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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Homesteading Update, 28 May 2011

I'm so relieved; the peas are finally blooming!  I was sure I was going to have to yank them out before they had a chance to produce peas because they are where the summer squash (zukes and patty pans) are going for the summer.  Now I think I just may have been a little premature with the squash starts.  I guess we'll see.

I lost all my bell pepper starts.   All my Italian pepper starts, too. Slugs.  I've ordered more bell pepper seeds (Territorial Seed; they're closest, so I figured they'd be fastest) instead of using the saved seed I have.  I saved it from a grocery store bell pepper, which was probably a hybrid, so probably not the most ultimate bell pepper I could be growing.  I ordered the California Wonder 300, which is the only open pollinated bell pepper they have besides the mini bells, which are not worth the time and space.  I grew them last year.  I like full sized bell peppers much better.  The swell thing about bell peppers (aside from the great flavor they add to things) is that they don't require anything fancy for freezing.  You don't need to blanche them or anything.  Last year I just chopped them up, and threw them on a cookie sheet (okay, technically it was a jelly roll pan) and then when they were frozen, poured them into a freezer bag.  Easiest thing in the world.  I used the last of them last week on Steve's breakfast.

In other news, the girls are growing really, really fast. One is starting to sport her tail feathers, and they're not quite two weeks old.  I think they may be outgrowing their brooder already because I've noticed some pecking, but that might be spite.  So I'm thinking I'll have to stop work on the dining nook and get the coop going.  Which probably means that the dining nook will not be ready by the time it's my turn to host bunco night in June, which means I'll have to borrow chairs, in addition to the table I already needed to borrow.  This is all just as well, because it would take some pressure off me; there are days when the weather gets decent and I grieve because I should be outside working on the garden and not staying inside and working on the nook.  I can think of a certain boysenberry bed that desperately needs to be weeded, among other things.  And I have trees and a couple of fruiting plants that need to go in the ground.

And last but not least, the raccoons are back.  One has loped across the backyard two nights in a row and enters the neighbor's yard from a spot in the fence where he's pushed aside a fence board. Unfortunately, it's not our fence. I haven't seen him since the night I went after him with my spading fork (which I'm thinking about sharpening), but that doesn't mean that he's not waiting for the sun to go down so that he can traverse the yard under the cover of darkness.  Raccoons think like that.  They use words and phrases like 'traverse' and 'under the cover of darkness'.

Sneaky, covert bastards.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Epitome of Self Reliance

"This levee protects a home surrounded by floodwater from the Yazoo River on May 18, 2011 near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The flooded Mississippi River is forcing the Yazoo River to top its banks where the two meet near Vicksburg -- causing towns and farms upstream on the Yazoo to flood."
                                                                                             -Scott Olson/Getty Images

http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/05/mississippi-floodwaters-roll-south/100069/

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading Isn't The Ultimate, But It's Darn Close

Some months back I reviewed a book called Deliberate Life: The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading, by Nicole Faires, which I really liked.  I wanted to see more pictures in it, and I wasn't crazy the way that much of the subject matter was introduced as questions, which I just found annoying.  But what I did like about it was that she covered a lot of subjects that other homesteading books didn't, like getting water in the wilderness, disposing of your waste, making tools and farm equipment, how to prepare and sponge flax into linen; useful stuff like that.  Then it turned out it wasn't in print anymore.

So I was delighted when the new publisher, Skyhorse Publishing offered me a copy of the book. I've read other books Skyhorse has published, and I can think of only one that I've read that was pretty good, but the others were pretty lame.  I can't say it's the fault of the authors; Skyhorse seems to publish with stock photography and they splash stuff onto the page in such a way as to be distracting rather than helpful.  And I did want to see more pictures in Ms. Faires book, a picture being worth a thousand words of explanation.  I just don't think Skyhorse gets it.

Ms. Faires's goal for the book was this: if you had nothing and suddenly had to survive in the world by doing everything yourself, what would you need to know?  What if you live in an apartment and suddenly the grocery store was empty? Etc., etc.

The new book is similar to the old book, but it's not as improved as I would have liked to see.  I suspect that is the fault of the publisher, however, rather than the author.  For instance, in the chapter on The Basics, on page 59, the publisher has chosen to take up nearly half the page with a useless photograph of two jacketed individuals purifying water with a portable pump filter (something you have to buy), which teaches the reader nothing, and then devotes one eighth of the page to the author's illustration of a slow sand filter, which one could presumably build oneself.  The next two pages are worse; again, one eighth of page 60 is devoted to the author's illustration of a simple pot still, and a solar still, now reduced to such a scale that you need a magnifying glass to read her labels.  The pot and solar distillers are intended here for the purpose of purifying water, which is pretty important to the homesteader.  And yet on the next page, they've devoted nearly half of the page to another useless photograph, this time of a giant hand plastering a wall.

Honestly, the pictures are the worst thing about this edition. Instead of useful photos showing how to actually get something accomplished, it's as if they looked through a bunch of stock photography and randomly picked stuff out.  It's clear to me that whoever was responsible for choosing the photos had no grasp whatsoever of what the book was about or what the author was intending.  Okay, that's an exaggeration. Not all the photos were useless.  The pictures of various dog breeds were. Useless, I mean. On page 361 was a photograph of antique hand tools.  It was captioned 'The essential hand tools'.  There was not one screwdriver. There was not one pair of pliers. There was no tape measure.  There were, however, several different kinds of wood chisels, a couple of pairs of nippers, several awls, a hint at a hammer and two saws, and lo, and behold, a brace and bit, which admittedly would be essential for drilling holes if you had no electricity. But most of the stuff in this picture was not essential.  Esoteric, yes; essential, no.   The next page devoted half its space to a picture of a simple pocketknife.  It was captioned 'the versatile pocketknife'.  Now to me, a Victorinox Swiss Army knife is a versatile pocketknife, or at least a Leatherman is a versatile pocket tool that has a knife among its tools.  But I can't call a knife that doesn't help me into a bottle of wine versatile.  Call me picky.  I just hate seeing photographs labeled incorrectly- I know better, but what about the poor person who doesn't? On page 382, there are two pictures of different plants labeled hyssop.  The one on top is correct, but I'm pretty sure the one on the bottom is Lady's Mantle, or Alchemilla. Google images appears to corroborate my guess. It seems to me that in the instance of plant identification, you'd pretty much better have your photographs identified correctly, and not getting them correct is pretty inexcusable, especially when getting them wrong could cause real harm to someone.

It's a shame that a better publisher didn't get to Ms. Faires before Skyhorse Publishing did, because the right editor could have made this book a real crackerjack resource.  It's a shame because Ms. Faires has done a really commendable amount of research, with only one exception that I could see, and that was her section on raising rabbits, which I found inadequate.  Rabbits could be a critical food source for homesteaders, and in hard times past, definitely kept the wolf from the door.  But two paragraphs doesn't cover even the basics.  For instance, in her second paragraph, titles 'How do I breed rabbits?', she writes,"the males and females should be kept separately and only put together for breeding for a short time under supervision."  She doesn't mention that it's important to put the doe in with the buck, and not the other way around, for if you put a buck into a doe's cage, she may fend off her territory to the point of killing the buck!  If you only bought one buck (which is all you need, unless you're going commercial) then where would you be?  A really good editor would have fixed this issue, but as it is, this is only one section of the book where I can criticize the author; most of the book is well researched, and there is a lot of good information in it.

At the end of the day, I would still buy this book, but only as  a kind of insurance because of the breadth of oddball information that it contains that could be really handy someday.  Kind of like saving stuff that most folks think of as trash but you know there could be a use for it.  I have a lot of oddball things like that squirreled away and you'd be surprised at how much of it I pull out and use for something else. During the Depression folks saved stuff and found uses for it again, and I think things might be like that again in the future.  And I'll be glad I have large olive oil cans and bits of wire socked away, and I'll be glad that I have this book too, in case I need to look something up. I just really disagree with its title.

I still haven't read the ultimate homesteading guide, but this one comes closer than most.

A Question For You Chicken Keepers

I read that it's a good thing to move your chicks off medicated feed after the first week so that they don't become dependent on the medication in it, so yesterday, Steve and I picked up a twenty-five pound bag of organic chick starter from Concentrates on 8th in Portland, with which I am slowly replacing the Purina medicated chick crumbles that I got from the same place I got the chicks.  The Purina feed has chick grit in it; the organic stuff says to supply chick grit, which, fortunately, I bought along with the chick supplies.  My plan was to be able to give them chopped greens, etc., and I wanted to make sure they had enough grit to digest it.

Problem is, every time I put down the grit, the girls go nuts for it.  I put it down in one of those little red caps (three inch diameter- they're not like the caps on the milk jug or anything) and the girls gather 'round it and peck at it frantically, sometimes trying to scratch in it.

Does it taste particularly good to them?  Are they going nuts for it because they really need it?  They almost fight over it.  I poured a wee bit into every hole in the chick feeder and then took the majority of it away because I was concerned about their crazy behavior.

So what's the story with chick grit?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Week and a Day

The chicks are one week and a day old today, and it's amazing to me how much they've changed in that time.  They still look like chicks, and they're still sporting fuzz, but their more grown up faces are coming out, and the feathers on their wings are getting more pronounced.  Their bodies are also getting a little longer, and I can see their crops more clearly when they're full.

And one of them is definitely bigger than the others.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lovely Day (If You Don't Count My Back)

Geez it was nice today.  When you have as much to get done in as short a time as I do, you have to prioritize.  Luckily at this time of year, you get so few nice days that when one comes along, it makes prioritizing easy.  So I finished double digging the tomato bed.


This was a chore, but I'm glad it's done.  I hope to transplant the Amish Paste tomatoes into the ground tomorrow that I grew from seed (Baker Creek) and which have been cooling their jets (okay, warming their jets then) on the deck the past few days.


But in the meantime, the herbs I ordered from Territorial Seed showed up this week.....


....one of which is a bay laurel tree.  I was e*x*t*r*e*m*e*l*y disappointed in its size:


Even the anise hyssop was a LOT bigger than that.  I knew the pot was small, but I expected at least something that looked like a tree; certainly not a rooted cutting, which is all this looks like. I'm bummed, especially when I think of the monster laurel in my mother's back yard.

While I was hustling around in the backyard, unbeknownst to me, the wee ones were being boisterous, to say the least.  Here they are the night I brought them home (and I've labeled this 3of4 because you can't see all of them):


Kind of a scary picture.  Well what was scarier was that while I'm trying to be a good hen mother and keep them on paper that will keep their little legs and feet straight, they were hell-bent on destruction.  I checked on them in the middle of the afternoon to find that even though their waterer was still standing up, what remained of the quart of water with which I filled it was about an eighth of an inch.  The rest of it had saturated their bedding.  Not sure how they managed to swamp the brooder and leave the waterer still standing but I envisioned a crazy jump on the edge of the bottom and the thing swinging crazily around, sloshing its entire contents but never actually falling over.  So I set about cleaning up, but obviously I needed to prevent its recurrence.  So I wired the top of the waterer to the side of the brooder and things appear to be alright.  I learned something interesting.  I saved the red plastic caps of the two five gallon jugs we ordered and I noticed that they went crazy on the chick grit I put down in one of them.  So much so that I had to take it away from fear of them filling up on grit to the exclusion of everything else.  Later today I brought them treats of finely cut greens, chopped raw sunflower seeds and oh joy! Cut earthworms.  True to everything I've ready about chicken behavior, when one had a piece of worm in her beak, the others would chase her around the brooder.  Sometimes they ignored the treats, or at least, they didn't seem to see them.  Then I decided to try giving them treats by serving them in the other of the red plastic caps.  I chopped up raw sunflower seeds and dandelion greens, and served them in the red cap.  That got their attention and their eyesight pretty quickly.  So going forward, if there is something I want them to have, I need to put it in the red cap.  Glad I saved them.

Other than that, most of the day was spent outside working.  Here is the state of things:

That last one is of the tiny pie cherries on the Montmorency.

This place is slowly coming together, but it's a journey, of sorts as well.

I'm glad I decided to take the first step.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mother Hearing?

Maybe it's mother hearing, but I can hear cheeping from the guest room, which is where I installed four New Hampshire Red pullet chicks this morning. (I'd show you pictures, but they are really hard to photograph.  Either that, or I'm a crap photographer, which I expect is really the case).  Speaking of crap,  boy, do they crap a lot! I am already seeing a couple of pasty butts, but I don't want to do anything about it until tomorrow when I clean their brooder.  Since they were born (okay, hatched then) Monday, and delivered and placed in their tub at the store today, then scooped up and put in a dark box (again) and then scooped out of the box into the brooder today, I figured that they've endured enough for their first three days.  Poor things.

I've decided to go with the newspaper liner, pine shaving filling, paper towel top because it's supposed to be the easiest on their little legs.  I've just found another good reason to do it.  Since I definitely heard cheeping, I went to check on them.  Boy, do they crap a lot!  So since I won't be changing their bedding until tomorrow, when I will also attack (gently!) pasty butts, I slipped another few sheets of paper toweling under them but over the mess they made.  Piece of cake. (Or pie, in my case. I'm a pie maker, not a cake baker.)

I'm a little concerned about the pasty butt care tomorrow.  As with the bees, I don't want to over handle the little dears.  Funny I should be talking about them as little dears when at the end of their laying life, they are to be turned into stock and fricassee.  I told Steve this evening maybe I should do the rabbits sooner than later so that I'd be used to offing animals by the time their turn rolled around.  Hard to think about that now when I'm feeling somewhat maternal.

Hope I get over that.

Estimates for a Self Reliant Future

Things just never slow down on the homestead.  While I have been building breakfast nooks and hutches, starting a new dining nook, planting transplants into the garden, double digging the tomato bed, weeding, and getting ready for chicks, Steve has been getting estimates on a new metal roof.

We don't need a new roof yet, but he's decided that getting the metal roof that we want makes more sense now, especially if it will help with how hot the house gets in the summer.   We simply refuse to get an air conditioner for the house. Not gonna do it. But we will replace the roof.  I'm honestly thrilled that he's decided to do it sooner than later, because I really, really want to put together a rainwater harvesting system. We're fortunate that we don't have a long dry season, but I'd rather be watering with saved water.  I can't describe to you how depressing it is to stand at the window during a relentless spate of rain and think about all that wasted water that I could be saving.  Plus, having a rainwater system does bring you a little closer to more complete self-reliance, which I am all for.  I also want to have a good system in place in case we need to supplement (or even replace) our reliance on city water as old folks on a fixed income.

So I was really happy to hear Steve say that as soon as we had the new roof on, he was going to start looking into leasing a solar system. It will be interesting to see how much electricity we can actually generate in the cloudy pacific northwest, but something is better than nothing.  Plus, I've already figured out how much electricity we use a day, so we know that whatever we do, we need to make sure that we don't exceed our current use.  The freezer and fridge use the most energy in the house, and they are both energy star units, brand new last year.  Since starting to eat our meals in the kitchen, we're not watching as much TV, either; it'll be interesting to see how that translates on the electric bill.

You may be wondering how we can do all this with me out of work. We are rabid savers of money.  We tend to live way beneath our means.  Don't get me wrong- there have been times when I've tried to contribute to the economy by buying something, but the Stern Voice Of Reason (STEVOR) has always stopped me.  So lately it seems that we've been spending a lot of money, but they're all investments. Hopefully they're investments into a comfortable, low carbon future.

That's the plan, anyway.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting Ready for Chicks


I haven't quite hit the sweet spot with the temperature yet, but by tomorrow afternoon I will have it figured out. I'm pretty close.  Wilco gets split shipments on Wednesday and Friday, so I'll bring four New Hampshire Reds home either tomorrow or Friday.

I think I'd be a lot more excited if I wasn't so darn tired.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homesteading Update, 15 May 2011

This has been a busy week, and I am plumb. worn. out.  Thank goodness today is a day of rest, because that is all I am fit for doing.

I got into the bee hive this week.  The girls are doing great!  They are still building comb, and I saw capped comb, which to me looked like brood comb.  There are lots more bees than when I started, which is a good sign, I think.  I'm taking it as a good sign.  I noticed that they had completely emptied their food can, so I mixed up a new batch of syrup and set that in the hive the next day, barely causing a buzz as I slipped it in there.  Another good sign was not seeing a bunch of dead bees on the bottom of the hive, so they appear to be doing really well, and I'm happy about that.

I also completely finish the breakfast nook this week.  We had dinner there last night with friends, and breakfast there this morning.  I'm glad that we have a comfortable place to eat, because now I can start on the dining nook, which I'll probably start on Monday, maybe Tuesday (I really need to get some seeds sown this week).

I also finished the hutch this week, and got it filled with my dishes.  I am really pleased with how it turned out, but especially happy that now I have the dish cupboard empty of dishes, I can move the beer and wine glasses that are in the cupboard over the oven into the dish cupboard.  Now I'll be able to reach my own beer glass! And once I get all the glasses out of the oven cupboard, I'll be able to raise the shelf in there, install the upright racks, and organized all my baking sheets and muffin tins and all that crap.  I'll also be able to unpack the last and final box from our move here three years ago, which in and of itself, is a milestone that should bring tears to my eyes.

I mentioned earlier that I need to get some seeds sown, but that required moving seedlings off the bench and out into the garden.  I planted up the bell and Italian pepper seedlings, and covered them in my water jug cloches, because they are still pretty young yet and we are having another long, cool spring.  The cloches should help a lot.  Since it has been wet, I hadn't been able to plant out my Amish Paste tomato seedlings, because I haven't been able to dig up the new tomato bed, so the seedlings were set out on the deck under the half-assed mini-greenhouses I inherited from the previous owner.  So far, they are doing fine out there.  The weather finally dried up this week long enough for me to get out there and double dig the bed, but I only had the back and energy for digging half of it.  I'll need at least three or four more consecutive dry days for the ground to dry out sufficiently so that I can finish digging the rest of the bed.  There is some controversy on the sagacity of double digging; some people insist that it destroys the soil structure, and some people insist that it allows plants to really dig in their roots. In most instances, I'm all for keeping soil structure as it is, but double digging is the only way to get tussocks of grass turf buried deep enough to not root again and start growing, plus my soil is crap either way.  I'll mulch it for the tomatoes, and when they're done, plant a short green manure crop on it, and then I'm toying with the idea of sowing winter wheat on it as an experiment.  In any case, it will be a permanent bed, and a pretty large one at that, so I'm okay with double digging it.  Fighting grass where you don't want it is such a pain.

I think it will be interesting to see how well I do with the garden this year, since so much of my stuff is getting such a late start.  Part of that is due to being busy with other things, part of it is due to having started lots of last year's stuff so darn early and not wanting to be too early again this year, and part of it is due to this whacky cold spring that we're having, again.   As it is, it's raining again today, and pretty dreary out there, so since I'm sleepy and tired anyway, I think I'll indulge in a very rare nap.  Before I do that though, I think I'll get the last zucchini bread out of the freezer, and instead of dinner this Sunday evening, we'll have tea.  At the very least, maybe the zucchini bread will stimulate me to get off my duff and get the squash seeds started.

Tomorrow is soon enough for that though, I guess.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Five Garden Favorites

I was going to post about what an awesomely busy day I had yesterday, but Kate over at Living the Frugal Life posted about her five favorite plants to grow.  So I'll list mine as well, although my list might look a lot like hers:

Tomatoes- tomatoes are number one because we use them the most.  I still have yet to plant enough to yield an entire year's worth of tomato sauce, but for Friday night pizzas, I prefer home canned sauce to anything I can buy.  I also make a batch of catsup every year, using the Joy of Cooking (1977) recipe, which is so good I'll never go back to store bought again.  Then there are tomatoes in the salad, on charcoal-grill hamburgers, and barring anything else, the ubiquitous tomato sandwich on homemade bread with mayonnaise.  Tomatoes are tops for me.

Kale- kale is probably more important to us than tomatoes are, but that's a hard one to call.  Kale starts being wonderful by being easy to germinate, then continues by growing in all weather, including through the winter.  It actually does improve in flavor by a touch of frost.  The first year I grew it, it was the only thing growing in the garden through the winter months, and it was reliably ready every time I needed it.  Plus, I make just about only one dish with it, although I could branch out with more, but we love the pasta dish I make with it.  I plant kale at least twice a year to make sure I have it at all times.  Kale is king.

Asparagus- it seems like a huge sacrifice to devote so much space (an entire bed) to a crop that comes up only once a year, but we love asparagus and the homegrown stuff soundly pales the expensive commercial stuff, which all seems to come from Mexico anymore. The flavor of fresh asparagus that's been cut moments before being prepared for dinner is truly something else, and I found that the blanched asparagus, where I grow it under a dark bucket so that it's completely white, is nutty and asparagus-y at the same time, and I understand why Europeans are all gaga over it.  Plus, you plant asparagus once and it gives for years and years, and I discovered this year that the asparagus season lasts a while.  So asparagus is a good choice for us.

Alliums-  alliums are so important to my cooking that I can't differentiate among them, which is a bit of a cop out, but there it is. Garlic grows pretty darn reliably; this year is the first year that I'm trying it directly in the ground, so we'll see how it fares in clay. I'm growing more Oregon Blue, and trying Music for the first time. Trouble is, I forget which one I planted where.  For onions, this year I'm trying Stuttgarter, which is an open-pollinated variety and is supposed to be a great keeper, but I grew Copra last year.  I still have onions that are good, and I use onions a lot. I also grow leeks, because they are pretty easy, and they're expensive in the store, so they're well-worth the minimal space they take.  And then last but not least, I'm trying shallots for the first time this year.  They are growing incredibly well, and I'm finding that they make good dividers in the beds, so I'll continue to grow them.

Peppers- specifically bell and Italian peppers.  I grow bells because they are super easy to freeze and they freeze well, and I use a lot of them.  Gotta have them for potatoes O'Brien, and Sloppy Joes. They're just good to have on hand for adding a dimension of flavor most people don't think about.  I like to grow Italian peppers because grilled along with eggplant, they make a stupendous sandwich with goat cheese.  I also stuff them for dinner, and they are pretty wonderful that way as well.  I never see them on offer, so growing them seems to be the only way to get them.  I could probably freeze them, but I don't. Italian peppers are one crop that I'm happy to eat only in season.

I'm also partial to zucchini, because they are great stir-fried at a fairly high heat so that they get brown and crunchy on the outside, but barely warmed, much less turned to mush on the inside and then sprinkled with garlic salt.  I'm also partial to homegrown cucumbers, because they're prolific and easy to grow, and you can do a bunch of cool (literally) things with them in the summer.  Homegrown green beans are another favorite- I'm trying French filet beans for the first time this summer, because I had them for the first time in my CSA box years ago and they were really delicious. I also really like homegrown carrots, because they are sooooo much nicer than the dry woody ones from the store. Growing carrots at home ensures juicy, sweet carrots, and they were a revelation for me.

So yeah, I cheated a little.  I could name a bunch of other things I like to grow.  If I had much less space, I'd probably have to trade some of the favorites around with some other things; asparagus would probably have to go, for instance, so that I could grow more food.  So I'm glad that I don't have to make that choice.

What are your five favorites?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Making Grow Bags From Weed Stop Fabric

Today was a lousy day, weather-wise, so it was a good day to finish a job that needed doing: I sewed together nineteen grow bags for my seed potatoes from weed stop fabric that I purchased from Amazon. I wasn't up for the hand-sewing marathon that it would be and I really wanted to get them done, so I dragged out my sewing machine, set it up at the dining room table and then started cutting weed stop fabric.

If you decide to do this, make sure you get a fabric that's woven, and not one that looks like fusible lining.  The stuff they use under the pots at a real nursery is ideal, but the stuff I got from Amazon worked fine as well.  It was three feet by one hundred feet, and I cut it in fifty-inch lengths, so it made a total of twenty-four grow bags.  $55.86 seems like a lot of cash to outlay, but that works out to $2.33 a grow bag, and that's a whole lot less than what I was able to find them for online.  This is just an example.  The fabric I bought is also warranted for twenty-years, and while I think my use kind of voids that warranty, I'm reasonably certain that they'll last me a few years of repeated use.  Only time will tell.  But in the meantime, I have a reasonably inexpensive way to grow my potatoes, which can't be grown in my clay soil.  Folks with limited soil but a lot of patio space may find them useful as well.

So after cutting them in three foot by fifty-inch lengths, I folded them in half with the cut edges together.  You have to use nylon thread here; cotton will rot, and polyester isn't strong enough.  To save thread, take a hint from power sewing and once one piece is sown, start the next without stopping to take the first out of the machine. Just keep following each piece after the one before it, as in the picture below.  Don't forget to lock your stitches at the start and end of every seam though.

 
I separated by every five or so bags, and then once I was done I cut them all apart from each other.  Once you have each piece sown in a tube, then you make four small darts at opposite corners.  Start with your seam side and then the opposite side.


Then open the bottom and meet the two darts together to find where your other darts go.


The picture above shows the first two darts met together, and then the third dart at the left.  The fourth is at the right but you can't see it.


So four darts all told, on opposite corners.  If you want to see better instructions, see the original Instructables video here.

I'm not bothering to start mine in the soil like they do in the video. I'm starting my potatoes in compost made in the backyard, and I'll hill them up with chopped straw.  I'd prefer to hill them up with dry leaves, but I don't have enough to even fill one bag, so chopped straw it is.

The beauty for me with these grow bags (apart from them being cheap) is that now I can grow potatoes wherever it looks like a good spot to do it.  And now that I have twenty-four of them, I can plant potatoes whenever I need to.  Most of them need to be started soon, so I'm glad to have these at the ready.  Actually, having them ready is a load off my mind.

Now I can go work on other stuff that needs doing.

Garden Update 08 May 2011

Yesterday was forecast for rain, but we had a fair amount of sun so Steve gave me a hand and we finally got the citrus put to bed in their new pots.


Now we have a Lisbon lemon on one end of the deck and a Bearss lime on the other end.  Last night's dinner included asparagus from the bed you see just beyond there and salad (which included chive blossoms from the herb bed and Moroccan mint from the deck- dressed in grape seed oil, wine vinegar and salt and pepper- it was divine!)


 from this bed here.


I also got some of the spuds planted in home made grow bags, and since today is rainy I'll work on sewing more of them.  I only planted the chitted seed potatoes that had the most vigorous sprouts on them, but it will soon be time to plant the rest of the potatoes, so I need a lot more bags.


The spuds were planted in compost from the garden, and as they grow, I'll hill them up with chopped straw and cover them with the edges of the bag.  I've never done this before, so I don't know how well they will do or how this will turn out.  And here are the other two beds that are doing fairly well in the garden.


The bed closer has Red Russian kale in it, which is ready; we've been eating it in our favorite pasta dish for a little while now.  There are a few leeks from last year at the end, and Maestro peas next to the leeks.  The far bed has sprouting radish greens in the close end, then little tiny celery plants on this side of the shallots, which are the spikey plants, carrots on the other, and at the far end of the bed are the Serge peas.  The peas have me a bit concerned because they still haven't produced flowers, much less peas, and seem to be growing very, very slowly.  They are sitting where I want to plant the summer squash for this year, and I'll need to get seed for them sown soon.  

I'm not so sure about this year's garden.  Last year I started seeds mid-February and some things seemed to take forever to finally start bearing (like the tomatoes).  So I figured that I started too soon last year and decided to wait a little to start this year.  Now I'm wondering if I've waited too long.  The peas went in and I had to worry about them rotting.  It's all topsy turvy, and I don't really know what to expect.  I will say that maybe it's a good thing that I'm trying to learn how to do this at the beginning of the thirty-year cool spell that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is auguring in.  I think it's better to learn it now, while I'm still really learning, than having to re-train myself after years of knowing what I was doing. 

At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Breakfast Nook

So here's the breakfast nook:


I still need to screw it down along the back, fill all the screw holes with dowel plugs and stain those, and then varnish the whole thing, so I can't cross it off the list yet.  But that's what I've been doing since Monday.

I never did get to the garden this week.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Homesteading Update, 02 May 2011

Saturday morning I met Rae at KT's, and she and KT and KT's husband and stepdaughter and I all went down to Canby for the Master Gardener's Show.  It was pretty cool and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  It's basically like a huge farmers market except that everyone's selling plants or garden art or the like.  I found another cider gum, the same size as the other three I already had and spent $1.95 less on this one! So now I have four for the coppice.  I also bought an evergreen huckleberry for the front yard- it will go in right of the driveway, and two more tea camellias, and a cilantro.  I've planted the all four tea camellias I own now, and eaten half the cilantro. I also bought a Goji berry bush at the show.  Goji berries are supposed to be delicious and full of antioxidants, but one of the interesting things about Goji plants is the fact that they're good for a permaculture guild because they pull up a lot of good stuff from deep in the soil and make it available in the soil surrounding them, so plants placed around a Goji berry are supposed to do well.

Then Sunday Steve and I had a good breakfast of Dutch Babies and then hied ourselves off to Home Depot.  The plan was to load up on a bunch of materials for several projects at once so that we could get it all home with one truck rental.  We live really close to the HD and find that the truck rental is a pretty good deal for us because getting home and back in the allotted time is very doable, and it takes very little gas (you have to top off the truck before you return it).

So what did we get?  Materials for the breakfast nook, the dining nook, the chicken coop, the guest beds (day bed and trundle), and if there's anything left over, a rabbit hutch, but that's iffy.  This means fourteen 2X4s, two five-eighths-inch exterior grade plywood sheets, two three-quarter-inch certified sanded plywood sheets, three quarter-inch sanded plywood sheets, two different lengths of 2X10s, and one t2X8X10, several different little molding pieces, five pounds of nails, a pound each of two different sizes finishing nails (are you bored yet? okay I'll stop)….suffice to say we spent a lot, but now I have almost everything I need for a bunch of different projects and I'm working on them.  We also got two large fiberglass pots for the citrus because I changed my mind about growing them alongside the garage.  Lemons and limes don't have the heat requirements that oranges and grapefruit do, but I was concerned that it would still be a little cool out front for them.  I think the deck will be the best place for them, since we know that it is a warmer microclimate area for the yard, they should do much better on it.  I'll just have to water the hell out of them over the summer.

Today after feeding the Steve and cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I got started on the breakfast nook.  It is going to be somewhat rustic because I'm in a hurry to get it done and it doesn't have to be fancy.  I got the wall supports in, which is just a couple of 2X4s lag bolted into the studs.


I had to cut around a receptacle box, which was placed inconveniently for me.  I also got the bench for the long side completely cut and glued together, and sanded for the most part.


I also got the one half of the short bench cut as well, but discovered that I need another 2X8 for the front half of it because there wasn't enough left over from cutting the long bench.  I'll go get that tomorrow and a can of stain for the nook, because I changed my mind about what color to make it.

Last August when I made the big rack in the garage for firewood, I hung on to every scrap piece of 4X4 left over from the job, thinking I'd use them for firewood, if necessary.  I never did need to burn them, and I'm glad I didn't because the short pieces are almost the perfect length for the legs for the breakfast nook benches, and the longer leftover 4X4s look mighty like they're going to wind up as bed posts for the day bed for the guest room.  Of course, anything leftover from this job also gets saved because I constantly get these ideas and then go out to the garage to see if I've material to do it.  For instance, Steve said over the weekend, "shouldn't the hopper to the grain mill have a cover over it or something?"  Country Living sells a wooden one, but they want $16.95 for it.  I grabbed a piece of scrap pine, traced the outline of the hopper on the underside of the scrap, cut it out, cut a rabbet edge all around with my beloved Marples dovetail saw, sanded it, sealed it with Boos sealer, and popped it on the hopper.


It cost nothing but my time, which I have a lot of these days.  I have an idea for a hopper extension, but it will have to wait until my big projects get done.

The garden needs attention because stuff needs to get planted or the tomato bed needs digging, plus I've several trees to get into the ground.  I'm hoping to be far along enough on the breakfast nook to do some gardening on Thursday, because that will be the third of three dry days, so I should be able to double dig more of the tomato bed.

Of course, I'm asking myself how would I be getting this stuff done if I'd managed to land that job?  There's nothing like keeping busy to help you forget life's little disappointments.