Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Clever Idea for a Bountiful Tomato Harvest

Happy Earth Day!

I love our world. I love being out in it, even if it's just in my own little garden. When it comes to trying new techniques to make the garden thrive, I am ever an optimist (even in the wake of a rocky track record). This year, I'm trying a brilliant idea by a man named James Bryan that should lead to a bumper crop of ravishing tomatoes. Check out his impressive results. (Here are the directions from his Facebook page, which vary slightly.)

In a nutshell, the idea is to plant your tomatoes around a container that will provide subterranean water trickling through a pile of compost. Here's how easy:

I drilled holes in a little six-gallon trash can: one round near the bottom of the can, and another ten inches higher, just above where the dirt level would be after I buried it. (According to this report, Bryan started out with a 13-gallon garbage can, but eventually switched to 5-gallon buckets, which are cheaper and easier to find... you just have to fill more often.)

I then buried the container, filled it with a couple big scoops of the best compost I have, and planted four little tomatoes I'd started* around the can. 

I filled the bucket with water. Some trickled out of the top holes, but most seemed to push through to the bottom row. The water level went down pretty fast. I love that it must travel through that rich compost before meeting the roots of the plants.

In studying the original idea for this post, I discovered two important points I overlooked in my initial reading:
  1. Whatever size container you use, you want to give each plant about five gallons of water per week. So if you have four plants surrounding a 5-gallon bucket, you should fill the bucket four times per week. 
  2. I also saw in the comments of that first article that you should add fresh compost a couple times a week until fruit starts setting. (The comments are very helpful.)
I've only been filling the bucket maybe every five days or so (they haven't looked thirsty, even on hot days), and haven't added extra compost. I figured that Byron's burst of growth was mainly from the compost, but apparently, it's at least equally from the quantity of water and the additional nutrients added to the container. I'll make those changes! (For you tomato gurus, he also doesn't prune the suckers! That was a surprise to me. I'll have to experiment with that.)

Nevertheless, I'm pleased with my little plants. They're starting to flower like crazy. Here is the change that's occurred over three weeks:

I plan to try this method with squash and pepper plants, too, as well as another round of tomato plants. Watch for an update!


Lucky for me, I live in a warm climate where I can garden year-round. What about you? Have you started your tomatoes yet? Does this look like something you'd like to try?

*I was hesitant to use these particular plants for this idea because I started them at the end of January, and though they sprouted just fine, their first couple months were spent in a small container in mediocre soil (so in my opinion, they'll never be what they could have been). But in the end, I decided that this method may be just the boost they need. We'll see what they can do!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How to be Gentle to a Postpartum Mother

A few years ago, our darling sister, Ariel, wrote a wonderful post about how to speak to a pregnant woman. I loved it, and thought I might write a post about how to speak to a postpartum woman. To preface this conversation, I should mention that this may seem like, "Wow, I've had a lot of really crummy conversation right after I've had each of my children. I want to tell you about each of them. In great detail." I haven't, for each of these unfortunate experiences, I've had probably a thousand good ones. But there has been a lingering bite to some of these, and I think it is something we would all, myself included, do well to consider for the future.

1. Don't assume a mother wants, or doesn't want company. Just ask.
Giving birth is such a personal thing, and affects every mother differently. For me, each postpartum experience has been vastly different. Sometimes I have craved company, others I have relished time alone. There is no shame in asking how the mother is feeling, and if she would like company. Postpartum is a terrible time to be burdened with company you don't have the energy for. Which leads me to my next point...

2. If you visit, don't overstay your welcome.
The day my second son was born, I was in the restroom when I heard a knock at the front door. It was a lovely neighbor bringing us a meal. It was beyond thoughtful! She then sat and chatted. And chatted. And chatted... I was hiding in the bathroom, because I had just birthed a 10 lb. bowling ball after a 9 hour labor, and didn't have the energy for guests. I finally came out and sat on the couch, and my neighbor continued to chat... I honestly don't remember the resolution to that visit, (did I mention I was tired?) all I know is that it made me cry. That is a rather grandiose example, though. There was that other time visited my friend whose baby was a month old, and time got away from me because our sons were playing so nicely together. And then my friend suddenly stood up inexplicably... oh wait, no. She was just trying to get the message to me that we should have left a while ago. (We had been there an hour.) Let's just all remember to make visits short, or again, find some way of asking what the mother needs.

3. Don't make commentary on the size of family she ought to have. Also, don't assume she is planning on a large, or small family
Does this make anyone immediately awkward? It does me. After my second son was born, a lovely lady brought us dinner. I mentioned it being busy taking care of a new baby, and his not-yet-two-year-old older brother. She said, "Well, but then once you have your sixth or seventh, you'll see it gets easier, because the older kids will help with the younger while you are with the newest..." And she just beamed at me! Honestly, this woman can't get sweeter. She is a very good woman. But I had just had my second child days before, and was not in a hurry to jump into another pregnancy. To be blunt I didn't want more than two. And being extremely tired, and having just had a baby, I cried after she left. I honestly felt like a bad person for the literal revulsion I felt over the thought of being the mother of that many children. I've come to terms with it. Have you? Let's all remember it is none of our business how many children other people have. Assume the best, they are in close contact with God about it. He is just fine with people having large families, he is equally just fine with people having small families. The end.

4. If she confides in you about a difficulty that stemmed from giving birth, the proper response is ALWAYS, "That must be so difficult. I'm so sorry!"
I feel like this should be self-explanatory, but just incase someone missed this life lesson, if a mother tells you she has been suffering from depression since her baby was born, just hug her for crying out loud! Or, if she had a bad birth experience, don't tell her how things could have been worse. By all means, please don't tell her it could have been better if she had chosen to birth in different way. Ugh. I may have been guilty of this one, being a natural birth junky. Dear Universe, I am so very sorry for being inadvertently rude...

5Don't make a commitment to help the postpartum mother, unless you know you can keep it.
These stories are shared with the permission of those involved. When I was expecting my third child, I made arrangements for my sister to come stay with me for the first week when my husband went back to work. (Seriously, am I the only person for whom that first week of being alone with all of the children, new and old, is terrifying?? It always turns out fine, but there is no masking that it is just a difficult time.) Well, plans didn't turn out as smoothly as we had thought, and I spent the first two days without any help at all. As I said, it turned out fine, but for a woman who had been expecting help, to suddenly not have it... I felt like I was drowning in babies. It was actually really harrowing. One more example to drive this one home: I have a friend who had just had her third baby, and her mom called saying she wanted to come get her older children the next morning. My friend said she could almost taste the sleep. The time for her mom to pick up the kiddies came and went, but she finally called to say she was running late. Then an hour later she called again and said she was still running late. Three hours later than when she said she would be there, she called and said she would try again the next day. (I'm not making this up.) Please, please, please, please, don't try to be helpful by promising something you cannot deliver. We all understand life is busy -- boy is it ever! It is far less offensive, though, to have someone not offer help, then to offer it at such a crucial juncture, and not fulfill.

6. For heaven's sake (literally), please stop judging. Just stop. Really.
So there was this one time a group of my friends were talking about how sometimes women use having a baby to get out of their church callings, or not go to church for a month or more at a time. I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Been there. Done that." Like that time I was a brand new mother to my first son, and was given a time intensive calling in our the primary presidency (the children's organization of our church). I got bronchitis a week later, and was struggling with nursing because my milk supply was low from the fever and being sick -- I could not drag myself to make it to the presidency meeting that week, and so the wonderful women I was in the presidency with (one who didn't have children at the time, and another who was very honest about the fact that she had never wanted any), had taken off from work, but then there wasn't a meeting to go to because I wasn't there. And then every Sunday I would be performing some function where I couldn't be feeding my new baby, (sometimes babies want to nurse at inconvenient moments, let's be honest. I won't apologize for wanting to feed my month old baby.) and so someone else would be holding him in the hallway, and he would be crying. And so he would fall asleep crying in the hallway on Sunday's. Call me a baby, but it was too much for me. I asked to be released. And then there was that time when I had had my third baby, (whose pregnancy was a surprise, by the way), and I was slammed by postpartum depression, and I felt like I was drowning, so I asked to be released as a visiting teacher, because I wasn't making it to appointments anyway.... I'm not depressed anymore, but being a mom to three kids in three years is just really intense. I still haven't asked to be reinstated as a VT, yet. Taking care of my best time investments ever positively fills my plate, to be honest. And God has told me repeatedly that he is OK with this arrangement. Let's just not go there, friends. We don't know how that new mother is feeling. It does not matter if it her first, fifth, or tenth, just call her blessed, and then make room for her and her family's needs.

We all have our stories. Let's all learn together so we can be better sisters to those around us. Do you have any experiences you'd like to share? Please feel free, you are in a safe place here.