surreal so far simply because it's my last one. As you might've read in my last post, I have two classes with labs (genetics and aquaponics), a cooking class, and an online sustainable agriculture class (that has yet to start). The cooking class has turned out to be one of the most interesting as I've never studied the human consumption side of food past selling it to them at a farmers market stand. I'm excited that I'm finally learning a whole other side to the food system from the perspective of a consumer and cook, than just a producer/grower. Just a few classes and weeks worth of reading has started to change my outlook on food. Because of my work on an organic vegetable farm, I've long been of the opinion that one should eat more locally, include more whole vegetables in their diets and try to understand where their food comes from. But now I'm starting to add things to that philosphy that don't just benefit the environment, but also benefit my health. Changing my normal pasta, rice and other wheat products from refined to whole-wheat is something I'm slowly starting to do. As I run out of the refined products that I've subsisted on, I'm starting to replace them with the new products.

One of my cooking challenges, a meal I usually eat with proportions as set out
by the Harvard Healthy Plate guidelines.

These fixes probably seem like no-brainers for a lot of you. But the fact is, many people my age eat white rice, white bread, white pasta, you name it simply because it seems like the "normal" type of those products to eat. Most of us grew up eating it. I mainly ate wheat bread growing up (thanks Mom!) so that was never an issue for me, but when it came to other products like pasta and tortillas, I didn't really give it much thought as I grabbed that white flour tortilla bag off the shelf at the grocery store. I've been reading some pretty interesting things for class that made me realize that I grew up in the "low-fat" era. The USDA and other health officials started the "Fat is Bad" trend, so we started eating more carbs. I, and the rest of my generation, are the product of that. But learning not all fat is bad is another part of this class. Fat from fish, olive oil, and nuts is a great thing to have in your diet.

Probably the most interesting thing I've read so far is the free first chapter of a book called "Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy" which calls out the failings of the USDA's food pyramid and, right away, debunks some of the myths we've been living with in our food system for my entire life. In short, the food pyramid leaves out some key information that we have done without for years. An example of this is the three servings of dairy per day to combat the low amount of calcium that Americans consume. The truth is, most Americans get more calcium per day than they need and there are cheaper, more effective ways to supplement calcium if you're someone who doesn't get enough. The fact that we're eating too much dairy is somewhat scary to me because I drink a lot of milk. Granted, I drink skim milk which is much better for a person than whole, or 2%, but I always thought that my high milk intake was a good thing. I grew up being told that. So now that I'm reading this classes literature, I'm not so sure.

See the dilemmas? I invite you to read it for yourself and see what you think. I certainly had a few mindset shifts after reading this and several other articles. You can find the link here. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Final Semester

Today I started my last semester of college. Pretty crazy looking back over this blog and realizing how long it's actually been since I started writing. I'm going to have to really push myself to power through this semester then I'll be officially done with school. I'm also in the process of big-kid job hunting, so that's a whole other new element to life right there. I'm only going to bore you with a post about my classes today, as I do at the beginning of every new semester.

My class load is relatively light this semester, due mostly to the fact that I don't need many more classes or credits to graduate. Technically I've had enough credits to graduate for a while now, but have not completed several of the required classes for my major or minor. 

The only class I've had so far is my Aquaponics course. This course is designed to be an experiential learning course and it's the first time the University has ever offered it. Hopefully one outcome of this course will be a publication, most likely in ebook form, that has results of group experiments that will be conducted during the course of the semester. We'll be trying several different types of aquaponics set-ups so hopefully I'll have a blog post or two about those in the future.

The second regular class I have is Plant Genetics. This one, frankly, scares me a little. It's one of the more difficult of the Hort courses at this school and, on top of everything, I really don't think I'll be using the things I learn in it once I'm done with the class. Since I'm more interested in the human aspect of horticulture and am in no way intending on breeding plants, this isn't really something I'm looking forward to. But we'll see how it goes. I'm trying not to be terribly negative about it since I haven't even gone to the class yet.

My third class, Intro to Sustainable Agriculture, is an online course I'm taking solo. It's the final course needed for my Sustainable Agriculture minor and, thankfully, the professors made an exception for me to complete it online because I wasn't able to take it during the semester it was offered (it conflicted with a course required for my Horticulture major). My guess is that it will be a lot of reading and writing reflections, which I can handle no problem. 

The last class is my one-credit cooking lab I'm taking through the Food Science department. It's called Cooking on a College Budget and, even though I'll be leaving college in May, knowing how to cook on a budget will be handy for years after. This is really my "fun class" since it's not required that I take it for any reason. I'm simply doing it for my own enjoyment. 

And that's a brief rundown. I'll probably have plenty of posts about classes later. I'll also be posting lots of pictures and short observations to Instagram and Twitter so be sure to check those out!

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

A Northern Cardinal in the yard. One of my favorite backyard birds.

Now that I've returned to the land of snow and cold, I've had a bit of time to think on New Year's Resolutions. I've never been good at these. Most years, I don't even make any, or they're very generic. A few of the ones I came up with this year are pretty generic or easily attainable as well, but I like them all the same.

1. Taking time out of the day to do something calming that helps get my mind off stressful things. Writing, reading, listening to music, or anything that could help me care for myself mentally. With my last semester coming up, I'm sure I'll have my share of freak-out or anxiety-ridden moments and having some way to combat that will be necessary.

2. I hope to write on this blog at least once per week or, during really busy times, at least once every two weeks. There will be parts of the semester where updating will be difficult or I'll have simply too much schoolwork for updating, so I wanted to keep this realistic.

3. Break 150 species on my birding Life List. I'm currently at 84 species so I hope this goal will be somewhat easily surpassable. I don't really care too much about numbers with birding, but I set it mostly because I want to keep myself motivated in this hobby.

4. Graduate from college. This one is sorta a no-brainer to have on the list.

5. Keep myself healthy, whatever that entails. Exercise, eating better, etc. I'd like to have several meals a week that I prepare from scratch and try to cut out more processed foods from my diet. Being a college student, it's often very difficult not to eat processed food simply because a boxed meal is faster and less work to prepare during times where schoolwork and other things make me busy. But I'll have less things going on in the evenings this coming semester so setting aside more time to cook will be great. I'm also taking a cooking class through the university so hopefully that will teach me more techniques to use that will make cooking easier. The university rec center also has fitness classes it offers that I've utilized before and greatly enjoyed. Hopefully some fit into my schedule this year.

6. Keep in touch with people from my hometown more. I'm dismal at doing this and I always feel bad about it once I come home and see everyone once again.

7. Try to integrate more environmentally friendly practices into my daily life. I found an excellent list here.  And this definitely includes growing more of my own food this summer.

And that's that! Hopefully I'll be able to stick to it. And posting this somewhere public will hopefully keep me more accountable. I'd love to hear about any New Year's Resolutions that any of you have. I always find sharing not only makes me follow through with a goal more, but makes me more excited about it as well!

Birdwatching on the top of Mount Marquette.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Florida Trip

On December 29th, I flew out of Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with 300 other crazy band kids and headed to the warm, muggy land of Orlando, Florida. When we landed, all you could hear were the shouts of joy as people who had gotten used to below-freezing temperatures felt 70 degrees against their skin again. As the Minnesota Golden Gophers were playing in the Citrus Bowl on the first of the new year, we were all there to cheer them on and provide the general pepping up any college sporting event needs.

Over the course of our three days there, we marched two parades, played at several pep rallies, spent an evening at Downtown Disney or Universal CityWalk, spend New Year's Eve at Seaworld, rehearsed several times, and, of course, marched at the football game. The end of the trip brought new meaning to the phrase we use a during our pregame show: "And down. Stop. Breathe." While we got drizzled on a few times, it didn't all-out rain much and the weather stayed pleasantly mild, albeit a bit muggy.

Shamu stadium at SeaWorld

We also did a lot of sitting on a buses as we shuttled from place to place. I enjoyed looking out the window and taking in the greenery and wildlife that was persistently abundant, despite all the development and human mayhem going on around it. There was a ditch with a small pond just outside the hotel and I saw five species while simply sitting on a bus, waiting to leave for a parade. Pretty cool stuff. We also ended up parking by a lake near the Citrus Bowl stadium and I saw six species there just walking around it to the stadium. The plant life was also incredibly diverse. There was such diversity in every garden I saw and, while many things were going through their dormancy period, there were still some things flowering. I can't imagine what it's like in spring and summer. The air must be full of the smell of tropical flowers. Not sure I could handle the summer temperatures though. I'm too much of a northerner that it might do me in. 

White Ibises

We also got to spend New Years in Florida and spending it with a group of people I've come to cherish so much made me incredibly thankful for the opportunities being a member of the marching band has given me. This trip was the last time I performed with that group and it was incredibly bittersweet. But what a great way to end it. Only thing that could've made it better would have been if our football team had won the game. Ah well. 

Citrus Bowl Stadium

All the amazing Gopher fans who came out to cheer on the team.

But now it's back to reality and, thankfully, I still have until the 20th off of school, meaning I'm back home in the Upper Peninsula for a while to enjoy my last winter break ever. It may be cold here, but spending time at home is worth it regardless of weather.