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Monday, January 31, 2011

Leftover Roast Beef, with potato pancakes and homegrown green beans

Good Idea No. 9

Some years ago I bought a really different knife block from Bed, Bath and Beyond because my beloved knife rack was packed up because I couldn't attach anything to the walls in our rental. This knife block looks like most others, except that instead of preformed places for the knives to go made out of wood, the interior was fitted with a bunch of skinny plastic rods, so that you could configure how you keep knives in it however you want. Once we bought our house and I could hang up my knife rack, the funky knife block went out to my bench in the garage.

It currently holds all my screwdrivers, nail sets, putty knives, brad puller, and drywall saw.

It's a super handy place to keep all that stuff.

Self-Sufficiency Is Of No Real Help For Self Sufficiency

Another library copy

If you've read any of my book reviews, it would appear that I love everything I read.  Well, I'm going to change that perception because I found a book that I think is not so good. When a book called 'Self-Sufficiency' says in its introduction that the term in somewhat misleading and that complete independence is not possible or even desirable, you have to realize at that point that the book is going to fall short of its title.  Far short.

Self-Sufficiency is one of four books of the same ilk by Sky Horse Publishing.  The others are Back to Basics, Homesteading, and Simpler Living. I own Back to Basics, and think it a pretty decent book that covers a lot of ground that would certainly steer a reader toward greater self-sufficiency.  I have to agree with the assessment that total independence is not really possible, nor is it desirable (unless you really are a recluse at heart), but I think that most people that are interested in self-sufficiency are interested in real help with how to do for themselves, if push came to shove, and Back to Basics does a better job of that than Self-Sufficiency.   Self-Sufficiency covers the family garden, the country kitchen, canning and preserving, country crafts, the barnyard, and the workshop. The garden, kitchen, and canning sections are generally rehashes of material found elsewhere.  The book really goes south at the country crafts and workshop sections.  Broken into seasons, the country crafts section starts off with wreaths and blown eggs, and covers things like mosaic flower pots, potpourri and pressed flowers, kites and other subjects.  What do any of those have to do with surviving anywhere, or being self-sufficient? They do cover candle making, soap making, and quilting, but not with any depth.  The pictures in this book are pretty pictures; they don't show you how to actually do anything.  The workshop section covers various tools, and then has a lot of illustrations of wooden tool chests, which are cool enough if you collect them, but doesn't really do anything for me in the self-sufficiency arena.  The building and furniture chapters are not particularly helpful, either.  Dimensions and limited drawings are given for various things, but no real help.  If you had experience with either putting up buildings or building furniture, you could maybe figure out how to put things together, but woe to you if you don't know what you're doing.

Back to Basics covers real self-sufficiency issues, like buying land, developing a water supply, and getting energy from wood, water, wind, and sun. There are plans for a do-it-yourself solar water heater, and how to properly plow sloping land.  There are instructions for skinning a rabbit, and tanning hides, how to make a bench and real instructions and diagrams for making a trestle table and a hutch table. There's a section on herbal medicine, and recipes for practical household formulas like stain removers, metal cleaners, paints, glues and pastes, inks.  There's a bit on tinsmithing.  How to build a forge out of a brake drum.  Back to Basics covers a lot more subjects fairly well if things were to get difficult, and for anyone looking to start over in the country, I think it would give you far more useful information.  It would be a decent book to take with you, if all you could take was one or two books.

Self-Sufficiency, on the other hand, is not.  I'm glad that I borrowed it first- it's certainly not worth buying.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Roast Beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, salad with homegrown onions, and homegrown parsnips

Unfortunately, I couldn't take a good picture of it.

I had a quart of whole milk yogurt that was threatening to go bad on me, so I turned it into cheese...

...which I subsequently turned into cheesecake....

...which is a much better fate for a quart of yogurt than getting tossed down the sink.

Day Trip To Corvallis, Oregon

My trip to Corvallis with Steve yesterday was a lot of fun.  The Corvallis Winter Indoor Market was small, but fairly choice- there was a good variety of things available and had we a cooler with us, I think we probably would have purchased more than just the Jerusalem artichokes I bought (and am going to try to plant).

We later met up with friends for lunch, but before that while killing time until they arrived,  we went into Robnetts Hardware on 2nd and SW Adams in Corvallis.  My very first job was in an old hardware store, the Orchard Supply Hardware on West San Carlos in San Jose, California.  You could buy brass screening by the square inch, or quarter inch galvanized pipe, or various fasteners by the pound, or bordeaux spray, or a crank-style ice cream freezer.  It was a great place, and expanded over the years into several stores, and then it it was purchased by WR Grace, who ruined it. But I still haven't lost my love of hardware stores, especially old-fashioned hardware stores (feed stores do it for me as well), and I knew I was going to love this place when we got closer and I could see all manner of oil-based lighting in the windows.  It was just as good inside, and I had to tell three different people who wanted to help me that I was just there to have fun.  I lost sight of Steve; presumably he went over to the plumbing section to look for stuff that he could use in his brewing.  Then I wandered over to the other side of the wall, and found  a part of the store that made me feel like I'd wandered back in time.  It was old, and wooden and with a fairly low ceiling, and the right side was lined with rolls of all kinds of screening, hardware cloth, fencing fabric, etc.  The left side had all kinds of lumber and poles and whatnot that I haven't registered in my mind, because I was too taken with the hardware cloth.  They even had the number eight size (eighth inch) that I needed for the bottom of the hive.  It was two-fifty a linear foot (and the roll was three feet wide) so I bought two feet of it, which I think will be enough for two hives.  If you were standing where I was, looking out to the street through the roll up door, you could easily imagine a horse-drawn wagon waiting to be loaded.  I was told later by our friends that hardware store is over a hundred years old, which I could easily believe.  I wish I'd had the presence of mind to photograph it for you.   In any case, it was the coolest hardware store I've been in in a long time, and now I know what they have, I would drive the one and a half to two hours it takes to get to Corvallis from our house just to go get something from them.  You could say that Home Depot is a home improvement store, which is what they say they are, given the stuff that they carry, but you can't say that they are a hardware store, even though they have some hardware.   Plus, my experience in Home Depot's tool department is that I know a lot more about hardware than those idiots do. For instance, they don't seem to know what a ratcheting offset screwdriver is, although they do stock one (had to find it myself), and a fellow who looked like he should know better didn't seem to know the difference between a handsaw and a circular saw (if I'd wanted a circular saw I would have asked for one).   But Robnetts in Corvallis?  Now that's a hardware store.

To answer Kathy's question in her comment on my omelette post last night: yes, I have extensive woodworking experience, but none of it has been too terribly fancy.  Making your own top bar hive is a perfect woodworking project in which to get started working wood because as long as the hive holds together in all weather and doesn't have any gaps, it should be fine- bees aren't terribly picky.

The less wood working knowledge you have, the more you should stick to the plans that Phil Chandler has graciously made available free through, because it will be easier for you to put together.  But because I have experience, and have read about and watched several other hives being constructed online, I feel pretty confident winging it where I can or need to.  Kind of like recipes.  I tend to stick to a recipe if I've never made the thing before, but sometimes don't even use a recipe if it's something I've made a lot.

We had a nice lunch in Corvallis, and then went to go check out our friends' place on two acres on the edge of town.  They live in the kind of neighborhood to which I aspire: small acreages side by side so that you're in the country, but not too alone.  Theirs is a good little acreage, with lots of room for improvement, by which I mean they have a fairly clean canvas on which to work.  The apple orchard should probably be replaced, which I believe they have planned.  Some of the trees have very good apples, so they'll try to save those.  But they've staked out four thousand square feet for a garden, that will have everything in it, including the soft fruits like berries.  They also get deer that wander through their property, so fencing is a must if they want to keep anything, and that, too, is in the plans.  Two acres looks to be about right for what I want to do.  So- lucky them.

 I am trying hard not to be jealous.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Couch Potato: Doctor's Orders

Today I had a transesophageal echocardiogram done and I am still pooped.  It's probably an effect of the anesthesia, but even after a several hour nap this afternoon, I am still really tired.  Fortunately for me, being a couch potato for the rest of the day was doctor's orders.

Steve, on the other hand, was a good, busy boy.  While I was down for the count in the hospital, he used some of the time to run over to F.H. Steinbarts for brew supplies.  We stopped at Pine State Biscuits for breakfast (which was at noon, actually) and then we came home.  And while I was sleeping off the rest of the drugs, he was being a helpful boy and brewing up another batch of pilsner.  Buying the second fermenter was a really good idea, because he's able to brew twice as much pilsner this winter than he was last winter.

So I'm going to go catch the rest of the nightly BBC news with Mike Embly and hope that I don't fall asleep.

Tomorrow we're going to go check out the Winter Farmers Market in Corvallis and meet up with a buddy of Steve's.  You guys have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bee Hive Progress

I didn't get outside too early today because I spent a chunk of it chasing after a new power source for my laptop.

But here we are so far:

This is one of the follower boards.  I like to use drywall screws with pine because they countersink themselves.  I figure that they should work well enough and the bees won't care.

The hive is built essentially upside down, using the follower board as a template of sorts.

So the hive walls and ends are done.  The two follower boards are resting inside the hive.

Cutting and sanding top bars is pretty much all I did all day.  That one is wrapped because I had to glue a split together.

I won't be able to work on this tomorrow because I have a test at the hospital in the morning, for which I'll be down for the count, and I expect that I'll probably sleep the rest of the day.  Hopefully I'll be awake enough to be able to make a pizza with sauce from home grown tomatoes, because today I'm not getting anything out of the backyard.  Steve is taking me to dinner because of tomorrow.  It shouldn't be a big deal- it's just a good excuse for dinner out!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Favorite Pasta, with homegrown kale and garlic, and bacon, pepperoncino, and grated Romano

...and I made the fettucine, too.

Homestead Update, 25 January 2011

Today I got started on the top bar hive for the bees, and I put together the Geobin for the compost and set that up.

The top bar hive is being somewhat fun, actually.  From all the reading I've been doing, the Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH) was based on the ancient Greek practice of hanging sticks across an inverted basket.  The modern KTBH was developed in 1965 for use in third world countries where folks don't have a lot of money.  The top bar hive is really cheap to put together and they've been fashioned out of all kinds of stuff, even fifty-five gallon drums cut in half.  Evidently, when left to their own devices, bees will fashion comb in the shape of a catenary curve (like the curve you get when you hold up two ends of a chain), and the KTBH has the shape of a trapezoid; the comb fits inside it such that the bees don't usually attach the comb to the sides of the hive, making it much easier to get the comb out when you're inspecting the hive, or robbing it for honey.  The bees also tend to revert to making smaller bees; natural comb is a little bit smaller than the comb bees draw out on pre-formed foundation that most commercial beekeepers use in their Langstroth hives.   And guess what the advantage is that smaller bees have?  The bees tend to ward off Varroa mites more easily because the mites can't fit in them as well as they can in the larger bees.  There are all kinds of good reasons for using top bar hives and I've been having fun researching them, but the main reason that I chose this hive is because I can make it myself. Cheaply.

I was all worried about sticking to the plans that I downloaded from, but it's not that exact a science.  There doesn't seem to be a standard width for the top bars themselves; the plans call for the top bars to be cut one and three eighths inches, but I've found other places that say the bees do better with one and a half inch bars for brood, and one and five-eighths inch bars for honey.  I will use whatever is closest that I can buy already cut so that I won't have to rip any from lumber I have, which means I'll probably use firring strips.  Speaking of lumber that I have, that's what I'm using for this hive.  Because it's not an exact science, I'm winging the dimensions- as long as I get the angles at thirty degrees, that's all that really matters.   So I'm gluing up from lumber I have in the garage.

Picking out which boards go together

Since I don't have a doweling jig or drill press, I'm using finishing brads with the tops cut off for pins.

When I grow up, I'm going to at least have a proper doweling jig

The pieces get glued, smacked together, and then held together with a cross piece which will be on the outside of the hive.

The only piece that isn't nailed together with a cross piece is the glued board that I need for follower boards.

How do you like my clamp?

The follower boards aren't necessary, but they make putting the hive together easier, and they allow you to adjust the interior dimensions of the hive so that you can control the interior volume of the hive, which helps with temperature, mostly.

I'm learning as I'm going, which is nothing new to me.  When I'm not learning by reading, I'm learning experientially!  So tomorrow, I cut and assemble the follower boards, and maybe even put the sides on.  We'll see how far I get.  I hope to make up the entire hive from stuff I already have.  The only thing I'll have to buy for sure is more firring strips for the top bars, and I have to find a number eight hardware cloth for the bottom.  The mesh bottom has to be big enough so that the Varroa mites (should there be any) can be shed, and small enough to keep intruders out and the queen in.  Number eight hardware cloth is supposed to be just right.

But this is exciting- bees!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nuernberger brats and homegrown cabbage and leeks with bacon

Early Retirement Extreme: The Review

(Library Copy)
Back in 1998 when I purchased my first home, I bought a fixer-upper, as a lot of people do.  The loan for the house was a 203(k) loan, which lends money for the house and for the renovation.  You have to draw up a plan for the renovation and have it approved, and then as things get done (with your own initial outlay) you can draw the money owed you from the loan.  So my house was seventy thousand, but the loan was for eighty-five. I put more than fifteen thousand dollars into my house though, because I wanted it a certain way, and because I knew I'd get my money back, eventually.  I nearly bankrupted myself in the meantime, but once we sold the house, I did get my money back, and then some.  Nowadays, I'm not so sure that I'd be that lucky again.

These days, I'm making investments of a different sort, and all have the same goal in mind: I'm trying to set things up now, so that our cost of living is reduced in the future, or at the very least, so that we don't starve or have to choose between medication and food as old folks.  It's kind of a different approach to retirement, I realize, but part of the equation I'm using is the fact that this world is changing very rapidly and by all accounts, for the worse, so I want to be ready for that as well, as much as possible.  In a sense, I'm planning for living my life in the future the way that Jacob Lund Fisker is living his life now; rather on the lean side.  Very simply put, Mr. Fisker has been able to retire in his early thirties by living on one quarter of his income, saving and investing the other three quarters, and then living on the income generated from those assets.   And we're talking about saving net income here: your entire pay, less any taxes you have to pay.  He does not advocate putting money into a 401(k) plan because it rather defeats the purpose, which is to have enough money to retire now, not later, which is what conventional retirement plans are for.   I kind of wish that he'd written Early Retirement Extreme thirty years ago, but that would have been a hell of a feat for him, considering that he would have been five or six at the time.  It's just that it would have made such a huge difference to me.  So much so, that I'm considering a copy as a gift to my eighteen-year old nephew.

One thing this book is not is an investment how-to.  It's more or less a strategy for financial independence how-to.   I really liked this book, and hope to try to put his theories into practice.  But because his methods are pretty extreme, it would be a very hard thing for me to do at fifty-one years of age because I'm so ingrained in my ways. That doesn't mean I can't change; it just means that it's going to be much, much harder.  Plus, it's a little late for me to retire early.  I'll be lucky if I get to retire, period.   Still, I think this book has a lot of value, and it will be of more service to a reader the younger that reader is.  At this late stage of my life, the most that I'll probably be able to gain from it is a very good road map for simplifying my life, and maybe reducing some expenses.  And in all honesty, some of the things he recommends I've been doing for awhile now anyway.

However, for younger people, it should be required reading. It would be impossible for me to try to encapsulate his ideas here; after all, it took him an entire book (albeit a small one) to present them.   And at one point in the book he wades into higher math and presents formulas that quite frankly, left me in the weeds, which is part of the reason I want Steve to read this book as well.  But Fisker also presents some tenets that even a knucklehead like me can understand: freedom is achieved by creating a large gap between  production (or revenue) and consumption (expenses) and this can be done by one of two ways: earning more or spending less; it is far easier to reduce your expenses by three quarters than to increase your income by a factor of four.  I also like the idea of including the cost of storage in the equation for deriving a total cost for your stuff, i.e., the extra cost of a second bedroom to your mortgage for a guest room that hardly ever sees guests.  In this regard, it reminds me of my husband's uncle whose apartment doesn't have a second bedroom; if he has guests, he puts them up in a hotel for a night or so, which, when you consider it, is a LOT less money expended than the percentage of mortgage payment that a guest room represents. Something I never considered before. I should probably mention that his uncle is a millionaire, so perhaps this idea has more merit in practice than it does in theory, which is something else to consider.

His methods are extreme, however, and that's why I think that they are best learned at a young age; it's far easier then to adopt a non-consumerist lifestyle, and you have much more time to accumulate savings that will eventually be turned into assets that generate income on which you can live, easily, because you have a non-consumerist lifestyle.  And by extreme, I mean extreme.  His non-consumerist philosophies would have one be able to fit their entire possessions into a suitcase, or two, at the most.  He doesn't just tell you to do that, though.  He presents a strategy for thinking about it and achieving it, which is why this book would useful for anyone who really, truly wants to simplify their lives.  I'm not saying that this book wouldn't be useful for just young people, because there is probably something here for everyone.  I just think that it would be much easier for young people to adopt the ideas presented, and they would reap greater benefit by doing this early in life.  I'm a middle-aged woman attached to her stuff.  Still, I could sure make do with getting rid of a lot of that stuff.  It occurs to me that when Steve and I first started dating, he was living that way. He had next to nothing in his house, save the minimum that he needed, and he was socking a lot of money away.  Then he met me and we married, and I undid all that.  He still doesn't have much stuff in this house; most of what's in it is there because I put it there.  I did this.

The entire name of the book is Early Retirement Extreme: A philosophical and practical guide to financial independence.  I think it is just that; a guide, and a good one.  I wish I'd had it, and the presence of mind to pay attention to it, years ago.  Buying my own home had always been my goal as a young adult; now I see that it should have been buying my own freedom from having to work for a living.

But do yourself a favor: borrow it from the library first.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Slugging Coffee

Tamar Haspel, who writes the very fun blog Starving Off The Land, once wrote that she was disinclined to bait slugs and snails with beer because it was too much like buying them a beer.  When you factor in who-in-their-right-mind-would-bait-them-with-the-good-stuff,-so-let's-just-go-to-the-store-and-get-a-sixer-of-Old-Milwaukee, you realize that she's right. You are buying them a beer, which seems a ludicrous thing to do when they are your enemy, after all, and one with whom diplomacy has no value.

But would you buy them a cup of coffee?  A very dilute cup of coffee?

It turns out that even in very dilute solution, caffeine is a great poison for slugs and snails.  To wit:  "In this study, caffeine is shown to act as both a repellent and toxicant against slugs and snails. This research is the first to document the potential of caffeine as a molluscicide. A drench treatment using a 1% or 2% solution of caffeine caused 100% of slugs (Veronicella cubensis) to exit treated soil, and the majority of these slugs subsequently died from caffeine poisoning. A 2% solution of caffeine applied to the growing medium of orchids killed 95% of orchid snails, (Zonitoides arboreus), and gave better control than a liquid metaldehyde product representing the standard commercial control for this pest. Using leaf-dip bioassays, we discovered that slugs tended to avoid feeding on plant material treated with caffeine solutions  0.1%, and caffeine solutions as low as 0.01% significantly reduced overall feeding by slugs. Due to concerns about chemical residues, available molluscicides generally cannot be applied directly to food crops for control of slug and snail pests. Caffeine is a natural product which is approved as a food additive. Therefore, caffeine may prove useful for protecting food crops from slugs and snails."  This is from an abstract written by R.G. Hollingsworth, J.W. Armstrong, and E. Campbell and published in The Annals of Applied Biology, Volume 142, Number 1, 1 February 2003 , pp. 91-97(7).

Of course, you'd have to reapply it every time it rained, but I make coffee every day, and I can see myself sacrificing a cup to the sprayer and getting out there with it.  It would sure beat picking them off by hand.

This will give new meaning to the term 'slugging back a cup of coffee'.  I almost can't wait to try it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Winter Morning

It was so pretty this morning I had to take a picture.  You can see my espaliers in the background, and the fluffy green stuff in the midground are January King and Melissa cabbages, and then the transplanted leeks.

We put away the last of the blended soil today, and had just enough for the large boxes.  The smaller boxes, like the one with the winter cabbages, will have to wait until I get in soil for the potato barrels, which I'm going to have to do.

I discovered French sorrel growing under its on volition in the hoop-de-don't today.  It was generating from roots that I'd inadvertently left in the bed.  I dug them out as best I could, and plucked the one growing in the compost pile as well.  I have a feeling that I'm going to be very sorry about growing French sorrel.  It made nice soup but it wasn't all that good.

However, it did survive the heat of summer, even when I didn't water it, so maybe someday it'll be the weed that saves us.

Refritos, with homemade salsa verde from homegrown tomatillos, onion, and serranos

...and homemade flour tortillas.  One of our favorites, because, you goes well with the beer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pizza, with canned home grown tomato sauce

...because you know Friday night is pizza night.  Steve had an Alt that he brewed.

For JAGG: How To Grill A Steak

A reader asked me what my secret to grilling a steak to perfection is.  I'm not sure that it's a single secret, but here's how I do it:

Start with a good cut.  Our favorite is a NY strip, but T-Bones and ribs do well.  So far with our quarter grass-fed steer, they've all been great.

Leave your meat out on the counter for fifteen minutes to a half hour before grilling, so the whole thing is room temperature. I usually don't have a problem with this because it's been defrosting for better part of the day.

If you can, start seasoning your steak a couple of days ahead by salting both sides, and then wrapping it back up.  The salt first leaches a little juice out of the meat (which looks like blood, but are really proteins) and then the steak starts drawing the juice back into the center, which seasons deep within the meat.  If you can't do that, no big deal, but salt it at least fifteen minutes before it goes on the grill.  You can pepper it later at the table.

Use real charcoal, not briquets (and not gas, if you can help it). Real charcoal gives the best flavor.  We actually buy charcoal for steaks and burgers, which you grill, but briquets for slow stuff, like pulled pork shoulder and ribs, which are barbecued low and slow.

Wait until the coals are ready.  There should be no flame, and the coals should be glowing.

Clean and oil your grill grate, and then the steak goes on directly over the coals.  Don't touch it for at least 7 or 8 minutes.  If you want to give it a quarter turn at four minutes to give it fancy grill marks, that's okay, but don't turn it over!  Also, if the steak has a large hunk of fat along one side, you can place that fatty edge  along the edge of the coals to help minimize flare-ups.  At least, that's what I do.

After 7 or 8 minutes, turn the steaks over to a new space on the grill, but still over the coals.  Now watch for little beads of blood to pop up through the top of the steak.  Once that happens, you can test the steaks' doneness against your hand.

Hold your opposite hand open comfortably- not too closed, and not all the way open.

If the steak's firmness feels like the fleshy of the base of your thumb here, it's rare.

If the steak's firmness feels like the middle of your palm with your hand loosely open as for rare, then it's medium.

If the steak's firmness feels like the middle of your palm with your hand all the way open and your fingers flat, then it's well done.

Steaks with a bone in them like a T-Bone should be left on a little longer because they take longer to cook.

When they're done, pull the steaks off the grill and let them rest at least five minutes before cutting in.  That's usually when I holler to Steve to come pour his beer because it will take him at least five minutes to take his sweet time coming out from the back of the house, amble down the hallway into the kitchen, grab a beer glass and a beer, and pour his beer and sit down.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leftover Roast Chicken, with carrots and home grown celeriac and onions....

...and oven roasted parsnips.

Winter Harvest, Spring Planning

Much as I'd like to be gainfully employed, I am seriously glad that I'm not a weatherman.  Today's forecast was for partly cloudy, with a high of fifty-two.  I never saw the sun today, and the thermometer on the deck didn't budge thirty-eight.

I spent the morning ordering seeds for this next growing season, and the afternoon was spent harvesting winter veg out of the beds, so that they'd be ready for Steve to help me get more soil in them.  Only harvesting took longer than I'd planned and I got tired.   And it started to rain a little, so we're putting off moving soil until probably Saturday, if the weather forecasters are right this time.

I got a few leeks out of the ground.  The little skinny ones were dug up and replanted in a bed that's been topped off; they were stuck in where I plan to plant zucchini later, so they're fine for awhile.

Then the rest of the Improved Dwarf Siberian kale was cut and the rest of the plant was yanked and composted, and the tops of the Flash collards were cut, and the remainder of those plants were yanked and composted.  I washed the greens carefully, especially the kale which is really curly, and stored them using my favorite way for greens and lettuces which is to roll them up in a length of paper toweling and store them in the fridge in a reused lettuce box.  I decided that I don't like the curliness of the Improved Dwarf Siberian because there are too many places for slugs, especially little bitty baby slugs, to hide.  I'm going back to Red Russian, which was the first kale I planted; it handled winter weather just fine.

Then I dug up the parsnips.  Holy cow, did I get a lot, and are they ever huge!  Some of them got roughed up by the shovel, so they were washed and brought inside- we'll eat those first.

The rest were laid in damp sand in a box, covered with damp burlap sacking and tucked into the garage.  They should be fine as long as it stays cold.

The parsnips were kind of a surprise.  I hadn't planned on growing parsnips this next season.  They take a really long time to germinate, and they take a really long time to grow; I was worried about leaving them in the ground so long , but I did so knowing that frost improves the flavor. Some of the parsnips I harvested today were really huge, but they cooked up just fine.  In fact, I roasted them in olive oil and coarse sea salt at 400F; they were delicious.  They were also not bothered by any pests and came out of the ground in perfect shape (except those that I gouged with the shovel).  I got a lot of food from a small area; they were definitely worth the space, so I'll be doing them again.

This gardening season, I'm continuing to figure out what's good for our yard.  I'm done with artichokes (can't keep them alive, they take a lot of room, and I'm the only one who eats them), and I'm done with celeriac, so done with celeriac (it takes too long and doesn't yield a root large enough to be worth the time and space). I'm also done with corn, but only for the time being just because my soil is still so crappy.  I can't dedicate box space to growing corn, and the boxes are where the good soil is.  So until I've improved the ground around here, no more corn.  I'm going to concentrate on plants that yields lots of fruits for the space, and trying new things.  I've also decided to stick to open-pollinated plants, so that  I can save seed.  I read recently that Monsanto is buying up small seed companies, and although I don't think they'll get all of them, it's time to  start learning how to save seed.  Fortunately, I already have Seed to Seed, and there's also good information in The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe, which I've already reviewed here.

So the new things I'm trying this year are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, radicchio, filet beans, dry beans, peas, potatoes, and Sweet Meat winter squash.  I'd like to try Napa cabbage, but I can't find an open -pollinated variety; everyone seems to be carrying only F1 hybrids.

I am not repeating any of the tomato varieties from last year; the High Carotene were a huge disappointment.  They were supposed to be good for canning with a higher acid, but they were small and had a very high ratio of seeds to pulp. So no good really.  And the Burbank Slicing was okay, actually it was pretty tasty, but it's a determinate so they all came at once which is no good if you're looking for an all summer tomato.  It also took a very long time to fruit.  I sowed them in mid-February, and they didn't ripen until mid-August, which means it took six months.  So this year's canning tomato is Amish Paste, which I hope is coming from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, because I forgot to put them on the order and just emailed them to add the Amish Paste if they can do that.  Amish Paste are supposed to have more pulp to seed. If they don't do well for me, the next thing to try is San Marzano. For my salad tomatoes, I've ordered plants from Territorial; one is 'Beaverlodge' (slicer) which is an ultra early tomato (determinate- couldn't seem to get around that), and the other is 'Old German', which is a mid to late season tomato, and is indeterminate.  Hopefully, this will give me a good spread of salad tomatoes over the summer.

I'm kind of excited about the peas, not so much because of the variety ('Serge', Territorial), but because they're ready so early in the spring. Something to eat while I'm hankering after my asparagus, which needs another year.  I may try the peas later again next fall.  I had very good luck with the carrot varieties I chose for last year, which were all Nantes type carrots.  Nantes are short, so they were good for the boxes, but this year I'm also going to try 'Parisienne' (Baker Creek) because they are actually round little things, and are supposed to perform well in heavy soil.  That way I can try some of them in the ground, and maybe leave them there for winter harvesting.  Last year's green beans were good, as well; they were some Roma variety that I got from a seed stand.  They didn't do well later in the season though, and got pretty tough.  I'm not sure out of the beans I froze how many are actually going to be edible!   This year I wanted to try the filet-type bean, which I had in my CSA box back when I was getting a CSA box.  The filet beans were pretty delicious, so I'm trying 'Denver' (Territorial).  I'm also trying a dry bean for the first time: 'King of the Early' from Fedco.  I was going to try 'Black Coco', because Deppe really liked them, but they weren't available anywhere I looked.  Listed, but not available.  Fedco described the King of the Early as a delicious red baking bean, and as long as it's early, it should be okay.  One of the things that Deppe stresses in The Resilient Gardener is early varieties that allow you to get your crop in before it rains.  Beans need to dry down first.  This is my first try at a dry bean crop so we'll see how it goes.

The only other thing I'm kind of excited about is the radicchio.  'Treviso' (Baker Creek) is a long variety- it kind of looks like a red romaine.  I've read where you cut the head in half lengthwise, drizzle olive oil on it, and grill it.  I had the Treviso radicchio that way with a steak in a restaurant, and it was really, really good.  Last summer I learned how to grill a steak to perfection, so now I'm ready to add the radicchio.

The only thing left to order are the seed potatoes, and I'll do that tomorrow.

So there you have it; winter harvest, spring planning.

For Jules

Leftovers in the fridge

This is a Schlemmertopf, which is kind of like a Romertopf.  Steve came to our marriage with his Romertopf, but I traded my buddy Dave for his Schlemmertopf.  The reason I traded it is that the Schlemertopf has a glazed bottom; the Romertopf bottom is just like the top: porous terra-cotta.  You can't use soap to clean a Romertopf because the terra-cotta would soak it into its pores, and then exude soap into your food while it cooked.  Well, I kind of like to use soap when I do dishes, so I traded for the glazed bottom so I could at least wash the bottom with a little soap.

To use a Schlemmertopf, you soak the lid in a sink full of water for ten to fifteen minutes.  (For a Romertopf, you soak both the top and the bottom.) While the top is soaking, you prepare your meat for cooking in the bottom.  You can find books with recipes for them specifically, but most have you place your meat in the bottom and the veg around.  For my chicken, which was four and a quarter pounds, I placed a peeled onion cut into sixths on the bottom, then the chicken, which I dusted pretty liberally with a seasoning salt and pepper, and then placed the carrots and celeriac all around the chicken.

Then after the top has soaked for fifteen minutes, it goes on the bottom and into a cold oven.  It's really important to start with a cold oven so you don't crack your pot.  After it's in, then you set the oven temperature- for the chicken, 350F.  An hour and a half later, it was really nicely done; the juices were running clear, and when we sat down to eat it, the chicken was nice and tender and still very juicy.  I didn't add any water, but there was a nice, clear broth which I'm going to assume was a result of the water in the lid.  All the broth needed was a little more salt, but really the whole dinner was a nice change.

This was the first time that I've braved the Schlemmertopf, and it made such a nice dinner, I'll be using it more often.  I like easy, one pot dinners.   Especially if they taste good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wishful Hearing

 I took delivery of three cubic yards of blended soil and seven and a half cubic yards of premium pathway bark this morning around nine thirty.  I managed to finish laying bark down in the side yard, and then topped off three of the beds, which is why I made the order.  They really settled a lot this past year; one appeared to lose half its soil.  I really hope that this is the last order that I have to make and that going forward, I can keep up with the beds by making my own compost.

Since I did the side yard all by myself and one of the beds, Steve helped me with the other two beds.  He already had pulled something in his back last week, so this was really yeoman's service.  We made a late trip to the grocery store for milk and sundries, and since we were both pretty wiped, we grabbed a Philly cheesesteak on the way home.  So today, I managed absolutely no food from the garden.  So I didn't meet the Starving Challenge today.

Just too tired.  And even with all the work, we only managed to clear enough bark and soil off the driveway to be able to drive the car past the piles and into the garage.  I have four more beds to top off, too.  Being able to put our only car away tonight was the goal for the day, though.

But while I was working today, I heard birds trilling and cooing like it was spring.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Roast Chicken, with carrots and homegrown celeriac and onions

I cooked it in a Schlemertopf, and we had it pot au feu style, with the broth and everything.  Perfect for a perfectly dreary winter day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Handful of homegrown pumpkins seeds

...again.  Steve and I had kind of a weird day, meal-wise.  We started with one each cinnamon roll (and froze the rest for the weekend) because I wanted to try the Cut Rounds recipe from Edwardian Farm (and Steve wanted his cinnamon roll).  The cut round recipe sounded very like what we Americans call biscuits, and I bribed Steve into letting me try them by promising gravy for them, which is sawmill gravy- half of the 'biscuits and gravy' of the American South.

The Cut Rounds recipe needs some serious fiddling with.  I own and use a balance scale with both imperial and metric weights, so the weighing of ingredients out in grams was not a problem.  But the recipe was still way too dry.  It also didn't have any salt (maybe because it had so much baking powder; honestly, thirty-five grams looks like two tablespoons) but it still needed at least a pinch.  The texture was right; it was more like bread and not like a scone, or an American biscuit.  They also didn't rise very well, and I suspect that was because the temperature was too low.  180C is roughly 350F; biscuits are usually baked at around 400F.  I will say that they did split and toast up well, though, so I would try making them again.   At least once more.

At any rate, between the cinnamon roll and the biscuits and cut rounds, we were stodgily full for the better part of the day.  I had a handful of pumpkin seeds and two glasses of Johnnie Black for dinner.

Some role model.

Sunday, 16 January 2011: Brotzeit, with pickled homegrown onions and cukes

Brotzeit's literal translation is 'bread time'.  The Germans tend to eat their largest meal of the day at lunch, and dinner is frequently open-face sandwiches of bread and cold cuts, eaten with pickles and radishes.  We  tend toward a few slices of homemade bread, some nice 'eating' cheese, a few slices of dry sausage, and a variety of pickled and cured things like olives, pickles, pickled mushrooms, etc., and then some fresh stuff like sliced apples, celery sticks, and radishes, which are de rigeur for Brotzeit.

Steve wasn't very hungry last night (after having filled himself up all day on cinnamon rolls) so when I suggested Brotzeit, that appealed to him.  I was afraid that I'd forgotten to make sure we had something from the garden, and then I remembered that the pickled cucumbers and onions came from the garden, which was kind of a relief.  I wouldn't want to let anybody down here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Hippie Manifesto

When I was thirteen, I wanted nothing so much in the world as to be a hippie and go 'back to the land'.  Somewhere in here I abandoned borrowing novels from the library and started bringing home how-to books and catalogs.  The Whole Earth Catalog was one, and I have no idea of the countless times I brought home my all time favorite book, Rolling Homes: Handmade Houses On Wheels, by Jane Lidz.  My parents were sympathetic, and bought me the Foxfire book- back then, there was only one Foxfire book; now there are eleven, I believe.  And one happy Saturday, they took me and some siblings (I can't remember if it was all of us or only a couple of us) up to Berkeley to see the Integral Urban House.  What a happy little hippie chick I was that day!

I'm still working on Fisker's Early Retirement Extreme, but as I'm reading it, I'm imagining that part of the scheme for retiring is selling this house and buying a small property somewhere, and building a very low-tech, small house on it. A really, really little house.  One that would make me take a hard look at all my crap and force me to prioritize.  One that was well-insulated and snug with thick walls that would keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. One that could be electrified by a wind turbine and maybe a couple of solar panels.  One that used spring water, or at the very least, collected rainwater.  One that probably had a composting toilet.  A very small, low-tech house, with enough electricity to run a fridge and a couple computers.  I figure with a small, country property and a small, low-tech house, maybe, just maybe we'd be able to afford to retire kind of early.  Just kind of early.  It's probably just a pipe dream, because I doubt I'd be able to get Steve to do it.

I've been borrowing those kind of how-to books from the library again.  Masonry Heaters, by Ken Matesz, The Toilet Papers, by Sim Van der Ryn ( who was one of the people behind the Integral Urban House, by the way), and I have a whole bunch more like them on hold at the library.  So it would seem that the hippie in me has come home to roost.  It pains me to think that I was on my true path so long ago, and that I would stray so far over the years that I wouldn't be able to find it again.  Well, maybe not find it, because I have found it again.  More like I'd find it, but I wouldn't be able to tread it again.  Bummer.

Maybe I'll content myself and just quit shaving.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My New Addiction - Edwardian Farm

I'm not embedding youtube videos, but if you're interested (you should be interested), you can find the link to the first one here.

I finally figured out that they've broken up each episode into fifteen minute parts, so episode one, part one, is E1P1, and episode one, part two is E1P2, etc.   I'm on E4P1.  My thanks to Jenna Woginrich, for posting it on her blog, Cold Antler Farm.

God bless whoever it was who posted this on youtube, may you have a long life and much happiness.

Homemade Pasta, with bacon, garlic, red pepper flakes, Romano cheese, and homegrown kale

It's one of my favorite dishes, and I was jonesin' for it.

Pizza, with canned home grown tomato sauce

This was last night's dinner (14 January 2011).  I haven't figured out what I'm making for tonight.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Done With Number Nine

There was a break in the weather today just long enough to get out there and finish up the apple espaliers, which is what I did.

So I'm crossing off that one of the goals list (if I can figure out how).

In other news, the state of Florida appeared as a slice of bacon on a West Linn man's breakfast plate.

He could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leftover Stuffed Cabbage, with homegrown onions and cabbage

I hope this looks as good as it tasted.

...and buttered homemade German Noodles and a green salad.

Anonymous asked for my stuffed cabbage recipe.  Here it is, in its rough form:

Stuffed Cabbage

1 large cabbage
1 large onion, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
1 lb ground beef
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 dash cinnamon (use a light hand)
1 large pinch cumin
2 cups cooked rice
¼ chopped parsley (if using dry, 1 Tbps)
freshly ground pepper and nutmeg
1 egg

1 15oz can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 tsp sweet paprika
2 Tbsp vinegar

Put a big pot of water on to boil, and preheat the oven to 350F/180C.

Most stuffed cabbage recipes advise you to cut the core out with a sharp knife, but I don't like that, because it ruins the rest of the head of cabbage for storage.  Since you're only going to use the outer eight leaves, it's better to carefully cut each leaf off at the core one by one as you carefully peel the leaf off the head (be sure to discard any ugly outside leaves).  You want to try to get the largest and least folded of the leaves, and you want them to come off in one piece, no tears.  It isn't the end of the world if they do tear, but it will be a lot harder to stuff them neatly.  And a large cabbage is an advantage with this recipe.

Once the water is boiling, put two or three leaves in and simmer them a few minutes until they are well wilted and soft.  Remove them from the hot water with tongs, drip them as dry as possible, and set them aside on a large cutting board. Do all eight leaves in this manner.  Once the leaves are cool enough to handle, careful cut out the rib of each with a sharp paring knife, but take no more rib than halfway up the leaf or it will be hard to wrap the stuffing. Set the prepared cabbage leaves aside.

Butter the inside of a shallow casserole generously with one tablespoon of butter. Set aside.

Saute the onion in the remaining three tablespoons of butter with a pinch of salt in a saucepan.  Remove three quarters of the cooked onions to a large bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix as you would for meatballs. It helps the texture some if you mix the meat filling with your hand like a stiff claw, in circular motions, which will keep it tender.  Split the stuffing into eight equal portions in the bowl, and then fill each of the leaves.  Start by placing the filling in the middle of the leaf, wrap the two lower cut ends over the stuffing, then the sides, and then roll it up.  Place the cabbage roll in the buttered casserole and proceed with the next leaf.  Finish filling all eight leaves and arrange them in the casserole as you complete them.

Empty a 15oz can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes into the saucepan with the remaining onions. (By all means, if you have a pint of home grown, use that.)  Add the paprika and vinegar and bring to a boil.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls, cover loosely with a length of aluminum foil, and bake at 350F/180C for 50 minutes.

Buttered German Noodles

1 cup flour
1 large egg
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp milk or half and half or cream

Mix the ingredients together and knead into a ball.  Place dough under a small bowl and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Cut the rested dough in half, flour each piece, and work through a pasta machine to the second to the last setting. Alternately, roll it out until it's about the thickness of a dime.

With sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut each length of pasta on the diagonal in ¾" widths.

Boil in salted water until done, about 5 minutes.  Check the noodles for doneness by removing one, cutting a piece off and testing it.

Drain the pasta.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter to the hot pan and pour the drained noodles over the butter.  Toss and serve.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sloppy Joes with home grown onions and bell peppers

...and a green salad and a swell home brew.

Sloppy Joes From Scratch Scratch

That's one of Steve's beers in the back- an Alt

Today I wanted to take it somewhat easy and just heat up the leftover stuffed cabbage for dinner.  Steve pouted when I informed him of my plans.

"What? What did I say I'd make you?"

He's been giving me a bad time lately about the things I say I'm going to make and then don't because other things come up or I've changed my mind.  For instance, I've been labeled a cookie tease.

"You said you were going to make Sloppy Joes," he answered in a mournful tone.

I'd forgotten.  And I had to do it because I had a pound of ground beef in the fridge that needed to be cooked.  Today.

I knew my Joy of Cooking had the recipe for Sloppy Joes from scratch, but I also knew that it took both ketchup, and I wasn't going to use up my precious homemade ketchup on Sloppy Joes (although I'm sure they'd be delicious), and chili sauce, which I don't have.  And all the recipes for Sloppy Joes from scratch I found on the internet called for ketchup as well.  So I cobbled together a recipe for Sloppy Joes from scratch scratch.  Well, close enough if you don't count the garlic powder and prepared mustard.  They were really good, and really easy.

Sloppy Joes From Scratch Scratch

3 Tb vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15oz. can of tomato sauce, and enough water to swirl it clean (like a third of a cup)
3 Tb brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar (or wine vinegar, or white vinegar)
1 tsp prepared yellow mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder (or one clove fresh, minced)
1 healthy pinch of each of the following: ground cloves, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and celery seeds
A dash each of paprika and cayenne (or Hungarian Half-sharp, which is as hot as cayenne)
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the ground beef (make sure you get it good and brown- makes a better Joe) in a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large frying pan that has a lid.   Shove all the meat aside and sweat the chopped onion in the rest of the vegetable oil with a pinch or two of salt, and add the chopped bell pepper and cook until the peppers are done and the onions are translucent.    Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Reduce the heat, put a lid on it and simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve on toasted hamburger buns.

By the way, that Alt was delish.

And now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find a cookie recipe.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Leftover pot pie, made with home grown carrots, onion, and leek
Leftover panade, made with home grown onions and kale
Home grown celeriac
Green salad, with dressing made with homegrown tarragon vinegar

Orchard Chores: Espaliering The Apples

Fuh-fuh-fuh-freezing.  I'm freezing.  Too long outside and I'm chilled to the bone.

I went out to get a start on espaliering the apples today.  Maybe it was being out there for as long as I was- I don't know- I got the first espalier done but then got too cold to do any others.  Well- my fingers were too cold.  The rest of me was managing.

Tools of the espalier trade

It's not likely that I'll be able to work on the rest of the apples later this week because the weather is supposed to go downhill from here. But chipping away at things is how I usually get things done.  Not quite as slow as water dripping away at something, although it's just as effective in the long run.

One of the Bramley's, needing attention

But hey, I got one completed!

Bottom laterals, tied to lower wire; leaders pruned and tied to upper wire

Only three more sets of trees to go and then I'm done with Goal Number Nine, for this winter anyway.  Once the new laterals start branching out, they need to be trained along the wire.  I'm considering replacing the two Northern Spies and one of the Honeycrisp with new trees- I am not at all happy with what I received from Burnt Ridge Nursery and I'm not happy with the progress they have made.  Replacing them would cost around sixty dollars plus shipping, so I have to really think about it.  One of my Italian plums needs to be replaced because it croaked last year, so I need to think about that.  Now is tree ordering time though.

I think to get a really good home orchard going, your best bet is to find a local nursery that stocks quality trees, choose good sturdy trees, and then go ahead and pay the nursery what they want for them.  I wanted to get my orchard in last year because I felt very much behind in getting my little home farm going, but I've set myself back more than anything.  In hindsight, I should have only invested in a few better quality trees every year.  Live and learn, I guess.  If you're reading this and haven't started your home orchard yet, then please learn from my mistake!  And in addition, take your time figuring out where exactly they need to go.  I've had a lot of success moving dormant trees, but I've also lost a few, and let's face it; it's a pain having to move trees.

Something I learned was to wait until the weather is somewhat warmed up before planting trees.  I noticed a little frost heave on one or two of the trees I transplanted yesterday, which is definitely not good for a newly planted tree.   So if you're in an area that sees freezing temperatures in the winter, the dead of winter doesn't appear to be a good time for planting trees.  It always was where I grew up, which was California, and for Florida too.  I planted a few trees there.  But for everywhere else, new trees and shrubbery should be planted in the fall or early spring, and the fall is the preferred time, because it gives the plant time to establish roots before it goes dormant.

I just found out that Steve won't let me replace my three apple trees, because he thinks I'm looking for ways to spend money (which may or may not be true; I really just want my orchard to perform); he wants me to wait a year.  

But if I've managed to kill them anyway, I guess I'll be shopping for new apple trees next fall!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, with homegrown cabbage and onions

They're a bit of work, but worth it.

Getting My Stellar Groove Back, Indeed

Four little apples, all in a row

I think I really have my groove back.  Today was a sunny, beautiful day, if a bit cold, so I got out there and moved six out of eight apple trees.  The day they were originally sunk into the ground I had nine other trees to get in, plus twenty cane fruits.  The apples were the first to go in, so I was in a hurry and did a lousy job.  Today was a step in the right direction toward getting Goal Number Nine accomplished.  The apples needed to be moved to their permanent, proper homes before I can wire them up.

Scar, and then new leader right above it

I had to wait until they went dormant of course, but the Bramley's are being stubborn.  There's even new growth on them!  I moved one of them anyway.  Hopefully I haven't killed anybody.  I have a close up here of one of the Bramley's where I cut the whip, which forced the side shoots out that turned into lateral branches.  It grew another leader, which is that fat thing heading straight up from the cut.  All the other trees I ordered and received were wimpy little whips, but not the Bramley's. They are super sturdy and vigorous.

Rice is nice
In other homesteading news, I am preparing stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner tonight using a cabbage from our garden.  I'm cooking the rice for the stuffing and heating up the water in which to blanch the cabbage on the wood stove.  The rolls will also sport onions from our garden.

Come on spring!

And then last but not least, I'm forcing a hyacinth to bloom in one of the hyacinth glasses I got a bazillion years ago.  Seriously, I bought that glass, which was one of a pair that I'm not sure I still own, at the hardware store where I worked my very first job in, are you ready for this? 1977.  I think that this is only the third hyacinth bulb that it's seen, but I'm very glad to be doing it.  I love the blue glass and purple bulb and green growth together.

It's a cheerful spot on an otherwise messy table.

I Love This Gardening Book, And Here's Why:

Quite by accident, and I do mean I just happened to see it on the New Books stand as I walked past it at the library yesterday, I picked up Homegrown Harvest: A Season-by-season Guide to a Sustainable Kitchen Garden, which is a publication by the American Horticultural Society, edited by Rita Pelczar.  Boy, what a find!  I have to get myself one of these, and will, once I take a look at some other, non-related subjects that I put on hold at the library.  I try to order enough for free shipping at Amazon when I can, so I want to take a look at a couple of books before I order them.  I know, I know- I said I was going to keep it to a minimum. But- I do have books in the budget, three hundred dollars for the year, and I think this book is well justified.

Instead of organizing the book by fruits, vegetables, trees, etc., as most books of this ilk are, it's organized by season, with the granularity of early season, mid season, late season.  So you could argue that it has twelve sections, which corresponds almost monthly, depending on what your climate is like.  It may be a bit of a stretch for a new gardener who is not terribly familiar with where on the calendar each part of the season hits for their area, but for anyone else it should prove to be very helpful.  On second thought, it could be the perfect book for the new gardener, because it gives information on getting started- the new gardener will learn soon enough how the seasons hit their garden.  The book tells you what you should be planting and doing in the garden now, which is exactly what I need to know.  It also tells you what from the garden you can still be enjoying at any given time, and it give cultivation tips and information for each thing.

The vegetable sowing and harvesting charts that start on page 278 are organized by region, as in cold-winter, mid-temperate, and mild-winter, and each of those sections is further organized again into early spring, mid spring, late spring, early summer, etc.  So unless you're a clueless idiot, you really can't go wrong (barring the vagaries of the whacky weather we've all been having lately, and frankly, on some subjects, I'm a clueless idiot).  Of course there's a section on dealing with pests and diseases.  It's also peppered with pruning and cultivation instructions; now I know what a canker looks like on an apple and I also know what to do about it.

It's interspersed with various subjects, like growing vegetables in containers, how to grow fruits in small spaces, using green manures, as well as specifics on various things, like tomatoes and native fruits and other subjects.

I am a sucker for the beautiful pictures, but the kicker for me really is the advice on what to do when, because that is what I struggle with the most, next to making good compost.  Really, this book covers absolutely everything, and I think I can make space for it on the bookshelf by getting rid of a few other gardening books that I already have.

So I hope my library holds hurry up and come, because I'm very anxious to order Homegrown Harvest for myself.

Leftover Pot Pie, with homegrown carrots, onions, and a leek

...for Sunday, 09Jan2011.  And a green salad, that also sported a tiny homegrown onion.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pizza, with canned home grown tomato sauce

Free Hair Cut

I've reached the point in Fisker's Early Retirement Extreme where he writes about replacing outsourcing ordinary life skills with the gradual insourcing of these skills.  For instance, instead of going and paying someone sixty dollars to cut your hair (the price of my last haircut), instead learning to do it yourself.  I used to cut my own hair, on the premise that I can screw it up for free, but then got out of the habit because frankly, it's hard to cut your own hair when you don't have a three-way mirror.  So I've been letting it grow, under the theory that eventually I'll find somebody whose work I like, and I should give them something with which to work.

I've also been blowing it dry while hanging upside down, trying to, you know, make it look like I have more than I have.  But lately, it's getting to the point that when I do this, I wind up looking like a White Crested Polish, you know- like this:

So tonight I broke down and cut my own bangs.  I won't say that it was a great success because I still have the same face beneath that hair, but at least it didn't cost me anything.

Mr. Fisker would be so proud of me.

Getting Back Into The Homesteading Groove

Today is a brew day for Steve, so we headed into Portland so that he could get his supplies.  This batch will be a Vienna lager, which is sort of like a Mexican amber, but lighter in color. I hope that it has roughly the same flavor profile as the Mexican he made, which was really good.  We tasted the Alt on Friday- I think it might be a little over-hopped, but we'll see what a few more weeks in the bottle will do for it.  Since we got up late, we were much later to F. H. Steinbart's in Portland (one of our Portland meccas) than usual. I went in with Steve, and it was so full of furry men, that I told Steve this place is haired over, to use a Jenni-ism, which means it's too crowded, but in this case it was fairly literal, what with all the facial hair and all, so I went to go wait for him in the car.  While I was waiting, I watched the tall, burly macho man in the canvas work kilt that I espied in the store came out with his cohort and walk across the street with his brewables.  Picture, if you will, a tall burly man in heavy steel-toed work boots, gray knee socks (it was thirty-six out, after all), a beige canvas work kilt, heavy jacket, U. of O. scarf, and snap-brim hat.  He opened the back of his Subaru, chucked the bag of brew supplies into the back, walked around to the driver's side of the car, opened it, and then tucked his skirt under his derriere and sat down on the edge of the seat, backed in and swung his knees around to the front like a prim little school girl.  I couldn't help myself- I covered my face laughing and said into my hands, "this is just not working for me."  For some reason, the dichotomy of a guy machismo enough to wear a skirt that's obviously seen some time on the job and heavy work boots, and then him getting into a car in the most lady-like way imaginable was good for a giggle.  You don't see this kind of thing everyday.  Well, maybe you do in Portland, but I'm not in Portland every day.

As part of my goal to reduce our natural gas and electricity use by twenty-five percent, which I'm frankly not real sure we can do, since we are already on the low side, I've gone back to heating my washing up water on the wood stove, and have hit on the ideal method for eking out the hot water.  The idea is to use the heat that we have coming off the stove, and not force the water heater to cycle back on.  I've found that starting my wash water in my dish pan cold and then adding hot water from the big pot off the wood stove is a better way to regulate the water temp and not waste so much of it.  So far, it's working.  And since today is a brew day, Steve is heating as much of the water for the beer as he can on the wood stove as well.  Brewing takes a lot of energy.  Unfortunately, the mash tun won't fit on the wood stove- it's too wide for it- and this is unfortunate because it has the most volume and takes the most gas to get to temperature.  But starting the others on the wood stove is better than doing the whole thing on the gas stove, or worse yet, on an electric stove, so we do what we can.

My purchase in Portland was at the Urban Farm Store (another mecca) to get a Presto GeoBin composting system.   The Presto system was rated the best out of nine in a comparison test run by the UC California Cooperative Extension.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I really struggle with compost.  I can't get the temperature up where I need it and it seems to take forever to get a batch of compost made.  I'm going to try this method and see if it works better, and I'll report back.  I could probably stand to have a compost thermometer, but they're expensive, so it will have to wait. Interestingly, the compared system was the Presto Hoop Companion, which I gather is their earlier model.  The GeoBin received very mixed reviews on Amazon, but folks have found that the bins also make great growing bins for things like potatoes.  So even if it doesn't work for composting, I can use it elsewhere in the garden.  It better work though- it was forty bucks!  Like I said, I'll report back on it.

And finally, I'm happy to report that by doing a little every day, I'm making real progress on the Room of Pending Stuff (see pic).  It still has a lot of stuff in it that needs sorting, but you can actually see most of the floor now, so I feel a whole lot better about it.  Thanks to all for your continued support.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How To Lose A Lot Of Weight

When I was a kid, I used to love stumbling around in the dictionary.  My parents were the sort of people who always said, "Look it up!" whenever we asked them what something meant.  I would go to look something up, and happen on something else that caught my interest, so I'd get stuck on that for awhile.  And then I'd wind up looking at something else when a synonym was referenced in the definition.  The internet is a lot like the dictionary that way.  I can seriously go off on another tangent while trying to research something.  I frequently close up my laptop and walk away from my work area, and then realize that I never did get to the subject that had me open it in the first place!  Sometimes, I even have to make a list of stuff that I want to remember to research, just to keep myself focused on my purpose.

Lately, what with cleaning out the Room of Pending Stuff, at which I've honestly only been slowly chipping away, and reading Early Retirement Extreme, in which Jacob Lund Fisker insists that by seriously paring back your possessions and learning to live more leanly you can retire at a very early age, I have been mulling over personal downsizing.  Last night I was also thinking about the Bug Out Box for emergencies, which is on my 2011 Goals list.  What last minute things I would throw into it?  What would I grab if we had to leave?  What in this house is so important that I would rue the want of it later?

Can you see the closet?
Conversely (or maybe perversely), while I am trying to figure out what in the Room of Pending Stuff I need to get rid of and what needs to be kept, I am also planning on turning the closet, which has sliding doors, into a craft closet to hold my various project materials, which would require new doors on hinges. I'm thinking that I may have to try to come up with some sort of something that I could sell because this job-hunting thing is proving pretty fruitless.

And then on top of that, I have been leading Steve down the primrose path toward putting a much smaller, but never-the-less necessary wood stove in the master bedroom.  The Lopi Revere insert we have in the living room does a swell job of heating most of the house, but by the time you get down to the end of the hallway, which is still warm, and enter left into the master bedroom, or right into Steve's office, the heat just doesn't follow you into those rooms.  The bedroom suffered some mold in the closet and along the wall side of the box spring last winter, and forget the bathroom, which is as cold as a tomb without the space heater.  My plan, once we get our king-sized bed replaced with a queen, is to move the dresser which is opposite the end of the bed, to the left of the bed, and put the wood stove where the dresser is currently.   With an Eco-fan on the new stove, hot air would be pushed out the bedroom door and into Steve's office, and I think between a new stove in the bedroom and the big stove out in the living room, we should be able to keep the house more comfortable and a lot dryer.  So long story short, I've been looking for little stoves.  And I've been stumbling around discovering stuff on the internet.

In my quest for small stoves, I've discovered tiny stoves, like the Hobbit.  I had to show this one to Steve, and then I realized that he was enamored of it only because of its name.  But I also found some interesting wood stoves for boats, like the Sardine.  Neither of these tiny stoves are large enough our purposes; they're just interesting and curious, and fun to learn about.  Somewhere in here I ran across the Tiny House Blog, which made me remember the book from my wannabe hippy-bippy days, Rolling Homes, which is now out of print.  I would love to get my hands on a copy again, just not at fifty bucks or higher.  But I can't tell you how many times as a young teenager that I checked it out of the library, I loved it that much. For some reason, tucking your entire life into a house the size of a boat really appealed to me.  It still does.  And these homes were mobile, which meant freedom, which I've discovered is something I still value.

I mentioned Jacob Lund Fisker earlier.  Because he lives extremely leanly, he is managing to live on around ten thousand dollars a year, which he makes from his investments.  So he is retired, and pursues things he wants to pursue.  I asked Steve the other night how much we'd need to have socked away if we were getting five percent on our investments, and he reckoned that we'd need a million dollars.  But I'm thinking maybe we could learn to live on a lot less than fifty thou a year.  (I don't mean the current us, read 'me', I mean the future us.) Then reading Fisker's ERE blog, I tripped on over to the In The Trenches blog which he linked.  Carol Schultz-Weil has included a free online copy of her book Financial Survival In Times Of Hardship, on her blog, which I read.  One of the things that she wrote that struck me was her argument for moving out to the country, if you can swing it.  You all probably know this already, but the further out away from town that you move, the cheaper housing is.  So naturally, I'm thinking about an equation that begins pay this house off + reduce household stuff to the bare essentials + proceeds from selling this house + all our investments - the cost of buying a place more in the country -  the cost of a much, much smaller house and leaner lifestyle (read more sustainable as well) = a reasonably early retirement.

Then, as if all this reading and thinking and mulling ideas over in my head wasn't enough, this evening while waiting for my regularly scheduled program to come on (I'm sadly addicted to The Big Bang Theory), I idly picked up the January 2011 issue of Sunset magazine which I hadn't read yet, and opened it to an article entitled The zero-waste home, which is about a relatively normal family in Northern California that produces no garbage because they are extremely careful about what they buy and how they buy it, plus a few other strategies.  Their story started because the wife had once nannied for a family that lost everything in a fire, and she decided that she wanted to live a life where she knew about everything she had and used everything she had.  And kept nothing she didn't use.  What's interesting to me about this is that this family has found paring things down to the very barest essentials to be wonderfully freeing, and it dovetails neatly into what Mr. Fisker has been talking about all this time.   John Michael Greer, who writes The Archdruid Report, has been envisioning a future that will be very, very difficult for most people, because of the way that we live.  So it seems to me that the way to avoid that difficult future is to stop living such a wasteful, resource-hogging existence.  The question is, can I do it?

Well, I'm going to try. I am struggling with the stuff in the Room of Pending Stuff, but I had the contractor by today and he'll call me in a few days with the estimate for my craft closet.  I will have to decide what to keep and it will all have to fit in the closet. I am fortunately not given to crafting for craft's sake, but I do sew for the house, and knit, and have a few other productive hobbies. Plus, the bookkeeping needs to go somewhere.  Then the Room of Pending Stuff will truly be turned into a guest room.

I can also think of some serious paring down that needs to happen in my clothes closet and my dresser.  I have a lot of books in the bookcase that I don't like or want anymore.  I might even go through the stuff in the kitchen and start getting rid of useless-to-me stuff from there.  And Lord knows, the garage could use a good purging.

If I were to really try to plan a future in a seven hundred foot square house, which is half the size of this one, I'll probably have to get rid of more than half my stuff.  If I remember correctly, we got rid of nearly half our household items before we left Florida, and that was a freeing experience.  But we still moved over four thousand pounds of stuff.

And even if I can't talk Steve into starting over in another, smaller house, or moving to the country, I could still stand to lose two thousand pounds.