Sunday, January 30, 2011

The stars will continue to shine

Click to expand
Risa's in bed today, fighting off something strep-ish, related to some dental work that is going forward. Supposedly, she's editing Book II of her post-apoc for print publication, but she's distracted by the goings-on in the Middle East and the possible link between those and food shortages and between food shortages and what Stony Run's all about. So she's been fantasizing about how she thinks everyone's yard should look -- drawing on her touchpad again (crudely) with Paint. If you want to see how this sort of thing looks when drawn by an expert, see Aaron Newton's blog. Better yet, take the class he's offering with Sharon Astyk (see same post).

The diagram echoes similar images in books with "self-sufficient" in the title. No, she doesn't think self-sufficiency is all that possible, and thinks resilience is a better term. Other things being equal, the more you can take care of yourself sustainably, the more everybody else doesn't have to decide whether to take care of you. She likes this concept at any scale: personal, family, extended family, peer group, neighborhood, community, region, nation, continent -- and recognizes that minerals and mineral-based products have their place in the scheme of things -- but thinks the main thing to be more resilient in is access to food and water.

To which end, she's always recommending rural or small town over urban, ownership over rental, free and clear over debt: your own patch of arable land, with enough water, and scaled to get by without oil-intensive machinery if necessary. On a foundation of working-class subsistence farming, any locality is much more resistant to the Four Horsemen than it might otherwise be. Large urban centers, dependent upon massive transportation networks carrying the produce of industrial-scale farming, fishing, mining, and production worldwide, are more vulnerable.

In the drawing above, she's visualizing a half-acre's worth of resiliency. She'd say something about Permaculture at this point, but has noticed that when she says "permaculture," those to whom she's speaking think "hippie" -- and that's where the conversation grinds to a halt. This happens in her head, too, alas. So instead, she'll just say that the activities on this site are "diversified." If you do like the word "permaculture," just re-draw Risa's diagram with lots of really curvy lines instead of straight ones and you're all set.

Yes, it's aimed at a suburban "western" readership and of little use to people in "developing" nations. Yes, it all comes to naught if things happen fast. She's aware it's an interim fantasy. Etc. But for the sake of discussion, bear with us a bit here, please.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living [Book]
For futher information, you could do worse than to start with Carla. ==>

Here are the labels for the image:

a -- house. Consider energy audit, retrofit, passive solar, wood, composting toilet, greywater. Points if the house emphasizes access to visiting, music-making, board games, reading and such over having a 60-inch flat screen TV. Extra points for access to non-electric lighting, just in case. Double points if there's something you can do in here for a living. Be able to cook. Be able to cook solar. Be able to cook on wood. Be able to preserve foods -- especially without a freezer.
b. -- garage. (Roofs, and walls, are white here for a reason. You might not have air conditioning. If you can, develop water catchment from these as well.)  Practice a skill here, such as candlemaking or ironmongering. Big points for being a doctor, veterinarian, or dentist.
c. -- well house. If they don't allow wells where you are, move. Otherwise, perhaps, be surreptitious. If possible put it on its own separate circuit, with a freeze-proof hydrant nearby, in case of house fire. Add supplementary non-electric pump.
d. -- Potting shed/toolshed. Cold frames, hoophouses or greenhouse in this vicinity a plus.
e. -- barn. A little shed will do. This one is for two milk goats plus poultry. YMMV.
f. -- garden beds, polycultural. Tomatoes and lettuce are nice, but think beans, potatoes, squash, corn, kale. Things to live on.
g. -- orchard. Semi-dwarf fruits, nuts. Start now; nuts are a long time coming.
h. -- "chicken moat." Poultry live in the orchard and mostly not in the garden or your play space. They eat bugs that like your orchard and bugs that are migrating toward your garden. Points if you run vining crops along the fences.
i. -- goats. Fence well; they love young fruit and nut trees.
j. -- vehicle access. A pickup will be necessary in the near term; if you live to see the return of horse carts, you'll still want to get things to your barn and potting shed.
k. -- path to potting shed and barn should withstand heavy rains; if you slip and break a leg, well there you are.
l. -- shade trees to hang out under on breaks in summer, reading a book maybe. Remember books? Bonus if the trees are "standard" size fruit/nut trees.
m. -- your play space. Toss an old Frisbee; they don't need batteries and will be with us forever. Add a garden swing.

The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency [Book]If you're young and ambitious, and have room, put in a vineyard, a cross-fenced pasture, assorted fields, fish pond, and woodlot. Bees are nice, too. Here's some discussion of managing a larger place ==>

If you're old like Risa, don't bother; you can only do so much, and after sixty, what you can do diminishes steadily, like the orchestral chord at the end of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony. And that's if you're healthy. So then convert some of the raised beds into berry patches and grape arbors accordingly, reduce the flocks, spend more time sitting in the swing at point "l" (shade trees), and tell stories to the grandkids. Then try for a graceful exit, leaving the place better than you found it -- for descendants if they're interested. If they're not, don't trouble yourself about it; the stars will continue to shine.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Our best shot

In hopes of getting to do some farming this year, Risa is planning her campaign. Four more fruit trees have been added, and she's ordered some red-wine grapes, raspberries, more hops, two mulberry trees, and asparagus roots. No, she doesn't know where she's going to put all that. But apart from watering, which can be delegated, they don't need much input from her, should she have to go traveling yet again. She's realizing that many of the projects that occupied her in previous winters are done. A certain flexibilty, to which she is not at all accustomed, has crept into the schedule.

The potatoes in storage are looking good. As it is a la nina year, Risa's uncertain about laying down cardboard for the next potato patch, though. We kinda need a new spot because we hear if you are saving your own spuds you should move them from year to year. But in '97 there was a fast moving body of water, two feet deep, in the available location, for several terrifying days. We have not felt up to gardening there ever since, though the floods have not reached it the whole time.

So she's experimenting with a different approach. There is some black plastic on hand, in surprisingly good shape after more than a decade of heavy use in the Nineties, which hasn't been touched in ten years. She'll use this to kill a patch of grass in the flood zone (February, March). In six to eight weeks, this can be taken up, spuds laid on the ground, and the site covered with a deep layer of straw and grass clippings. Water often stays in the creek through June, and can be pumped for irrigation until it runs out. After that, the spuds will depend on the well along with the garden and poultry (the orchard gets recycled duck-pond water), but the early watering can be critical for the tubers here.

Then the plastic can be relocated to the garden (April, May) to warm the beds intended for summer crops, in an effort to heat the soil enough for seed generation. If it rains as much and as late as it did last year, the soil will be too cold and wet right into July. So this might be our best shot at working with summer crops.


As there is a surplus of potatoes and collards on hand this year, Risa has begun emphasizing colcannon on the menus. Irish farmers practically lived on the stuff in the winters up until the blight year (the Potato Famine). Boil or steam potatoes until soft, then mash them. We leave the skins in. Add some some water and olive oil or some cream if you are not lactose-intolerant or vegan, for smoothness if desired. Now add shredded, steamed kale, collards, beet greens, chard, or cabbage, to taste. Or all of the above. Mix thoroughly, with sea salt if you like, and melt in a pat or two of butter if you're as decadent as we are. Many recipes call for bacon bits and we do like a little ham fat in ours. This can sit in a bowl on a trivet on the wood stove till your sweetie comes home; it's a very forgiving recipe. Serve. Goes well with your home-canned apple juice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hunting and pecking

Risa is starting to put her nose out the door more often now that the latest storm has abated. Yesterday, rundling around with the wheelbarrow, she planted four late-bearing storage-apple trees in the orchard/chicken moat, spread some wood chips on the blueberries, picked up some stray potatoes that had been shoveled out of the garden beds by the ducks, gathered some bricks and pots that were languishing in the garden, and picked a few new-growth top leaves from the giant collards.

She chopped up one of the leaves and added this to about a quart of baby potatoes in water in a wood-handled saucepan with lid, and set the pan on the woodstove to simmer down into a soup. Then gathered some eggs and put the birds away in the barn for the night.

A starling was roosting with the hens! Risa, bad girl, couldn't resist giving the little thing a bit of a tug on the tail feathers. With an indignant squawk, the starling flew out into the darkness.

Today, Risa  mucked out the barn bedding onto some garden beds, after scything down some surplus favas --

-- and brought in new straw. Now she's sitting by the fire, hunting and pecking.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trust me on this

Slug patrol
Risa went for a walk with Beloved this morning, down to the park on the Mighty River amid cries of flocks of geese. We stopped to admire the fresh legs of a frog which had been dropped near the road, perhaps by a passing blue heron. The wetlands in the park had flooded across the entry road and finding a way down to the riverbank turned out to be an exercise in wetting shoes till they were squeaky. The river itself, brown and filled with unfamiliar standing waves, was roaring past like a Union Pacific freight making up time, and trees that had fallen part way in were dancing frenetically in the current. Not kayak conditions!

In the garden the slug patrol continued their merry quest. When the soil is saturated their opportunities expand exponentially and their little shovel beaks go everywhere in the loosened soil, accompanied by cries of gluttony.

This is all good, but Risa, who is down in the dumps, is fighting off a spell of gluttony of her own, brought on by signs of mortality among her relations and perhaps by the effect that winter darkness in Oregon sometimes has, especially during a sequence of "Pineapple Express" storms. The harder it rains, the more she digs in the pantry for stuff she shouldn't even be consuming on holidays (if she knows what's good for her). A couple of times she's made it into the garden, though, to see what alternatives there are.

The ducks, she's noticed, do nibble at the chard and the beet greens, but largely avoid the kale and collards. These are popular if thrown over the fence to them when they are fenced out, but in the garden they have enough to do that they have, apparently, no need for these greens. The chickens, who are fenced out all winter after two glorious weeks in the garden, would have no such restraint, but they are rewarded from time to time with a whole brassica, hacked off by machete and heaved over into the pasture with a satisfying thump.

Risa also regularly cooks up butternut, hubbard or delicata squash for them on the wood heat stove. In days gone by, she cut up the fruits obligingly and used a saucepan, but now she simply drops a whole one in a twenty-quart stock pot on the stove and fills the pot with enough water to do the job -- half a day later, pulls the pot off the stove to cool, sets the water aside as stock or takes it out to pour along the south side of the house as compost tea, then grabs the softened squash and lobs it over the fence to smash itself into suitable chicken feed. It's gone within an hour or so, seeds and all -- nothing but the stem remaining.

The collards are almost a year old now and show no sign of giving up, after repeated hard freezes. They are forming loose cabbage-like heads of light green foliage that resembles Napa cabbage in flavor. Risa has taken to bringing these in and using them in salads and stir fries and the like, and this is helping a lot with the darkness-induced gluttony. But the walks to the river -- some three miles round trip -- help best.

If you steam winter collards they will have a mild and nutty flavor that goes well with salt and fats or oils as needed -- Southern cuisine has many pairings of collards with pork, for example -- and the leftover water -- traditionally called "pot likker" -- is incomparably nutritious, and would get you through a winter in which no other vegetables are available. Use as a standard stock in baking and soups, or just drink the stuff.

If you have let yourself slip a bit, as Risa has, it will build up your immunity and restore some of your sanity. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dreaming green

[repost; also appears in Collected Poems]


this is what you'll come to, picking about
in earth, pulling morning glory roots
like long white worms and heaping them

beside you of a morning: you will become
distant and glum, and as your wrists dry up,
caked in clay, you'll look around you, and

not your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your oak and ash,
your three brave maples rattling in the breeze,

your small house bracketed in lilacs, breathing smoke,
your woodshed stacked roof-high,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,

your geese, your ducks, your pear trees in bright bloom
will rid you of the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.

Assuming the sun will come out, which now
it does, things won't seem quite that bad,
and yet you will walk stooped, with furrowed

brow, into the house for a late cold lunch
without words, for there are no words
to share what it was the cold ground

said to your hands just now.

or, sometimes

you'll come to this, lovingly rooting
in earth, gently setting to one side
fat worms, watching them

sink from sight with shrugs of their nonexistent
shoulders. As your wrists dry up, caked
in clay, you'll look around you, and

your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your ash and oak,
your three unfurling maples whispering in the breeze,

your white house bracketed in lilacs, breathing
smoke, your woodshed stacked with fir,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,

your pears and apples, your geese in their bright plumes
will bring to you the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.

Assuming that the clouds will come, which now
they do, you will take things as they are,
and so you simply walk, with even-tempered

gaze, toward the house for a late cold lunch:
one without words, for there are no words
to share what it was your hands

said to the green earth even now.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Simple things

Risa is a bit aimless of late, as three dear people are crossing into the edge of Shadow.

To distract herself, she's baking daily on top of the woodstove. This turns out to be surprisingly easy.

She grinds whatever takes her fancy in the Corona mill -- today it was barley, oats, quinoa, and a few dried favas -- and throws in some water, honey, yeast, salt, and whole wheat flour, shapes a lump, and drops it into an oiled glass bowl.

The bowl just fits inside her Dutch oven, which is not a real Dutch oven as the lid does not have that lip for coals that a proper camp or hearth oven should have. But it's fine for the woodstove top. A few steel washers dropped into the oven seem to help prevent burning the loaf -- tiny trivets.

After four or five hours, the loaf has both risen and baked while the house is being gently bathed in the same heat. She takes the lid off the oven, lifts out the bowl with a pair of potholders, drops one potholder on the table, tips the loaf out, upside down, onto the other potholder.

She has hot fresh medieval bread with a bit of local butter. Watches the juncos and tanagers peck at seed on the windowsill. Simple things.