Monday, February 27, 2006

Worms? Of course!

In response to an earlier post on bokashi, Juls writes this in the comments:

"What I need is a relatively low maintenance, low cost system that I can do indoors or at least in a garage (away from curious wildlife) and from which I can spread the results from directly onto the soil or mix in with planters. I live at high elevation (8,100) with plenty of sun but thin soils , so the more organic materials I can add to the soil the better....I wasn't too sure of the worms either ('vermicomposting') -- can they handle all the waste a family produces on a daily basis? Any other ideas?"

Worms are it, girlfriend. Very easy to care for, will live comfortably in a garage, and the richest organic matter ever will soon be yours. You can get started with a fancy stacking worm bin, which I have and love, or a simple plastic storage tub with a few modifications.

If you go to my worm blog Worms of Endearment, you'll see a link on the side to download a worm composting handout that pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Worms cna easily handle all a family's waste, with exception of meat and dairy scraps. They'll eat paper, too. If you produce a lot of "worm food" waste, just start with more worms--maybe 2 pounds instead of 1. Let me know if you've got any questions once you get into it. But yes, worms are absolutely a great way to have a clean, not at all smelly or icky composting operation indoors.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Garden Magazines

The annual March gardening issue of Martha Stewart Living is a much-anticipated event in my house. It is, I believe, as close to a perfect gardening magazine as we have in the US, but more on that in a minute. First, if you have the magazine, turn to p. 147 and look at that perennial border at Digging Dog Nursery. Have you ever seen anything more delicious? Makes me want to just hand my credit card to them and say, "Send me everything. No, wait. Send me three of everything." Lordy.

OK, back to our magazine situation, which has been a topic of discussion here and abroad lately. I am still in mourning over the demise of White Flower Farm's glorious publication The Gardener, which tried to make a go of it without advertising and just couldn't stay afloat. I also love MaryJane's Farm, even though it only comes out when the farmgirls can find the time. Also, it's more of a magazine on rural life, but there's enough gardening to satisfy me. And of course, the UK's Country Living is great fun, as are many of the other UK magazines, although they're expensive and hard to find.

Which brings me to my point. Why doesn't Martha roll out a gardening magazine of her own? Imagine if they took the format of the March issue and just did that 12 times a year. Keep the recipes, the garden-themed crafts and decorating, and just pack it with gorgeous photos, interesting plants, cool gardens, etc. Editor Margaret Roach and garden guru Andrew Beckman have started a blog to go along with their new satellite radio show "Homegrown;" I sent them a note and told them this very thing.

What would your ideal gardening magazine contain? Here's my vote: (and a note to garden magazine editors--if you're out there, read the comments! Your readers are speaking!)

--It's got to be all organic. The chemical companies don't need any help peddling their poisons. Give us some research, some methods, some techniques.

--It should go beyond the basics. There are lots of resources for beginning gardeners to learn about "easy, no-fuss container plants" and other such drivel. Martha's great strength is that she's willing to be sophisticated, to show her readers a complicated recipe or a rare plant. Give us something we can work with--something we can reach for!

--At the same time, it shouldn't be snobby. Garden Design is well-done, but the whole thing feels out of my price range.

--Longer articles! I'm tired of short, bland articles that really just take up space in between the photographs. Come on, there are interesting, enlightened gardeners around the world with something to say--let's hear from them! Run book excerpts. Run four-part articles. Have interesting ideas. Be funny. Stir the pot.

--Find a better way to handle regional information. I appreciate magazines that include garden tips from different areas around the country, but the whole thing feels a little forced. Can't it be better integrated? For instance, an article on lilacs can include a sidebar about the Descanso hybrids bred for areas that don't get cold winters.

--Beautiful photos and illustrations, of course.

--Let's have a little farm life. Chickens, goats, bees, root cellars, barns, etc.

--Cooking? Decorating? Crafts? Collecting? Garden parties? Garden fashion? Sure, why not? I'm up for a little "garden lifestyle" stuff.

What do you think? What are garden magazines doing right, and what's still missing? Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 25, 2006

New paintings

The lilies, alas, are not from my garden, and the pumpkins and zinnias are from last summer's farmers market--I started that one during a week of real January gloom, so it was fun to paint something from summer. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

I should be at our local Grange tonight watching this documentary with my fellow organic gardeners & farmers, but I'm still getting over a cold so I think I'll just Netflix it instead. It looks like a great film about an inspiring farmer, so if it's coming to a theater near you, check it out. It's won all kinds of film festival awards. Here's more info about the film:

Filmmaker Taggart Siegel has documented Farmer John’s efforts to redefine his farm for over twenty years, witnessing the colorful drama of John’s life. Beginning with home movies from the 1950s, Real Dirt paints a vivid picture of John’s rural American beginnings and the struggles he inherits along with the land. After the death of his father during the late 1960s, John turns his traditional farm into an experiment of art and culture. At the film’s close, the Peterson family farm is one of the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the United States. Out of the ruins of single-crop agriculture, John creates an extended farm village where people and art can thrive alongside agriculture.

Real Dirt addresses the economic pressures faced by small farmers, conflicts between tradition and innovation, and the difficulties of nurturing a community through times of crisis and change. Farmer John’s story is the tale not merely of one farm, but of an entire rural culture threatened by mega-farms, monoculture, and modern market society. It is also a story of inspiration, demonstrating that
solutions exist to the problems of rural communities, and that they are luscious, rich, and filled with joy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Name That Book

Hey friends--I need some help choosing a title for my next book. It's just four or five little words--you wouldn't think it would be so hard, but my editor and I have been taxing our poor little brains for weeks now and we still haven't settled on the perfect title.

So now I've set up an online survey and I'd really appreciate it if you'd go take the survey and encourage your friends to do the same. You won't have to log in or provide any personal information.

Amy's Next Book: The Survey

If you have more ideas than what the survey can handle, feel free to post a comment or send me an e-mail.

By the way, I'd like to thank the author Po Bronson for the inspiration for this survey. He went through a similar process with the cover design for his last book, Why Do I Love These People?.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Value of Things

I'm always amazed, when I go to New York, at how much a flower can cost. I love going in to high-end flower shops like the Takashimaya store on Fifth Avenue and buying just a couple flowers to take to whoever I'm going to see--often my editor, my agent, somebody like that. When I was there in November, a single peony cost $25. I probably should have been appalled by that, but instead I found it kind of perversely thrilling. Imagine paying $25 for a single flower when you could buy the plant--maybe two of them--for the same price!

Callas are also extraordinarily expensive in Manhattan, but here in northern California they grow like weeds (in fact, I do have a few volunteers in my garden in addition to the ones I planted on purpose.) The longer the stem, the higher the price. One day, shortly after we returned from New York, Scott and I were out in the backyard and I grabbed a calla that was almost as tall as I was and yanked it out of the ground (they prefer to be snapped out of the ground rather than cut, by the way). I told Scott, "Look, I just pulled $35 out of the ground."

I went inside and put it in the one floor vase tall enough to support such a large stem, feeling quite decadent about it.

And now I have about a dozen of them, and as I trimmed their stems and found a vase for them, I thought, how much would this bunch go for in New York in February? A hundred dollars? Two hundred? And here they grow for free, with absolutely no care from me, from bulbs that a friend dug out of her garden when they got overcrowded. It's a crazy world. Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 17, 2006

Composting with Chickens

My composting experience has changed completely since I got two things:

1. A chipper/shredder, and

2. Chickens.

The chipper/shredder turns all those branches and scraps into finely chopped mulch, and the chickens produce manure which, when scooped out of their coop along with the pine shavings I use for bedding, makes a lovely addition to the compost pile. So I layer this stuff in---the chipped garden waste, then the manure, then more chippings, and so forth--and it just turns into black gold in no time, helped along by the chickens themselves, who hop onto the pile, dig around for worms, and generally till up the whole thing.

Today I wheeled 7 or 8 loads of this stuff out to the front yard and spread it in the garden. There's a bit more still in the bottom of the pile; once it's all gone, I'll chip up the latest load of scraps, clean out the coop, and start all over again. Really, I've never had such a productive compost pile in my life.

You may wonder what I do with the incidental garden waste that doesn't get chipped--well, if it's fresh and green, I toss it into the girls' run so they have something to munch on when they're not free ranging. I have found this is a great way to get rid of the more invasive weeds I wouldn't want in the compost--the girls are welcome to them, and if any sprout, they won't last long in the run. Otherwise, I usually do keep sort of a separate pile of the bulkier garden trimmings and wait for it to dry out a bit, because the shredder can't handle wet stuff. Posted by Picasa

The only hard part is keeping the chickens out of the compost pile while I'm scooping out the good stuff. They consider this to be their own little hotel minibar; they come here every day to help themselves to worms. (Sorry, worms, it's the cycle of life, you know?) Posted by Picasa

Piet Oudolf and New Wave Planting

I’m going to take a moment and let you consider the idea of “new wave” gardening. Go ahead and make a joke about incorporating the spirit of Devo into your perennial border. There, that was fun, wasn’t it? OK, let’s move on.

Gardeners do love their fads. Cottage gardens, tropical gardens, and Mediterranean gardens have all come in and out of vogue over the years. It seems like every plant combination has been tried; one wonders how anyone could possibly come up with a new way to arrange the same plants. But I was inspired by the garden designs of Dutch nurseryman Piet Oudolf from the minute I picked up his book Timber Press.) Oudolf and a few other garden designers in Europe have created a new movement in gardening—what they call “New Wave”—and his books do a wonderful job of describing this new approach to garden design.

The guiding principle of his work is that structure, form, and texture should take precedence over color. Yeah, you heard me. Don’t plant a garden of purples and blues. Put shapes together, and then think about how colors fit into that.

Oudolf looks at the shape of a plant and classifies it accordingly. That doesn’t just mean looking at the shape of a flower—after all, the plant won’t be in bloom all year. A category of plants that form spires or spikes might include foxglove and salvia, but it might also include upright forms of grasses. Plants that create screens and curtains could include the airy meadow rue, but also tall, wispy grasses or even fennel or purple verbena, two plants that produce flowers on tall, thin stalks, giving the sense of height without blocking the view behind them. He takes the same approach with color, considering not just flowers that bloom in shades of red and burgundy, but grasses and foliage that provide those colors, too.

Second, he prefers perennials to shrubs and trees. He appreciates the fact that perennials change constantly, and that they are beautiful as they live and as they die. In fact, he considers the shape of a plant throughout the year, realizing that even as stalks become brittle and die in winter, they can still be part of a design.

These constant changes give a garden its mood. He writes that, “Some gardens, particularly those created by landscape architects, are like monuments: frozen…A garden that shows the cyclical nature of the gardening process is one that has emotion and mood.” To capture mood, he considers how light falls on plants, how wind and rain move plants around, and even how flower stalks look when they are laced with dew-covered spider webs or covered in frost.

Finally, he chooses plants that are hardy, appropriate to the climate, and that spread gently without being invasive. That approach allows plants to grow into each other, creating an almost shaggy, overgrown look that is both natural and abundant. These are not necessarily “no fuss” plants—they might require deadheading, dividing, mulching, and feeding—but the goal is to choose plants that can reach their full potential in the climate and soil you have, and that aren’t bothered by pests and disease. In Oudolf’s gardens, the plants must be able to stand up for themselves. Pull your socks up, plants! Solve your own problems. I like that approach.

Some of his favorites are ornamental grasses; cimifuga (also called black snakeroot), which produce tall spikes of flowers followed by small, sturdy berries; and some well-behaved varieties of persicaria or knotweed. While knotweed had earned a bad reputation as an invasive plant, the varieties he favors, including Persicaria amplexicaulis, will spread slowly without getting weedy. He’s also not necessarily opposed to a weed if it can fall into step and play nice with the other plants.

What I love most about Oudolf’s books is that his writing is so honest and opinionated. Most of the full-color, coffee table gardening books I buy are pure eye candy. I can’t claim to read them for the articles; it really is all about the pictures. But even when Oudolf is writing a straightforward directory of plants, his personality shows through. His entry on echinacea, or purple coneflower, begins, “It is extremely frustrating to have to admit that Echinacea is not reliable…They will not tolerate any competition from neighbouring plants: within two years they will have disappeared….we keep hoping, against our better judgment, that in the end we will be able to find the right spot for them, where they will be blessed with a long and happy life.”

Piet Oudolf’s newest book, Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space, was just published by Timber Press. It’s dreamy. Check it out.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Man Escapes Prison to Bring Flowers to Wife

Husbands everywhere, take note. You have no excuses. If a guy behind bars can figure out a way to bring flowers to his sweetheart, so can you.

The Daily Record - NEWS - VIOLET CRIME

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The garden in February

OK, I'm up for the challenge...I'll post the same photo every month and we'll just see what comes up.

The lavender hedge is not long for the world. Planted in winter 2000-2001, so now it's old and scraggly. I'll replace with ornamental grasses and something or other as soon as I figure that out.

Plants purchased at Seattle Garden Show (damn them for selling bareroots in plastic bags! I came home with a suitcase stuffed with plants and samples of compost--in other words, a garden with wheels and a handle. Scott could not believe how heavy it was.) Anyway, plants:

Two gas plants (Dictamnus alba, purple and white)--and has anyone ever actually lit one of these? Seriously, I need to know.

Voodoo Lily (Dracunculus vulgaris)--hey, it's research for a book

A blue ornamental grass whose name I've already forgotten

A little red burnet, not sure which one (Sanguisorba)

A little chartreuse anenome, who knows what that's called, but how cool is a chartreuse anenome (yeah, I know, Susan, I should save my plant tags and put them in a book, really I love this idea, but it's not in my nature, I guess.)

Just arrived from Digging Dog--and I only know the names because the packing slip is right here:

Aster cordifolius--they promise it's huge and over the top
Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Atrosanguinea'--Piet Oudolf got me all hot for these--more on him later
Veronicastrum verginicum 'Apollo'--like Veronica, only bigger and crazier.
Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst'--purple beautyberry--for my alleyway planting of berry & flowering branch type plants. Posted by Picasa

What the photo doesn't show

Lilac buds! Posted by Picasa

What the photo doesn't show, part 2

Queen's tears (Billbergia nutans) is thinking about blooming. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gardeners, How Do You Blog?

I'd like to compile a list of tips for gardeners who want to start blogging. I know plenty about Blogger but not much about the other blogging services and software out there. What do you use, and why? Are there any particular advantages for gardeners? (for instance, is it easier to upload photos or categorize posts by subject, something that Blogger--ahem--does not offer?)

Let me know how your blog garden grows. Meanwhile, I'm off to the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. Oooooh....if you're anywhere in the area, don't miss it. Really, it's extraordinary. And if you want to say hello, here's a list of my worm composting workshops.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Attack of the Garden Catalogs

I can’t remember a catalog season as ferocious as this one. On the day after Christmas, the Pottery Barn catalogs stopped suddenly, as if a spigot had been turned off, and all at once the garden catalogs flooded in. I get two or three of them a day. It’s impossible to keep up. Where are all of these catalogs in August, when I could really use some good post-garden bathtub reading?

I get wholesale catalogs that I couldn’t possibly order from because I don’t own a nursery. (The idea of an entire endcap filled with “Starter Bulbs” or “Edible Delights” is appealing, but where would I put it?) I get a catalog for contractors that sells everything from welding helmets to buckets of 500 gloves; from body harnesses to bird control cannons (don’t worry, it only looks intimidating and makes a loud noise); from anti-theft devices for tractors to flammable liquid storage containers. Exactly what kind of gardening do the people at Gempler’s think I’m doing?

Gempler’s does have some incredibly cool stuff, however. Where else can you get a 4.5 pound tub of Bag Balm, the moisturizer beloved by both dairy cows and farm girls everywhere, for only thirty-five bucks? Or a professional soil test kit that gives laboratory-like results for only five hundred? Then, for a hundred dollars, they offer the incredible Plant Stress Detection Glasses. These glasses, which are made of red plastic, block out the green light reflected by chlorophyll and make unhealthy, stressed-out vegetation look pink or red. That’s a bargain when you consider that the soil test kit and the detection glasses, when used together, could give you all the information you need to help you decide whether or not to sprinkle five dollars’ worth of kelp meal on your flower beds.

They also sell Chain Saw Chaps, which claim to protect the wearer against runaway chainsaws. I try to avoid power tools entirely, but this just seems like one of those items that you wouldn’t know you needed until it was too late, so perhaps it’s best to just order a pair. The catalog claims that the chaps offer more protection on “the left side of each leg, where most injuries occur.” I don’t want to know any more about that, nor do I want to know about their worm-shaped Mole Killers, which are the size and texture of a worm but contain enough poison to kill a mole with just one bite. These worms, Gempler’s claims, are made with “special enhancers to ensure immediate acceptance.” They’re white, not red, but I suppose that doesn’t matter since moles are blind. (Friends, please don’t bury toxic fake worms in your garden. OK? Enough said.)

Two other garden catalogs (OK, three. No, four. Well, just make it three) rose to the top of the pile. This month I’ll be spending the grocery money on the following:

Select Seeds offers glorious heirloom flower seeds, full color photos for rainy-day reveries, and free seeds with every order. I’m particularly excited about trying mignonette (also called reseda), which is a small, highly fragrant flower that was popular as a cut flower during the Victorian era but has fallen almost entirely out of fashion. There’s also a pink milkweed that claims to have a delicious vanilla scent, and a funny little flower called Schizopetalon walkeri whose blossoms are shaped just like miniature paper cutouts of snowflakes. They produce a sweet almond fragrance and they were popular 200 years ago. You can also find more varieties of sweet peas and poppies than you’ll know what to do with, and some antique bulbs that you won’t find anywhere else.

Next up is High Country Gardens, the catalog of drought-resistant plants that thrive in Santa Fe and, oddly, also here in the Pacific Northwest. While some of these plants need heat or alkaline soil to really take off, many of them are just so grateful for dry soil in the summer that they’ll bloom their heads off, even in the fog. You’ll find a great selection of agastache (aka hummingbird mint), which produces glorious spikes of hot, tropical-colored flowers all summer long and spreads happily during our wet winters. The flowers look good for weeks on end, making deadheading unnecessary. Pair them with equally long-blooming yarrow and salvia (also available in many colors through this catalog) and you’ll never look back. High Country also offers a number of drought-tolerant grasses and other lawn alternatives, including ‘UC Verde,’ a new variety of buffalo grass that does particularly well on the west coast.

I’m usually not a fan of pre-planned gardens, but High Country does an amazing job of organizing their plants into relaxed, informal combinations for every situation. One of their plans is designed for combining roses with perennials, another is perfect for dry strips along the sidewalk, and they even offer a cold-hardy Mediterranean Garden. If you’ve got a blank slate that you’re about to fill with plants, check their catalog for inspiration.

And finally, who can resist White Flower Farm? Their plants are pricey—twelve bucks for a yarrow? Seriously?—but they do perform incredibly well. Besides, the catalog is so much fun to read, and so full of practical suggestions for combining plants and working with difficult spots, that I’m happy to subsidize their work. This year I’m in love with the brilliant kelly green ‘Hansen’s Shamrock’ hellebore and the five foot tall veronicastrum ‘Fascination’, which produces spikes of pink flowers, much like a veronica but with airier leaves that help it blend in with ornamental grasses.

Those of you who remember lily breeder Leslie Woodriff will want to check out their lily collection, which includes his ‘Star Gazer,’ ‘Black Beauty,’ and ‘Le Rêve’. Woodriff got just a sliver of the appreciation he deserved during his lifetime; I’m sure he’d be glad to see his hybrids in such a popular catalog today.

Oh, and here's some late-breaking news: if you're a fan of Digging Dog Nursery and were planning to order from them this year, do it now. They're gonna be real busy in March. You'll find out why soon enough, but just trust me on this.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Valentine's Day

And now, a few gift ideas for that cranky, grubby little person out hacking away at the shrubbery. You love him or her; you know you do. But what to buy? A few ideas; some self-serving (for me, not for you), some less so.

First, for the backyard poultry lover--what better than a charming little baby picture of Eleanor and Abigail? (yes, those are my girls.) Get them here on a t-shirt or just about anything else.

And, along those same lines, you can also visit Earthworm Emporium for the very latest in wearable earthworm art.

Then there's Organic Bouquet for gorgeous organic roses, chocolates, and the like. Their products are either organic or certified in some way, so you can rest assured that the workers and the environment are treated well. (for more about certified and organic flowers, stay tuned for my next book, due out in about a year--how'd you like that hint? Or read the short version here.)

And finally, if you're in the UK, please do check out the new roses from David Austin that Marks & Spencer is selling and let me know if they really do have both a lovely scent and a long vase life. This could represent a real breakthrough in the floriculture industry, but I'd love to hear a firsthand account. I noticed that the bouquet I found on their website included lots of highly fragrant Oriental lilies, which would tend to overpower the roses anyway. On David Austin's UK website, you can order them directly. Miranda and Juliet are the newer, fragrant-with-long-vase-life roses. Oh, and they're gorgeous. Here's what David Austin's company is saying:

"Tony Slack, director of licensing for David Austin, said they had reached the "Holy Grail" in rose cultivation. "We finally have managed to develop roses that marry all the best qualities of old and new varieties," he said. "They arrange themselves beautifully in the vase rather than having straight stems and standing erect, like some other roses."

and see the whole story here.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Now, here's something else again. Is anybody into Bokashi? I quote here from the Real Goods catalog:

"Now it's easy to discard meat, fish, dairy and even bones right in your kitchen without the requirements of turning it like outdoor compost and without creating unpleasant smells. Developed in Japan, the All Food Recycling Compost Kit quickly and odorlessly prepares your organic waste into a high-grade soil conditioner through the use of effective microbes or 'bokashi', a Japanese word meaning 'fermented organic matter.'

Similar to the process used to make wine, this system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no putrid odor is produced. In about 10 days, nutrient-rich matter is produced that you bury in the garden to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the dirt. "

This stuff is a trip. As I understand it, the bokashi is a mixture of water, molasses, wheat bran, and EM, or Efficient Microorganisms. (Says my husband: "Isn't that beer?")

You keep the bin tightly sealed (except when you're adding more kitchen scraps and bokashi), and you can include all the stuff you can't put in a worm bin--meat, dairy, and so forth. I do wish I'd taken enough chemistry to say that I understood the difference between fermentation and decomposition and what the implications would be soil-dwelling microbes, but alas, I must take their word for it. As it is, I just don't know how to evaluate a statement like,

"The microorganisms in EM are known to produce bioactive substances, vitamins, hormones, enzymes, amino acids, and antibiotics, which enrich and detoxify the soil" or,

"The purple photosynthetic microbes which are present at enhanced levels in this formula have powerful detoxifying, antioxidative and anti-entropic properties and can reduce levels of certain toxins, toxic gases, many odors, and can help to re-establish a wide range of beneficial microbes again in a polluted or unbalanced environment."

So what does this stuff look like? One website says: "Bokashi Compost will look different to other compost that has decayed. As the food waste does not breakdown or decompose while it is in the bucket, much of its original physical property will remain and it will have a pickled appearance. Complete breakdown of waste will occur a few weeks after it has been transferred to the soil. " Yum. (Full instructions can be found here at Bokashi Composting Australia.)

It's the burying it in the garden step that trips me up. Like, where in my garden am I going to dig a big hole every 10 days? And do I plant right on top of it, or wait, or what? Why can't we just have a compost pile again? Because it won't break down the meat and dairy? So pickled meat and dairy buried in the garden is good because...

I'm confused, but really interested. I just went through a little kombucha phase that's about to end with the critter getting tossed on the compost pile; you can only imagine my husband's relief that I'll be replacing it with bokashi.

You can find out more about the various products here, but do let me know if you've tried this or know somebody who has.

Real Goods Catalog - Indoor Home

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Could it be Spring?

Thank goodness for irrationally exuberant daffodils!

Oh, and Path to Freedom took up the challenge and posted a photo of their front garden in January. Well, yeah, sure, if your garden looks like that, go ahead and put up a picture.

If you haven't checked out their site, now's the time to do it. They're homesteading on their suburban, 1/10th acre plot in the middle of bustling Pasadena, and pulling three tons of food out of the ground every year. Brilliant.

I just rented a season of the old BBC program "The Good Life" from Netflix, (distributed in the US as "Good Neighbors") in which a suburban couple decides to go off the grid, raising chickens and goats and growing potatoes and lettuce, to the chagrin of their gin-swilling neighbors. Oh, it's all so glorious. Biodiesel in the burbs. What's not to like?

While I'm at it: a couple points about "The Good Life":

1. No one has children, did you notice? I mean, that's fine, I don't have any either, but can you imagine a modern sitcom where there are no adorable, comic-relief children and no explanation is offered of their absence?

2. Are you catching all the really feminist comments the husband is making? You get the idea that feminism is an active issue in their marriage. Again--great, it is in mine too--but you don't hear men (or women) talk like that on TV much now.

3. Like "Sex and the City," do you suppose each character is a kind of archetype, a manifestation of some part of our personality? (There's your dissertation topic, kids. No charge.) I mean, I really identify with the cubicle-quitting husband, but there's quite a lot of the gin-swilling neighbor about me, too.

OK. Daffodils in February. Urban homesteading. Archetypal television characters. Discuss.