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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bee Season and Updates

What is that?

Is that honey?

No, it's just a beeswax/avocado oil mix for sealing my new bee hive (and all this time you thought I've been resting on my laurels).  I've been busy!

I built myself a Warre hive, which was easier to do than the bee boat, as Steve calls it.*  Today I sealed it, for next week (Wednesday, to be precise) the bees will be here!

I have a busy week next week.  On Monday, I go pay for the half hog I ordered.  On Tuesday and Wednesday the fence guys will be here building me two new fences.  They are going to finish (they had better**) just in time for me to set up the hive and run over to Ruhl Bee in Gladstone to go get the bees.  The fence company is really squeaking it in, because the spot I'd earmarked for the hive before the fence blew down was right by the fence. If the fence timing was a canal, and the bees' arrival was a boat, you would hear a lot of screeching as it scraped by, that's how close we are.

Then Thursday I drive down to Mt Angel Meat Co., in Mt. Angel, Oregon to watch my hog half get cut up.  I am unusually excited about this partly because I'm going to learn how it's done, and partly because I am getting fresh pork belly which I will salt cure and smoke for my own bacon.  Finding sugar free bacon has been something of a holy grail, so I'll add it to the list of pork products I have to produce for myself. Actually, it's a pretty short list: sugar and seed free sausage and now sugar and seed free bacon.  Probably the best thing about this pork is that it was reared on a 400 acre farm on grass with the occasional vegetable and fruit thrown in.  It had a happy life with only one bad day, which is what we've been looking for.

This past Monday I was lucky enough to go morel hunting with my friend Rae and her husband. I've decided that R-A-E stands for Really Accurate Eyesight, because just a little while after telling me the story of how last year she spotted the first morel from the car going twenty miles an hour down the hill, she did it again.  You wouldn't know what a hell of a trick this is unless you've spent all your mushroom hunting time walking slowly with your eyes down, scanning, scanning, scanning and still coming up with nothing.  She's amazing. We (that's an editorial we- I didn't find anything) only got five, so it would seem we were a little early.  As I said, I didn't find any myself, but at least now I know what I'm looking for and where to look, so I learned something.  We also found an old King bolete, so know I know what they look like too, but wrong season for them.  Plus, it was a lovely day to tromp in the woods. And then Rae's hubby spotted a grouse and pointed it out, which I had never seen before; now I also know what a grouse looks like.  I can see why they call it a prairie chicken.

The garden has been agonizingly slow going this spring; I think I was too early and it's been too cold.  All the more argument for a hoop house or green house.  The weather is heating up to the seventies and low eighties this weekend, so maybe stuff will take off now. It's been really frustrating, though.  I have herbs and cucurbits starting to come up; they should be ready to put in the ground (probably under cover) next month.  I also have sweet potato pips started on the island in the kitchen.  Those are going in the wire baskets which we've moved to the deck.  That should be a good and hot environment for them.

Maybe I should try okra on the deck...hmmm...

*In reality, it's called a Kenya top bar hive.
** They told me it would take one and a half days.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Free Online Homegrown Food Summit Next Week

I just found out there will be a free online homegrown food summit next week- I've already signed up for it and you can too right here.

Some of the presenters will be (and these are just the folks I've heard of before- there are a lot more that I haven't to whom I'm looking forward to hearing): Toby Hemenway, Paul Wheaton, Sally Fallon, Joel Salatin and John Jeavons.

Topics include (but aren't limited to): permaculture guilds, gardening without irrigation, straw bale gardening, picking the right chickens for the backyard, rainwater harvesting, beginners guide to deer hunting, rabbits, aquaponics, and lots more.

It runs from April 6 through April 12 and they'll post five presentations a day starting at 6:00 AM eastern time on Monday, and the five presentations will be available for twenty-four hours.

So if you couldn't get to the Mother Earth News Fair, here's a chance to learn useful things for free.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fighting The Good Fight

I would rate the protection of our seed heritage right up there with breathing. Well, certainly right up there with eating, which is almost as important.  The way the exchange puts it, "with the growth of hybrid seeds in the last century, much of the world’s connection to saving seeds from their own garden has crumbled. This results in a separation between our food, our gardens, and the seeds from which they spring."

As homesteaders and householders we absolutely have to be able to access open pollinated and heirloom seed so that at anytime necessary or practicable we can save our own seed, and it's not only important for the sake of thrift but also in terms of developing our own landraces. Tomatoes come to mind as the most adaptable seed you can stick in your garden- once you find something you like, tomato plants from seed saved from year to year only become more acclimatized to your garden and do better every year.

I'll be honest- I have only made small forays into seed saving, but I still grow only heirloom and open pollinated seed on the off chance that someday I'll actually need to save my seed.  But in the meantime, I've been a member of the Seed Savers Exchange for several years now, mostly because I think what they do is incredibly important, to everyone.  So important that I would still be a member even if I didn't grow a garden.  In fact, it's been a couple of seasons since I last ordered seed from them, but continue my membership I will.  The other cool thing about membership is that if you're looking for something obscure, chances are somebody somewhere is growing it and you can find it in the Yearbook.  That's how I found my German Queen tomato a few years ago; I obtained them from a gardener in Wisconsin.  He kindly threw in a few seeds from another strain of tomato as a gift.

April is membership month for the Seed Savers Exchange, and memberships start at $40 a year- $30 if you're a senior or student.  If you're in the fight to grow your own food, you owe it to yourself and everyone who comes behind you to help the Seed Savers Exchange with their work.

Memberships can be obtained here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Please Help Me Fight The Monsanto Profit Protection Act

I don't usually get political, especially here, but something is going on in congress that has me pretty riled up.  I don't know about you, but I really, really want to see our food labeled whether or not it's GMO.  Some folks don't believe that genetically engineered foods are harmful and I can't say for a fact that they are; I just don't think they've been around long enough for us to know  the long term effects and I would like to be able to choose not to eat them because I quite frankly don't want to take the risk.  I don't want to ban them altogether; I just want to be able to make an informed choice.

Yesterday, Monsanto’s favorite congressman, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, introduced H.R. 1599 a.k.a. the DARK Act, a bill that would outlaw any federal or state law to require labels on genetically engineered food. Even states that have already passed labeling laws would be prohibited from enforcing them.

With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and anti-labeling lobbying expenditures at an all-time high, the threat to the GMO labeling movement has never been more serious.

We need phones on Capitol Hill to be ringing off the hook with the message that Americans OPPOSE the DARK Act (H.R. 1599) and SUPPORT the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 913).

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO: Grab your phone right now and dial 1-877-796-1949. You’ll hear more information about the DARK Act, and then you’ll be automatically connected to your Representative’s office.

This bill may as well be called the Monsanto Profit Protection Act, because it was written for one reason: To protect the corporate profits of big pesticide and junk food companies at the expense of our right to know what’s in our food.

If H.R. 1599 is passed, it could set the GMO labeling movement back decades. There has never been a more important time to stand up to Monsanto and their allies with a call your representative right now:

Dial 1-877-796-1949 right now and you’ll be automatically connected with your Representative in Washington.

Please spread this information to as many people as you think will participate.  

And pray.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Still Learning The Hard Way

Not wasting daylight is one thing, but managing your time so that it's maxed out does not leave wiggle room for when something goes horribly wrong.

Everything I've been planning since January is all coming to a head at the same time, which would be bad enough, but to make matters a little more urgent, last weekend part of our fence blew down, so we are having the fences on the sides of our backyard replaced because they are overdue for it.  The tough part is that while I'm still getting bids (get this- the first one was $7600!), the fence area is right where I was going to put the bee hive!  It will be an interesting and nail-biting race to see what shows up first: the bees or the fence crew.  I really don't have another place to put them which is why I chose that spot. Nuts!

In January I broke down and ordered said bee package, which is due to arrive sometime in April, which means I had to have the new hive finished by the end of March. I got that done and I also built one for my SIL, and have parts cuts for a second of my own in case the girls swarm this summer, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  I still need to make sure they don't swarm immediately and take off three days after installation like the last time.

Also in January I started researching perma-culture, kind of by accident. When I first started the garden I had the opportunity to plan it with permaculture in mind but I didn't because I was impatient to get the garden started.  So now I'm planning around established trees and boxed beds, and it is not easy.  In this drawing, which you can see better if you click on it, the established trees are represented by dashed or dotted lines, and the plants I'm going to put in are represented by solid lines. (I'll write a separate post on what I'm planting and why when I get to them.)

This is a detail of the food forest that I'll be creating from the stone fruits orchard.  It will be pretty crowded in there, but the swales (represented by the blue lines)  and access path (represented by by the solid orange line) will allow decent access into it. Most of the plants going in will be either nitrogen-fixing or biomass-generating, which means they'll be support plants for the trees that are there.  This, by the way, is known as guild planting, but more on that later as well.

I am by no means doing this in the right order; permaculture is all about the planning and designing, because the idea is to mimic nature's systems.  For instance, I haven't completely finished the plan because I still need to size the cistern tanks, which are getting put off again because I have to buy fences this spring. Nuts!)  Thus, the area in front of the pergola hasn't been finalized, however, I do know that the clothesline will be there (because it already is and has been for a couple of years), and I'll also install a keyhole bed for the herbs there as well, rather than the standard permaculture herb spiral, which I do not like.  I don't like herb spirals because they require too much soil to build and way too much bending over to get at the herbs in the middle.  So because the rain catchment system isn't in, I don't have the irrigation planned, which really should go in before the plants.  The plants, by the way, are cooling their jets in the garage in buckets of damp pine shavings because I already ordered them, and I already ordered them because I need to get them in as bare roots.  And I can't get them in until we finish.....

...digging swales. Swales, nitrogen fixing plants, and chop and drop biomass plants are the three keys to permaculture success.  Swales slow the progress of rain draining across your property by collecting it and allowing the water to infiltrate the soil.  They allow trees to water themselves by raising the water table. I am hoping that they will water the trees this summer so that I won't have to, because I'll be concentrating on the new plants.  Swales are dug 'on contour', which means that you pick an elevation and draw a line all along the same elevation, which ensures that your water gathers and infiltrates evenly.  On large properties, swales can culminate in a dammed pond, and if positioned above your crops, well, then you have a gravity-fed irrigation system.   We'll fill our swales with hemlock bark, at which point they'll also become access paths.  The swales themselves are eighteen inches wide and a foot deep, and the hemlock bark will hold a lot of water.  Before the hemlock goes in though, I have to spread agricultural gypsum in them to help open the clay so that the water will move through.   We have two more swales to dig, and then I can order the hemlock, which will also be used to cover the established paths.

Chop and drop biomass plants create soil as they decay where they've been dropped, sometimes where there was no soil before, as in the permaculture experiments in Jordan - search 'greening the desert' and look for Geoff Lawton- his work is amazing. Nitrogen fixing plants fertilize that soil and make nitrogen available to adjacent plants.  If you have really sandy, permeable soil, permaculture is a good way to fix it.

Permaculture is becoming more popular and that's a good thing, because after seeing some of the incredible things it's done, I'm convinced that permaculture is the way to correct hydrocycles across the globe and survive and even thrive during climate change.  It doesn't happen over night, though, so start planning now if you've a mind to try it.

And plan for it to get started in the autumn like sane people do so you're not running around trying to do everything at once.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Source: Home Butchering and Meat Processing Supplies

If you're into home butchering and meat processing, Weston Supply appears to have everything you could want or need for that, plus selected items for other providence-producing pursuits.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Let's Get This Garden Party Started

As it's looking like we'll have an early spring (not counting tonight and tomorrow night which will be in the low thirties), and since I always seem to be behind the eight ball when it comes to getting things started on time in the garden, I started my vegetable seeds today. They went into a new Speedling tray (I bought five total) which I got at Peaceful Valley Seeds, along with the drain trays * (I bought only three of these). The Speedling trays come in different cell sizes; I chose trays with seventy-two each 2x2x3 inch cells.  Each cell is an upside down pyramid with an open bottom so that the roots are air pruned and so that you can get the plant out of the tray easily.  Normally, I would avoid buying anything made out of styrofoam, but these had really great reviews online and seem to last awhile, with good care.  One person said they had theirs ten years already and another person has had hers for twenty years!  That's taking good care of them.

I also want to show you my garden planner that I got from Amazon for around thirteen bucks.  It's actually just a calendar planner made by, appropriately, a company called Bloom, but the reason I chose it is that it's perfect for the purpose for which I need it.

It comes with different covers; I chose this one thinking it would be easier to see if I left it in the grass.
First you have the month-at-a-glance page. In addition to writing down all the good dates for planting and noting things like the last average frost date for my area, and the two best dates to set strawberries, I can also note things like when the girls started laying, and the temperatures in my compost piles for a given day.  That way, I can stay on top of the compost and turn it when it needs doing.  This is also the page where I'll be noting breeding and kindling dates for the rabbits when I finally get them.

 What I also like about this particular month-at-a glance page is the space off to the right for a todo list for the month.
At the top in the todo list, I'm listing all the plants I need to plant that month; I'm noting what to start (in the trays) and what to direct seed.  I also have it split by the crops I'm seeding every two weeks, and the main crops that I have to start that month.
Then at the bottom of the todo list, I've listed all the dates for planting above and underground crops by the moon, and have bolded the most favorable dates of the month for them. This information came out of the Farmer's Almanac, which Steve gets for me every year for my birthday in October.  
Then after the month-at-a-glance page, the next pages are organized by week, with plenty of room to write down what I'll be planting on given date.  On days I'm not planting I can list the other chores I need to get done. 
Then at the front of the planner are several blank pages for notes. Here I've listed all the seed varieties I'll be working with this year, and I've noted how many days to maturity (where it was given) and whether it's a cool or warm season crop.
And then finally, I've also noted for myself how many cells and how many seeds per cell, or feet of row, or flats I want to plant at a time.  I also made a note of the perennial vegetables I'm planting this year, but haven't decided any dates for them yet because I've still to work out where to put them.  Most of them can also be planted either spring or autumn, and the potato onions won't even show up until September anyway.  The perennial vegetables will go into my permaculture area, but I've yet to figure that all out.

I am really liking the planner; hopefully it will keep me on task and on target this year.  It would be really nice to not feel like I'm always behind for a change....

* Twenty bucks seems like a lot for the drain trays but they are actually British boots trays and they are super sturdy. I may keep one of them for boots!

Friday, February 20, 2015

We're Back In Eggs

We're back in eggs again.  Lola laid all winter long (with no encouragement from us); we had two eggs yesterday, because Becky was the first in, and then today everyone except Lola laid.

If she wants to take the week off I can't say I blame her.

Clockwise from the top: Izzie, Becky, Annabelle and Tommie

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Check This Out - Honey on Tap Directly From your Beehive

Too bad I can't get one before the beginning of April when the bees show up.  As it is, I'm going to build a Warre hive fairly shortly here.

But check this out-  I want one!!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Been Learning a Lot Lately, Part 3

Charles Dowding (the British gentleman in the video in Part 1) also has a great website and you can check out more of his videos here, which I think are well worthwhile.

His Harvest video has a lot of good information on varieties as well as when to get them in the ground.  I've learned so much from this guy.