Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The ninth week

Today, I received a warning from a friend who works for the cooperative extension.   He is a soil and water guy who has been doing a study of heirloom variety potatoes. His warning was for late blight.  Last year, we had 3 weeks of rain around late July and early August. We had late blight last year and most likely we will have it this year.It has rained  for 4 weeks with an occasional outbreak of that most elusive heavenly body, the sun. Last year we were able to pick the spuds before the blight reached the roots. This year the potatoes are just starting to flower.  So, we made our way to our local garden center and picked up some copper. The kind woman at the garden center told us that we should put it on in the morning and we need 3 hours free of rain after application; in order for the application to be effective.

Makes me wonder about the lowly spud.  Such simple fare. So cheap.  such an important staple food.  It is a major crop for us. We grow over a hundred pounds a year. I have been saving seed each year and grow wide variety  of varieties. Kennebecs, Yukon Golds, Caribe, Onaway, Yellow Finn...Such friendly reliable names... But to grow a potato is quite a feat.  One must battle pests and fungi  to bring a simple mash to the plate. 

Plant: Nothing this week ...to wet. but I am pondering planting more spinach this week. The weather is predicted to be wet and coolish for a while longer. So it should stay cool enough for  a while longer, cool enough for spinach?

Harvested: Lettuce, garlic scapes, oregano, strawberries, broccoli, yarrow, kale. Everyone in my house praises broccoli. Including the green -phobic three year old. We've made great advances in advancing his diet;)

Preserved: We grow over a hundred heads of garlic each year. Each year, I try to find a way to preserve the garlic scapes. I've pickled them with caulifower. That was yummy and a great garlic boost when one has a cold.  I've frozen garlic scape pesto. But they seem to get lost in the freezer and forgotten. This year I am mincing them into a paste and laying it out in the dehydrator. When they are dried I crush the clumps in the mortor and pestal. This makes a lovely smelling herbal blend to add to foccacia or dips.  Dehydrated Oregano and kale.

Managed reserves/ prepped: Cleaned out plenty of closets, decluttering and packing up unnecessary items, deep cleaning. Mulched and weeded the garden. I received the bulk foods order.  Oats, buckwheat, red lentils, honey, rice vinegar, Doctor Bronner's, pastas, some herbs and spices, coconut and raisins, yeast. It is a lot of food.  But if I am not able to stay here through harvest season our larder will still be pretty full. I only order food that we eat and save a fair amount of money than if I were to buy it retail.

Local Foods: Went to farmer's market. Purchased some chicken parts. The  honey I purchased with the bulk food order was from a local Bee keeper.

Eat the food:  lettuce, broccoli, garlic scapes, strawberries

Sunday, June 28, 2009

There are just those Kodak moments...

Today was a first for me. The one time I wish I had a camera on me and I did not.  Hubby was responsible for the music today at church, so we arrived early for so he could rehearse. When we arrived there was a beautiful luna moth resting on the outside wall of the church just by the door to the kitchen. Everyone commented on it.   A lovely shade of green against a yellow wall. Its fine brown etchings on its' wings. So big and yet so still and silent....

When we closed the church today it was still there. Perhaps hoping for some warmth...aren't we all...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Country Life

There is this old timah' that lives down the road a bit.  Often, if he has extra parsnips or corn, he will pull into our drive to share his bounty with us. In return, we give him some of our time and share a conversation with him. Bachelor Farmer is the term I have for him; but really, he is retired from the rail road. He grew up in this area.  He is land rich, cash poor and wealthy in the wisdom of how to live on little. He always grows his own very large garden heavy on potatoes, corn and beans.  He is  hard of hearing so our conversations are spoken loudly.

Last night he came by to tell us that a couple of black bears had been seen in the neighborhood. The conversation meandered through the stories of him chasing the goat and cow that another neighbor has grazing on his land; his regret that he did not have enough money to invest in oil futures (apparently you need 45,000) and his hope to get his roof re-shingled this summer. ( I have no doubt that he plans to do this himself!)

Finally, he shared the story of a dairy farmer in the next town over that had committed suicide. The farmer left 5 children, his wife and massive debt behind. Recently, the farmer had decided that he had to cull some of his herd because dairy prices had collapsed over the last year. There was no realistic way to pay back debt if you are giving your product away. And, in order to begin the next growing season of corn used to feed his herd and all of the pesticides used to grow that corn, he would need to take on more debt.  Credit that is not available.

We own land about a hour from my home.  If you were to travel there you might see a few vast potato farms, plenty of logging trucks and windmill blades traveling on flat bead trucks. Back in the 1950's  it was the dairy center of Maine. And then...And then the federal government came in and required all dairy operations to have electric refrigeration. This was a region of the state that did not have electricity. Much of rural Maine did not get electricity until the 70's.  So, what was once the major dairy provider for the Northeast became a few vast potato fields.  What had been a vibrant rural community was devastated.

Our old timah' neighbor had some theories as to why there was a collapse of dairy prices. Some of what he said I was familiar with: BHT, supply/ demand issues, pricing regulations, and foreign trade agreements that hurt our farmers.  In the end, I think it comes down to  cheap at any cost. Until we realize that food; the growing and  transporting, is an expensive endeavor; until we realize that if farmers can't provide milk, grains, meat with out fair compensation, until we get Big Ag Companies out of the equation; until we realize that local agriculture is food security ,the story of the dairy farmer the next town over is just one more tragic story being played out in rural America.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The eighth week

Can you believe it's been eight weeks? In some respects this past week was probably the busiest week I've had in a long time. Too much time in the car:( But I  did manage to get somethings done.

Plant something: nope, unless of course you count my butt behind the steering wheel;) I am a little hesitant to plant a fall garden this year, in case we are not here. On the other hand if we have to stay in the house while hubby is working out near Farmington then it will come in handy.

Harvested: spinach, lettuce, Broccoli (yippee), scallions, fenugreek, lambs quarters

Preserved: Nope, but Strawberries should be ready soon.

Managed Reserves/ Prepped: Well, I did get something done here. First, one of the reasons I was in the car so much this past week is that I had a mammogram and an MRI. Second, we making phone calls to realtors, mortgage officers, rural development folks to make sure that we have all our ducks in a row before we put his house on the market. I am decluttering, packing  a little something every day; mostly, stuff we don't use.   A friend was  doing a wholesale order this month so I decided to do a bulk foods order with her. I will get my own account going when we are more settled.

Reduce waste:A friend works at a local Rite Aid and is a great source for boxes. I will use these for packing and mulching the garden.

Local foods: not much this week. But he local farmstand  has opened and they have plenty of u- picks that I will be taking advantage this summer.

Eat the food: Salads, salads and more salads. Eggs. Oooh and fresh broccoli. Yum!

Our Ewe, Emily, has been pregnant. For weeks we watched her udders get bigger and bigger and bigger. This past week she delivered her lamb. Unfortunately, her lamb came out head first and not hoof first, as they are supposed to. So one of us had to get our hands into her and get the lamb out. I have small hands so I delivered the lamb.  The lamb did not make it but with the good advice of a local homesteader we were able to save our Ewe. We have kept her penned separate from our other ovine until she is healed up a bit. But what is remarkable is that our goat and two other sheep make sure that she is not left alone. There is always one of them hanging outside her pen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Real Life

There is blog life. This blog life involves recording what goes into the garden, into the soup pot and onto the knitting needles. Blog life is about life on the homestead, thoughts running around in my brain, concerns I share with you about the state of the world; cares,  concerns and accomplishments of my children. Blog life is where I contemplate how the big changes in the world at-large affect my family's day to day life.

Then there is real life.  Real life is where sometimes ( okay often) the house is a mess and the garden is over ridden with weeds. Real life is the struggle and joy of making a marriage work. Real life is the impatience of waiting for a toddler to finish his little temper tantrum and wondering how " together moms" manage it. Real life is picking up the hair balls that the cat's so graciously shared or better yet stepping in said hairball first thing in the morning. Real life sometimes needs a second cup of coffee ,even if it is not fair trade and locally roasted, because dammit I is tired!

So this post will interject some real life into blog life. In real life, our family has struggled with some pretty dysfunctional neighbors for the last 6 months. Really, to be frank, the proper term to use would be pissing contest. 

It all began with a plow truck.  We had one. We plowed our private road and a few neighbors drives for a very fair and inexpensive price. However, the truck is old, the amount of snow that gets dropped in this region is considerable, and the time to plow sometimes would take 6 hours.  So we told those folks who would be effected that they should make other arrangements for the winter and that we would plow in front of our house.  One neighbor ( and his family of 15 children) started plowing the road. No big deal, except that he decided that he would push a fair amount of snow over a wooden culvert that feeds into our property.  We asked him to stop giving the culvert his special attention because we were concerned about erosion of the wooden culvert.  He refused. His basic stance is ," I am taking over the maintenance of the road, you can't stop me, I don't care  if I do damage to your property." Strange things began happening to our chickens. The neighbors would often walk by the house and stop to dig trenches in the gravel road with a pick ax or their boot. For one month this past spring there was a lot of gun fire coming from their place. We have contacted the police.  The whole situation has escalated to the point where we have consulted a lawyer.  They have taken us to court for harassment because they say that we have: threatened legal action, raised our voices to tell them to stop what they were doing to our property. Now, they have the guy; who owns the land across the road and does not live there, in on the action. This guy is a drug addict and dealer who decided to construct a spite fence with a toilet seat hanging on it. There is a pretty good chance that said drug dealer will be putting a house on his property this summer.

Ahh... bucolic country life...

So what are a couple of peace loving hippies to do? Well, we could spend about 3,000 dollars on a lawyer and take this to court for a property rights issue. It would probably take about a year and is no safe bet that we would win. And they would still drive by our house.  We could construct a fence the whole length of our considerable frontage.  But again that is costly and not really the kind of neighbor we want to be and it would not resolve the road issue. We have consulted other neighbors with a stake in the care of the road. But there is no clear plan of what should  be done.

But one should feel safe in one's home.

And, if I were to get really doomerific about it all, I am not sure that I could trust my neighbors if the SHTF.

So, we have spent the last few months considering alternatives.  This is what we have decided. If we need to spend 3,000 dollars we would rather put it into something that gives peace of mind. We would like more land because we would like to get into some small market gardening and more sheep. Hubby applied for a new full time teaching position in the western mountain region of the state. It has a really great vibe. He found out yesterday that he got the position. It is better job security. 

Now the nail biting starts. There is a lot of work to do to get the house ready to put it on the market. And we have to sell it. Oy! We have to find a new home. And boy wouldn't it be great if all this could be done before school begins on August 31. Oh and by the way...I've already planted my garden.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The seventh week

We needed rain. We've had rain.  We've had enough rain. Bring on the heat!

Plant something: More basil

Harvested: Scallions, chive blossoms, rhubarb, comfrey, beet greens, spinach, lettuce. Lupines and Irises.

Preserved:  I had some cranberries in the freezer left over from last fall. There is a wild bog nearby and a neighbor gave us a big bag last fall. In an effort to empty the freezer and get ready for the coming season I emptied the freezer of cranberries and made 5 pints and 5 half pints of cranberry chutney.   I have reached the quantity of rhubarb chutney that I canned last year. With still more rhubarb coming up, I made a 12 pints and 1 half pint of rhubarb salsa. Dehydrated  1 quart of scallions. I will use these with roasted veggies and sandwich salads next winter. 3 pints of chive blossom vinegar.  1 quart dehydrated comfrey.

Manage reserves/ prepped: I have mulched the potatoes. I am attacking one kitchen cabinet a week to declutter. I am hoping for a better system to maintain canning supplies this season. We live in a very small house and space is at a premium. Scored a big box quart canning jars at a yard sale. Whoot!  It is the little things that get me excited. But this past week I went down to the basement and when I took stock of the amount of canning jars, I noticed the quantity seemed slim because there are still a few filled with food.  Stocked up on teas.

Eat the food:  Baked a ham from last years pig. We had several days of sandwiches and then a pot of split pea soup for the rainy days. Plenty of green salads grace our table. Finishing up the last of the veggies and fruits in the freezer. Broccoli is nearly ready to pick.

Reduce waste: declutter, compost, and making sure there are no experiments growing in the fridge;)

Local Foods: Kind neighbor keeps offering me rhubarb. We have extra eggs we are sharing with friends.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Preserving Sanity 2009

If you look at all the little tidbits that are along the right side of the page, you  will notice that I have removed last years list of preserved goodness. I have begun keeping track of what I preserve this year.  There is still a fair number of jars on the shelf from last year.  Plenty of applesauce and jam, a few jars of beets that I will roast up soon ( I promise) and plenty of famine food:) and other pickles.

This year I want to be more diligent about keeping track of all the other things I keep.  I dehydrate a lot of herbs and some veggies. Since I will not be canning fiddleheads this  year I will have more room to keep jars of dried veggies on the shelf.  We had pretty good luck with all the dried  zucchini from last year.  We used it in soups and homemade pizza last winter and it held up pretty well. So perhaps, I will branch out with some other veggies that I would normally can.  

I also freeze some veggies and fruit. We are still eating some raspberries I picked from our property last year.  I used cranberries that we picked from the wild to make chutney this week; freeing up valuable freezer space for the coming strawberry season.  We might get a piggy. There may be big changes coming for us soon and we are not sure we can commit to a pig yet but a friend's sow had a litter a little while ago..so ...maybe...

Anecdotal evidence. We are getting Real.

When I think about "green shoots", the ebbing of job loss could be one of those statistics I could point to.  Or a slight uptick in consumer spending? Sure, that could be a sign of a turn around. A rally on wall street?  Well, that might be good for some businesses and retirees .

But there are other, more ominous signs, that I think we need to pay attention to. 

Hope? Sure I have hope. But I don't have the same hope of returning to the over consumptive lifestyles we are evolving out of.

Now, this I know.  We live in insecure times. Many folks are losing their jobs. Much of the safety net is eroding as state budgets get slashed with each budget shortfall. The pain and hardship of many is real.  

But I have a couple of stories to share with you.

There is a woman who attends my church.  She is a few years out of college. Last fall, she found herself unemployed. She is fortunate that her life experience was much different than many of her peers. She was raised in an off grid home. She has helped her mother plant a large garden every year.  So, she lives with her parents and helps them out around the homestead. She was raised to save money. So, she had enough money in savings to cover her expenses ( student loan, car payment and cell phone. Her parents do not have a phone). She has worked hard over the last 9 months to find a job. Many resumes have been sent out. Few interviews have been scheduled.  A couple of weeks ago, someone wanted to hire her to clean their house.  She has had several odd jobs during this period of time. She joked that maybe she did not have to worry about full employment because she was able to keep enough odd jobs to keep her savings in her account. She is living in the informal economy.  This past week we were talking and she mentioned that her sister was concerned about how she was filling her time. She quipped, " My life is too busy to have a job.  I have too many hobbies."

Yesterday, I was at the grocery store hunting for canning jar lids.  While in the check out line, a woman that I know from the craft fair circuit got in line behind me.  Our small talk revealed that she is a new grandmother and she lost her job 3 months ago. I asked how it was going she said," Great! I've expanded my garden. I have all this time now to help my daughter and my new granddaughter and I am giving more time to my craft."

When I think of "green shoots" I don't pay attention to  the number so much. The numbers are abstract and easily manipulated.  When I think of "green shoots" I think of these women who; when faced with the economic reality of our times, take green shoots and turn them into blooms. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The sixth week

The days fall one into another. It is a busy time of year. This is the last week of school for Hubby. And then the calendar is full  of camps for the teen, trip for the husband, many doctor's appointments, work  and the work that we have around here.  

But this I know...I will get to the coast this month and put my feet in salt water. I will make sand castles with the wee one. I will eat  sea food. 

Plant something: Tomatoes, rattlesnake pole beans, jacob cattle dry beans, popcorn, ashworth sweet corn, zucchini, basil, amaranth, more carrots.

Harvested: spinach, salad, beet greens, scallions, chive blossoms, comfrey, lupines, kale

Preserved: chive blossom vinegar, dried comfrey

Prepped/ managed reserves: mulched tomatoes, potatoes, peppers. Picked up a gallon of canola oil

Eat the food: There are plenty of green salads on our table these days (YUM!). We are widdling away the vast store of various pickles in our cupboard.  I made a yummy soup out of local yellow eye beans, kale from the garden, local garlic sausage, potato and applesauce. It was a big hit.

Local Foods:  Not much this past week. But we are eating mostly from the garden and food stores. Oh wait...I bought a cherry tomato, and a grape tomato plant at the local feed store where the plants are grown locally...Phew...

Saturday, June 6, 2009


There is a fine, cool, local ale in my hand...A saturday evening reward for a week of hard work.

This is the last push: corn, tomatoes, basil, peppers,  beans.  Oh yeah...and more corn. We've planted 3 long rows of popcorn and three long rows of sweet corn.  I've spent the last few days mulching and mulching and mulching..It has been a very dry spring. The whiskey barrel is nearly empty but the bigun' is still a 1/4 full.

A fox got into the chickens. We lost our duck, our oldest hen and three year old birds.  But it was easy pickins for the fox mother. We've made it more difficult for her to get our birds. I, know that she just needs to feed her young but do not want to kill her for our own lax ways. She has a reprieve.

Emily, the ewe, is expecting. Her udders are full, her bits are swollen and we wait and wait and wait and still no lamb.  Maybe the full moon will provide the impetus she needs to see her lamb into this world.

Hubby comes home from work with end of the school year tales. We count the days till he is home but then he will be gone again with a visit to his cousin's new son and summer school.  We manage fine on his income but feel like we can't give up any opportunity to fill the savings account. These are uncertain times.

The boys? They grow. Today, I was remembering a conversation I had with the teen while pregnant with the wee one. Teen asked," So when will the baby be able to play legos?"  I said, "Well, when he ( or she) is about 3 or 4." Well, here we are and it is a beautiful thing to watch.

And I watch the teen. He changes daily. More mature, more assured but still he struggles with his relationship with his dad..so I do what any mother does.. I worry...

And where am I? I have been enjoying early bed times with good books. But soon, I will need to devote time to knitting. I have a special order and I need to  have some inventory of machine knit garments by the fall. sigh..it is so easy to get lost in a sunny day...

These days are full. Each one keeps me close to why we live this life.  Dirty feet at the end of the day, sore muscles, bug bites and a good thirst and a cupboard full of the fruits of my labors.   This is the rhythm of this time of year...

and so it goes....

Monday, June 1, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The fifth week

Before I begin my update, I would like to direct you to some food for thought by that very smart woman, Sharon Astyk.

It was a busy weekend. I worked on Saturday. Sunday we had planned to take a ride up to Moosehead so that hubby could set up a few gigs for the summer.  However, we met a friend's partner for the first time. And interesting gentleman who has been working with alternative energy and transportation for the last 35 years. We got to see his collection of Citreon cars, electric cars, and other electric vehicles.  Very Cool! 

Further along our detours to Moosehead, we met up with some friends  for some music, beer and good conversation. I love spontaneous gatherings!

Planted: The last of the potatoes, sunflower seedlings. It is still too cold to plant many things. We did however finally get a few days of rain which was much needed.

Harvested: Comfrey, rhubarb, lettuce, spinach, scallions, chives, and Lilacs, oregano

Preserved: dried comfrey, oregano, 10 pints of rhubarb chutney. I have reached last years volume of rhubarb chutney. WE still have one jar left in the pantry from last year.

Eat the Food: mixed greens, local burgers on Saturday night,

Reduced Waste/ managed reserves:  a very good friend cleaned out her closet and I was the recipient of a new wardrobe. Thanks Louise! 

Local Foods:  A neighbor shared more rhubarb with me. I went to the farmers market the other day. I found some dry beans grown in the next town over at the SAV-A-LOT. Go figure!

Prepped: I began stocking up on canning lids, vinegars and sugars for canning season.

It is a beautiful day out there today. Sunny and breezy. A good day for planting without bugs!