It's a bit early but this morning I harvested my garlic and the bunching onions. As is the case every year, some of the garlic is poor, some fair, most good and a few are amazing. In good years, years when we can afford to be cavalier about the food we harvest, the very poor, small bulbs would have gone to the compost or the pigs. This year, as drought threatens so much crop land, I will not toss any of it. Here's my plan. The small, puny bulbs are heading for the dehydrator. Once dried I'll spin in the blender until they are a fine powder. Vacuumed sealed, they will become garlic powder and season many meals. The next smallest are getting pickled. I love pickled garlic. I won't have many jars but I'll have enough to add to an otherwise pedestrian dinner now and then. The average heads will be saved for cooking. This is the bulk of what I grow. We eat a whole lot of garlic around here and not just for the health benefits although they are considerable. I want to make a jar or two of honey, garlic, lemon syrup for treating the occasional cold.
The best of the best, the prize-winning, top-of-the-line perfect garlic will not get eaten at all. It will be set away in a dry, dark corner to await planting in October. It is not easy. I would love to roast that perfect garlic. I want to spread it warm over crusty bread and treat myself and my family to perfection but it is not to be. I need to save garlic for next year's crop. For that, I need the best. Over the course of years, my garlic has adapted to my land, my climate, my place and I can't afford to squander a clove. Each year I have more of the good and great garlic and less that is good for not too much.
I'm also setting aside some that I will let go to seed. It will share a bed with some garlic from a nearby farm. I'll save the seed and grow out some starter garlic from that. I hope to have some genetic diversity in this staple crop so I need to import the DNA.
It seems like a lot of work I suppose. Garlic is pretty cheap and I could buy enough to get me through the year with a small outlay of cash. But I'm not just growing for myself. I'm growing the seeds of a food secure future for my family and my community. I pass on seed and knowledge and a love of good food grown in our good earth.
"It's a recession when your neighbor loses her job. It's a depression when you lose yours."
I have to disagree with this. Our town just learned that one of our few employers of local people, a residential program for troubled youth, is closing its doors. It will throw a whole of people out of work. I know several of these families. The jobs didn't pay for cruises to the Mediterranean. These jobs put food on the table. It feels like a depression to me when good friends can't send their kids to college in the fall and cry because they can't see a way forward.
I'm so glad that I saved those lanky, unhealthy tomato starts. They have blossomed into these beauties thanks to compost, water, lots of heat and sunshine. I'll eat my fill of tomato sandwiches but most will end up canned as sauce and dices, catsup and salsa. I'll feel guilty if I lose any, given that my neighbors may be happy to share the bounty with me.
Tonight we eating an abundant garden meal. I sautéed 1/2 a chicken breast in some oil. Now I'm simmering the chopped chicken with some of last year's tomato dices, the first of the zucchini and some kale and chard. I added a lot of Italian seasonings and a dash of salt. Like love and friendship, everything is better for a dash of it. It's delicious meal and a good way to stretch expensive meat. I might slice up the end of some mozzarella and if a friends stops by I'll throw on a pot of rice or pasta. Lots of vegetables can go in a dish like this, peppers and onions, corn and beans. In hard times we make do and I have always believed that hard times are made easier when they are shared with people who care about you. If you have the means, make an extra jar of sauce and share with an elderly neighbor or a single mom. Seek out the unemployed young man or the student away from home. The only way to get through is to hold hands. Peace.
I have been dreadfully remiss in posting. To say things have been busy really doesn't speak to the magnitude of what this spring has been like. First is my incubation project. It has taken some fiddling around to figure out just what I need to do to keep the eggs at the proper temperature for hatching. I was too cheap to spring for the automatic egg turner so I have to manually turn the eggs several times a day. Along the way, the original 17 eggs was reduced to 15 as one exploded and created a horrible, stinky mess and another just cracked. The I added another 8 eggs from another clutch, a combination of both turkey and chicken eggs. Today, four wild turkey eggs were added when the rest of the nest was destroyed by a raccoon. I'll try to hatch them and a friend who runs a wild bird rescue center will raise them for release into the wild.
The pigs have also taken up a lot of time. They will not stop tipping over the water trough so I have to check every hour or two to make sure they have water. They also seem to have gotten mange so Bruce is off to the farm stand to get the medication and they'll need to be treated for that. The garden is producing like gangbusters and I have started the round of preservation.
Then there are the house issues. The roof was being replaced when the first tropical storm hit. We lost the new insulation and the living room ceiling. That's been taken care of but we've had so much rain the chimney man can't get the outside work finished. I have a huge hole in one wall because the windows never arrived. Maybe next week. Great.
By far, the biggest drain on my time is the farmer's market. There is the prep, the loading and loading, reloading and unloading every Thursday and then the cooking and candle making and labeling and making pretty. I need to do a market analysis to see if the whole thing is worth it to me.
In each spare moment I try to get some writing done. I'm working on a novella about what I think the next decade will look like. There are no zombies and nobody is raped or murdered. It's a much slower, much less dramatic collapse and I'm not sure just how interesting it will be unless you're a fan of herbal medicine and permaculture. If it's too boring I may have to throw in a love story.
Here's the thing about collapses. They are rarely as dramatic as most writers would have you believe. They are often felt more on a personal level long before they hit the main stream consciousness. I am beginning to notice some changes and I expect to feel even more come winter. We have yet to get our field hayed as it hasn't stopped raining long enough to let it dry. If we don't have Northeast hay we will have to purchase hay from the West. But the West is blistering under extreme heat and drought while we mold. If there is a poor hay year, the price is paid in the supermarket. Beef and milk, butter and yogurt will all cost more. I saw today that the interest rate for student loans is going to double while CEO's are post their best year ever. How nice for them. Not so nice for the young man with $50,000.00 in student loans and no job. The re3cent graduate facing an uncertain future might feel personal collapse today. If you live in Arizona and you don't have AC in triple digit heat my guess is a melting arctic feels pretty real. I guess you don't need m
Gardening when times are easy is easy. You can go for riotous color or award winning tomatoes. A year of blight is annoying and should you loose the squash to drought or bugs, well, these things happen and you head off to the supermarket. Gardening in hard times is a different story. Every plant matters. Every inch of space has to count and there is little room for error.
More and more I am doing hard times gardening. This morning I headed out to the greenhouse to get the last of the tomato plants in the ground. The main crop was planted a week or so ago. They were the lovely, healthy plants that I had babied along from saved seed. What I had left were a few dozen runts. They were leggy gifts form friends with extras and a few that I never transplanted into larger pots. There was a time I would have just tossed the losers but not this year. As I look at the latest climate data and watch the instability of the world financial markets I realize that I don't want to waste anything. I loaded a makeshift raised bed that Bruce created on the south side of the greenhouse with compost and eggshells and planted six plants there. I had two huge, empty pots that house another couple of starts. There was some room at the end of the green bean bed and another place near the basil. I even poked a plant in an empty corner of the herb garden. The final three found homes in between the greens in the greenhouse.
These plants will probably not produce as abundantly as my earlier starts but I have every reason to expect some production. I can always ripen green tomatoes on a shelf in the kitchen and make relish from them too. I haven't had fried green tomatoes in years but it may be time to resurrect my mother's recipe.
I'm going back out in a moment to start more cauliflower and cabbage. The cabbage is such an important crop in a hard times garden. It keeps well in the root cellar and provides us with the basis for fermented kraut and kimchee. If I find a spare spot, something is going in, preferably something that I can keep in the root cellar or can for long term use. Kale and potatoes, squash and beans, tomatoes and carrots; we will eat well and healthy, hard times or not.
One of the problems with being someone who blogs about my homesteading activities is that in January, when I have all the time in the world to write, I have nothing terribly interesting to write about. Come summer, when my life is full of exciting things, I have almost no time to sit at my computer. There are things to plant and things to harvest, animals to care for and new projects to begin. By the time I sit down at night I have no brain cells left to work with. It's time for a cold pack/hot pack on sore back muscles and escapism reading. So never think I have disappeared. I'm here and busy and I promise to get to this page at least once a week.
The above picture is of my turkey eggs, sitting in my new incubator. It was never the plan. The turkeys we got are a heritage breed that are supposed to be good mothers, a fact that is totally lost on said birds. They lay eggs all right but then promptly forget about them. This is a problem because we spent a chunk of change on the poults last year and then an even bigger chunk replacing the fox-eaten Toms. I have no other good option for organically raised, free range birds that won't cost a king's ransom in the volume I need to get me through a year.
The solution, when we couldn't find a broody hen to help out, was to buy an incubator. I got mine from Lehman's. It's a very light Styrofoam box with a bottom tray for hold water (the humidity needs to be quite high), a mesh screen to hold the eggs and a simple heater to keep the eggs at a constant 100 degrees f. I did not buy the automatic egg turner as turning eggs several times a day is just not that much work, certainly not the almost $80.00 the turner would cost.
The process take 28 days and there is not much for me to do until the end. I marked each egg with a penciled X so I will know that I have turned each one. I check the temperature several times a day and I make sure the bottom channel is filled with water. I will need to candle the eggs in 10 days to be sure that they are all fertile with embryonic chicks forming. I have never done this before and I think I'll have Bruce put up a video when we do it.
My poor husband. We now have the incubator in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on it as well as the worm farm. I have canning jars everywhere and there is usually something fermenting somewhere and herbs drying in baskets. It's glorious mess most days. Added to the general working kitchen clutter is the mess from the leaky ceiling in the living room. It's being replaced today and what a mess! The new roof is on and the gutters will be on by Friday. Next up is the chimney, then windows and siding, along with a lot of insulation and a new parlor stove. The goal is to have this end of the house tight and ready for next winter. That seems far away tod
I often write about the gifts of abundance: good food, good friends, terrific community, loving home, but in truth not one of these things is an actual gift. All are more like wages earned for the investment of time, energy and resources. I was pondering this as I spent this past week on several time-consuming but necessary projects. The freezer needed to defrosted and rearranged. Some closets had to be organized. Our pigs needed to be moved here from a friends sty for space reasons and we needed to invest in hog fencing and posts as well as troughs and watering containers and hosing so I would not need to haul water. It was expensive and hard labor but the job is done and our pigs will thrive in what is a much better location. The fall meat is not a gift but payment for the excellent care we will give out animals and the respect with which we will treat them at butchering time.
The cheese in the picture is result of many things. A friend was going to be out of town and offered me her milk share. I took it gladly and made this cheddar. Making cheddar is a time consuming project and it requires a lot of milk. My friend offered me her milk in return for us doing the drop off at the bus station. While I had the cheese press out another friend dropped by to give it a look as he hopes to make on for his own use. While visiting he happened to mention that he had a spring lamb to dispose of. Said lamb now resides in my freezer. It will be cooked with the mint jelly I made last week. I'll be delivering a jar of the jelly to the same friend as he took care of the logistics of getting it butchered and delivered.
I get a lot of email about our community and our life. Several of these refer to my "luck" for living in such a good place and having such amazing friends. I appreciate the things I have been gifted with. Good health for sure. My roots are in this place which is a lucky thing as there is no place else I would rather make my stand. But much of my luck is not luck at all. It is the result of hard work and good choices. It results often from sacrifice. I would rather read and write than weed the garden but I would MUCH rather consume great vegetables than poor ones so the choice is made. I would prefer to spend the afternoon tincturing some herbs but I made a commitment to attend a deacon's retreat and I would not even consider disappointing the folks putting it on.
Am I luckier than many people? I am. I live in a place untouched by war or recalcitrant hunger. My climate is better than in many places and the water here is a blessing. I chose my husband before I was wise enough to understand just what a good choice that would be. For the gifts and the ability to do the work, I'm truly grateful.
PS: For some reason my own comments and replies are not showing up in the comment section. I'm working to resolve the issue.
While the cold, wet weather has not been great for a lot of the garden, the greens are loving it. And not just the greenhouse and garden herbs and lettuce either. The wild greens are taking off. Nettle, plantain and lamb's quarters are abundant right now and it's time to take advantage. As soon as it dries up I plan to harvest some plantain to make an infused oil.
It could not be easier. I'll fill a pint mason jar with bruised, dry plantain leaves and cover with some organic olive oil. That will sit for 2-3 weeks on a sunny window sill. It's important to check the level of oil as the herbs must be completely covered. It's also important that the greens be completely dry.
Any moisture can lead to the growth of mold, not what you want in an infused oil. When the oil is a deep green I will strain out the herb and bottle it in a dark bottle and store it in a cool, dark cabinet until it's time to make a plantain salve.
The basic recipe is easy. 1 ounce of beeswax to 1/2 cup oil will make a salve with a good consistency. I like 1/4 cup calendula oil, 1/4 cup plantain oil and a 1 ounce beeswax bar. Melt together in a double boiler over simmering water. You can add essential oil if you like. Pour into any small container and use for rashes or bug bites.
The greens are also gearing me up for pesto making. We think of pesto as only being made with basil but presto can be made with any combination of greens. If your family won't consider eating nettles, add a handful to their favorite pesto recipe for a nutritional punch.
Whether you live in a country cottage or a city high-rise, greens are easy to grow. Check out small varieties for container gardens. If you live somewhere that won't allow gardens (perish the thought!) add some edibles to your landscape. Edible sedum and kale are beautiful additions to both your landscape and your dinner plate.
To Market, To
I am a bit distracted. Farmer’s Market
opens on Thursday and I’ve been getting ready for weeks. Still, there are a lot
of last minute things that have to be at, well, the last minute. Bread baking in
particular has to be done just before we leave. I make a wonderful
chocolate/caramel popcorn that is also best done no more than 24 hours before
being consumed. What I have been doing is making jelly, jams, sauces and candy
as well as finishing up some hand creams and salves. Labeling everything is the
most time consuming part of all.
The part I really hate is figuring out
pricing. Too much and nothing sells; too little and you work for nothing. There
is so much hidden cost in what homesteaders do. Having a jar of honey ready for
the market starts the year before. Bees must be purchased to replace the winter
die-off. The new bees have to be coddled and nurtured. We plant pollen producing
herbs to insure lots of bee food and endure countless stings when we work the
hives. The finished hives must be removed, the honey extracted, the wax
processed and everything turned into product, creams and lotions, candles or
jars of honey. Everything has to be labeled and then transported to a location
for sale. What doesn’t sell is packed up and brought home to try again the
following week. Bee suits and hive tools, jars and labels, extractors and bee
food are all expenses that have to be considered in our final costs. And time!
Did I forget to mention time? I figure we work for a lot less that the average
store clerk. I am certain we don’t make minimum
So why bother? It’s a legitimate question.
I bother because the money I earn is in direct proportion to the labor I expend.
The product I provide is useful and ethical and I can be proud of it. I bother
because I prefer blue jeans to business suits and Muck boots to high heels. I
love the way the lights hits the side of the greenhouse in the early morning and
how you can hear every bird in the stillness. I like to feel connected to my
planet. Every detail matters. How hot will it get? Will it rain today? Do I
expect frost tonight? Has the clover bloomed? If we hay today will it disrupt
the fledglings in the field? If I wait will I have enough time for a third
I like the people who do what I do. They
judge me not by the number of patches on my boots but by the way I manage my
hives. Their talk is plain and real. They don’t say much but what they say
matters. When my neighbor was ill with cancer, a huge crew showed up and got his
hay cut in one long afternoon and they all came back to get it bailed the next
day. They went home without a word. It’s just what neighbors
I’ll figure out the pricing. I’ll calculate
cost and labor and know I’ll work for love rather than money. In my world, love
The weather was warm and sunny and then we got much need rain. Predictably, the trees blossomed and the asparagus popped up. My herbs are growing and all is well with the world. Well, it was until last night. We were struck with a killing frost and we can expect another tonight. A lot of my town escaped it but we sit low and near the river. It a good thing as far as our soil goes but it means we get hit with frost later in the spring than most and protecting the garden is really important.
The asparagus is relatively easy. It just needs a cover but our bed is 3+ sheets long. I have found that the sheets must be kept off the plants or they will still freeze so I had to come up with a way to do that. My temporary solution is to put stakes in each corner and along the edges as well as 1/2 gallon Mason jars in a line down the center. I can then lay sheets and have them supported. It works but I think I need to put up some wire hoop frames. It will be easier to work with and less likely to cave in on me. The new herbs were easy. I covered them with 6 gallon buckets and boxes. Most are pretty hardy but a few of the annuals (stevia and lemon verbena) can't take a frost.
I had put out my squash plants and added some Wall O' Waters to shelter them. There was frozen water in the top of the water channels but the plants are just fine.
The fruit trees were the biggest headache. They are too big to cover and I don't own smudge pots. We went out at 11:00 last night and sprayed them all with the hose. It worked great! I don't think we lost a blossom. The Arctic Kiwi did not fare as well. We have lost the first leaves every year since we planted the darn thing and, after 8 years, have yet to see a blossom. I'm about ready to bag this particular experiment and admit we are just the zone for Kiwi, no matter how hardy they are.
Preserving our abundance in the face of a changing climate will be a tall order. It will demand perseverance and attention and the sharing of tips and information. So what's your best tip? This inquiring mind needs to know.
When we talk about new years, we all have our own perspective. January 1 works for a lot of people. The calendar is easy and familiar and it's the time most of us make resolutions. The academic calendar begins in September. I always loved the new clothes and the perfect pencil box. The sense of a fresh start came with a notebook unmarred by pen marks and doodles. The fiscal year works if your a business person. It usually happens in July. Not being a business person, it's one I never paid attention to. For the gardeners though, the new year begins with the day you put that first seed in a bed of healthy soil.
Inherent in the new beginning is the ending and it's another milestone that must be considered. Today, as I contemplate the abundance that I hope my garden provides I am also looking at what is left behind from last year.
I have three freezers. There is the small one over the refrigerator. It's not good for much but the things I use every day. I keep my yeast and the cultures for cheese and yogurt there as well as staples like peppers and onions. I keep short-term leftovers in this small space as they are less likely to get lost. Add in ice cubes and ice packs and ice cream and there isn't room for much else. My second freezer was a mistake. It's a small upright. I didn't pay much for it, thank goodness, as it doesn't suit at all. It isn't frost free and being an upright, the cold air falls out every time I open the door. The only good thing about it is the location. It's right outside my kitchen door in our mudroom. I use it for fruits and vegetables and nothing else. This time of the year I empty it out and I won't plug it back in until the strawberries start to come. My main freezer is huge. We use it for our meat and cider storage as well as lard and extra tomato sauce.
Today is the day for defrosting the middle freezer. I found, as I always do, some things I had forgotten about. Several bags held enough strawberries to do something with. They are a big freezer burned so I decided the best use for them is to cook them down, let the juice drain out and make a beautiful strawberry jelly. The pigs and chickens will eat the pulp and everyone wins. I found a meatloaf and a bag of peas and a few bags of corn as well as a lot of cauliflower. The next few days will be leftover days. I'm busy in any case and I refuse to waste the food. So this is where I begin, right at the end, finding abundance everywhere I look.