Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years Goals

This time of year begs for inner reflection for me. Perhaps it happens as a result of life slowing down to a pace that allows for some thinking. No more holiday rush. No significant outside work calling to me. Instead, I spend quiet mornings browsing through seed catalogs. I finish abandoned handwork. I take long brisk walks. I project a little further into the future but this is mearly dreaming not avoiding my present.

Inevitably, some familiar goals seem to call to me. It never fails that I commit to more exercise, better eating, better management of money. Big homesteading goals get pared down to realistic accomplishments once the convergence of time and money impose their realities to the dreams.

This year seems different somehow. We have settled into our community nicely. I have found a group of women to share time with. The kids are doing well in their own ways. We will have to adjust to Tristan not living with us any longer. Mark's career change will make some new demands on our family but in the long run it should be for the better. Because of this change the work we do in our home will take on a more important role in the maintenance of our repsonsibilities. We will have to provide more of our food. We will have to tighten up systems around the homestead to be more energy efficient. Not just because it is the right thing to do for the earth but also for our bottom line.

So it seems that compliling a long to-do list would be in order. I am sure that at some point this will be necessary. The only list I have been working on is a seed list. For now though I would just like to visualise what sort of life I would like to see us make real. This year I would love for a signifcant part of our debt to be paid off. I would love to have a beautiful productive garden that provides lots of good food for us. I would love for my children to be happy in what they do and who they are. I would love for Mark to be successful in what he wants to do. I would love to solidify a path for my own pursuits that will provide some modest income for my family while balancing my time to maintain these other goals.

These seem like lofty goals and I often struggle with the micro -management overtaking the implementation. So I have decided on a new approach for the new year. On January 1st I am going to just live the life I want. I will wake at 6am. Eat a healthy breakfast, find a way to get some morning exercise (perhaps dancing in the living room). I will tackle some procrastinated chore. I will conciously give love to my family. I will try to live the day with intention.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm still here!

Well, alas, the computer has really gone caput! We hope to have a working replacement soon, we hope. But while the computer has been dead the homesteading and living lightly is still taking place. I thought I would jut catch up on all that we have been doing since the last time I posted.

  • We grew and harvested 14 broiler chicks. It was the first time we did chicks like this. I think we still have a bit to learn about them. Most of the birds weighed out between 3 and 4 pounds. They averages about 3.00 a pound. Next time we would like to find a breed that will forage better. WE did build them a lovely hillbilly chicken tractor. Constructed from scrap wood we had lying around. I challenged my own carpentry skills and built most of it myself.

  • The garden was so-so. New soil needs some more ammending but I did put it to bed this fall with lots of good compost and lime. Rutabaga was the wonder crop this year. Tomatoes were blighted again.

  • We have a Mercedes diesel/ veggie oil car. Mark is working out the kinks but we should be able to defray our gas costs once it is all up and going.

  • Tristan has a job as a blacksmith at a living history museum in New York state. My little bird is getting to leave the nest.

  • Evan is homeschooling. We found a great group of families to support this effort. Everyone in the group lives close to the land.

  • Mark is considering leaving music education and pursuing his music career. In order to do this we are worling with the Book, Your oney or Your Life.

  • The orchard put out more apple than we knew what to do with so, our to-do list includes DIY cider press this year.

  • I've made most of my Christmas gifts this year and I am done. No late knit sewing and knitting. What an amazingly realaxing feeling.

  • I taught two knitting classes at adult ed this fall. It was wonderful and I plan to teach a couple more this spring.

Well, that seems like a pretty fulfilling life. I hope you all have a great Holiday Season!

Blessings, Karin

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Prodigal Cat

Returns! Covered in burs, hungry but in true feline fashion ...not too humble. Thankyou for all your good wishes!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sad news

Many members of my family have enjoyed the summer. Evan has enjoyed learning how to fish, Tristan has enjoyed working on a local organic farm and the many blacksmithing opportunities he has been presented with. Mark has had plenty of opportunities to perform music this summer. I have enjoyed quiet mornings in the garden and busy days with the canners. Cheddar dog has enjoyed having all the members of his family around. The sheep have enjoyed grazing in the orchard. And Scruffer cat, my most beloved feline friend, has enoyed some limited and chaperoned time outside.

The other morning we woke to find our front door opened. Scruffer had pried it opened and wandered off. He has not returned. A neighbor has reported that they too have lost a cat 5 days ago. They also saw a fisher cat (a very wild animal) in their yard. We can only hope that his death was swift and that he was not in much pain. His loss is hard for our family. He had the softest fur, a personality that was fickle yet loving.

Our computer is still in the shop with luck it should be up soon.

Peace, Karin

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A rambling update...

So even though I have not been blogging here regularly I have been very busy on the homestead. Our computer is still on the fritz so it will be a while longer before I can be in this space on a regular basis. But while I have the time now I will let you know the many things we have been working on here.

Most recent and most exciting is the open house and lacto -fermenting workshop I participated in this past weekend at Koviashuvik Local Living school. It was a very inspiring weekend. The school itself is just a wonder; with an earth bermed root cellar and green house, amazing compost bins, awesome garden, solar dehydrator. I left the open house thinking that moving off grid does not have to be all that complicated if you just keep your systems simple. Food for thought. The class was great, in that, it answered some questions for me about long term storage of fermented veggies. The ease of this method of food preservation is going to find its way in to my food preservation regimen for the simplicity and low energy technique it provides. Lacto-fermented foods are also really good for you and do not rely on many outside imputs such as vinegar and sugar. Just salt and a few good sized jugs and I will be good to go.

This summer has given our family a good chance to relax after the last couple of busy summers. Each morning I go out to collect some wild foods, herbs from the garden and summer produce. The garden is not as bountiful as I hoped this year. I think it may be a matter of building up fertility. It is our first year in the space so it may be a matter of investing labor and good portions of compost. I just heard on the radio yesterday that Late Blight has appreared again this year so we will be keeping a close eye on our potatoes and tomatoes for any sign.I have hedged my bets with a CSA share this summer to make sure that we put up enough food so that we can cut our grocery bill in half by fall. We have ordered broiler chicks and they should be arriving soon. Our thinking is that we can grow them quickly and feed them with a lot of the by product from the garden.

Last week a friend invited a group of us over to make mozzarella cheese. We each brought our gallons of milk. Mine survived the the curdling but would not pull together. It was still good for putting on homemade pizza. Now that I have worked throught the process I plan to try again soon. I will use the recipe from "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. This should save us a good amount of money. The cheese weighed nearly a pound and cost about 5.00 to make. Much cheaper than a pound of mozzarella at the supermarket and made from mostly local ingredients.

The cupboard shelves are filling up. I find myself with a good rhythm. Each morning I fill the dehydrator. There is plenty of chicken stock, jams and dried kale. I have begun planting my fall garden. There is more broccoli, chard, spinach, beets and carrots in the ground with more spaces to fill with spinach. My favorite new crop to grow are shallots. I love planting 10 seeds and getting 50 shallots in return. I can save some of these for planting next spring. Also the shallots last longer than keeping onions so will be the last onion we eat before spring onions are planted. A good crop for closing the loop.

Evan is 5 years old and we were on the fence about whether to homeschool him or not. We have decided to homeschool him and take advantage of music, art and gym at our local school while we get our feet under us.

Finally, the knitting needles took their summer hiatus during the height of gardening season but I have picked up the needles to finish a few projects. I have not forgotten about the Plant A row Challenge. I hope to be back on line by September to hear how everyone has done with their gardens. I hope you are all well.

Peace, Karin

Friday, July 29, 2011

Still among the bloggin' sorta

So, our hard drive on our laptop crashed which is why this space has been so silent. We are still trying to retrieve and recover. In the meantime, I have been very busy in the homestead. I hope to have and Independence Days Challenge update soon.

I don't delve into politics much on this blog. I know that I have readers with many different points of view here which is why I love that we can meet on common ground here; growing good food, living sustainalbly and trying to be self suffiecient is not a blue or red ideal. But I would like to share my simple observation abou the current debt limit craziness that is occuring in D. C.

Elected officials should do what they were elcted to do. GOVERN. That the fate of every American's livelyhood hangs on whether a few well paid ( over paid) politicians will compromise or not is utterly unnecessary and negligent on their part.

This being said, it is a good time to review areas in you home that ensure preparedness. Hurricane season is about to begin, if the debt limit is not raised the price of fuel will skyrocket, food prices will increase even more than they have. Are there projects that will increase energy efficiency in you home that will cushion any rises in fuel costs? Now would be the time to work on these.

I could just be hitting panic mode here. When I panic I plan...not a bad coping mechanism maybe. If they limit is not raised we will all know what hard times are. I hope someone (actually a few of those knuckleheads) find the courage to do...oh I don't know... their job.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Soul of Craft

The days grow short. Outside chores still beckon but so do inside diversions. I will have to finalize the list of items that will make-up this year's handmade holidays. But in the meantime, materials need to be organized.

So I set to work, on a rainy day, on this seasonal chore. Knitting needles are scattered throughout the house. They do not always find there way into their needle case after use. I need to account for them so I can get some of my work done. I have a pile of kid craft supplies that has yet to find a permanent home since we moved. I have decided to put them on a shelf in the living room. But this shelf was the home to my knitting books and magazines, so they too will have to find a new home. A Halloween costume needs to be constructed but the bin of fabric stash was put in the crawl space behind the pile of fleece that still needs to be processed. Some of the washed fleece sits in a basket near my rocking chair and some of the carded fleece is in another basket. But the the pile of washed is still greater than the carded. I have big plans for this and have to make some more time for this. An accounting of yarn is on the to-do list in order to see if I can make some projects without buying materials. Money is tight but we still want to be giving.

The whole time I am gathering, sorting and setting right, my hands are laid upon gifts from my grandmother. It was she who passed on this crafting legacy to me. The needle case is made of blue felt and ribbon. It was filled with her double pointed knitting needles and it was given to me when she passed away. When I remove the binder of patterns off the shelf the small notebook of index cards, she used to keep patterns for basic mittens and hats in, falls to the floor. I am reminded of all those mittens she used to make for us as kids: the too brilliant red sweater she made for me when I was in highschool, the afghans that I put on our beds every fall. I remember sweet calico shorts and tops she made for me when I went to camp, as I try my hand at making Evan's clothes on my trusty treadle sewing machine.

She tried to teach me to knit when I was a child but without much success. But I did learn to crochet and embroider from her. I have memories of sitting at her sewing machine to make dolls clothes. She was never as fond of knitting as I am now. It was a utilitarian craft for her. But she did love to crochet. I am fortunate to have a crocheted doily she made grace my dresser.

My grandmother would share a story with me sometimes. Her mother walked into my grandmother's kitchen one day and admonished her for having a sink full of dirty dishes. My great- grandmother was the sort of housekeeper who ironed sheets. Instead of cleaning her kitchen my grandmother was sitting at her kitchen table knitting a pair of mittens. In response to her mother's lecture of good housekeeping my grandmother said,"It is more important that my children have mittens right now than clean dishes." Go Nana!

I am grateful to be able to use some of the same tools that she used. The silent magic of creating something with your own hands is a gift that I came to at a time in my life when I needed to learn how to be still. Now I can walk around my home and see rugs that warm my floors. My children walk out the door in wool caps I have made them. The essence of my love for my family is woven into the fabric of these garments. It says be warm, be safe.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Well phooey...

It seems our computer has picked up a virus. We are in the process of repairing it but I do not know when we will be back. In the meanwhile I will post repeats of some of my favorite posts.

Enjoy the day!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Eating my lawn: Red Clover

Each morning I take a walk outside before the sun rises too high in the sky. I look to see if the peas have plumped in their pods. I count the little yellow flowers forming on the tomato plants. I harvest herbs before their oils are diminished in the heat of the day. My path to the garden is surrounded by red clover. These small red flowers also find their way into my harvest basket.

Red clover is as ubiquitous as dandelion. It grows in hay fields, lawns and road sides. It blooms from mid June and will have a repeat bloom later in the season. Red clover can be identified by its red flower, but it's leaves also have a small stripe on its leaves. It is a legume and can work as a nitrogen fixer in your soil. We have grown it in the past as a cover crop. Both the leaves and flower are edible.

In the spring we let the lawn grow up around out house until the dandelions have bloomed so we can take advantage of the greens and flowers. Then we mow just a little spot around our house. The we let the lawn grown until the clover blooms.

Red clover flowers can be made into a tea and the leaves make a nice addition to a salad. There are many uses for red clover. The tea can be used as a wash for acne, psoriasis, athletes foot. According to Deb Soule in, A Woman's Book of Herbs," it will cleanse the blood of wastes during or after sickness..." Clover is also a source of phyto- estrogens, for alternative and alternative to hormone replacement therapy for menopause. It is also an inhibitor of cancer. I learned at the wild herbs for health class that tar can be made from its leaves and flowers and used as a drawing paste.

Well, the sun climbs over the trees, must go for my morning picking...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Independence Days Challenge: Everything is coming up green.

Life has settled into a nice summer pace. Mark is home from school. He is tackling several projects. Most noteworthy is he is replacing the transmission in our VW micro bus. At this point all major systems will have been replaced. So, fingers crossed, it will not be just a lawn ornament but a vehicle that transports people and hay:)

Tristan has started a new job this week. He is 18 and would like to work so he can save money for blacksmithing school. The job search has not been easy. Many of the jobs that kids his age used to get are now going to adults who need any job they can find. So he has started a farm job. Each morning he rides his bike to the farm. It is just a few hours every day but it fits in with his GED class. If he has no other commitments then he can head to a local smithy a friend has to pound metal for a few hours. He really wants to enter the adult world and slowly he is getting there.

Evan and I spend plenty of time in the garden. Evan has signed up for his first summer reading venture. There are plans for a small day camp that focuses on bugs at the end of the summer.

And I do the work of summer; weeding, harvesting, putting food by.

Plant: transplanted elecampane and some volunteer mullein. Most of the garden is planted. There are shelling peas pods that should be ready to harvest soon...and broccoli too!

Harvest: comfrey, kale, swiss chard, red clover flowers, yarrow, borage, green onions, cilantro, dill, lettuce, garlic scapes, oregano

Preserve: lacto-fermented garlic scapes, garlic scape pesto, comfrey in olive oil for a sore muscle rub, yarrow tinctured in vodka for a antiseptic, dried red clover for tea, dried oregano, dried kale. Dried borage for tea.

Local Foods: Local meat, local eggs

Eat the food: lots of greens sauteed, lots of garlic scapes in anything we can put them in. Borage tea for ...ugh..nightsweats.

Waste not: We added another bay to our compost bin and I gave the compost a good turning. Soon after we got a heavy rain so the heat is up in that pile. Mark has been cutting down some small pine trees to help me put posts in the ground for a fence around the garden so critters do not eat from our bounty. However we did see a mother turkey hen and her clutch of chicks near the garden the other day. The fence will be up VERY soon.

Want not: I did a big stock up on staples this past week. Oils and flour. I had my yearly physical. I had my tetanus shot updated. My blood work was "boring". My cholesterol is excellent!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Closing the Loop: Sheep

Caring for sheep was never on our radar when we thought about homesteading. We were excited to just have chickens. Mark was a paid solo singer for a Christian Scientist church. One Sunday, Evan and I were waiting for him in the nursery with another parent. I was knitting. The other parent said," So you like to knit, do you spin?" I said "Yes I spin but I am still a novice." "Would you like some sheep? We'll give you our sheep."

And so we had sheep. Three, sorta wild, shetlands. We built them a shed and then a barn. We bought a solar electric portable fence. Mark took a shearing class offered through the cooperative extension.We chased them around the yard plenty of times. They mowed our lawn for us and we had a source of manure for the garden.

Since those first three sheep came to live with us we have been given more sheep. Mostly elderly sheep who needed a retirement home. I have used their fiber. Mark has earned income from shearing. Our compost pile is rich in sheep poop. According to the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening by J.I. Rodale, each ewe can provide a ton of manure. They will clean up overgrown areas. But when I think about closing the loop the sheep have to be an integral part of our homestead. The sheep need outside inputs in the form of feed, hay, some mineral feed to supplement those minerals that are not available in our Maine soils and diatomaceous earth; for preventing parasites. In the last closing the loop post I discussed how we are growing mangle-wurzel beets as one source of winter fodder. For now, we will buy hay from some farming friends. But long term we would like be able to grow some of our winter hay. This year we will plant a pasture mix of grass in the orchard

In the summer the sheep graze on our yard. In past years we have simply moved the portable fence around the yard wherever there was tall grass;which is most of the time because we do not mow, much;) This year Mark puts the girls out on pasture and scythes up grass for the boys. The boys do not go graze too much because Leroy Brown goat is more of a garden/orchard pest (he jumps the fence).

The girls grazing is a little more intentional now that we have an orchard to maintain. One key to good orchard maintenance is keeping a clean orchard. A clean orchard is less likely to be a source of disease and pests. So our ladies' fence is put under the trees. They eat up any fallen leaves. After fruit has set small apples fall to the ground. These small apples become a source for the larva of an insect that lays its eggs in the fallen fruit and then as a mature insect infest the mature fruit. The sheep also fertilize the trees at this time. In this way we do not need to bring in outside inputs to control this pest or feed the trees.

Our girls are getting old. We are thinking that next spring we may get a lamb or two. One of the considerations for these lambs will be that they will be a breed that can provide both fiber and meat. In this way the sheep will be integrated into our food chain; another loop we hope to close.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Around the Homestead

Lovely Gwen enjoying a summer salad:)
A new Friend has come to live with us. His name is Wilbur. He is a geriatric old boy enjoying his retirement:)
Happy Wilbur sitting in a sunny window.
A big harvest of Garlic Scapes. I think these will make a nice pesto. Perhaps a few small jars or should I freeze it? Decisions. Decisions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Independence Days Challenge: Solstice and Strawberries.

I finished planting the garden this past weekend. This is always a sort of a transient notion because as some crops are harvest others are planted. But for now, it is time to watch stuff grow.

The garlic scapes have escaped from their green garlic shoots. It has been a while since we have had anything that taste like garlic. I hope to make a big batch of garlic scape pesto this year. I will probably supplement some of the scapes I have grown with some from the farmer's market. I did not plant as much garlic as the year before simply because life was a little crazy then. This year I will plant a bit more.

Strawberry farms will be opening up this coming weekend. A friend and I plan to go picking and do some canning together. The strawberries are one of the first crops that go into the freezer so I guess I should finish cleaning the freezer out. Oh that to-do list....

Plant: Tomatoes, peppers, pole beans, pie pumpkins, butternut squash, sunflower, lettuce, cabbage.

Harvest: lettuce, swiss chard, kale, basil, jewel weed, red clover, strawberry leaf, plantain.

Preserve: Jewel weed salve, dried strawberry leaf, dried plantain leaf.

Local foods: Farmer goodness from Mark's gig. Our local brew supply store sells mozzarella kits. I am hoping to give it a try this coming weekend. Local meat, eggs and milk. One local farmer grew cucumbers in her green house. She selling some the other day. Yum! She also had broccoli. Such a treat!

Eat the food: Spring greens quiche, homemade tacos with local beef, saute of beet greens and green onions. Grilled cheese sandwiches from local bread, local cheese.

Waste not: A friend was cleaning out her closet ad gifted me with a big bag of free clothes. I took whatever did not fit and gave them to the local thrift.

Want not: I made a compost tea to give the garden plants a little boost.

Today is the longest day of the year. We plan to go out after dark and watch the fireflies! Enjoy the day!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A simple remedy

So Mark and Evan went fishing the other day. There is a nice little fishing hole around the corner. This is Evan's first year fishing and it is something they enjoy. The anticipation and disappointment that Evan feels about fishing is tempered by Mark's wise statement, " They call it fishing, not catching."

Well the last time they went out Mark caught something...poison ivy.

Jewel weed is a wild herb that usually grows where ever there is poison ivy. I have often used it if I get the rash common from too much time in the raspberry patch. You can pick the herb and crush it and rub it on the rash. Mark can attest to the immediate relief it provides to the rash:)

The rash was still bothering him this morning and it looks as though it may have spread. So I thought that something with a little more staying power might be called for; I made a jewel weed salve.

This makes about 4-6 ounces of Salve. All measurements are approximate.

Jewel weed salve

2 cups of fresh jewel weed.
1 cup olive oil
1 ounce of bees wax
a double boiler
a rubber spatula
small strainer
clean 1/2 pint jar.

Fill the bottom portion of the double boiler with water. In the top portion of the double boiler put fresh jewel weed and olive oil. Bring water to boil. Heat the oil and weed together. Stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes. I stopped once the weed looked like I had cooked all the life essence out of it. Strain weed from oil. I tried to press as much of the oil out of the weed. Return the oil back to the top part of the double boiler. I use the rubber spatula to make sure that I return as much as I can back to the pot. Bring water back to a boil and add the bees wax. When wax has melted pour into a clean 1/2 pint jar. Don't forget to label the jar!

Soon after it was made I saw Mark outside scratching the affected area. I brought it out to him and he had long lasting relief from it. It can be a little goopy but very affective! Tonight he will take an oatmeal bath to dry out the affected areas.

Who needs an ocean of calamine lotion?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Right Work

The last day of Mark's school year was yesterday. This was a tough school year for us. Our family was in transition as we adjusted to our recent move and new community. The demands of his job are more than any other school district that he has worked for and it has been difficult to manage the balance between home and work. Now we move into summer mode.

The last two years our summers have been very busy; getting ready to sell our old house, moving to our new house. It has propelled us into a habit of always having too many irons in the fire. We have resolved that this summer will be different. We originally had grand plans for this summer. We were going to mill up some wood on our property to build a barn. Those plans have been scaled back so that we will be milling less wood and building a 3 and 1/2 walled shed for the sheep and a wicked decent chicken coop:) We have a few other small home improvement projects on our to-do list. For the most part our summer plans include getting together with old friends, canoeing, fishing and plenty of weeding therapy for the "mama". It is nice to have the luxury to give the garden the full attention that the garden of the last few years have not had.

Mark will still be teaching music lessons this summer. I will be developing a curriculum to teach knitting at Adult Ed and to the 4th, 5th and 6th graders at Mark's school. I have a couple of other small knitting ventures I am working on that will generate a small amount of income. Some of these I hope to share soon. Mark will also be gigging.

Some of these performances have already occurred. Last night he performed at a local restaurant, today he performed at the local farmer's market. Both performances were fun for him. It is a way for him to share his talent, connect with the community and it brings in a little extra money. The farmer's market gig was a gig of a different sort.

Mark was able to put out his tip jar and it was generously filled. But in lieu of payment for playing at the farmer's market, he was given a sampling of all the participating farmer's had to offer. He was given 3 large bags filled with local cheese, duck eggs, local eggs, locally produced bread from local wheat, beet greens, mustard greens, salad greens and cookies. We both commented that there was a richer sense of connectedness and satisfaction from his job well done than from receiving simply a paycheck. A good barter, indeed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Independence Days Challenge: Dust Bunnies and Weeds.

We have had a few days of rain here after a bit of a hot spell. It has been a good time to catch up on the work that should be done on the inside of the house; stuff like housework. In the meanwhile the weeds have had the opportunity to take over. Dust bunnies and weeds. This time of year it is hard to keep a balance between the two.

Life is pretty good right now. Mark finishes the school year this week. Evan has his first fishing pole. He caught his first fish this week. A little perch. Tristan is finishing up his GED and looking for work. This is not an easy proposition. Many of the jobs that used to go to teens are now being taken by those who were unemployed and needed any kind of job. He has managed to find some work with an organic farmer.He will be helping with haying. But the planting season got started a little late this year; so, the farmer is not ready for him.

However, another opportunity has presented itself. We have met a family through our homeschooling network. They have been going through a bit of a hard time lately and are planning to move. They have asked Tristan if he can do some work around their place. The work would include mowing the lawn, some heavy lifting with the move and filtering cooking grease for their 5 grease cars. They have limited funds and would be willing to barter a grease car for his labor. Tristan just got his permit and hopes to have his license by this fall. He will have a full education of grease cars this summer. And his mother will have significantly more gray hair as she takes him out on the road.

Plant: More tomatoes, more squash. A friend gifted me a mint plant. Feverfew.

Harvest: beet greens,spinach,lettuce, burdock leaves, lambs quarters, basil, parsley, sheep sorrel, french sorrel, swiss chard, rhubarb, chive blossoms, chives, scallions.

Local Foods: Local milk, local meat from the feed store. Local apple cider vinegar.

Preserve the Food: Chive blossom vinegar. I used the local vinegar for this. Dehydrated Strawberry leaf, dehydrated raspberry leaf. Chicken stock.

Eat the food: Mixed greens salad. I peeled and chopped the stems of burdock leaves to use like celery in come crab cakes I made this past weekend.

Waste not: The sheep are still eating the lawn. This means we have not had to really mow the lawn much. I do take the push mower out and mow in front of the house. I used the grass clippings on a sheet mulched keyhole bed that I have as my herb garden. We are replacing the screen in some of our windows. The house needs some new windows but we are not ready to do this yet. So we bought a roll of screen to fix the screens we have. I plan to take the old screen and use them for several other projects we are working on. One is a sifter for the compost bin. Our wheat will be ready for harvest soon. I will also make a screen box for winnowing. I also plan to reuse the screen to dry the sheep's wool after it is washed.

Want not: Mark picked up a 50lb pound bag of spray malt for making beer this summer. Mark has found out that he is lactose intolerant. This runs in his family. We are learning to adapt to this change. One thing he can eat is yogurt. I usually make yogurt using dehydrated cultures. But I have been experimenting with taking a little bit of yogurt from a prior batch to make the next. I have read varying recommendations about this. One source, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, tells of a yogurt culture that has been kept alive for 100 years. But I have heard of other folks who found that the quality of the yogurt degrades over many uses. Yogurt was made before the age of commercial cultures. I think this will take some further research. I started a new sourdough starter. The last one was killed when life got really busy. I hope to put keep one going in the kitchen but put some away in the fridge if the kitchen starter should be neglected.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Closing the Loop

This is the first post, of an occasional series of posts, on closing the loop on systems within our homestead. By closing the loop I mean to explore ways to develop systems on our homestead that reduces our reliance on outside inputs. The loop is the cycle of the use of resources that exist on our homestead.

Sometimes this will mean making an investment in infrastructure that is the final piece in closing the loop. This could mean buying a new tool that will close the loop and allow us to make use of existing resources. Other times it is learning a new skill that will help us to utilize what resources we already have. Many times it will be learning to re-use or repurpose things to reduce our need to spend money. Sometimes it will mean recognizing when the cycle of a system is working well. If the cycle of the system is not working well, then it is valuable to understand why it is not working well and whether it could be improved; or should not be part of our overall plan.

This all sounds very technical. Homesteading as science. But really what I hope to achieve by exploring this topic is not only a more efficient homestead but one that is as self-sustaining as it can be. This will save us money. It can also help to localize our homesteading efforts to the best of our ability. It can increase our understanding of how our land provides for us. It can be a valuable exercise to understand how, exactly, energy is connected to the things we do on our land. Once we have this understanding we can either reduce the amount of the energy we need or find an alternative to a more energy intensive practice.

So what does this mean in a practical sense? Well, one small project we are working on this year is growing Mangel-Wurzel Beets. It is my hope that this will be a way for us to provide winter fodder for our livestock. I planted them early this spring. When they get a little bigger I will be able to give the greens to our sheep. The roots can be kept in our cold room for the winter. According to the book, Traditional Feeding of Farm Animals, "Danish feeding experiments have shown that the dry matter of Mangels has a feeding value similar to grain feed..." The mangels need a few weeks to season before feeding them to our sheep; which fits well into the timing of when we will be taking them off pasture and moving to our winter feeding regimen. During the winter we give our sheep hay and grain. If we could reduce the amount of grain that they eat, we will be less dependent on a food resource that, most often, is imported by truck. The grain that we use right now is trucked in from large industrial farms in Quebec. There is a local farmer that grows organic grains but the price is a little outside of what we can afford right now. But if we could supplement the grain with mangels we could source or grain locally.

But the loop can only be closed if I save the seed from this years beets. This can be a little tricky. According to the book Seed to Seed, by Susan Ashworth, all beets are wind pollinated and will easily cross pollinate with other beets up to five miles away. So this year I planted half the seeds that I ordered from Fedco Seed Co. This fall I will leave about a dozen beets in the ground and heavily mulch them. Next spring when they start to flower I will cover them, six each, so that they will only pollinate each other. In order to hedge my bets, I will plant the remaining seed from this year. I will collect the saved seed and try a test plot with some of the seed. If my efforts were unsuccessful then I will have my chance to try again the following year.

Many other systems exist on our homestead that I will be exploring as I try to close the loop. Water collection and its use, making the best use of food stuffs that are available on our homestead, providing soil fertility without outside inputs are just a few examples. I think this is going to be an exciting project.

So do you have closed looped systems at your home? How are they working?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Book Review: Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs

There is a book that has been sitting on our night stands, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs, by Wendy Brown. Wendy blogs at Surviving the Suburbs. She lives in southern Maine. Most book reviewers are able to approach their book reviews with an unbiased opinion. I, actually, have met Wendy. I have also been to her home. This being stated, however, also means that I have a perspective that other reviewers do not. I have seen her suburban homestead and I can attest to the amount of food she can produce on her 1/4 acre. Wendy has a yard with mixed fruits, raised beds and livestock; including, bees, chickens, ducks and rabbits. The day I visited her home there was a large can in her home of acorns being prepared for making acorn flour.

So it was with this knowledge that I began reading her book.

I have read plenty of books about preparing for The End of the World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). Among some of my favorite is Depletion and Abundance by Sharon Astyk, When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein and Peak Oil Prep by Mick Winter. So I have read enough to wonder how Wendy would approach this subject. Wendy sets up a scenario where a world altering event will take place in 21 days. We have 21 days to prepare for this change. She suggests that most folks will not be able to "bug out" to a secluded bunker in the middle of no where with an endless supply of MRE's. Instead we will have to learn to grow where we are planted.

Each of the 21 days she chooses one topic for consideration: shelter, water, fire, growing food etc. She takes a careful consideration of the existing systems in her home; for instance, with sanitation or water supply, and thinks how to recreate these systems,using existing infrastructure, in a low energy future on a 1/4 acre suburban lot. She tackles some challenges unique to suburban home owners such as Home Owner Association restrictions, limited space. She also takes careful consideration of what is available to her beyond her small suburban homestead.

All in all, the book is rich in practical advice and information. Wendy has really thought about the practice of substitution. If our lives become more local many of commodities that we take for granted will not be available to us; either because it is no longer brought to us on semi trucks or because our limited financial resources will prohibit us from using them.

The book also challenges the reader to think beyond their own lot. She shares this in terms of foods available in the wild. But also asks us to think about the connections we make within our community. The final goal after the 21 days is to try to think of self-sufficiency in ways the really source our needs on a very local level. It is this approach that I find to be the best aspect of the book.

I think there could be so much more information that could fill this book if we were to think beyond the first 21 days. But for the sake of this book it is a great start. Some of the topics are still works in progress on Wendy's homestead. I look forward to perhaps a second book that shares more of her personal experience as she follows down this path. There were moments of humor and tenderness that a reader would not expect from a book that is geared towards someone trying to prepare for TEOTWAWKI. In the end Wendy imagines a world after the 21 days. It is a world of lower energy but a connectedness with the earth and her community that adds a depth to life that one does not associate with life in the suburbs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Plant-A-Row Challenge: May and June

The brown spaces in the garden are quickly being filled in. In my old garden there was always this spot that was troublesome. We had used the garden that was started before we moved in to the house. By the time we moved in; however, the garden had overgrown with witch grass. witch grass that had gone to seed. This part of the garden was hard to keep the weeds down. Lotsa seed in the soil. I had tried mulching, green crops, growing a big crop of vining squash to keep the weeds down. But each year this part of the garden always grew a really good crop of witch grass. Eventually I remedied the situation by growing plants that really like to spread around;like comfrey, horseradish, mints and jerusalem artichokes. This worked well. Most of the plants I planted crowded out the witch grass. I also ended up with a lot of these plants to share as I tried to keep them from invading the rest of the garden.

Last month's challenge for the Plant-A-Row challenge was to share some seeds or seedlings. You could share with a neighbor or friend. You could contribute to a community garden. the idea was to share our abundance and sow community in the process.

I had several opportunities to share this past month. My sister-in-law had passed on some seed to me. I took some of the seed to plant and freecycled the remainder of the seed. The woman who claimed the seed was surprised that no one else had jumped at the chance. I had some extra seed potato and shared them with a neighbor. Finally, a woman who blacksmiths with Tristan wanted to know if I had 4 zucchini seeds. I drop those off at her house tomorrow. In return she is giving me some more horseradish root.

For Junes challenge I think we should keep it pretty low key. We've worked hard to get our gardens in. Weeding and watching things grow is a nice pass time. So for the month of June I think that we should maybe share stories from our communities of good works. How are your community gardens growing? How are organizations in your community adapting to the challenges of higher fuel prices? Farmer's markets are busy. Is there a new one in your community?

So how did you do this past month?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Eating my lawn: Wild Herbs for Health

I had the most amazing experience last night! Our local herb shop offered a class called Wild Herbs for Health. It was part wild foods class and part herbal medicine class. I was the only student who showed up so I had my own private tutorial! It was taught by the owner of the shop; a simply amazing woman with so much knowledge and very interesting perspective on the state of our current affairs.

Because of her deep connection to the earth she is noticing some changes in the timing of when certain plants are blooming. For instance she has noticed yarrow is starting to bloom a full month before it should. She attributes this to the swing in temperatures that we have had this spring. The plant is under stress and so it blooms early. She also commented on the more political/economic turmoil we are going through now. At the same time she is finding more wild foods and herbs around her home; as if the earth were assuring her that there will be food.

As for that food it is abundant! She showed me 45 plants that grow in our area that can be eaten. There are many more but since her concentration was on the herbal uses of the plants she chose plants that can suit a dual purpose. Some of the plants I knew; dandelion, burdock, yarrow, clover, strawberry, raspberry, plantain, staghorn sumac, jewel weed, milkweed, mullien. But there were many others that I did not know. There were quite a few that I recognized but did not know their name or uses. Many I recognized were right on my own property; Horsetail, bunch berry, trillium, purslane.

Many of these plants can be eaten as a salad or tea. Some of these plants seeds can be ground into a flour. We discussed making tinctures and salves from some of the plants. Some of the plants can be applied directly as a poultice.

It is easy to think that as times grow harder for folks that we will have to do without. After the age of peak oil it is easy to wonder what happens if there are no more antibiotics. But Staghorn sumac has antibiotic properties. Burdock roots are high in insulin...up to 50%. For myself I wonder what would happen if I could not get steroids for MS. There are many herbs with anti-inflammatory properties. There is still much more to learn to feel confident in the uses of some of the herbs.

But in the end there is great wealth in the learning.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Independence Days Challenge, Hard at Work.

We have been blessed with some really nice weather! Life is full of busy-ness in a good way. Many seeds are sprouting and growing. The sheep are mowing and fertilizing the orchard. Small little projects are taking shape while others remain on the to- do list. I have been taking a lot of pictures of the doings around here and hope to have a post rich in photographic content when I have some time to get to the library. Also, tomorrow I will have a plant-a-row update for Many/June. It is never too late to join the challenge!

Plant: sunflower, pumpkin, pole beans in a small garden for Evan. More spinach, lettuce, thyme, rue, sage, petunia. The big push is on for this weekend to get those warm weather crops in.

Harvest: lettuce, chard, sorrel, strawberry leaf, dandelion, rhubarb, spinach.

Preserve: dandelion and pepper jelly, strawberry leaf for tea.

Local foods: local meet from our feed store, eggs

Eat the food: plenty of salads and egg dishes with greens. We are also using up the last of last years berries with rhubarb for crisp. Bonus! We sound 2 quarts of blueberries hiding a the bottom of the freezer. I made a nice quick bread using wild blackberries from last years harvest.

Waste not: The rain barrel is very full. We have our big 280 gallon container. We are planing to hook that up to the back of the shed. It is just uphill enough that it should be gravity fed to the garden. Our old subaru is back off the road. It's state inspection is up and it is not worth putting any more money into the old girl. Mark is working on a barter for it that would glean a 4 wheeler for us. We are folks who saw much merit in the noisy smelly things. But after this last mud season we found we really needed something to get us to the pavement, 2 and 1/2 miles done the road, when the road is closed. We also needed something to pull larger logs out of the woods that we will be using to mill up for small building projects around here. We finally got the lawn mower out this weekend. The sheep can take care of a vast portion of the yard. We don't let them free range because we want them to not eat the garden. There are some parts they just can't reach with their electric fence. So I got the mower out. I save the grass clippings to use as mulch in a sheet mulched keyhole bed. I also added some to the compost bin.

Want not: A neighbor has gifted us with a large box of dahlia bulbs. I have begun to exercise. I finally came to realization that as much as my lifestyle keeps me fairly active , I do not get enough aerobic exercise. So I have begun to go for a jog a few times a week. I used to be an avid runner but that was years ago. It feels pretty good. When the heat comes this summer I may have to make adjustments for my MS but for now I am going with it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eating my lawn: Strawberry Leaf

After a week of rain it is a difficult task to ward off the man of the house and his lawn mower. Fortunately, the mower did not start today and he had to resort to scything some grass for the goat and ram. We set up the netted electric fence to move the ewes into the orchard to start fertilizing some of the trees. They enjoy the fresh green of pasture and after a week of rain they are grateful for the change of scenery from their damp shed. Mower! We don't need not stinky mower!

The sun is still a little shy today and we are supposed to have rain for a few more days here. A lot of seeds have sprouted in the garden but they all could use a little sun and heat to really take off. In the meanwhile I am still collecting dandelion greens and flowers and strawberry leaf.

We have an abundance of wild strawberry in our yard. I have been collecting bunches of the leaves to dry. Strawberry leaf is very high in vitamin C. Juliet de Bairacli Levy, in her book Common Herbs for Natural Health, recommends strawberry leaf tea used internally for fever, improving vitality, anemia, improving your appetite, regulating menstruation and as a stomach aide. Externally the tea can be used as soothing lotion for eczema which my little guy is prone to have during the winter and spring.

My goal this year is to provide all our herbal tea needs. We drink a fair amount of it in our home;especially, in the winter. I have spearmint, lemon balm, bee balm( aka bergomot), chamomile and catnip. Some wild foods will fill out this collections of teas. Dandelion and strawberry leaf are just the start. This week I hope to collect wild raspberry leaf too!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Independence Days Challenge, Rain Rain Go Away...

We are in the middle of a wet spell here. WE have not seen the sun since last Friday and will not see it till this coming Sunday. Springs like this can make for frustrated gardeners. Fortunately, I put most of my cold crops in the ground. Our last frost date is after the full moon in May, this coming weekend, so I will consider this rainy week a respite from the dirt. At least from the outside of the house. I should get some chores done on the inside of the house.

Should. It is so easy to lose that easy rhythm of housekeeping from the winter once the garden work begins. Especially, when rainy days allow some extra time with the knitting needles:)
The work does go on though...

Plant: Most of this was done when the sun was shining. Hopefully the seeds won't float away, or rot. Calendula, dill, parsnip, carrot,lemon balm, mint, more onions, borage, Kueka gold, purple gold and Kennebec potatoes, cilantro.

Harvest: Dandelion Root, Dandelion Flowers, Dandelion leaves, sorrel, first chard leaves:)

Preserve the Food: Dandelion wine, Dandelion tincture, dried Dandelion leaf.

Eat the food: Dandelion Salads, quiche with sorrel and swiss chard.

Local Foods: yay farmer's market! My lemon balm and mint did not survive the move and the winter so my lovely local farmer was able to supply me with replacements. We have been eating spinach from her greenhouse while ours is not quite ready to eat yet.

Waste not: Rain barrel is keeping full. The compost pile is pretty big and wants to be turn, once the rain has past.

Want not: Finally got the cold room organized so all the food preservation tools are easy to reach. Jars that I use for dried foods are in a better spot. Actually they are all in a one spot instead of the various spots that the locals think they should go. Took a good inventory of the home canned food that was in there. I will not be making rhubarb chutney this year. There is an excessive amount of chutney in there. We enjoy it with pork but we have decided against growing a pig this year so do not need to make any more chutney. Mark did some shearing for some folks up north this past weekend. We have been thinking about doing something different with our big horned dorset ram. We had called some butchers but had not committed to the idea. One woman that Mark sheared for needs some fresh blood in her flock so we may barter Rama-a-lama for a late 90's VW Golf Car. It needs a little work but is definitely worth the price:) The car is a lot more fuel efficient than our dying Subaru. Mark would use this car for commuting.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dandelion Dreams

Is there really any other flower more sublime than the dandelion? Oh, sure, there is the bold rose with its lovely fragrance. A vast array of perennial flowers bless my garden; echinacea, peony and bee balm. Their wild sisters; Daisy, Indian paint brush and Black Eyed Susans, are great for gathering into summer bouquets. Sun flowers are truly wonderful. But I have thing for dandelions.

When I was a child I have memories of concocting magic potions from dandelion heads. I used to cringe when a boy would grab the flower and say, "Momma had a baby and it's head popped off" and decapitate the flower from its milky stem. I used to weave those stems and flowers into garlands for my hair.

Now as an adult with a home of her own I am warding off the man with the mower. "No dear, you can't mow until the dandelions have passed." Each morning I walk along the orchard and collect the young greens for the dehydrator and a salad for later in the day. This past week I collect the heads for a small batch of dandelion wine. A wine we will enjoy next spring when it is fully matured. I dig dandelion roots to make a tincture of dandelion.

According to Deb Soule, in her book A Woman's Book of Herb's, Dandelion root tea or tincture is "valuable for woman going through menopause to take on a regular, long term basis for helping regulating hormone changes." Dandelion is also great liver tonic which helps with the transition from a winter diet; heavy in fats and meat, to a spring/summer diet that is lighter and filled with more fresh veggies.

Dandelions are the perfect wild food. Abundant, easy to identify, and most parts of the dandelion are edible. The greens make salads and teas, the flowers can be cooked to make a tempura, and the roots can be used as a coffee substitute. In terms of food storage it is a nice crop to start the preservation season with. This blog post has a great recipe for dandelion jelly I would like to try. Alas we are supposed to have a week of rain. I hope there will still be blossoms to pick after the rain has ended so that I can try it.

I am just a sucker for a cheerful splash of yellow on a canvas of spring green:)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yarn A Long

On the needles, Cobblestone, for Tristan in Peace Fleece. On the nightstand, Princess Bride, a great funny read. Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs by my friend and fellow Blogger Wendy

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time, Time, Time.....

Our life, family life, couple life has been busy. But not in a good way. I think there is a "good busy" and a "bad busy". A "good busy" is filled with things you want to do. It is filled with time in the garden, time together as a family, time completing long dreamed of projects. A "good busy" moves your life forward, brings your family together, invests in projects or activities that make your life easier in some way.

A "bad busy" just leaves you feeling like you are on a treadmill; lots of action but not going anywhere. A "bad busy" leaves you feeling exhausted before you even begin the day. A "bad busy" makes those activities that you consider "good busy" overwhelming and not worth the time. A "bad busy" leaves you feeling stressed, impatient. A "bad busy" takes a toll on your relationships.

I think we found ourselves at this point recently. We moved to the new house this past summer without much time to settle before Mark had to start school. Tristan's life became busy too as he finishes his last year of homeschooling and prepares to embark on the next step of his life. Evan was just going along for the ride for a while but he also needed to connect with other kids in his new community. And me? I was busy just getting everyone where they needed to go and making sure they had something to eat.

This would be busy enough, but Mark's job has many more requirements of his time, outside of the regular school day. Mud Season and our road made life hard just getting in and out of the house; adding 20 minute or so to every trip we took. One car was out of commission for most of the winter; so we were a one car family. In order to make this work, I was in the car even more than I was before.

I would say we were burned out. Burned out on work, burned out on homesteading, burned out on each other. We were in a bad space. No doubt. This burn out began to really take a toll on our marriage and family life. We were all so busy that we stopped paying attention to the reasons why we decided on this lifestyle. We were so busy that we stopped being kind to each other. We were so busy that we could not see how each other were struggling with all the busy-ness. We were so busy that we weren't able to really take care of ourselves, individually; so how could we see support each other in their busy-ness.

This busy-ness is far from the simple life I hoped for. But its tough. Many of the things that made Mark's life busy were required of him for his job. Tristan has to do what he needs to do right now, so he can do what he wants to do in the future. Evan needs friends and time with kids. And Momma is the one with the flexibility in her schedule to help everyone else meet their needs.

There are no easy solutions to some of this. We had talked of getting rid of the sheep. But they are really old ewes whose fleece is not desirable, at their age, for anyone seeking a fiber flock. And we love the sheep. They provide good compost for the garden, mow the lawn for us and I do use their fiber. We could down-scale the garden but we already spent the money on the seed and it really does save a lot of money. Time=Money. So if we did not spend the time in the garden we would have to spend more time earning money to buy the food we would have grown. And besides these are the "good busy" things that we do.

Summer vacation starts soon. We have decided not to build a big barn but a smaller sheep shed and a chicken coop. We have decided to take time to things together as a family. There will be camping trips, time to visit with friends from away, bike rides and swimming. We will chop wood and grow a garden. We will take days where we will not, under any circumstance, get in a car.

For now, while the busy-ness remains a part of our lives we will try to be kind to one another.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Independence Days Challenge, Dandelion Greens and Fiddleheads

My ambitious afternoon plans to work in the garden and build fences were rescheduled due to a thunderstorm that came through. Which in the broader scheme is fine. Because the blackflies have hatched right on schedule for the Mother's day weekend. After it passed I took my wild food guide outside to see if we had any wild leek along the small stream. I did not find any wild leek but I did find some fiddleheads ( baby fern heads)and plenty of dandelion greens. I will mix the greens with some salad I bought at the farmer's market and some french sorrel from our garden. Ahh first crops!

Plant: Plenty, I hope I can remember it all. Leeks, onions, shallots, more spinach,rutabaga, magel- wurzle beet, beet, bib lettuce, broccoli, kale. Transplanted highbush blueberry bushes and planted a couple more that we found at the Fedco Tree sale.

Harvested: dandelion greens, fiddleheads, chives, french sorrel.

Preserved: nothing.

Local Foods: there are so many little coolers dotting the roadside, full of fresh eggs. Our farmer's market started. I bought spinach and lettuce.

Eat the food: Evan and I made smoothies from berries from last years harvest and homemade yogurt. We sweetened them with a little homemade maple syrup. Salads, salads, salads. YUM!

Waste not: Our town has a large item pick-up twice a year. I found 2 new-to-me kitchen chairs. I plan to paint them to freshen them up but they are in pretty good shape. We did not have any large items to leave off the side at the side of the road.

Want not: Today was the Kids Stuff sale for the Franklin County Children's Task Force. I found a nice metal sled. This will be helpful for hauling child and other goods in in the winter. I also found a couple of pairs of Carhart pants for Evan when he gets a little bigger. I also found shorts for Tristan. It was a great sale not only for the things I found there but it helped me to see that I am slowly building community. There were several moms there that I new from other things that Evan and I are involved in. I ordered some cedar blocks from etsy to protect my wool yarn and knitted items. Little critters are everywhere right now and I would not want to see the money and time I invested in the wool and woolens lost to moths.We attended the Fedco Tree sale and found blueberry bushes, some seedlings that I did not start, like leeks, broccoli. We also stopped at a local bike shop. Mark will be bike commuting to the school he teaches at 3 days a week. He found some paneers last year at yard sale and needed a rack. I needed new tires on my bike. I plan to ride my bike, with Evan on the tandem, to the local library when we attend summer reading events. Evan needed a new bike helmet that would fit his head.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Plant-A-Row Challenge. April update at few days late

Sorry for the silence in this space. Life got a little crazy around here but hopefully it will return to it usual pace soon.

April's plant-a-row challenge was to make some decisions about what crops you would like to plant. Our local cooperative extension suggested that growers plant crops that would not perish quickly. Good keepers in other words. Crops such as onions, winter squashes, potatoes. I plan to grow a good row of onions. I also think that I will plant a row of Buttercup squash. I have more exotic squash for my own garden but I thought I would make sure that I donate something familiar for the folks that would be eating the squash.

For May's challenge I thought it would be good to think about the seeds we are using. This time of year we are all busy putting them in the ground. Sometimes there are a few leftover;either because we don't have enough room to plant a whole seed packet or really we only need a couple of zucchini plants. Seeds are potential food. In our county there is a group of folks that will provide seed to low income families so that they may grow some of their own food. Is there something like this where you live? Is there someone you know that could use a few more lettuce seeds? Can you freecycle some seeds? If you don't have seeds but a few extra seedlings is there someone you can share with?

I think of gardening as a way of building community. Given the rapid increase in commodity prices, folks living on the margins are really feeling the pinch. So we plant our rows. But another way to weather the storm of tough times is to build community with our neighbors. So this month's challenge leaves it up to you to decide which circle you would like to give your spare seeds to. Your closer circle of neighbors and friends or the larger circle of your community.

It is never too late to join the challenge. In March we researched organizations that accept garden produce. April we chose our crops. If you would like to join the challenge please leave a comment. If you would like to leave an update please leave a comment or link to your own blog update.

Happy planting!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Independence Days Challenge, In full swing

It has been a bit of a wet spring. April Showers and all that. Still, there is snow on the ground. It is supposed to rain for the next three days so perhaps the snow will finally be washed away. Because we have had some rainy weather, the sunny days demand great bursts of energy be given to the outdoors. The garden beds are beginning to take shape. The seedlings on the windowsill are reaching above the brim of their cups. Often, I find myself day dreaming over patches of barren soil, just imagining the garden of my dreams, plotting the layout of the herb and flower bed. Ahhh spring!

Plant: spinach, fava beans, peas, beets. Transplanted chard in the cold frame and moved chives. Started elecampane, pennyroyal, hyssop, amish paste tomato.

Harvested: nothing yet, but I saw some dandelions along a brick building downtown the other day. It reminded me to take a walk around our property and look for the greens. The ground is not quite green yet. I also want to check that our wine making supplies are set to go soon. We dehydrate a lot of foods. Both our dehydrators had pooped the bed. So we are trying to decide which route we should go. Just replace the ones we have with similar models, up grade to an Excaliber, or make a solar dryer. All have their advantages and disadvantages. But we should make a decision soon.

Preserve: final count of the Maple syrup was a solid 4 gallons. Some sap had started to ferment. Mark boiled some of this down to use for making a maple beer.

Local Foods: The summer farmer's market opens this week. I am buying eggs from a local dairy farmer. Local meat.

Eat the food: On sunny days we are enjoying the grill. On rainy days we still eat soup.

Waste not: There is a great yard sale that takes place here every year. It is called Kid's Stuff. It raises money for kids to go to summer camp. I have been cleaning out stuff to donate. Building up a good pile in the compost bin. I am hoping the rain will help get its heat up a bit. I will turn it in 21 days. I have saved a couple of pizza boxes from a dinner I had at my friends house to use as solar cookers.

Want not: I am making a list of items I am looking for at the Kid's stuff sale. Ice skates for Evan. Some winter gear in larger sizes. Training wheels for his bicycle. I have an opportunity to ramp up the knitting business and do wholesale. A store downtown is going to sell some of my hats. Set up gutters along the front of the house and moved rainbarrel. Re-caulked the kitchen sink

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Today I am grateful for...

  • hanging out the laundry
  • the slow march of winter's snow off of the garden
  • my neighbor who showed me how to change the drill bit.
  • the guy at Hammond lumber who helped me pick out the right sort of caulking for the kitchen sink
  • My son, Tristan, who has embraced added responsibilities of this year with maturity and commitment.
  • Sprouting tomato seeds
What are you grateful for today?

Monday, April 18, 2011

And then life gets in the way...

So , I have been absent from this space for a while. I am dealing with some life struggles right now that I am not prepared to share. I hope to have an Anyway project update, Independence update and A plant-A-Row update soon. For now, I just need to focus on what is good. I think the best way to do this is to count my blessings.

So, everyday I hope to post a blessing. Some day it will be something that I am so grateful for. Somedays, it will be photos. Somedays it will be a quote or a poem. If you would like to join me in this, please share. I really will find joy and comfort in your comments.

I am sorry for this hiatus from my regular content. The earth is waking from its sleep. There is much that is happening on the homestead. But as I said life gets in the way.

Be well, Karin

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On an early spring day...

I sit at the table on the front porch of my friend's home. This is truly the first spring like weather we have had for a while. For a little while my attention has been alternating between my knitting needles and tea and the small crab apple tree across the street. The tree is still heavy with last year's fruit, now shriveled.

Perched in the tree are cedar waxwings, newly arrived. They sit on the branches; arranged like new leaves of spring, and sing and eat fruit. These little birds congregate to rest from a long trip north.

My attention is back to my work in hand, knit, purl, purl.....thinking , not thinking, smelling the fresh air through the open window, watching a squirrel hang upside down on the lilac bush to raid my friend's bird feeder.


I look up to see the small flock has taken flight in a startle. One member of their congregation not seeing the wall of the house next door. It lays on the neighbors lawn struggling.

I run across the street to check. It is still breathing. Its wings seem fine. It does not struggle as I try to handle it gently to see if perhaps it is just stunned and needs someone to watch over it until it regains its senses. I run back to the house to look up the phone number to the local Audobon Society, when I look up and notice that it has stopped moving.

Retuning to the bird I find it dead. I pick it up in gloved hands but I can still feel its warmth in my hand, its small body so light.

While this has all gone on the wind has changed direction, clouds have filled in the blue spaces.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mucking About

I woke this morning to a small body snuggled up to me. His small hands search for warmth under my arms. From the the other room I hear Mark start his bath, I hear the dog's tags jingle as he wanders around the house trying to find a sunny spot on the floor to settle. Evan rouses a bit more, leaves the bed and returns with a book for me to read. I fumble for my glasses as I begin reading a story about John Henry. " he was a hard driving man".

Once my feet touch the floor the day begins. Just like that, I am thinking about what time we should leave the house, what items should come with us. How will I arrange the driving back and forth that has come to define these days in town. I try to think about what chores I can ask Tristan to do before he is gone for the day; try to convince a small person that he should leave the comfort of his pajamas; try to fit in that second cup of tea I know I will need to just get through this morning.

In the background of this scene is a pan of syrup on the stove "finishing". There are seedlings on the windowsill. Cat nip, feverfew, horehound have sprouted. A fresh crop of spider webs have sprouted in the far reaches. A collection of lady bugs, recent inhabitants of Evan's bug box, beetle around the interior surface. They look so busy, like they have important places to go. But really they are just wandering around in circles....

Breakfast is served, mud boots are donned, we take to the path that leads to our car. Evan grumpily adjusting to the fact that he will not be towed in the sled along the mud path up to the car.

We are still waiting for Spring. By the calendar spring began a while ago. The build up to this season is built on dashed expectations. Snow had so much romance when winter promised quiet snow bound days. At this time of year it is a cursed element. When I see water falling from the sky, I want it to be wet. I want it to wash away. I want it to cleanse the dirty crust-snow away. I want it to make mud. I want it to reveal grass and soil. Alas, I do not make the rain, I only shovel the snow.

These are my thoughts as I drive the long two miles down our dirt road to the pavement. Mud season takes on a whole new meaning when you live on a dirt road. It is not only something that resides on rubber boots, gets painted on your clean going-to-town pants; it is the last challenging remnant of winter.

I am nearly to the pavement. Along the edges of the road there are small avian bodies flitting from mud to bramble. For one moment I catch a glimpse of red breast. Spring may be a fickle temptress but she does give us signs of hope.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Independence Days Challenge..the in between time.

So is April 4th and if feels like it is March 4th. It is a chilly morning. Friday, we had nearly a foot and a half of snow. But this past weekend was gloriously warm. Rain is predicted for this week, so, fingers-crossed, the garden should be revealed. With the lingering winter it has been hard to even think about the lists of things we need to do this year. However, in the hope of spring, we are getting some things done.

Planted: Cabbage, feverfew, bee balm, celeriac, cat grass.

Harvested: maple sap

Preserve: over 3 gallons of maple syrup, chicken stock. I freeze chicken bones and some veggie scraps. When I have enough, I boil it all down with some sea salt and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. We are moving out of soup season. My hope is to have a good supply of chicken stock for next winter.

Local Foods: Local meats from our local feed store. Local eggs... hopefully soon, we can have some of our own chickens again.

Eat the Food: I am trying to use up some of the crazy amount of chutney I have in my pantry. Tonight we eat local porkchops with cranberry chutney. As we can up the maple syrup any extra that will not fill a complete jar goes into the jar that I am working from. So I have been using maple syrup in the weekly batch of granola that I make. I have been using it as the sweetener in the bread I make. We also have been eating a fair amount of pancakes; using up lat years raspberries.

Waste not: The usual composting, recycling. I have started going through the dresser drawers to thin out outgrown winter clothing, relegate some things to the rag bin. I am also thinning out some books and posting them on Paperback Book Swap.

Want not: I picked up some boxes at the cooperative extension for testing the soil. I put in a wholesale order at Peace Fleece. My big guys have not had a new sweater for a few years. Evan will need a new sweater next fall. So next Christmas they will all have a new warm wool sweater. If I get started now I should be able to have them done by the end of the summer. I made Evan a couple of pairs of pj bottoms. I contacted our local Adult Ed about teaching knitting next fall. They were very interested and I will hear from them in August when they write the new catalog.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Free Hat Pattern

I have been teaching knitting to a group of 5th and 6th graders at Mark's school since just after Christmas break. We have had a slow start and there were a few weeks this past month when I could not make it because of colds, a car in disrepair, etc. The students come into the school library for their 20 minute recess. There are two sessions. During that time I have had them share their work from the the other session. At first I have had the students just practice the knit stitch on squares. I will sew all the squares together to make a blanket when they are completed and we will donate the blanket to someone.

We have been blessed with some donations from friends on Ravelry and my family ( Thanks Tauntie!). A few of the students are doing really well. This week I plan to graduate a couple of the students on to a larger project with their own needles and yarn that they can take home.

But here was my conundrum. I have straight knitting needles, mostly size 7. I have some bulky yarn and some worsted weight yarn. My students only know the knit stitch right now. AND as part of the class we are knitting hats for Nest Maine. So I created a little hat pattern for their first project. They will learn how to read a pattern. They will have the chance to play with color. It is small enough that they will work through the project quickly. When they are done with this project I will teach them the purl stitch. I plan to poll them on what they would like to make when they are done with their hats.

Here is the pattern. It will fit a baby up to 12 months. This is a pattern for a very beginning knitter. So I will explain a lot of what happens to the hat as it is knitted.

Garter Baby Beanie

Garter Stitch is simply knitting every row. It is easy to count rows in garter stitch because every 2 stitches make a ridge bump. There is a right side, or front, and a back side. When you add another color the front will have a solid color when two rows are knitted. The back side will have 2 broken lines of contrasting color.


1 skein Woolease Bulky Yarn and some other bulky colored yarn as a contrast.
1 pair size seven needles

Gauge: 4 stitches to one inch

CO 60 stitches in Main Color(MC).

knit 8 rows ( this will look like 4 garter ridges)

Add 2 rows of contrasting color (CC). You may add as many rows of of CC. Just make sure that add even number rows. This is where you get to play with design.

Knit in garter stitch till your piece measure 4 and1/2 inches. End at the end of a back side row.

Now we will decrease the top of the hat.

Row 1: *knit 4 stitches, Knit 2 stitches together (k2tog)*Repeat to the end.
Row 2 and all numbered rows ( backside rows): knit
Row 3:Knit 2 k2tog
Row 5: knit 1 k2tog
Row 7,9,11: k2tog

There should be 4 stitches remaining. Break yarn, leaving a 12 inch length of yarn. Thread yarn through remaining stitches. To seam, sew two edges together using the back stitch. Weave in ends. To make braid hat topper, cut three lengths of yarn approximately 10 inches long. Thread the yarn through the top of the hat. Braid. Knot and trim.

If any of my readers are experienced knitters I would love some feed back on this pattern so that I can make it easy for the students to follow.

I am hoping to teach knitting again next fall. It is my hope to get an earlier start in the school year. I think we also need a little more time and I hope to work it out so that the students can meet for their lunch and recess. It is so much fun watching these kids knit. We sit in the library and they share with me what they are doing in school. The habits and community of a knitting group are all right there with these kids. Did I tell you how much fun I am having with them??

Here are some helpful links:

Decreases especially K2tog
Casting on stitches

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Are we there yet?

This is a question I have been asking myself this week. Life has been busy. Sometimes too busy. So when I log on to this blog and I see my little tag up above "in pursuit of a simple life" I really have to ask myself ...are we there yet? If pursuing a simple life is an active exercise, have I reached it yet?

This week did not feel very true to those words. Last week was busy but in a home bound way. Seeds were started. I started sewing a new pair of pj's for the little guy. Sap was running. We spent a good three days sharing shifts feeding the fire to boil down the sap. Last weekend we spent some time improving our system so that it was more efficient. More sap storage containers, better fire pit. The weather was supposed to be bad on Monday so I thought I would take a "day off". Ha! When I realized that I was going to have a busy week I decided to put the house in order, knowing full well that it would soon be disordered by our hectic schedule. Tuesday, I had to run into Augusta to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Wednesday was a usual day in town for Tristan's Class and Evan's homeschooling gym time. Later in the day we met up with Mark to go to a school concert in the evening. Thursday I went to Mark's school to teach knitting and grocery shopping. Friday is Tristan's class, Evan's story time and laundry at the laundry mat. Today I am at the library writing this because I brought Tristan in for a metalsmithing lesson he has with a jeweler. This afternoon I will take my shift with the sugaring fire.

This is only half of the story.

The other half, my other half, worked all five days. He teaches guitar lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday he does not get home for dinner. Wednesday night he had a concert. Thursday there was another concert but usually he has a rehearsal for a men's chorus he has started at the highschool. He is not home for dinner on Thursdays either. Friday afternoon we began boiling sap down.

This just does not sound all that simple to me.

Some of this will become easier soon. Tristan is going for his drivers license and should have it by summer. The road will be dry soon and we will not have to give ourselves extra time to leave the house. Mark is working on hooking up the washing machine soon so I will no longer have to go the laundry mat. Mark found out this week that our other car; which we thought had met it's demise, may still have some life left in her. So we will have two cars again which will save me from driving Mark back and forth to work when I need a car.

But in the meanwhile this is what I have noticed. It seems uncomfortable to say. But when life gets this busy, those things that make up our homesteading life, begin to feel like burdens. Sugaring is one example. This year we put in 25 taps. More than in the past but not much more. We have so much more sap than we have had in years past; partly, because we tapped much more mature trees. There are days when we have exceeded our storage for the sap and I can see sap overflowing the buckets, literally. But I notice this overflow as I am walking past the trees on the way to the car to get somewhere. I think about all the waste. I begin to feel pressured to get a fire started, on a windy day, because this is the spare time we have to do this and there is about 80 gallons of sap sitting in reserve and the buckets on the trees need to be emptied again. But...I also think, gosh, if we can get 4 or more gallons of sap this year we will be saving ourselves almost 250 dollars. Maple syrup goes for about 65.00 a gallon. This is not chump change. It is truly a local sweetener. If money gets tighter then the syrup will truly be something we will be glad we did. We could realistically be self-sufficient for sweeteners this year. And isn't this the point of this lifestyle?

This is a wake up call to me, I think. I don't think, as a family, we have had a reckoning of what is really important to us. At least not for a while. The hamster wheel is getting a little squeaky these days. I think that maybe we need to sit down as a family and figure out how to streamline some things, restore some balance to some areas and learn to let somethings go.

When I began on this journey I was inspired to do so because my life had become insanely busy. I was a single mother working two jobs, taking college classes. Life put me squarely in a sitting position with a diagnosis of MS. At that time I was not necessarily thinking of homesteading but of simplifying life. I learned at that time to slow down and find pleasure in the small things: buds appearing in spring, the feel of a small body snuggled next to you as you read a picture book, the sound of sap dripping into a metal bucket. It is so easy to let the flow of life divert you from the course you want to take.

Perhaps the first step to take begins with a good deep breath. It is time to breathe.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Plant-A-Row Challenge. March Update

Welcome Spring! Well, sorta...we are supposed to get 6 inches of snow today. Oh fickle weather!

Anyway, we are at the middle, or just past the middle, of March. Time to check in with our progress with the Plant-A-Row Challenge. A month ago when I started this challenge, I was pushed to action by the increasing news about the food crisis. In the month since the challenge began food prices has climbed even further. With the recent tragedy in Japan, the continuing turmoil in the Middle East pushing on oil prices and the draconian cuts proposed to the safety net to the poor in our own country, the idea of NEED is not just something we can watch from far away on a television screen. NEED is great in our own communities.

In our own small ways we can make a difference.

This past month I asked participants to connect with organizations in their community that would benefit from either a surplus of their produce or a surplus of their time.

After a bit of phone tag I was able to connect with someone from my local cooperative extension. I found out that the program is no longer called Plant-A-Row. Instead it is called Harvest for Hunger. The reason for the change is that the new name better encompasses the mission of the program. I also learned that the best crops to plant are crops that will not be perishable; keepers such as onions, potatoes and winter squashes. I also found out that there is a gleaning network in my community. When a farmer has harvested all it needs from his field then a call goes out to folks who can harvest from the field so that the food can be donated to a local food pantry. I also got the contact information for a person who coordinates volunteers for a local community garden. Not only will my participation in these programs contribute to fulfilling a need but I also think it will be a great way to meet some new folks.

For next month I think it would be great to share what sort of crops we plan to grow in our rows. It is never too late to join the challenge.

So how was your month? What did you find out?

Friday, March 18, 2011

On mud season...

I was downtown this morning, wearing only a sweater and feeling ....warm? The temperature on the clock read 59 glorious degrees.

Evan and I have had this ongoing discussion about the change of the seasons. He has been lamenting that the snow disappears in the spring and he does not want to see the snow disappear. I have been trying to convince him that each season offers some new pleasure. Winter is snow, Spring is planting, summer is swimming and bike riding, fall is apple picking and playing in big piles of leaves.

He is not quite convinced yet. However, today as he was tagging along with me, while we ran errands, he commented, " Today is a good day to play outside."

It is indeed.

In years past the notion of mud season carried this quaint impatience to see the ground dry so that work in the garden could begin. The switch from winter boots to mud boots seemed like this seasonal transition for my feet that might be shocked by wearing actual shoes too early in the season. Inevitably one pair of shoes might get a little slop on the sole, a seasonal christening of mud, as a rite of spring. This year mud season has taken on a new meaning as the 2 and 1/2miles to the pavement challenges the all-wheel drive of our low riding subaru. Later today, when I leave to pick up Mark, we will more than likely have to walk in from the end of the road as the warm weather has made our road nearly impassable.

This too shall pass. In a couple of weeks the frost will leave the ground, the town will rake the road and we will be driving all the way to our front door for the first time since last December.
For now I will relish the smell of fresh air as I open the windows for the first time this spring. I will mark the retreat of snow as bare patches of ground are revealed. I will toss aside my wool sweater and feel the warmth on my skin.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Preserving 2011


  • Apple Dehydrated 2 quarts
  • Apple sauce 10 quarts
  • Beans frozen, 9 quarts
  • Beans, Dilly 14 quarts 2 pints
  • Blackberries, wild, frozen 1 quart
  • Blueberries frozen 7 quarts
  • Blueberry syrup 6 half pints
  • Broccoli frozen 36 quarts
  • Carrots Pickled 4 quarts
  • chive blossom vinegar 4 pint
  • Corn frozen 3 quarts
  • Dandelion greens dehydrated 1 pint
  • Dandelion/Peach wine 1 gallon
  • Garlic Heads 84
  • Garlic Scapes dehydrated 1 pint
  • Maple Syrup 1 gallon, 3 quart, 3 pints
  • onions, dehydrated, 2 quarts
  • Oregano dehydrated 1 quart 1 pint
  • Peach Salsa 9 pints
  • Peas, shelled, frozen 19 quarts
  • Raspberries cultivated, frozen 4 quarts
  • Raspberries wild, frozen 1 quart
  • Raspberry jam 3 pints 1 half pint
  • Raspberry wine 1 gallon
  • Rhubarb salsa 6 pints
  • Rhubarb Syrup 5 half pints
  • Spinach dehydrated 2 quart
  • Spinach frozen 13 quarts
  • Strawberries, frozen, 4 quarts
  • Strawberry jam 6 pints
  • strawberry wine 1 gallon
  • Tomato puree 9 quarts
  • Tomato Salsa 13 pints
  • Tomatoes, roasted,5 pints
  • yarrow tincture 1 quart

I am taking care of a little blog house work today. This is last years preserve tally. With the sugaring season in full swing it is time to keep a record of this years preserving efforts.