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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.

Been Learning a Lot Lately, Part 2

I first heard of the term 'occulation cover' in this video.  He has an interesting way to grow carrots and you owe it to yourself to at least check out all his videos on the subject, but it was 'occulation' cover that grabbed my attention.  An internet search showed results for 
occultation (not occulation) which is when something covers something else; its particular use is in astronomy, when one astral body covers another astral body and keeps it from view.

You can get a really good idea how to accomplish occultation for your beds from this link to Bare Mountain Farm who explain it pretty well.

I've notice on my walks in the neighbor-hood that there is a house whose garden is covered all winter long, and I've wondered and wondered at it.  Now I think I know what's going on.  I still can't figure out what it is they are using for the cover material- at first I thought it was linoleum, but it appears to be some sort of fabric, but not your usual landscape fabric. It almost looks like fire hose material, but I've owned a pair of overalls made of fire hose fabric and they did not wear well at all, so I doubt that's it.  In any case, practicing occultation is a very good idea for my corner of the planet because it suppresses weeds really well which get watered all winter long, and it would keep soil nutrients from leaching in said rain.  It would also provide cover for slugs who'd eventually beat it because there is nothing to eat, or provide a great snack for the chickens and ducks, once you get the cover off.

In any case, I'm going to try it.  Starting tomorrow we're supposed to have clear weather for the next eight days, so I'm going to get started tomorrow with cleaning up the yard and getting the first three beds torn apart.  I'll probably keep the two beds that we built from two by twelves- I need the depth for root vegetables (and I don't dare tear them down yet for fear of the wrath of Steve!) but the beds remaining that were made with the Eon deck product will finally have to make their way to the landfill, unfortunately.  They are pretty useless, otherwise.

That's what I've been learning lately, which I've shared with you.  Got anything for me?

Been Learning a Lot Lately, Part 1

All this time allows me to dig around and find useful bits for you.  

I've determined that I need to turn more space over to food production, particularly if I'm going to try to make some money from it (I'm thinking about it- I don't think the corporate world is good for me) and in that vein, I'm going to pull out some beds that I've been using and turn the whole space over to cropping.  This video showed me how I'm going to do it:

I was a little worried that I'd have to wait to get things going but I think this method witll let me get started and do a section of the garden at a time. Woo hoo!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hungry Month

In the old days, folks used to refer to February as 'hungry month', because stores in the root cellar were dwindling down, and there was mighty little in the garden.  One couldn't just nip on down to the store for fresh groceries. If you hadn't planned well, you might certainly go hungry in February.  

February for me is the beginning of the gardening year; this is the month that I start seeds under grow lights in the garage; this is also the month I start preparing beds for new starts. Yesterday I harvested the overwintered leeks and carrots from the winter bed.

To say the carrots were a disappointment would be an understatement.  I usually like 'Caracas' carrots, but they were for the most part really small. I think that is my fault though; I suspect that I got my winter batch into the ground too late last summer.

The leeks were great, though! You really do have to plant them in a trench and hill up to get the white part of the leek to be longer, but it also really helps to start with the right variety.  It turns out that 'King Richard' is the right variety for long whites.

I've been think about this year's garden since mid-January, which is when I needed to get my seed orders in.  At this point, I have all me seed except for one or two items that won't come until next fall. Last spring the seed starts (and failures) really pointed out that I needed to do something about my soil fertility, which I've been working on.  Part of the problem was adding greensand to the soil in the planter boxes, which I didn't know would cause the soil to bind together. It's not as bad as the native clay outside the boxes, but it's far less than ideal.  I've been adding agricultural gypsum to correct my mistake. Then late this last summer and autumn I planted green manures: fava beans, red clover, cayuse oats, and field peas, all of which are winter cover crops.  We've also been composting in situ, and I made the commitment to scale back the garden so that I could grow soil.

The other thing that changed significantly and will impact the garden is our diet.  My Whole30 month did not fix my asthma or eczema, but I can't fault the diet. Avoiding most grains and dairy was a piece of cake, but keeping corn and sugars at bay was a lot harder because they are in everything. Okay, not literally everything, but in enough stuff that I'd figure out too late that I blew it.  I did lose nine pounds, however, and that is huge for me.  So in February, we are going to go through the groceries in the house that are tripping me up, and then in March I start another Whole30, only this time I'll follow the full blown AIP (Auto Immune Protocol), which in addition to no dairy, sugar, grains, alcohol, and legumes, also includes no nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers), eggs (I love eggs!), seeds (black pepper and mustard, among many others), and nuts.There are so many things that you can't eat they say you're better off concentrating on the stuff you can.  This doesn't mean I'm swearing off everything forever- it's just until I can straighten things out so that I can reintroduce things one at a time to see what it is exactly to which I have a food sensitivity. 

One of the things that the change in what we're eating really pointed out to me is that without having to worry about dairy, grains and sugar, folks could really think about getting most of their food from their backyards. And before you point out the number of paleo diets that include baking, I'm not one of those folks whining about missing waffles and pancakes.  For the last month, Steve and I ate vegetables at every meal, in addition to the animal protein we were supposed to be getting, and it's not as hard as you think it is.  I'm not kidding myself here; growing most of my food would take a lot of work, and well-timed planting, as well as the addition of a couple more animals into the mix (I'm thinking ducks in addition to rabbits), and on the face of it, I realize that I have to turn more of the yard into actual production.  I have a lot of un-used space that is in useless walkways or what's left of the lawn.  

So I'm re-thinking permaculture as well, and to that end, I've ordered a couple of perennial vegetables.  I'll go over all that in a later post, though. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dishwater Logic

Where most couples fight over money or what to watch on TV, Steve and I argue about procedure.  Our principle faults are that he is stubborn and I'm a control freak.  I don't know if his stubbornness stems from his being the youngest in his family and he still has a need to prove he can do it or what; at any rate, I don't think he's come to grip with the fact that as his universe is ordered by his intellect, he is just plain not good with his hands.

So where does my penchant for control stem?  I, unlike Steve, have been hands on for a very long time. I have been all about skill acquisition since my early teens, and because I've been 'doing things' and 'making stuff' for over forty years, I generally approach tasks in a very logical way.  I do things based on smaller, predecessor steps because they lead logically to either a better finished product, or less waste, or a faster conclusion, or any combination of the three.  This is something about my husband that I still find a mystery, though, because he understands well the concept of the predecessor step; he is, after all, a software developer.  He's thinking, all the time. I don't mean to infer that he's totally helpless- far from it.  He's frequently right, and there have been many times he's saved my bacon.  But he's also given to stubbornly pursuing his path when I can see clearly that if I let him proceed he's going to break whatever it is he has in his hands.  One of the worst fights we've ever had was the direct result of one of these instances, and I didn't speak to him for a week because of something he said during the heat of the argument. And before I have you thinking that we're on the brink of divorce, let me tell you that there is still no one else on earth with whom I'd rather spend the rest of my life; with all his faults (and I'm no picnic either), I truly adore my husband.  It's gotten to the point that if I'm doing something and I'm having the least little struggle with it, he'll say, "you're doing it wrong," which is something I say to him all the time, and then we both laugh.  More than any other difference between us, which the French would have us celebrate, our problem-solving logic has to be the widest gap between us. Which is why Steve is no longer allowed to do the dishes.

Like nearly any other man I've talked to, with the possible exception of my brothers who learned to load a dishwasher the same way I did, Steve does not believe in wiping off the food from the dishes he loads into the dishwasher.  I don't care whose brand of dishwasher detergent you use, or how fancy your dishwasher is, something somewhere will get always cooked or baked onto a dish or (gag) the silverware, which to me is discomfiting to say the least.  Maybe I do have my hangups, but I really don't like to eat from dirty dishes, I don't care how sanitary they are.  I particularly don't like to set my table for guests with knives and forks that aren't clean.  So Stevie is persona non grata in the scullery.

This means that it sometimes feels like I am always cleaning up the kitchen.  However, I probably spend more time in there because of the way that I do things, which is largely aimed anymore at saving water. We aren't struggling with a drought or anything, and I believe our municipal water rates are reasonable, but in my view it can't hurt to get used to deprivations before they happen, and any habit in that regard that I develop now will make making do without easier later.  As John Michael Greer once wrote, collapse now and avoid the rush.

So- how to save water while doing the dishes.  While there have been many studies that conclude that using the dishwasher saves more water than doing the dishes by hand, none of these studies have included my methods, and I favor a combined approach.  Dishes from which we eat and drink and thus need to be thoroughly sanitized go into the dishwasher, and everything else, especially knives and stemware, get washed by hand.  However, I probably do it a lot differently than everyone else does.  As I implied before, dishes and cutlery going into the dishwasher get cleaned off beforehand, but I use the wash water from the previous cleaning up to do that, thereby not running clean water over them.  I also give everything that I'll be washing by hand a good going over with the previous wash's water to get the grease and chunks off so that I can keep the next wash water cleaner longer so that I can use it later in the day or the next morning. Standing water with stuff in it tends to start smelling bad, so I keep it as clean as possible.

None of the dishes I wash by hand get actually dunked into the dishpan, for two reasons. One is that I don't want to dirty the water, and the other is that I want it to stay as hot as possible for as long a possible.  So after I've loaded the dishwasher and pre-washed the pots and pans and cooking utensils, I scrub out the sink so that I can put the clean stuff in it to hold until I'm ready to rinse.  I empty the dirty dishwater into it, run the garbage disposal, and then clean the sink. Once the sink is clean and rinsed. I put the dishpan back in, squirt some dishwashing liquid into it, and then run as hot water as I can stand into it.  The dishes get washed in the order that it makes the most sense to load them into the drainer, and I wash and rinse in batches, because the sink won't hold everything at once.  So for instance, if there are cutting boards and pot lids, those get done first because they will lean against the back of the drainer as out of the way as possible.  Then I wash the coffee cup saucers, because we don't eat or drink directly from them so I don't waste space in the dishwasher on them. Incidentally, I will waste space on plastic tubs in the top of the dishwasher because they are harder to get grease off of when hand washed, but I always do the lids by hand.

I try to use the sprayer over the rest of the dishes when rinsing so that most of the soap will be gone by the time I turn my attention to other things waiting for a rinse, and that way I use less water for rinsing. Growing up, we didn't use either a sprayer or a dish brush, but since starting to use them I find that I can't do without either anymore.  Dish brushes are useful for making sure you get your whisks and beaters clean, and the gears on your food dishers (AKA mechanical ice cream scoops), and I especially need it for cleaning the bottle opener and the can opener.  I once read that the dirtiest inch in your kitchen is the can opener blade, but not in my kitchen because the idea of using the same implement to open up a can of dog or cat food and then using it to open a can of olives frankly gives me the willies.  Because of that I've been scrubbing the can opener really well for many years, and a dish brush makes it a lot easier to get it done quickly and thoroughly.

Once I have all the cookware and cutlery in the drainer I can turn my attention to the counters and stove top.  The dishwater is still pretty clean and soapy, so I'll dunk the dishrag in it, wring it out, and go to it. I always quickly rinse off the dishrag before I re-dunk it into the dishwater so that I keep the dishwater clean, and I use the soapy dishwater to save on counter spray.  Then I'll run the garbage disposal one last time and then run the dishwasher.  Did you know that fruit flies spawn in the drain?  That's the biggest reason I run the garbage disposal one last time before running the dishwasher- I want to clear the drain completely for both the dishwasher and keeping the fruit flies down.  Fruit flies can be disastrous when bottling beer.

Just because you've stuck out this post this long, I'm going to give you my recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent, which I keep in an old Sun oxygen cleaner bucket under the sink.  You could probably keep it in an old yogurt container (a half gallon size) or a plastic bottle- just make sure it has a lid on it and it's something you can open up to break up chunks because in my part of the country, all dishwasher detergent eventually sticks together because of the nearly constant humidity.

2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup oxygen cleaner or powdered brewery wash

Mix it all together and keep a scoop in it.  I use the PBW because we have a boatload of it.  Both will help keep the water scale down.

I've been using the above recipe for awhile now and like it a lot. It seems to work fine and rinse well, and it's super cheap to make. I haven't gotten around to making my own soap yet, largely because people keep giving me soap (do I need to take a hint?) but I have been making my own dishwasher and laundry detergents, and my own deodorant, all of which work as well or better than the commercial stuff and which cost far less.

Would I change the way I do the dishes if I had less time?  Probably not.  The way I do them seems the most logical to me, which for me is the best way.  I'll at least do them this way until I can't get my hands on dishwashing liquid or borax and washing soda, at which point I'll have to think of something else.

But I can figure that out too.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Our Standard Agricultural Model Shouldn't Be a US Export

Because I don't live in the country, one of the blogs I follow is City Farmer News, which gathers urban farming stories from around the world. City Farmer News always publishes an excerpt from a longer story; sometimes they do well to abbreviate tedious stories, and sometimes they leave a lot of good information out from interesting stories.  One of their recent stories is one of their abbreviated ones that's much more interesting in its original form.

If you'll follow this link you'll find the original story which is about what the US can learn from Cuba about agroecology. Agroecology is pretty much what it sounds like; it's the application of ecological principals to agricultural practices in order to make them sustainable, and Cuba is making it work well and has been for a long time.

My takeaway from the original story is that the United States has been agriculturally really bad for the world.  Instead of learning over the years from countries with active agroecology programs by any other name, we've foisted our version of ecologically and economically expensive agriculture on some of the countries that can least afford it, and the world is no better off for it.  In a lot of places, it's a lot worse off. With the US and Cuba beginning to normalize relations, I can only hope that we follow the author Professor William G. Moseley's advice and choose to learn from the Cubans instead of imposing our questionable agricultural practices and products on them.

Raul, if you're reading this, run away fast as you can.

And if you're an agriculture student, see if you can do a semester down there at their university to see what Cuba knows about agroecology before we've had a chance to screw everything up.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Can Do It - 2015

You know that I only post when I have some sort of progress to report, right?  You know that.

Well, we don't have too much going on homestead-wise right now, although we did earn the supreme compliment from my SIL who told me that we were "the most homesteady people" she knows. Which made me feel really good, although I know in my heart of hearts that we could probably be doing a lot more.

I've been on kind of a personal odyssey this autumn, not that I'd intended that.  2014 saw me get diagnosed (finally!) with a variety of things, which I managed to piece together quite by accident as symptoms of atopy, which is a faulty response from the autoimmune system.   It was a variety of doctors all at different times that gave me the pieces to the puzzle, which is probably why no one doctor said anything that would give me a good idea of what's going on.  But since figuring it out for myself, I very quickly, also by accident, found out how to fix it.  I read in several, oddball and unrelated places that folks with asthma or eczema and more serious autoimmune issues were getting good results with a paleo diet, so I grabbed a copy of It Starts With Food, by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. *

So to cut to the chase, I'm doing their Whole30 for the month of January, not because it's a New Year's resolution or anything- I don't believe in New Year's resolutions- it's because it's the next full month after reading this book and I'm anxious to get started.   And I'm anxious to get started because I want to get my asthma, eczema, non-allergic rhinitis, and allergic conjunctivitis under control.  And since all my symptoms showed up one after the other, I'm doing it now before a fifth condition, eosinophilic esophagitis, shows up. Of all the miserable, hyperallergic symptoms I've been struggling with, the worst has got to be the itching inside my ears, because it itches all the way down to my throat, and I can't scratch it.  You're not supposed to know exactly where your eustachian tubes are but I know where mine are and I can tell you that they are a lot shorter than you think they are, thank God. But I can also tell you how I now feel for dogs that can't scratch the inside of their ears.  By the way, if you want to make a quick and eternal friendship with a dog, rub the inside of its ears- just get the first knuckle of you index finger right in that ear canal and give it a good rubbing.  Then go wash your hands. The dog will probably follow you to the sink.

Anyway, before you automatically assume that this is an unhealthy, low carb diet, let me point out a few things:

You eat a ton of vegetables which are full of carbs.  The starchy veg only gets eaten before a workout, but otherwise everything you ingest is nutrient dense.

We haven't evolved to digest cereals, legumes and dairy (past infancy for dairy, that is), and before you say that's preposterous, consider this: modern humans hit the scene about 200,000 years ago and agriculture was born only 10,000 years ago.  We simply haven't had enough time or the necessary evolutionary pressure to evolve the right gut for digesting cereals, legumes and dairy.  In fact, since modern man is in the business of adapting his environment to suit himself, rather than adapting to the environment, we've probably all but stopped our evolution.

The real kicker for me is the certain knowledge that the soy and corn and wheat growers, the alcohol industry, the dairy industry, and the sugar industry have probably or will probably fund all kinds of studies that will prove this diet to be unsafe, because they will otherwise lose money if they don't. They won't profit if people take control over their food choices and eat nothing but animal protein, vegetables, some fruits and nuts, and healthy fats.  If you think about it, with the right conditions, this is the kind of diet that most people can almost completely grow for themselves.  I've thought about this: I could conceivably be able to provide almost all my own calories and be healthier for it.

Don't let the skinny arms fool you -
I am really thick around the middle.
Overlapping flesh and everything.
Jeezus - I look like a hobbit!
So let's see if I can do it. I'm not posting any pictures of me because I'm a fat blob (hah! there I am), but I'll give you the stats: I'm five feet two inches tall and when I started eating a more paleo diet at the beginning of the month I weighed 155 pounds. When I last weighed myself on the 26th, I weighed 151 pounds.  I ate Christmas chocolate all day long and a little spaetzle at dinner on Christmas day, but otherwise did not fall off the paleo wagon and I can tell you that I did not gain any weight over the holiday.  So since this is the time for New Year's Goals, my goal for 2015 will be to lose my symptoms, get healthy and take off forty pounds.  That's all.  I may get some other things done this year, but this is the only goal I have this year: get healthy and lose weight.

I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing and how I'm feeling, but if you want to learn more, check out the Hartwig's book.  I tried to get it from the library but the hold list was too long, so I asked for it for Christmas. I'm really glad I didn't wait.

And in the meantime, I hope that you all have a happy and safe New Year and that 2015 will be an especially great year for you.

* Don't be fooled by the It Starts With Food Cookbook, which has nothing to do with the Hartwigs.  It's by Whole Foods, who is looking to capitalize on the Hartwig's work.