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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Search Begins

Last weekend Steve and I rolled down to Jacksonville, Oregon to see the Tedeschi-Trucks Band at the Britt Music Festival.  What a great venue, and what an awesome band!  We had such a good time that I just bought tickets to see them again at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland in November, which I think will be a great way to celebrate thirteen years together.  Why? Because our seats are numbers 13 and 14; thirteen years together in the year 2014. Kismet, no?

But getting back to Jacksonville- part of the reason we wanted to go was to start looking at parts of Oregon to see where we want to buy property and build a house.*   This started with a trip to the local AAA office to get a bunch of county maps.  The Friday of the concert we drove around Josephine county, which was really pretty, but later at dinner our waitress told us, "oh you don't want to live in Josephine county. Josephine county has no sheriff's department."  It turns out that the county lost their federal funding from co-opted lumber sales during the Great Recession, and the residents didn't want to pony up a 150% increase to their property taxes, so the sheriff had no choice but to lay off his deputies.  They also had to release most of the inmates of the county lockup (keeping the very worst offenders behind bars).  If that weren't enough to make living there unlikely, the lack of The Law has spurred various vigilante-type posse groups. I like living in the west, but I don't want to live in the Wild West.

So we were very disappointed to learn that we wasted a whole day on a county we couldn't consider. The other day was spent looking in Jackson county, which we've decided is too dry and too spendy. Beautiful, and really reminds me of California, but not for us.

Then on the way home we got off Interstate 5 and drove out 126 to Mapleton and headed back in on 36.  Both routes were really pretty and we liked them a lot- this was in Lane county.  It was interesting to see the difference in maintenance the two roads receive, because the coast road (126) was in much better repair than the other.

We know we want to be on the coast side of Interstate 5, and in the rain shadow of the coast mountains, and we'll look at Washington as well.  And at this point, we're just looking for what looks good- we're not searching for property (although if the right thing jumped out at us, we'd probably take the plunge).

This could be a long search.  Let me know if you know of a good place to look that you would recommend if you have one.

* Our dream house does not exceed the current square footage within which we live (1400) and could wind up being a great deal less. We're also planning on building it ourselves, so it can't be too fancy. Don't want a fancy compound, just a homestead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hailstorm Chocolate Nut Tart

The day before yesterday, I'm in the shower, and when I turn off the water I hear this THUNDERING ROAR…it was hailing- the worst hailstorm I've ever witnessed.  It was worse than anything I'd experienced in Florida.  I've never seen so much hail come down so fast and so hard. The last time we had a bad, late hailstorm it was in May, which was bad enough, but then my plants weren't so far along.  This one happened mid-June- I dreaded what it was doing to my garden.

I finally got outside to see what kind of havoc the hail storm had wrought, and my heart sank when I saw the damage.  A few things are going to be okay- the pole beans and cucumbers, for instance, because they were sitting under their respective trellises which provided a modicum of cover.  The cabbages will probably be alright because I think enough surface area of them are unscathed.

Torn tomato- half of it's on the ground
But the mainstays of my summer garden- the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and kale- were pulverized.  I'd just trimmed the tomatoes to a single leader and one of them was flopped over broken.  I don't know what that means for production from that one.

What's left of the Sweet Meat squash
Also decimated were the crops that are newer to me, the cardoons and Sweet Meat squashes.

Cut up cardoon
I can't quite say everything's wrecked, but enough of it is to make me feel that it all is.  I really don't know if the tomatoes can come back from it; I'll just have to see. About a third of my sweet corn crop which I just got into the ground also was ruined.

Well crap.


I guess I could be seriously depressed about this, and maybe I am, because I decided to make a dessert I haven't made in a very long time-  probably not for five years.  I don't know why not- it's one of Steve's favorites and it's pretty easy to make.

If eating this doesn't cheer me up, nothing can.**

Hailstorm Chocolate Nut Tart

1    recipe pate brisee (unsweetened pie crust)
1-1/2 cups chopped nuts
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1    teaspoon vanilla
2    pinches salt
1    large egg
1    large egg white

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius or gas mark 4).

Roll out and line a rectangular* tart pan with the pie crust.

Fill it with the chopped nuts and semisweet chocolate chips and set aside.

Mix together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the nuts and chocolate pieces.

Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Let cool completely before serving.

* I always make this in a long rectangular tart pan and it takes 45 minutes- if all you have is round tart pan, increase the nuts and chocolate chips a little and bake it for 55 minutes to an hour.

** I'm not actually expecting this to make me feel better because I'm not an emotional eater.  Nothing encourages, or unfortunately, discourages my appetite.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Coppice Story 2.0

Some of you may remember my post on coppicing woodlots.

(Obviously you can read up on it if you don't.)

About three or so years ago I planted some cider gums (Eucalyptus gunnerii) with the intent to coppice them.

First the bad news: one of them died.

Aside from my fat thumb, this shows the dead tree on the right

Now the good news: it's not dead and it coppiced itself!

New growth! (the silvery blue-green stuff)

See all that new growth at the bottom?  Those will grow into new tree trunks.  I'll let them get a little larger, and probably some time this summer I'll drop the dead portion of the tree across the neighbor's lawn, taking much care to miss his apple trees and pick a day he's out with his truck so it's not in the way.  I'll cut the deadfall into short sections, probably ten inches or less, and stack that for fire wood. Then I'll thin the smaller shoots out and leave the sturdier ones to grow, and cage the whole thing so that weed whacking won't thwart my efforts.  Once they're as tall as the cage, I'll remove the cage.

Eucalyptus is very, very hard, and makes great firewood- it doesn't usually figure in lists for best woods for firewood because most of those lists are European or American in origin.  But growing up we had eucalyptus in the back yard, and the prunings were sectioned and kept for firewood because dry, it's a very hard wood.  I have to admit that I'm thrilled to see it coppice the way I'd anticipated it would.

This won't replace buying firewood for our suburban lot, but it will help.  Maybe a lot!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get Rid of It

So much has happened recently, I don't know where to start.  Oh yes I do.

I finally had it up to here with my boss and quit my toxic job, so I'm updating my resume and looking for work again. Fortunately for me, work made an exception and cashed out my two weeks vacation, which ends this Friday.

But last weekend, we went to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, and again, we learned a ton. So much so that I haven't finished transcribing notes.  There were two talks that really influenced me- one was on the benefits and how-to's of living tiny, and the other was on improving soils. I'll get back to the soils later* but first I want to give you a little info on downsizing, to which Steve and I had previously agreed, but so far I've done nothing about.

First, I have to admit that I'm a pack rat.  Not a hoarder, per se, but my pack-ratting habits could easily descend into hoarding. I have all kinds of things squirreled away 'just in case', so the very notion of going through everything and making a decision about it is daunting.

The best start to the process of downsizing is using the 365 Day rule: if you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it. I have to use my own rule in this instance because, where the speaker had rock-climbing gear he hadn't used in a year and probably wouldn't again because he got it in college and now he's forty-one and unlikely to climb rocks again, I have a sewing machine that I probably haven't used in a year, but definitely need to hang on to because I have future projects that will need it, plus it's a good tool. I hang on to good tools.  But I could probably get rid of some of the fabric I've been hoarding for a while.  I don't see much point to ridding myself of my knitting supplies because they don't take up that much room and they're necessary for a particularly productive hobby, but I could probably rid myself of the art supplies I'll never use again.

And then there are the books. Books are much harder to go through, and I've already done it once, but yes, I need to do it again.  I'm keeping all my homesteading books, and I'll keep my complete Jane Austen, but I think it's time to pass on my children's book collection. Which brings me to one of the more important tenets about letting go of stuff.

One of the children's books I'll jettison is my Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales which I received for my seventh birthday.  Like the velveteen rabbit, the book's condition will attest to how much I love it, which is why I still have it at the tender age of fifty-four.  Never mind 365 days; I haven't cracked it open in 365 months, which is a little over thirty years, so why do I still have it?  Because I spent many happy hours with it?

The thing to recognize with the sentimental stuff you can't let go of is that the memories they hold are not really held within them; they're held within you.  Getting rid of that book will not get rid of the memories- those will stay with me until the Alzheimer's hits, and if that happens, the book will not help anyway. So out it goes.

Getting rid of my ten years (Feb 1992 - Dec 2002) of Martha Stewart Living magazines complete with index is not going to be so easy though....

* In this instance, later means a different post.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Only Wilbur-ilbur-ilbur Is Going To The Fair

Well, not quite.

Maybe attendance is down, or it could be the fact that I've re-upped my Mother Earth News subscription in my own name, or who knows? Maybe the Universe has chosen to shine rather than shit on me for a change, but when MEN offered me tickets to the MEN Fair for $10 for the weekend, I jumped on them. We're going to the fair!

Anybody else going to the MEN Fair in Puyallup, Washington on May 31 and June 1?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Does Anyone Even Make One?

I am sitting in my living room with my feet up, rather than being outside in the somewhat decent weather while waiting for the rain to arrive.  I'd hoped to get the collards and kale out of the Big Bed, weed it, and get in the peppers and eggplants I bought yesterday at the Canby Master Gardener Show.  I was stern with myself and only bought those plants to replace what didn't germinate for me*.  It was hard, but I stuck to bell peppers, sweet Italian peppers and serranos. Oh, and basil for pesto and borage for the bees, but that was it.

So why am I sitting on my arse instead of working?  Because I stuck my spading fork into my middle toe and I'm trying to get it to stop bleeding.  And before you ask how the hell did I do that, let me tell you, it's a whole easier to do than you think it is.  I also stuck it through my expensive Muck boot, and I'm despondent about that. Not sure if I can repair it or not.  It certainly won't self-heal like my toe, which has finally stopped gushing but is still throbbing, eventually will.

Where's a steel-toed rubber boot when you need one?

Later:  We are finally back from the emergency room; it took two stitches to get it to stop bleeding. So my advice to you: treat your spading fork with respect- they bite!

* Next year I'm buying Franchi seed from Seeds from Italy.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Notes from The Homestead April 27, 2014

The chicken tractor worked so well I made a cover from funny pipe and bird netting for the cabbage bed.  That's straw along one side creating new soil.  The rest of the top of the bed was filled with home grown compost.  I'm expecting stellar cabbages this summer.

So when I noticed tomatoes sprouting all by themselves in the Long Bed, I figured that must be a good place to sprout the rest of my solanums (tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers), so I popped six one-foot pieces of rebar into the bed, stuck short (maybe one and a half-foot) lengths of funny pipe over the rebar, and draped a folded piece of Agribon over the funny pipe, which I have gathered together and held down by rocks.  Last I checked, everybody's coming up fine under there.  This may be how I sprout them going forward, it's working that well.  The volunteer tomatoes are Mortgage Lifters, in case you're wondering.

Hmmm. That funny pipe is really easy to work with and useful. I wonder if I could use it to shade lettuces?  I chose a spot that had the green beans in it last year, figuring it would have better nitrogen in the soil.  Then I thrust five pieces of rebar into the soil-  one-foot pieces for the ends of the funny pipe, and one and a half-foot pieces for the PVC pipe.  Each of the pieces of PVC are capped with a tee, through which I threaded the funny pipe.

Then I stretched a length of Agribon over the funny pipe and clipped it all down with clips made of short pieces of funny pipe into which I cut a long slit with a pair of scissors.  Cutting across the funny pipe is a lot easier with a PVC cutter, but cutting length-wise through a single thickness is fairly simple with a pair of scissors.  That's a lettuce mix of my own devising and Fenburg romaine from Johnny's under there.

Otherwise, spring is blooming right along.  These are Honeycrisp blossoms.  The Honeycrisp is blooming for the first time this year, along with the rest of the original eight apple trees I planted, except the Golden Russet.  The Golden Russet was flush last year, but is taking this year off.  But yay! The rest of the apples are finally blooming!!  I am not counting on fruit this year because they may not be getting pollinated what with all the rain and everything.

The grapes are putting out leaves as well. Go grapes!

All of this is brought to you by Last Weekend, because This Weekend has been preempted by rain.  But this is what I get for living in Oregon.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bricolage - The French Word For Something From Nothing

The French have a great word for small construction made from materials at hand: bricolage.  I've been wanting a chicken tractor for a long time for the girls.  Steve said a couple of weeks ago that Big Red, the most reticent of the them, rushed the door of the enclosure when he went in to give them their scratch trying to get at the succulent grass and weeds.  So it was time to get the chicken tractor made.  The problem was, I didn't want to spend any money building it.

So I didn't.

The trickiest part was the joints. Steve pulled down a couple of painted 2X2's from the overhead in the garage for me, and coupled with another used 2X2 I had on the floor, I had plenty of lumber.  But I didn't have any hardware for holding them together.  So I made some.  My dad used to make his own hardware when he couldn't find what he wanted, so I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

After drilling pilot holes in the 2X2's so I wouldn't split them when I nailed them, and then nailing in the biggest nails I own, I fashioned cleats from wire and nailed the joints together with fence staples.

Then for the ribs I drilled short pilot holes for more of those giant nails at the corners and every nineteen inches, and then looped funny pipe over them.

Then I covered the whole top in two thicknesses of bird netting, and then covered what I could in a plastic compost bin that wasn't cutting it for me.
Et voila! One dee-luxe chicken tractor, to which Buffy and Big Red took right away.

Once we get some solid sunshine (which will be in mid-July. Seriously.), I'll have the girls out there supplementing their own diets with whatever they can find.  This should keep the bugs and weeds down, reduce my feed costs, and make my eggs bright yellow.

Oh- and make for some happy hens.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014