Friday, June 29, 2012

Independence Days Challenge Update...Keeping The Long Days Full

The rain has kept us indoors this past week. During our last wet spell I was able to get some chores done around the inside of the house. This last spell of heavy rain left me feeling a little out of sorts. We needed the rain. But we got too much rain. All the things I  found to put on my to-do list involved something that needed to get done outside. I did manage to get some bread made. It is hard to muster up the bread chi when it is 90 degrees outside.

During the clearing up day, in between showers, I would wander out to the garden and weed a row or two. Yesterday the sun finally broke free of the cloud cover. I was able to mow some lawn and get some weeding done at the community garden.  The garden is actually doing fairly well this year; even with the extreme variability we have had in the weather. I have learned over the last 5 years to plant mostly cold weather crops. I have some tomatoes, peppers and basil. But with all the rain we've been getting in the summer I have learned to adapt to crops that have a better chance of making it to harvest.

Plant: Well, I had to replant all of my squash and cukes. One day they were fine and the next they were lacy and over run with cucumber beetles.  I planted some more basil. I filled in some empty spots with summer cabbage, swiss chard and beets. Planted more carrots.

Harvest: Fava beans, lettuce, green onions, garlic scapes, cilantro, dill, rose petals, catnip,kale, swiss chard, rhubarb. Peas are quite abundant and should be ready to harvest by the end of the week. I have never had much luck with peas. Birds would steal the new sprouts, I could never plant enough to get a harvest large enough to freeze. But this year they found the perfect spot and are laden with blossoms and pods. I chose a snap pea this year to make processing easier and make better use of the plant.

Preserve: dried dill, cilantro, kale,rose petals. Canned Chicken Stock. Froze 1 last quart of Rhubarb.

Local Foods: Local eggs, local milk, local beef.

Eat the food:  Chop Suey from local beef. I bought a mozzarella cheese kit from our local Brew supply store. Last Year a friend invited some folks over to try making some cheese. I have tried it a couple of time afterward, using liquid rennet, with mixed results. Most of the recipes called for the final stage to done with a microwave. We don't have one. So I followed the instructions in the kit for the hot water bath and I actually made mozzarella cheese that looks like mozzarella cheese. We ate some of the cheese as small cheese balls soaked in olive oil and I used the rest on our pizza last night. I am thinking that this might be a way we can save some money. We eat a lot of cheese. There is abundant local milk which is comparable in price to commercial milk. We have been eating a lot of green salads with a simple drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. So good!

Waste not:I saved the whey from cheese making. I used some of the whey in the pizza dough last night. I froze it in small quantities. I will use some of it in a healthy beet tonic called Kvass. I will also use it in bread. I mulched the potatoes with weeds from the garden and grass clippings from mowing. I am growing my potatoes in huglekultures this year because I ran out of room in the main garden and still wanted to grow some of them.

Want not: I am really excited! We built a new cold frame using Eliot Coleman's elegantly simple design from Four-Season Harvest. Two 2 X 12s  and one 2X8. We cut one 2X12 in half and then trimmed and angle on them to the height of the 2x8. We are putting by our front door beyond where the snow falls off the roof. Because our house is passive solar the cold frame will have good southern exposure We are planning to grow winter greens in there so we can provide our own fresh greens in the winter. It is a good size for us. If this works out well enough to provide at least one or two fresh green servings in our diet throughout the winter then we will try another one next year. The lumber was only 30.00. We are still exploring the lights. We will try to scavenge some windows for it but if we can't, we may try some corrugated clear plastic panels. I have seen these on some local homestead green houses and they seem pretty resilient. They are only 16.00 a piece and can be worked with fairly easy.

Learn something new: Cheese making.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The work of these days...

Each day is full. I had a conversation recently about living our days with intention. When I shared how I go through my day at home, my friend remarked that it sounded as though I lived my life this way-with intention.  Working at home the way I do, I have found that I naturally fall into a rhythm that sways between very industrious to quiet and still productive.

In the morning, after breakfast, I head out to the gardens to see what needs to be harvested. I follow Carla Emery's approach to food preservation and gardening. Each day I try to plant something and/or try to preserve something.  This time of year I make sure that something always goes into the dehydrator. The garden is beginning to really put out some great looking produce. Fava beans are ready, peas will be ready by the end of the week. These will go into the freezer.

After I take care of these basic garden/ kitchen chores I may tackle a larger project. Mowing the lawn, mulching gardens, canning a larger crop, turning a compost pile. All the while there is laundry being done or bread rising. 

I often find I have help with some of these chores. Evan offers his help where he can. I work to make sure that I am not so focused on my projects that he can not be included in the process. I also know to stop and give him some time when he needs it. We always have a good book going and I love to have an excuse to stop what I am doing to read to him.

After lunch the pace of our day shifts. Evan has quiet time. I catch up on some basic house keeping. This time of year this is about all I can hope for. The work outside takes a lot of time away from the inside of the home. But I also want to relax at the end of the day and don't want to sit in a too cluttered home.

There is a quiet time for me too. Around 3 o'clock in the afternoon I will sit down with my knitting needles, or we will take a quick trip to the lake for a swim. I like to have a moment of quiet before the dinner time routine kicks in. I check the herbs in the dehydrator, wash the dishes from breakfast and lunch. I make dinner. This time of year I try to keep our fare simple. Salads and a little meat on the grill or something easily prepared for a tortilla are common for our summer dinners.

The day ends with a catch up of any unfinished chores or projects. Tristan cleans the kitchen every night.  Mark helps Evan get ready for bed. The day ends and I am able to think back at all I accomplished for the day.  Over time I can see the results of the work I do around here. Small projects that have lived in the to-do list can be crossed off. The freezer fills, the jars fill, the soil improves.  Money is saved and a quality to our lives is preserved. This is the job I love to do. I often joke that at 45 I am still trying to figure out what I would like to do when I grow up. Really, I already know. I am doing it already.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Independence Days Challenge, The Glory Days

We are having a wonderful stretch of fine weather. Swallow tail butterflies are drinking from the comfrey. The resident toad of the garden resides under the broccoli and hops out to say hello every time I walk down that row. There are all sorts of snakes in the grass. I made them a few stone homes around my gardens hoping that they would munch on a few slugs.

I heard someone say that the garden of their dreams is the one that imagine in January. I can agree. I have lost some zukes to cucumber beetles. The tomatoes are fighting off an onslaught of flea beetle. I can say that the soil has improved over last year. Everything is a little bigger and lush this year. But I still notice that some areas have some slow growth and other areas where the growth is uneven.  Building soil is a long term project that shows its improvements over a long time period. But I feel assured that I am on the right path.

Plant: more zukes, more cukes, more carrots, more chard, more kale, more beets.

Harvest: The last of spring spinach is picked. Green onions, swiss chard, cat nip, comfrey, daisy, plantain, chickweed, kale, lettuce, strawberries, rose petals.

Preserve: strawberry jam, strawberry/rhubarb wine, frozen strawberries, salve, rhubarb salsa, dried herbs, frozen spinach.

Local foods: Local Pork, eggs, strawberries. I also volunteer for a local community garden which grows food for low income seniors. I spent some time putting in some donated seedlings this week.

Eat the food: Garden green frittata, strawberry/rhubarb pie, sun teas from our own herbs.

Waste Not:  I am mulching with old leaves this year. My garden rows are mulched with hay but I mulch around the plants with leaves I rake up from the forest floor. These add some goodness to the soil as they break down. Tree's roots run deep and bring up lots of good minerals and such.  My sandy soil could use some extra hummus too. The leaves help with this as well.

Want not: Mark found a good stash of used cooking grease he can process for our car.  The diesel is working out ok. He is still trying to perfect the filtering system for cleaning the grease. He gets great mileage and only has to fill the car once a month. He drives many miles so we think we are doing pretty well with it.  I found a pair of winter boots for Evan at a yard sale. They'll fit him a a couple of years so I'll stash them away for later. They have liners and only cost a dollar. There was a 12 pack of kale at the community garden that looked like some deer had decimated. I was able to take them home and see if I could coax some life back into them.

Learn something new: I am taking some of my new herbal knowledge and putting it to use.  I found a substitute job at a local thrift store. I start tomorrow. I will just fill in for folks on vacation or who call in sick. I start tomorrow. But think I am going to stash some of the money I earn this summer for some classes at Blessed Maine Herbs.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wound Care Salve

Disclaimer: The information that I am sharing in this post is, in no way meant to be a substitute for medical care in the event that someone should have an infected wound that needs medical attention.  Signs of infection include inflammation, redness, heat and discharge at the wound sight.

Now that this is out of the way, I would like to share a recipe for a wound care salve that I made this week. This salve can be used for minor scrapes or burns. I have a blacksmith in my family who, frequently, comes home with minor burns from flying scale; small flecks of metal that flies off when he hammers the metal. This time of year a  little boy in shorts limps through the door with a scrape on his knee. With all the work in the garden I am prone to grabbing something with thorns.  A gentle salve is in order.

The ingredients include three herbs, some olive oil and beeswax.  I followed the technique for making salves found in John Green's book, The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook. I used three wild herbs found in my own yard. They are very common weeds and will be easy to find. I will refer to them as herbs in this post. Although they are common weeds they are more valuable to our natural health than we give them credit for. All these herbs are edible but for our purposes we will discuss how to use them externally.

The first herb I used was Daisy. Juliet de Bairacli, in her book Common Herbs for Natural Health, describes daisy as a wound herb. The teacher at the wild herb walk I went to a couple of weeks ago recommends using the leaves. A couple of weeks ago I had a small scrape on my foot. I made a tea of daisy leaves to rinse the scrape with. I drank the last of the tea.

The second herb I used was plantain. Plantain is a great herb. It is found on disturbed ground; basically, where ever you frequently walk  you will find plantain. Plantain can be a quick remedy for a bee sting. Find some and break or smoosh it; the technical term is bruise, and apply to the sting. I can attest to it's efficacy. A couple of years ago I was picking wild blueberries and stepped on a hornet's nest and was stung several times. I applied the plantain and could feel some immediate relief. The stings cleared of the venom quickly.  Plantain is great for wounds.

The final herb is chickweed. This is again so common that we take it for granted .De Bairacli states that it is often found on tilled land and usually indicates rich soil. It is good for all skin ailments. I have a separate salve made just of chickweed that I use for Evan's winter eczema.

 I used freshly picked herbs that were not damaged by bugs.. I pick in the morning while the dew is still on the herb. John Green recommends 1 to 2 oz. of dried herbs to 1 cup of oil. I doubled or tripled the amount of fresh herbs for this salve depending on what I could find outside.   I picked all the leaves off the stems.

All herb measurements are approximate.

Wound Care Salve:

Ingredients: 2 cups of olive oil
                  3 ounces of beeswax. Green recommends 1 oz of bees wax to one cup of oil but I wanted                   a  little firmer salve so I added the extra ounce.
                  1 cup plantain, chopped.
                   2 cups daisy leaf
                  1/3 cup chickweed.

You will also need  glass baking dish, double boiler (or pot of boiling water with a bowl or smaller pot inside), a spoon, small glass jars. I used 1/2 pints and 1/4 pint jar. A canning funnel.

Place herbs in baking dish and cover with olive oil. Place into preheated oven to 150 degrees. Let steep for 3-5 hours.

Strain through cheese cloth. Squeeze out any remaining oil. Place in top of double boiler and heat slowly, add beeswax. When beeswax melts you can check to see if it is the consistency you desire but putting a spoon in the hot salve and then placing the spoon in the freezer. After a couple of minutes take the spoon out and check to see if it is as thick as you want. Pour into clean jars. When it cools to a solid keep in a cool dark place. Definitely label your salves. They all look a alike. I like to write the ingredients on the label and the date. I follow the tenets of food labeling by putting the ingredients in the order of quantity.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Building Community One Plant at a Time

It has been a few years since I have felt connected to a community. When Tristan was around ten we moved out of the big city of Portland, Me and moved north to the college town of Orono. I met Mark, we married, had a baby and moved to the small town of Milo. We  made some friends there but with a new baby I had a hard time finding a group of mom's to get together with. When we moved west to the Farmington I was able to connect with a group of women though a homeschooling co-op. It has been a great experience.

When I lived in Portland I had a group of friends, connected by children, but we would gather for book group, strawberry picking and holidays. We offered each other mutual support whenever someone had a baby, needed last minute childcare, or a shoulder to cry on. There was a constant stream of children's clothing being passed from one to another. We would offer child rearing lessons. I love that this is happening again but with  one significant difference. Most of the women I "hang" with are trying to be self reliant to one degree or another.

Some of us have some significant experience and some of us are just beginning our education. Some of us raise livestock. Some of us grow only veggies. One family has found a way to make a living teaching sustainable skills on their land. Our family is preparing to ramp up our food production and self-reliant skills in order for Mark to be self employed.

We are gathering to make things together. One mom loves getting together to help other mom's while our children play. I love group canning, even if it is just small batches. Tomorrow a couple of mom's are coming over to my home to make some salves.

One similarity to my Portland experience is the flow of children's clothing. Bags of children's clothing are shuttled between homes. We take some out and put some in. A final destination is a children's swap at The Children's Task Force.

But we are also swapping plants. I have shared elecampane, rhubarb, dahlia's. I have received strawberries, motherwort, bunching onions, sweet annie,. I have seen cabbage seedlings, brussel sprouts be moved from one hatchback to another. In some ways this is crop insurance. If someone's seedlings are not so vigorous then we are sharing our fortune with others. But it is also a form of social insurance. With each favor we offer, each bag of clothing we swap, each plant we share we are strengthening our connections.

These connections  are important. In one respect we are women following, I believe, our natural inclination to work communally. I often think of an account of an Amish Barn raising. The men and boys are outside building the barn. The women are working together in the kitchen to provide a FEAST. The meal is hearty. All the women and girls have their hands in its preparation. In one respect we could look at the meal as "women's work". But its importance to the community is as valuable as the men who are building that barn. When the meal is served the community gathers in fellowship to share the meal, thereby strengthening the social connections.

There is another reason these connections are important. No one can deny that over the last four years our economy has been difficult for some and down right hard for others. The uncertainty of our low energy future, potential financial backlash of a European debt crisis, or simply the trials of our own individual lives can challenge our best resources. It is so much more important to value these connections and work hard to sustain them. It is not difficult really. All it takes is one plant.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A little of this and some of that...

The rain has finally eased up and the weather is supposed to become more seasonable. We had days and days of heavy rain. Most of the garden survived the deluge but the tomatoes could use a little heat.

 I did not plant as many tomatoes as I did last year. Last year they were blighted. I am trying a new staking method this year. The stakes are wide, deep and spaced about 4-5 feet apart. I tie the tomatoes up to a beam that hangs from the stakes. I am hoping these will keep the tomatoes off the ground a little better and allow for more air flow. I have a back up tomato source with the volunteer work I do for the local community garden. The tomatoes are really bothered by flea beetle this year. I find this odd because most of the brassicas are doing find and healthy looking. I have been making a tea of rhubarb leaves to spray on the leaves. It seems to be working.

The slugs are incredible this year. I have never seen so many before. I  have been crushing egg shells, spreading diatomaceous earth. This weekend I think we will be having mussels for dinner so I can break up their shells too. I think ducks might just be a part of our homestead if we keep having these cool wet springs.

Some mom-friends and I have been getting together to can. Last month we canned dandelion jelly. The other day we made rhubarb salsa. It is nice to share some of this work with friends. One friend thinks that women were meant to live communally. I think there is some truth to this. It makes getting some of the jobs done more enjoyable. I love food preservation. I love watching those jars, that freezer  and the herb jars fill up. It is a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the season. It is work with satisfying visible results. But there are some days that can be long when there piles of produce just waiting to be processed. It can be a pretty solitary job so sharing some time with fellow moms gives the job an extra, rewarding quality.

Our new ewes arrived last week. Freckles and Isabella. Freckles is a corriedale and Isabella is a ramboullet. Freckles is quite chatty. Isabella is a tall girl compared to other sheep we have had in the past. They are settling in nicely. Sadie is our old ewe. She is losing her sight. She is 12 years old. She has not slowed down too much but she does need a guide to get her in and out of the paddock now. Leroy Brown Goat seems to be enjoying the new additions to the flock. He could jump over the electric fence but he chooses to stay with the girls.  They are ready to be moved down into the orchard to much the grass down there. Best lawn mowers in town.

I took another wild herbs class this year with a local herbalist. Last year we met at the herb shop and she went through the list of wild herbs that could be found. She had them in jars. This year I went up to her house; a little off-grid home in the mountains. I had a great morning walking her property and her country road. There is so much food and wild goodness just under our feet that the earth provides. This year I was able to identify wild lettuce, cleavers and a wild edible sedum on our land. I think we have some sasparilla on our property and I would love to find some bunch berry.

Each morning I head out the door with my basket and enameled bowls. I wander around the garden to see what seeds have poked through the soil. I take stock of the flowers in the black raspberry patch. I think it will be a good year for berries;especially, if it can dry out for a bit. Each morning I fill up my containers with herbs for the dehydrator. Daisy, raspberry leaf,bergomot, mint and catnip are filling up the old wire canning jars. Evan noticed that red clover is starting to bloom. Love that!