Saturday, February 27, 2010

Run it through the barn

Straw, at $2.50 a bale, is a bargain, with a thousand uses. It's great for the garden, better than hay in our opinion as it contains less weed seed and more air (hollow stems). But first we run it through the barn.

You're supposed to be able to drive right up to the barn, but at Stony Run this was, for various reasons, just not going to be possible. So we wrangle our bales of straw one by one. Fortunately we don't need a whole lot of them!

A stout hand truck, with pneumatic tires, is great for this; it has a lower center of gravity than the wheelbarrow. With a good hay hook and her hand truck, Risa's ready to face the 150 pound bales without popping a sweat.

The bales can be tipped skinny-side up for those tight squeezes. You can see that daffodil season is full-on here; nectarine trees are blooming and the plums are full of bees.

Using the hay hook and her knees, she can swing the bales relatively easily, and has no trouble stacking three-high. Four-high would be a bit much, though.

She always carries her hay hook with the point held away from her, and turns it around only when it has something to do. A hay hook pulls. But you want to be attentive when pulling.

Time to sweep up. The straw from the truck bed goes straight to the garden, orchard, or compost; the straw that went up to the barn will provide bedding for a couple of dozen chickens, ducks and geese, and then, considerably enriched, will be distributed to the garden, orchard, or compost, as needed. For sanitary reasons, and to reduce the likelihood of "burning" plants, Risa waits ninety days before applying poultry manure directly to the garden.

A crocus opens its eyes. A redwing calls. You love winter, you really do, but this is something quite different. You hear the garden summoning you, and you call back: "Yes, yes, coming!" -- Ruth Stout

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plenty of wood lots to eat

Continuing to flashback ...

Risa and Beloved found eighteen heavily wooded Coast Range acres in 1978, for which they paid cash with the money they had raised among friends, using the random-repurchase-of-homemade-bonds method. They lived in a decrepit $300 travel trailer (having sold the Ritz Hotel) and roamed the Northwest, doing contract labor to cover the costs of the bonds and construction materials. A friend leveled the site for them and they began, that first summer, by building the one-room schoolhouse and moving into it. They also built an outhouse and a combination toolshed and woodshed, and began clearing the garden site.

This is the kitchen of the schoolhouse-to-be. This old 110 Kodak shot is a little dark, but there is, left to right, a propane stove (from the salvaged travel trailer), propane lamp (ditto), pitcher pump on the drain board, woodstove and dining room table. This photo was taken from the bed, which occupied much of the remainder of the cabin. The walls were insulated with moss, and that winter they were quite cozy.

The house was begun the following summer. Four-by-fours were set up on pier blocks on eight-foot centers and the sill plates were leveled all the way round from a pencil mark in the foreground corner, using an eighteen inch level resting on each two-by-eight. Many materials for the house were salvaged, and the total cost, in 1979 dollars, was about $7500.

The house used spring water, via pitcher pump, and ran on propane, on wood heat/cooking, and twelve-volt lamps. The twelve-volt system ran off the alternator in the car, with a "splitter" and a set of golf cart batteries in the car and another set in the house. An errand to town, twelve miles away, was enough to top off the house batteries nicely. One had to remember to unplug the car when driving off, though!

As the place was off-grid, almost all the work was done with hand tools and a Stihl 031 chainsaw. Outside sheathing was 1X12 barn boards and 1X2 battens. Along with the moss insulation, the place was fairly tight and stood winters well. Interior walls were unfinished cedar 1X6 siding, which Risa and Beloved thought very attractive. Shelving and countertops were all made from the 1X12 barn board remnants.

When they had moved into the house, the schoolhouse came into its own. The school district gave Beloved a set of old desks, lots of science equipment, and library privileges. In return, she got them off the hook for a bus trip that took three and a half hours each way on a one lane road shared with monster log trucks.

The school, with usually about five kids, provided a way for Beloved, an all-grades teacher, to contribute to the family income while staying home with her own baby. Risa, still traveling to forest work, was often gone for weeks at a time during the fall, winter, and spring, and wrote letters home from Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Colorado.

Hello love

Has Kitty recovered from jumping up on the stove yet? Everyone went to town on a beer run and then it snowed enough to close the canyon. They aren't back yet and it has been two days, and it's like a little vacation. I am fine as I have the crew yurt to myself and plenty of wood lots to eat and the hay on the floor is dry as there aren't twenty people tracking in and out. There is almost a full moon and so I go for walks close by and it is very nice, though I don't go down to the river as it is so dark under the old firs there that it gives me the shivers a little bit so I stay in the clearing where it is all white and blue. There are a good ten or twelve chimneys as this is a big camp but only one is making smoke! There is a good melt on and I think we'll see the road open tomorrow or the next day and if there is still snow on the hills Friday, the Forest Service will turn us loose for awhile; and I will give you a call and come home and I bet you will get the call before this in fact I might just hand it to you...

Life is always a struggle whether you're struggling for anything worthwhile or not, so it might as well be for something worthwhile. -- Carla Emery

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ready and waiting

Beloved checks her corn for ripeness

"So, you and your friends have convinced me to become a teeny-tiny farmer, affording a little increment of potential security to my family, friends and neighbors. But I've never done anything like this. Also, I have heard how expensive a hobby it is and have almost no money to put into it. Where would I begin?"

You can do this on very little (as do actually most of the farmers in the real world). But it eventually requires of you more knowledge than you would gain from getting a master's degree in most subjects. It's that, I think, that makes one hesitate.

Fortunately there are many baby steps.

Let's assume that you are a suburban homeowner with a typical lot, about eighty feet wide and a hundred feet deep, on level clay in a temperate latitude, with several trees and shrubs about the three-bedroom bungalow and along the driveway and carport. You have a rake, a hose, a lawnmower with a grasscatcher, and very little else with which to begin. And you're very nearly "underwater" with a massive mortgage, and so will not being moving "back to the land" any time soon.

First, pay attention to where the sun is. Do shadows cross all of the lot all day, or part of it part of the day, and at what time of the year do they do this? Some deciduous trees on the south side of a house can be a good thing as they provide shade in summer and admit light in winter. Evergreens on the north side can be a useful windbreak, cutting winter heating bills. So don't think of getting rid of everything all at once in order to get enough sun for vegetables.

They will need some, though. At least eight hours on the planting spot, most of the year. See if you can find a site on the property where that's happening, even if it's only part of the carport.

People spend a lot of money on tilling and/or buying materials to make raised beds, or injure themselves attempting double-digging with D-handled spades or forks. There are times when these are appropriate tools or practices, but let's try a more pleasant approach for now.

If your sunny spot (existing or judiciously created by shade tree removal) has a foundation of wood (deck) or concrete (patio or part of your driveway), think containers. Any potted plant is an instance of container gardening, and at the other extreme are the glassed--over hydroponic farms of Iceland. No need to lay out cash for big containers or materials to make planter boxes. You can begin by going to the nearest Garden Center and buying some small healthy-looking vegetable starts and some fifty pound sacks of "planting soil." Lay out the bags where you want them, puncture them enough over the surface to let water drain, then flip them over, punctured side down, and remove enough of the now-uppermost surface of the bags to plant your starts in.

A great way to water your starts without overdoing it is to puddle lightly around their roots with water from a well-cleansed dishwashing detergent dispenser. It's as gentle as an expensive watering can (the cheap ones can dump too much on small starts) and costs nothing. And you can water your garden with a garden hose, yes, but the range of possibilities -- from punctured milk jugs of water to soaker hoses -- is large.

If you have some grassy area in which to begin, prepare that area a year in advance, thus: remove all packing tape and bagged invoices from a heap of collected kraft-paper (cardboard) boxes, open them out, lay them flat over the garden-to-be, and cover them with shredded leaves and grass clippings (or get straw -- not hay, too many seeds in it -- if cheap). No need to buy a shredder, your lawnmower with bagger is a cheap and powerful (if noisy and polluting) piece of farm machinery. In a year a spot so treated will almost certainly be a perfectly ready-to-use fertile "raised" bed. Between now and then, if you must garden there, try the bags of planting soil on top of the permanent mulch.

You will still need planting soil in such a garden, as anything you direct-seed that does not like cold soil will not wish to germinate in the cold soil beneath the permanent mulch, exposed in spring. Pull aside the mulch from your planting spot, add a handful of planter mix, lay out your seeds, and cover them with more planter mix, according to the depths and at the times shown on your seed packets. Later, when you have accumulated enough compost in your compost heap (which you began right away), you can sift this and that will will be your planter's mix (and much better than than provided by the stores).

Start small, my dears. Start very small. It's so easy to become discouraged after taking on too much.

In the first winter, get your fruit trees (as recommended for your area) and put them around the perimeter of the property. Get dwarf varieties if you can, or semi-dwarf; if you can't, just learn to prune aggressively so that your big standards never achieve big-standard size.

Now, if your community's rules permit, set up your poultry house and run. Chickens or ducks supply eggs (and if you are up to it, meat) at low cost, especially if free to eat grass and chase bugs. If you can possibly do so, combine your orchard with your hen-run and make them surround the perimeter of the garden. The birds will eat bugs that eat or infest fruit, and clean up dropped fruit without your having to gather it for them, and they will interpose themselves between a great many insect and mollusk (snails and slugs) pests and your permanent-mulched veggies. There's also a certain entertainment bonus as well. Careful! Too few birds, and you will see symptoms of loneliness and derangement out there; too many and you will see mostly a dismal expanse of mud.

Later, when you have acquired all the skills of a tiny-tiny farmer, you can branch out by sharecropping with neighbors who will trade access to their backyards for a share in the veggies, and when you lose your job in the big-dying-city (to which you can no longer afford to drive anyway), your splendid and life-affirming new career will be there for you, ready and waiting.


For access to enough knowledge to actually pull off the things recommended above, there is an almost endless stream of websites, pamphlets, magazines, books, videos, television programs, Master Gardeners, and kibitzing neighbors available. Just dip your cup in the stream and drink deep.

For example, go to the nearest used-book store and ask for the gardening section. There will be many classics at very low prices; you may even find enough to get you started in a free box. That's where I found the very-easy-to-read Down-to-Earth Vegetable Gardening Know How, a primer written by Dick Raymond and published by Garden Way of Charlotte, Vermont in 1975 (!!). Though some of its recommendations I no longer follow, it's still, at 140 8.5x11" lavishly illustrated pages, one of my most frequently consulted authorities.

risa b

When you cut suckers off tomatoes in the summer, allow some to get as big as your little finger and to produce a bud. At this point, remove the sucker from the plant and cut all the leaves off up to the bud. Set it in a glass of water for about four hours, make a hole in the ground, set this slip in the hole, and firm the soil around it. In a few weeks, that sucker will produce wonderful fruit, just as a plant grown from seed would. -- Dick Raymond.

The eye of Sirius

Okay, let's talk about the serious stuff for a little bit. Then we'll go back to our regular programming, we promise. Other people say most of this better, anyway.

Risa has been fussing over her starts in the unheated potting shed -- they all are able to stand some cold, as none of them -- yet -- are tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers. But after eight weeks of "January thaw," in which the bees came forth, blossoms cracked open, worms turned, and Risa worked in bare feet, the jet stream has wandered a bit. The skies are full of cerulean and sunburn by day, and the eye of Sirius is a startling icicle by night. Despite the assurances of the "weather personalities" the mercury has dropped to 28, 28, and 25(F). Beloved took a pickax to the poultry's drinking water in the mornings.

Everything is under cover, and happy, but, still, she worries.

She knows she's only pretending that her life depends on her produce, and that the deeper she goes into the hundred-foot-diet exercise, the odder her food habits must seem to her associates. She said as much, while eating homegrown kale, peas and potatoes, to Beloved.

"Don't worry, dear;" Beloved replied over her Kashi. "If it ever comes down to it -- and I can see that happening -- we may all be grateful. Hungry is a great motivator."

Frost, flood, drought, disease, hordes of birds or insects, foxes, raccoons, hawks, deer, gophers, voles, squirrels and cannibal chickens: fear of all these may seem anti-Nature. Certainly many, many farmers have fallen under the spell of snake-oil pitches for monoculture, insecticides, herbicides, seeds with terminator genes and the like. When she sees her plants under stress, Risa can see why this occurs. When some of her cherished crops wither and die, she wistfully wonders what technological miracle -- currently available -- might have saved them. And she shot at a marauding hawk this year.

In the eastern part of the U.S., in the summer of 2009, gardeners and small farmers were hammered. Intensified and extended precipitation brought a fifty-year high of blight to a thousand-mile swath of tomatoes, potatoes and such. To those who were just starting their kitchen-garden efforts, it must have seemed a crushing blow.

Risa hopes they won't give up.

Monoculture and other practices of the industrial agricultural system have some resistance to disaster, but that resistance comes with the costs attendant upon aquifer depletion, soil depletion, depletion of genetic diversity, oil and coal dependence for farm implements and for commodity storage-transportation-processing-and-retailing, and increased reliance upon debt. Any one link in that chain breaks, they all break.

Historically, all such chains have eventually broken.

So it's maybe a good thing for us that Kashi is currently available. But it would be even better if we could all manage without it if need be.

Victory gardens supplied something like half the produce in the United States during World War II. Each year of the war, the ranks of the gardeners grew. Since then, the various back-to-the-land movements that have sprung up have borrowed some of the spirit of the war gardeners, but, as there was not so obvious an emergency, each time the energy has faded away.

Risa sees some of that fading occurring now, as the paid lobbyists of the industrial/financial order successfully ridicule and disparage every movement toward diversification and decentralization as it arises. Their power to see that no one can think clearly about getting along without them has been amplified by the rise of radio and television, and the demise of independent newspapers. The potential of free information dispersal on the Internet remains great, but is under increasing assault.

There is now almost no public domain. We're being -- 24/7 on thousands of channels -- talked down to by a self-anointed overclass, and the contempt in the messaging is palpable.

There are many strategies, more or less useful, one might do to resist this tide, and Risa has tried some of them. She was several times arrested in 1971 as an anti-war protester. She's been a civil-rights activist, a philanthropist, an LGBT activist, a religious nut, and a public-domain activist. She feels her efforts in these directions have not been an entire waste of her time. But in one area alone, she feels as able to act with integrity toward the present and future as ever, and that is in her homesteading.

Here, she can, to the extent possible, make, or if not make, find, or if not find, borrow (or lend), or if not share, buy used, or if not buy used, buy local, or if not buy local, buy quality, or if not buy quality, do without, to her heart's content. All of which provides a small but real resistance to that economic dependency so dear to the megacorporate heart.

And the center of this relative (but nevertheless important, if multiplied by millions of practitioners) resistance is the kitchen garden, with seed saving.

With access to any bit of land, or even a terrace or balcony (be it yours, your rented space, or that of a kind neighbor) you can produce food for yourself or others that is free of pesticides, did not exploit near-slave labor, was not hauled across a continent on the blood of dinosaurs and so did not (much) thicken the heat-absorbing brown haze in the thin envelope of air upon which almost every living thing absolutely depends.

And at the same time, most years, you'll be having fun.

To Risa, these considerations outweigh the heartbreak of offering her tender starts to the inconsiderate icicle eye of Sirius.

Most of the time, anyway, she thought, as she put away the last bite of steamed potato and peas and reached for the mint tea.

Our inability to see things that are right before our eyes ... would be amusing if it were not at times so serious. We are coming, I think, to depend too much on being told and shown and taught instead of using our own eyes and brains and inventive faculties, which are likely to be just as good as any other person's. -- Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Missouri Ruralist

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cable news

Look, ma! It's only been a few days, and we've doubled in weight!

Yes, dears, we're proud of you.

And now we're going to take turns climbing on the feeder and jumping off to peck at each other!

Sounds lovely, sweeties. Mind if we bring our tea and sit here and watch? We don't have cable news.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's really not bad

Eggs gathered at twilight

Risa has been on the reservoir, and she's feeling pleased with herself about it. Beloved knows this because Risa's doing fish 'n chips for breakfast, and the last of the freezer-burned trout was dutifully eaten (about half by Risa and Beloved, and half by the cat) a week ago.

"You must have caught some trout."

"Well, no, these are whitefish."

"Have I had whitefish before? What are they?"

"They look like trout but have a deeper fork in the tail, are a bit more -- slippery. More bones; they take a little more concentration to deal with. And they don't cook up pink."

"Will I like them?" Beloved sits down gingerly, as though her chair might bite her.

"Not everyone does. A lot of the fishermen just cuss when they catch one and throw it in the bushes. But they're nowhere near as bad as pikeminnows."

"So, I'll like them?"

"Well, you've had them before, and said they were okay, so I thought I would chance it." Risa turns each of the three small fish, and stirs the red potatoes a bit, and, using the edge of her sleeve on the hot handle, lifts the frying pan from the wood stove over onto a potholder on the table.

Beloved tips a fish onto her plate, splits the side with her fork, peels a section down from the bones, and samples a bite.

"Ok, these are not bad. Fresh, anyway."

Risa had spotted a "blue hole" in the grey weather and run out to the water with her little boat, in shirt-sleeve warmth that has been teasing blossoms out of the nectarines and quinces. She paddled from the boat basin across to where the river once ran, over half a mile of still water. There, where the lake is deep, the trout sleep, and she'd hoped to find one or more up and doing, but no one was alert but the whitefish, as usual in February. So she caught three of these and kept them.

All along the way she passed thousands of drowned insects, not mayflies or caddis flies but land bugs -- flies of all kinds and many, many bees, mostly mason bees. There were even mosquitoes, mosquito hawks, and crane flies, reminding her of lakes she had paddled in August in Georgia, four decades and more gone.

She finds it interesting that in the U.S. East, where they have had a string of massive snowstorms (which is a proof of higher precipitation, just like last summer, and not of any oncoming ice age), not only the far right but all the media have been incessantly banging the there-is-no-global-warming drum while glaciers continue to melt, oceans rise, the western states are sweltering and their trees and summer insects are blooming, and in the other half of the world, killer heat waves are rolling though Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa.

But she reflects that political parties and news organizations are made up of people who are mostly no smarter or braver than she is. And she remembers what it was like to have a job in which the things she saw were not things she could really say, as she needed the job in order to make ends meet. So she can't really blame them. And she's stopped trying to speak even to friends or family about this stuff. Nobody really likes preachy anyhow.

She'll blog, universe willing and the creek don't rise, for a few more years, but she'll stick to the bitty bits. How she cooks and eats and does house maintenance on the cheap, how she puts fruit trees and poultry together and wraps them round the garden, how she puts away a quart of applesauce for a rainy day. But she will pretty much emphasize that these activities may be enjoyed for themselves.

"Dooming and glooming, who, me?" she asks with round-eyed innocence. "Here, have some more whitefish. It's really not bad."

Tomorrow, maybe eggs and spinach.


Small whitefish with chips

Put a little olive oil and butter in your iron skillet (if your diet includes any meats, you will find that a bit of bacon grease or such will benefit the flavor of whitefish), let the skillet get hot, and throw in some sliced and pre-steamed small potatoes, with a small handful of dehydrated, crumbled vegetable leaves scattered over them (dried basil or Italian spice will do). Cover, but remember to turn now and again.

Take your cleaned whitefish and drop them in a small paper bag in which there is about a quarter cup of wheat flour, corn meal, rye flour, salt and pepper in the proportions you like best. Shake the sack. Turn out the fish into the skillet when the potatoes are done. Fry fish on one side for two minutes, flip them over, two minutes more. Browned? Serve.

The potatoes, especially if home grown and cooked in their skins, will make outstanding leftovers. The whitefish, in our opinion, will not. Just give any leftover fish to the compost, the cat, etc.

You may roll up the sack and freeze it to use again for the next fish dinner, or if it has begun to look a little sad, use it as fire starter for the wood stove.

It does not so much matter what happens. It is what one does when it happens that counts. -- Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Missouri Ruralist

Friday, February 12, 2010

What ... what?

These are the new Americauna chicks. One of them has just taken the first bites of chick feed; you can see her (we hope it's a her) peeping just over the feeder. The rustling of their blanket being pulled aside as I brought the camera into range has caused them to bunch up, checking in all directions, like a family of meercats. They know their business straight from the egg.

"Aww ... why couldn't we get Barred Rocks?"

"Customers want green eggs."


An average hen will lay 220 eggs per year. -- Carla Emery

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's on hand?

February 2010 Stored Food Inventory

We've always bought bulk and stocked up. Not all that much of it is local; many things we get from our food cooperative turn out to be from Texas or somewhere, and of course there's the rice ... on the other hand, we eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit, grown right here, that would not show up in a midwinter inventory; organic, though not "certified."

What's on hand? I mean other than in the refrigerator, like yogurt, or the cabinet where the incidental canned goods live? For example I don't list below some things such as the peanut butter, which we used to buy in ten pound lots but now grind for ourselves at the grocery store, a pound at a time.

Taking a spiral notebook, a pen, and a flashlight, I give myself a tour. Hmmmm ...

Under the kitchen work counter there are two galvanized steel trash cans on casters.

Can #1
  • 10 lb. stone ground WW flour
  • 10 lb. spelt flour
  • 5 lb. rye flour
Can # 2
  • 20 lb. pinto beans
  • 10 lb. short grain brown rice
  • 15 lb. Basmati brown rice
  • 30 lb. rolled oats
In the cold room are three more cans.

Can #3
  • 5 lb. flaxseed
  • 25 lb. wheat berries
  • 25 lb. stone ground yellow cornmeal
Can #4
  • 18 lb. textured vegetable protein (20 lb. sack, opened)
  • 12 lb. Bear Mush (wheat porridge, remains of 20 lb. sack). We like this. But now we mostly grind our own.
Can #5
  • 25 lb. Basmati brown rice
  • 25 lb. long grain white rice
  • 5 lb. sunflower seeds
There are lots of shelves in the cold room, too, which are looking bare compared to last November. Much of what's missing now is most of the beets, apples, winter squash, pumpkins and small potatoes, and all the turnips and cabbages, all home grown.
  • 5 lb. spaghetti (angel hair)
  • 11 lb. stored apples (individually wrapped; some are only fit for the chickens by now, though)
  • 1 lb. beets
  • 170 lb sacked potatoes (most for seed), mostly reds and some Yukon Golds
  • 1 gallon jar dried peppermint, home grown
  • 1 gallon whole wheat pastry noodles
  • 15 lb. box sesame tahini
  • 10 lb. assorted bulk spices
  • 2/3 gallon pumpkin seeds
  • 1 gallon fava beans, home grown
  • 1 gallon dehydrated apple slices
  • 15 winter squash (the delicatas are out-keeping the butternuts), home grown
  • 1 15 lb. pumpkin, home grown
  • 10 liters home brew
  • 42 bottles homemade grape/apple wine
  • 1 1/2 gallons molasses
Some of the shelves in the kitchen are dedicated to gallon, half gallon, and quart jars of miscellaneous items, from which we do much of the actual cooking.
  • 1 gallon dehydrated tomatoes, home grown (we've used about half what we made)
  • 1 quart dehydrated pear slices, home grown (ditto)
  • 1/2 gallon dehydrated zuke slices, home grown (ditto)
  • -- just wiped out a gallon of apple slices, these are popular
  • 3 gallons whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 qt. fava beans, home grown
  • 1 pint runner beans, home grown
  • 10 pounds of elephant garlic in ropes and baskets, home grown
  • 1.5 gallons rolled oats
  • 2/3 gallon buckwheat flour
  • 2/3 gallon cornmeal
  • 2 lb. electro-perk Colombian coffee, self-service ground at store
  • 1 pt. wheat berries (these are going fast)
  • 2/3 gallon TVP
  • 1 gallon dried peppermint, home grown
  • 1 pint flaxseed
  • 1 quart quinoa seed
  • 1/2 gallon white sugar
  • 1 gallon pinto beans
  • 1/2 gallon black beans
  • 2 gallon molasses
  • 1/3 gallon confectioners sugar
  • 1 pint short grain rice
  • 1 pint long grain rice
  • 2 pounds sea salt, 2 pounds regular salt
  • 1 lb. raisins
  • 1/2 gallon red beans
  • 2 gallons dehydrated mixed vegetable greens, home grown (these have proved extremely useful)
  • 1 qt. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 gallon stevia (not as popular as we had hoped)
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 gallon dehydrated medicinals (haven't been sick much), home grown, mostly comfrey
  • 1 pint homemade rose hip cordial
  • 1/2 gallon whole wheat pastry noodles
  • 1 gallon sesame seeds
  • 1 gallon powdered milk
  • 1 gallon spelt flour
  • 1/2 gallon amaranth seeds
  • 2 cups chickpeas (from a gallon it took decades to go through)
  • 1 lb. Sri Lanka tea, loose packed, and assorted Celestial Seasonings teas
On the spice shelves are quart and pint jars of home grown and bulk bought items, as well.
  • 3/4 qt. flaxseeds
  • 1/2 qt. cocoa
  • 2 qt. whole cloves
  • 1/2 qt. nutmeg
  • 1.5 qt. curry (2 kinds)
  • 1 qt. paprika
  • 1/2 qt. chili powder (this has suddenly become popular with all the bean growing)
  • 1 pint powdered ginger
  • 2 qt. dried allium blossoms, homegrown (we like much better fresh)
  • 3/4 qt. ground cloves
  • 1/2 qt. cajun spices
  • 1 pt. dried myrtle leaves, foraged (like bay leaves)
  • 1 qt. baking powder
  • 1 pint cream of tartar
  • 2 lb. baking soda
  • And some of the little jars of things, like black pepper
On the canning shelves, things are disappearing fast. As this space is unheated, you'll also find the seeds for this year stored here as well.
  • 13 pint jars tomato puree
  • 24 quart jars tomato puree
  • 25 quarts applesauce
  • 4 pints blackberry jam
  • 1 qt. maple syrup (bought)
  • 1/2 gallon dried runner beans (these are for seed)
  • 1 pint buckskin beans (ditto). Bought at a sustainability fair; said to be good in a drought
  • 2 lbs basmati puffed rice (a luxury item)
  • 1 lb. popcorn
In the freezer there is lots more space than there was in November, shown here.
  • 18 pints blown goose eggs, home grown free ranged
  • 4 pints homemade chili
  • 2 loaves homemade bread
  • 4 pints filberts, home grown
  • 1 quart plum sauce (last of about 24 from 3 years ago, 2 bad years since)
  • 30 pounds assorted homegrown vegs
  • 10 pints chicken broth, homegrown free ranged
  • 3 ducks, homegrown free ranged. Drakes, actually. All named Andrew ...
  • 6 pints boned chicken, homegrown free ranged
  • 70 lb. lamb, assorted cuts, local free ranged.
  • 8 small trout (getting freezer burn, must use and go for more), local. Definitely free ranged!
  • 15 lb. ham, local free ranged.
There are still some blueberries and blackberries in there somewhere; I just can't find them right now. There are also some highly processed foods in there, of the kind called "take and bake," that belong to Last Son; but with any luck I will stay out of those!

The things in the kitchen stay fresher than you might think, as our wood heat is in the dining room, where we hang out. Kitchen temperatures hover around 55F all winter, except during baking. This year, an especially warm winter here, even the cold room seldom drops below 50, which is really too warm for the potatoes and apples.

You'll see that our meat, especially red meat, consumption is relatively low. We're not consistently vegetarian but we do not care for CAFO's and the horrors those represent, preferring to raise and butcher for ourselves, or buy from neighbors.

What would we do differently? Well, we'd remember to put dates on things. Some have been here for years and lost some of their food value and flavor. And I know from this list that I want to try and get a big bag of barley at some point.

There is not an especially TEOTWAWKI-oriented storage plan here. We simply took advantage of cooperative bulk-buy savings, sales, gardening, orcharding, and poultry raising, mostly, in order to have a low average monthly food bill and not have to run get things, spending more on gasoline than necessary. But it is certainly an inventory on which such a plan could be founded.

And that's it. I don't think we have to go get anything right away!

Now 70, Rezaie tells me he is Yazd's last hand weaver. "No young people come to me to ask me to teach them," he said. "They say the work is boring." But not to him. "I keep doing this because I love it." He finished his tea and went back to the loom. And my work is still improving," he added proudly. -- National Geographic, May 2001, p.16.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All the time in the world

When Risa and Beloved started out in 1977, they lived in a one-room house, with cedar siding and a cedar shingle roof, with a wood-burning heater sporting a good cooktop, and a little jade tree in the one window. This house lived on the back of a massive two-ton cab-over 1946 Chevy truck with a flatbed and dual wheels. Its tiny engine, with five forward speeds and two reverse, could make all of thirty-five MPH on a straightaway, yet, being young, they were quite willing to take this lumbering beast as their primary transportation when following work from Oregon to Idaho on the freeway.

For their honeymoon they simply drove to a clearing on the pristine North Fork of Middle Fork of the Willamette River, in the Cascades, and stayed there for two weeks.

They dreamed of owning land and saved up to do so, but their cash flow was low, so they hit upon the idea of printing up 1,000 bonds at twenty dollars apiece, redeemable at twenty-five dollars. They would buy back the bonds as they were able, selected at random. This scheme found favor among friends and family, and so they began the search for that first homestead.

When they lived in the truck, known as the "Ritz Hotel," they spent most of the rainy winter evenings reading. They read The Lord of the Rings aloud by lantern-light, and wept over the falling Gandalf together; but much of their reading at this time was preparation for land ownership and homesteading essentials.

They read Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book, now known as The Encyclopedia of Country Living. They read Ruth Stout's How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back and her Gardening Without Work. They read John and Sally Seymour's Farming for Self-Sufficiency. They enjoyed Country Women: A Handbook for the New Farmer, by Jeanne Tetrault and Sherry Thomas.

jacket image for The Most of all, they read The Have-More Plan by Ed and Carolyn Robinson. Subtitled A Little Land -- A Lot of Living, its downright gushy enthusiasm could be a little off-putting, but this couple had a specific goal -- move to a Very Large Lot/Very Small Farm parcel in the suburbs and make it feed them while they worked to pay for it. And they communicated the basics with a compelling clarity.

Published in 1946 and apparently never out of print since, The Have-More Plan is just that -- a plan, or blueprint, for adapting in place. Here's what the parcel should have -- how you'll lay it out -- what to do to make an existing house a "harvest home" -- start the garden -- pasture the animals -- build the barn -- you'll be caring for all these things and letting them take care of you.

All in seventy pages.

Risa and Beloved would keep The Have-More Plan on the dining room table, just as soon as they got one. They noted the strong opinion of John Seymour that one must dig like a badger in order to garden, as opposed to Ruth Stout's view that it was not at all necessary to dig. They would try it both ways. They would try everything all ways and find their own procedures.

After all, they had all the time in the world.

Home is the nicest word there is. -- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Too much going on

Risa has been dividing her attention between the woodpile and the south poultry pasture, where she is adding a stand of new fruit trees. At the nursery she picked out a Satsuma plum, a Superior plum, a Jonagold apple, a semi-dwarf apricot, and two Elberta peaches, all about her height, and laid them out on the ground in the rain. Measuring three shovel handles in each direction, she dug and delivered, leaving room for two persimmons that are on order. After each tree, observing the Hutterite rule that "a change is as good as a rest," she cut and stacked some wood. Then she would go and plant one of eight blueberry bushes (four early season, four late) in Bed Six of the garden. And then climb back to the pasture to dig another tree-sized hole.

In order that the sawdust could be collected for use around fruit trees and blueberries, she laid a couple of pieces of old two-by four across the wheelbarrow and made her cuts between them. But the end pieces fell into the wheelbarrow with such a whack that she became concerned for its health, this being a very poorly made wheelbarrow. So she prodded around among the maple leaves behind the woodshed and came up with an old, very small pallet. Cutting out the middle section with the electric chainsaw, she arranged the two-by-fours on either side of the new slot and found the new arrangement very handy for her purposes.

As the weather improved, the neighborhood horseback riders, joggers, walkers and cyclists came out of their various winter dens, stretched, looked about themselves, and took to their routes. Among these there is a retired gentleman who, when he finds Risa plugging away in the front gardens or at the woodshed, does not resist the urge to stop by and kibitz a little. He stays astride his bike and often remarks that he will "go away now and let you do your work," but his visits eke themselves out to last almost half an hour.

"You're at it again, huh?"


"That's a chainsaw? It looks too small for all this stuff." He pushed back his bike helmet a little, and a drop of sweat escaped down his temple.

"Mmm, s'okay if you don't push it. I do four or five cuts and then do something else for awhile."

"You oughta have a gasoline saw; they're more powerful, y'know."

"I do have one. But I don't use it unless I have to. Most of this wood likes the little saw fine, and it's easier on the ears."

"I always thought those were limbing saws."

"Oh, no. The bar and chain and sprocket are the same; the motor is just lower torque, that's all. Watch."

Risa squeezed the trigger and the bar sank gratifyingly through a round of lodgepole pine. At the end of the cut, the two logs fell gently away from each other over the edges of the parallel two-by-fours. [Yes, she uses two hands. The photos are a reconstruction and there is a camera in the other hand. Observe all safety precautions around chainsaws!]

"I see; and your setup keeps the bar from binding."

"And saves all the sawdust for the blueberries. The trick really is just to keep the saw sharp, and supplement the bar oil with axle grease on the rails."

"And I see you have your file and grease gun right here. Okay; I might just try that. Well, I oughta get going and let you do your work. Oh, say, about ducks ... "

Some time later Beloved stepped out to check the mailbox. Risa knew that she wouldn't do this while the bike was in the driveway. Big on privacy.

"So, your boyfriend's gone, hmmmm?"

"Is not my boyfriend. Means well ... has run out of things to watch on TV, I think."

It was time to go plant another tree. Too much going on out front.

Every job is good if you do your best and work hard. -- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, February 04, 2010

A tale of two pastures

The Ancona ducks at Stony Run cannot live with the Khaki Campbells, though their thoughts are almost entirely occupied with doing so. The reason is that the K.C.s were raised with Sylvester and Susannah, the White China geese. Sylvester regards the K.C.s, known as the Gertrudes, as part of his harem and the Annies (particularly Andrew) as interlopers.

So the Annies, in the south pasture, crowd up to the fence every morning and gaze soulfully into the eyes of their Great God Sylvester in the north pasture, ducking their heads in the universal duck gesture of submission.

And Sylvester gazes balefully back upon them, snakes his neck, and tries to bite them through the fence. He shrieks, flaps, runs up and down cursing, all but smashes against the wire in futile rage.

"I will smersh you all down into the mire, pluck each of your feathers one by one, then have your tiny little brains for lunch," he assures them.

"Yes, glorious, invincible, handsome, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and all-seeing lord and master of creation, how may we best serve you," they bow, scrape, and murmur demurely, in reply.

No, Risa and Beloved really did try them all together. It lasted about twenty minutes and wasn't pretty. And Sylvester will, unless foxed or coyoted, live for a number of Annie generations. Beloved, to whom they all belong, plans to breed Annies. So it's apt to be the Tale of Two Pastures forever.

Each group is penned separately at night. At first Sylvester's imprecations were hurled right through the night, but a visibility barrier placed along the chicken wire between them brought welcome silence. See no Annies, hate no Annies, apparently. But in the daytime: war cries. How the neighbors cope, they haven't said ...

The Annies are so constant in their Sylvester worship that they have left most of their pasture untouched, choosing instead to wear a long trench in the ground by the fence, where they pad back and forth in Sylvester worship, while he trumpets, snakes, and hisses inches away.

There is a back door to the south pasture, leading into the yard and gardens, round which the north pasture and most of the orchard are wrapped. It would be lovely to have the Gertrudes and geese in the garden at this time of year, but they live with the chickens. Chickens plus garden beds would be anathema, as the beds have no side walls and can be obliterated by them in half a day.

Or less. They have been known to reduce Risa to tears in minutes.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Risa deliberately left the back gate open, as she's back and forth a lot, planting fruit trees in the south pasture and collecting firewood. The Annies might discover this option or not; she left it to them.

After about eight days of watching her go back and forth, someone apparently did the math and investigated. After lunch a couple of days ago, Risa stepped out on the front porch and there was an explosion of white feathers in the lavender patch close by. "Oh, no. She's caught us. We're doomed" seemed to be the gist of what the Annies were saying among themselves, as they beat a hasty retreat.

But gradually they became inured to her movements, and, emboldened by the sight of their Great God Sylvester and his duck and chicken minions working the orchard, they expanded their territory and, just as she'd hoped, began the work of clearing the garden beds of slugs, snails, pill bugs, and cucumber-beetle eggs.

Sylvester registered his vast displeasure, of course. But the Annies, for once, could not be bothered. "What's it to ya?" they cheekily responded, and one and all they plunked their bills back under the straw.

"I wish to communicate those parts of my life which I would gladly live again myself." -- Thoreau's Journals

Monday, February 01, 2010

Got that covered

No more coffee? Well, that's it, then. Risa dresses for farm work and shoves herself out the door.

The morning's clouds, for once, haven't chosen to present that soppy and stolidly grey united front they've held for the last six weeks. Wisps of fog retreat to left and right, revealing the nearest star in all its rosy glory, and the grasses beam their pleasure through an assortment of small diamonds.

She lets out the chickens, geese and Khaki Campbells. She slips through the second gate and releases the Anconas. Everyone has something to say about this, but only to one another. There are unsuspecting slugs, snails and and bits of rolled corn to be caught before they escape the morning light. They're on it.

Risa pops into the potting shed. Already the air here is warming up as the sun pours over the herringbone-patterned bricks of the floor. She mists the peas, chard, kale, lettuce, favas, and beets in their flats by the south window. So far, so good -- in recent years, mice have been attacking the starts, but she's been working at clearing out the competition. Here the starts get more daylight than they can by the dining room window, and it's been so warm.

The English bluebells are up, four inches, and the daffodils twice that high. The garlic came up in December and is now practically full grown. The nectarines and the pussy willows have gone to bud break, apples and pears threaten the same, the lawn grasses stand in need of a haircut. Redwing blackbirds, who appear in April, have selected January this year, and a mosquito is hovering solicitously by Risa's right ear.

When she opens the earth with a spading fork, the soil exhales the unmistakable chocolatey aroma of spring. It's going to become increasingly difficult to rely on the calendars in her rapidly dating garden books.

Why do you do all this? a friend has asked. You're retired; you could be sitting in your favorite restaurant down at the Cape, watching the dories launch into the surf. You can afford everything you want, without all this bother. You could be shopping!

She tries to explain that the Hundred Mile Diet runs best on food grown within a Hundred Feet; about food miles, energy expenditure, energy efficiency, soil health, and the state of the world, but the friend is ready with reasonable objections: there are too many of us anyway, there will be more cars, not less, we've only burned half the oil and coal and will surely burn the other half, and if The End of the World As We Know It were to arrive, she, an elderly supernumerary, would be among the first to be surplused, and not, as she seems to be angling to be, hired as some sort of professional organic homesteading crone.

Yah, yah, she responds; I get all that. But, you know, there was this Greek philosopher who went down to the fair, and there they had booths selling every possible sort of geegaw: ribbons, hats, funny salt shakers, ankle bells, slaves, bracelets, sandals in twelve colors, i-Pads, and X-boxes. And smiled broadly and said, "Ah! I am truly fortunate! how many things there are in this world of which I have no need."

It seems glib, but there you have it: Risa's discovered an old truth: cultivate any habit and it will grow. A habit of sustainability and simplicity can be an enthusiasm, a hobby, then a lifestyle, and finally a deep and abiding pleasure, without her ever having to become a crabbed and peevish crusader, and it doesn't matter that there are contradictions, or that true sustainability is, for her, where she is and as she is, but a receding and unattainable horizon. If one of the things that matters is that she is enjoying her time here, well, she's got that covered. And the more she does for herself, the less she must use slaves -- which is what every kind of overconsumption entails.

She returns to the house, slips out of her sandals, puts up her straw hat and sunglasses, and begins slicing and dicing good things by the north window in the kitchen.

Tomorrow it will be February.