Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Three trains

The Empire Builder
The Capitol Limited
The Silver Meteor
Photos credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Insurance

All packed. Now here is a report on the greenhouse.

Regular readers (there are a few) may remember we had to kick the ducks out of the outside pen because a raccoon was ripping the poultry netting and using that space to enter the barn and take a bite out of a different chicken every night. All the birds had one entrance, through the barn, so now everyone stays locked in the barn all night, not a mode the ducks prefer but at least the predation has stopped for now.

So Risa moved several years' accumulation of extremely rich bedding from the pen, found the soil very compacted, tilled the remaining rich dirt, and started a fall garden in July. That might have been a bit early, but you do things things when you can do them; who knew all of our summer heat would come in September?

Here's the pen right before tilling:


Here's the garden growing:


And here's the "greenhouse."



Well, really, just a very kludged lean-to grow tunnel. The budget did not really admit of anything pretty; so Risa spread three odd-shaped pieces of plastic (left over from other jobs) over the poultry netting as best she could, then salvaged boards to attach the bottoms and is holding the whole thing down with salvaged eighteen-gauge wire from around the place. The idea is to keep the family in kale, collards, beets, onions, peas, cabbage, and chard in her absence. These things sometimes make it through the winter here, but sometimes they don't. The polyethylene is insurance.

Also, the cover is intended to have these plants get by on well water instead of rain water. In times like these, that's insurance too. Such as it is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

AWOL soon



Risa is getting ready for another journey related to the health of her parents, and so she's ... busy ... battening down the hatches and doing what she "can" for the harvest. In aid of which, here's a repost from a much colder September, 2009:




The fall rainstorm has arrived. We had been reading about it on the weather sites for a week, and knew from the way they posted a weather alert and warned travelers to dress warm and consider the possibility of snow above six thousand feet, that this one would arrive more or less on time. It poses a hazard to our tomatoes, blackberries, drying-on-the-vine beanpods, to our dehydrating schedule, and to anything left lying about outside which we'd be happier to have brought in.

So we got busy after work on Friday and harvested every red (or orange) tomato in sight, along with French beans, filberts, zucchini, eggplant, apples, and all the blackberries we could see in the gathering dusk.

The weather came in about 4:30 in the morning, and Beloved awoke to listen the big raindrops hammering on the roof and pouring onto the parched earth. I, the deaf one, slept through it all, as usual.

Today, Saturday, Beloved has to work all day and so I am the housewife du jour, baking bread, roasting a duck, canning applesauce, cracking filberts and freezing them in batches, and putting up dried apples in jars. Everything is labeled with what it is and the year -- '09. The first jars we ever labeled had the year '77. Thirty-two years of 'putting food by'!

Oh, my. And I still sometimes find a canning lid dated from the 70s and 80s; it's like archaeology.

We did a lot more of this sort of thing then, as we were real homesteaders and worked as either migrant labor or seasonally in the valley where we lived. We were proud of our shelf upon shelf and rows upon rows of canning jars, our five-gallon buckets of grains and beans, and the venison in our freezer. Having food ahead made a lot of sense to us, with our irregular income.

In the 90s, we grew and stored quite a bit less and shopped more, as we had 'careers' and were soccer moms as well. But as that part of our lives fades away, we're getting serious again. The garden has doubled and re-doubled in the last couple of years, and I'm trying to remember how to do things with the resulting harvest.

We have been blanching and freezing a lot of vegetables right along, because that seems simplest, though it isn't, necessarily, and there are reasons, good ones, to get away from using a freezer. Ours is an efficient chest freezer, medium sized, but it does constantly draw current and is vulnerable to a long power outage. Since there's seldom much meat in it any more, loss would not be much of a financial blow as it would to a steak-and-pork-chops family, but it would still hurt. So we think about diversifying our assets.

We do still have the five-gallon buckets, and have added galvanized trash cans mounted on casters for storing various flours and grains. These we don't grow ourselves, and we're aware how hard they might be to obtain during a long emergency -- but at least we have a two years' supply at any one time.

In our kitchen quite a bit of the space is taken up with gallon jars (we think we need even more of these) filled with beans and grains, which we top up from time to time from the 5-gallon lots; also there are jars of dried vegetables and herbs, apples, zukes, pears, and tomatoes, from the farm, as well as a zealously guarded jar of fair-trade Colombian coffee.

The dehydrating has gone well this summer, and I'm hoping for one more week of good sun after this storm, to put out some more apples and tomatoes before taking in the dry-box for the winter. I hope to spend the remainder of the long weekend firewooding and making a start on getting down the awnings in preparation for the winterizing.

Turning the radio to my favorite station, which will play blues, sixties classics, gospel, and old-time country (as in Jimmy Rogers old-time) throughout the day, I start the morning slicing apples, then cook them down while preparing seven Mason jars for the water-bath. We get away with leaving the peelings in the applesauce by dicing the slices up fairly small. I add some cinnamon and nutmeg to my batches, as the whim takes me.

While the applesauce cooks, I make up a batch of dough with 32 ounces of water, which comes out to four small loaves of bread to bake on a cookie sheet. Setting the dough aside to rise, I run back and forth between stirring the applesauce and cracking filberts. When the applesauce is turned off and the water bath is coming to a boil, I shape the loaves and put them in the oven to rise, then pour the applesauce into the funnel over the mason jars, wipe their lips for luck, lid and ring them, and pop them into the water bath. Then I work up the thawing duck with some sliced onions and leeks and a bay leaf in salt water and sherry in the roasting pan, and set it aside to bake after the bread.

The water bath is done, so I retrieve the jars and cool them, check the bread, turn on the oven, note the time, and go crack filberts. When I have a 12 oz. jar full, I write 'filberts' and '09' on a sandwich baggie, dump the jar into the baggie, seal it, and set it in the bulging freezer. If we hadn't taken out the duck I don't know where I would have put the filberts. And there are more of them out there in the rain, calling to me.

The bread comes out and is shoveled onto the drying rack, the duck goes into the oven, I un-ring the applesauce jars and pencil 'applesauce' and '09' onto the lids, then stack the jars in a row on the cold-room pantry shelves.

I pause, trying to visualize future labels. ''10'. ''11'. ''12'. With any luck, what will be my last one? ''22'? ''31'? In September of ''31' I would be eighty-two years old, my mother's present age. She's had two strokes, a myocardial infarction, dozens of cardiac arrests, throat cancer, has debilitating arthritis and rheumatism, and is legally blind. She doesn't can anymore and hasn't for many years.

Time to cut up some green beans, zucchini and tomatoes to go with the duck dinner tonight.

I'm well aware that my farming and preserving and cooking is not of the best quality, and not all that cost effective, and doesn't do as much as I might wish toward self-sufficiency and all that. If civilization collapsed, where would I get canning lids in two years?

But I enjoy it. Beats watching commercials.

Yesterday morning, a friend took me out for coffee.

"So, you're retiring in three weeks."

"Mm-hmm."

"That's said to be a big transition, dangerous to a lot of people."

"How so?"

"Well, they find they don't have anything to do."

My coffee almost went up my nose.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fresh kale and mulled cider


Apple season has begun, and Risa has climbed down from the roof-sealing chore long enough to pick, grind, "press" and can.


Two wheelbarrow loads made thirty quarts of apple juice. There are easily enough apples out there to do another thirty quarts. The drying, saucing, and freezing are done -- and experiments with "keeping" haven't turned out well lately -- the cold room isn't cold enough to keep worms dormant (unsprayed apples).

So that means juicing.

Thirty quarts is not so very much from this many apples, but the budget has not yet admitted a fruit press into our stable of tools. With so many young apple and pear trees, plus grape vines, coming on, that's certainly on the wish list, but it's as far as it has gotten -- other expenses come first. [ed. -- several readers have shown me kludged presses of just the sort I would make, myself -- the problem with these is if anyone sees me using one, they won't drink the cider. It's a public relations problem.]

This year's procedure is the same as last year's. Chop each apple into about four chunks, throw it into the electric shredder (dedicated for this purpose), throw the buckets of pulp into a suspended cloth bag, and let gravity (mostly) strain the pulp into a clean tub. Risa did tie up the bag with several loops of baling twine, slip sticks through the loops and twist, but a lot of the juice stayed with the pulp. That's okay -- the chickens get the pulp, and they don't waste the juice that's in it.

Primitive procedures of this kind are an instance of resiliency -- not letting the lack of an expensive gadget keep you from doing a thing. Labor will often get you what you want, within reasonable tolerances, in the absence of money to do it more efficiently. And there's a hidden inefficiency in gadget-buying:
I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day's wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day (H.D. Thoreau).
The next few days are going to be our big heat wave of the year -- upper nineties. More than a hundred thousand acres are burning just over the hills, and even the very grasshoppers look parched. But our mornings are dropping into the forties, the orb-weaver spiders are staking out the best blackberries, and geese are flying low over the roofing job. Soon it will be time to cover the greenhouse.


What's in there, mostly, is kale, onions, cabbage, beets, chard, and peas, planted in late July. Everything has matured faster than anticipated, and we can't really use much of it. The chickens are helping as best they can, by craning their necks through the poultry netting to peck away all the kale they can reach. This saves cutting it to bring to them, so Risa will put off covering as long as she can.

As this "greenhouse" is only a failed poultry pen (the raccoons were gnawing through the netting), it will need some redesigning. the poles that stretch the netting will be dismounted, then the plastic spread on and made fast, then the poles will be re-installed to tighten the skin from within. Right now the netting is taller than the barn, and rain water from the barn roof would have nowhere to go.


There are a few summer things in this garden as well, planted out simply because they were in the last flats. The squash turned out to be crookneck, not much favored by anyone but Risa. There is a little room in the freezer, so she'll harvest these, dice them, spice them, lightly oil them, zap them, bag them, and tuck them away for January, to be consumed with a little fresh kale and mulled cider, when no one else is at home.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Home-grown love


Daughter was here for a lovely visit and when she got home, posted on social media this photo of loot acquired from the "parental units." Aww ...

Recently, Risa read an article, which she cannot find now, about an observed cultural phenomenon among Vietnamese, or Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S., to the effect that the current elder generation worked to send the children to college, then to acquire access to a bit of land, and upon retirement concentrates on supplying their extended family with vegetables. It's absolutely the way to go and Risa strongly recommends it: if you're done with the nine to five and you have family, get out there and feed them. Remember, subsistence is income and not taxed; and world agriculture is in trouble and will get worse. Subsistence strikes at the very heart of the rich-me-poor-you system currently in place, so wherever you can grow some vegs (hopefully non-Monsanto), please! Do so. And send th' kids home with home-grown love.

Post-apocalyptic writing project done!

For those interested -- warning: it's not The Road but it's not for everyone ... One-volume edition of Starvation Ridge should be availalble before the holidays ...

BRIGHT IN THE SKIES

Paperback, 235 pages

List Price:$12.00
Price:$10.80
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Book III of Starvation Ridge. The people of the valley must fight a war for survival in the midst of fire, drought, and famine. Will they be able to stay, or must they join the ranks of the ragged Pilgrims?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

September morn


September opens with a question, because the tomatoes began coming in today, ditto the apples and blackberries, but health issues in the family, three thousand miles away, mean that Risa could be called away at any moment, losing the harvest. She really wants this one, because rain this winter could render the garden, which has been lightly dusted with cesium, even more unhealthy through accumulation.

So how much can she do? It's a marathon week. Blackberries are going into the freezer and canning jars, tomatoes into the dehyradator and canning jars, and apples are also going into the dehydrator and canning jars. Whether there will be a juicing operation -- for which many quart jars await -- remains to be seen. There is also roof work to be done, which was put off by a busy August elsewhere. Risa's -- well -- frantic.

Fortunately apples can be processed quickly. We have a gadget which probably came from Lehman's -- an apple corer-slicer. It's basically a round, two-handled knife with thirteen blades.


Slam it down over the apple and you get a core and fourteen slices, ready to dehydrate or cook down for sauce/apple butter. We don't peel these, so since we don't want lo-o-o-ng peelings in our apple butter, we score the apple around its equator with a paring knife before slamming. Nothing could be simpler.


Here we have apples on the right and apples and tomatoes on the left. We keep it really simple with the tomatoes as well. Risa grabs a tomato, slices its top off (thinly), flips it over onto the cutting board, and slices again down the sides from the top, resulting in five to nine pieces that have the peeling on them, and a hulking, pulpy core that has none -- it's been "peeled." The ones with peeling go in the dehydrator, and the middles go, with some onion, veggie crumble, salt, and spices into the cookpot for canning.

Uneven quantities are evened up with a bit of judicious blending. A salsa might have a touch of apple in it, or apple butter might be brightened up with a little blackberry juice. We're not trying to be chefs here, just resilient.


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