Monday, August 13, 2012

Independence Days Challenge, Waning Days

This is the time of year when there is always a pile of food waiting to be seen to. I love this time of year,even if somedays, it can be a little overwheming. There is no greater sense of satisfaction than seeing the freezer fill and the shelves full of colorful jars.  When the food preservation season ends I always marvel at this annual accomplishment. No other job I have had has provided the same sense of satisfaction.

Even when the growings season has its challenges. The repercussions of last winter's warm weather are still being felt. When the weather does not get cold enough all sorts of pestulance ensues. Japanese Beetles are loving my pole beans a little too much. I may buy  some from the farmer's market for some dilly beans and the freezer.

Plant: beets, spinach

Harvest: Blueberry, blackberries, ( My friend Cherise invited me to pick a 2 gallon bucket full, Thankyou!) carrots, beans, zuchinni, nettles,tomatoes, lettuce, chard, basil,parsley,onions.

Presrved:froze beans,blueberries,blackberries, pesto. Canned bluberry jam, blackberry syrup,chicken stock, pickled carrots, nettle rennet. I made the rennet yesterday. I am going to try making some cheese with it this week. I will share my results with you later this week. Fermented cukes. Dried Basil and parsley.

Local foods: We have a highbush local blueberry farm we pick at every year. 1.50 a pound. Local meat, dairy.  I have begun to make deliveries to local seniors in our town for out community garden. I love this work.

Eat the food: Lots of zucchinni.  

Waste not: the sheep have been enjoying a lot of kitchen gleanings. They love carrot greens, beet greens and cucumber ends.

Want not:  I love lacto-fernted foods for the fact that they do not need new canning jar lids. Gas prices are going up. We are trying to find ways to combine trips and make sure the car is performing as efficiently as it can.

Learn something new: How to make rennet.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Time to Make Some Lists

Mark and Evan left early this morning to go for a bike ride down to the river. They plan to do some fishing and swimming. Tristan will probably head to the smithy this morning. This means that I am left to my own devices for a couple of hours. 

This time of year there seems so much to do. The garden is putting out some good food but the weeds are taking over. The inside of the house seems to be in a constant state of near disaster. It is a very small home and this time of year there seems no good way to keep it tidy for very long periods of time.

Now that we are nearing the end of July our thoughts are stretching toward the fall. Mark has decided to teach for one more year while he builds the performance part of his small business. He has been performing a lot this summer. June had 6 gigs and July has had as many.  He is now scheduling into September. I may be watching a friend's son for the school year as she heads back to work.  Evan begins 1st grade as a homeschooler. Tristan is beginning college prep this fall as he starts looking at art schools where he can grow his blacksmithing skills.

Meanwhile the work of home still beckons.  The work of the season is really upon us and I think it is time that I make some lists. When those things that need to be done are put in a nice orderly way they do not seem so overwhelming.

To-do List;


Till the soil in the cold frame, amend the soil and figure out the lights for it.
Go blueberry picking at the U-pick.
Process those berries.
Buy sweet corn at the feed store. 5 dozen for 28.00.
Process the corn.
prepare empty spots in garden for spinach.
order meat birds
upgrade and improve security of chicken tractor
turn the compost pile
put a cedar post in the ground to hang bird feeders from.
weed and put down more mulch

Start tackling each room with the aim of decluttering, de-spidering
Make an insulated curtain for our bedroom's sliding glass door
Finish the last bit of painting in Evan's room
organize cold room for fall crop storage, make a cinder block shelf behind the door for added storage.
I think I would like to find either a new shelf or cabinet for the kitchen to try to get a little more organized.

Make some draft snakes
finish Mark's new sweater
new sweater for Mark
finish the nieces's and nephew's birthday hats.
Make myself a new apron, I am inspired by this beauty!

Well, phew this seems enough for now.

So what is on your to-do list?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kale Pesto

Early one morning  I was slowly waking up. The sun was shining through the window warming our room quickly. The kids were downstairs goofing around. I could hear their laughter over some Captain Underpants book. It was that in between time before I was fully awake and prepared to put my feet to the floor and savoring the remnants of a dream. A thought occurred to me...kale pesto, I wonder if there is such a thing.

My first inclination was to hit the cookbooks. I did not find any kale pesto recipes but I did learn from Sally Fallon's, Nourishing Traditions that kale provides calcium, iron, carotenoids. She also states that kale should always be eaten cooked;which I did not know. The reason is that kale's oxalic acid is neutralized in cooking.

Next,I googled for recipes and found many great, simple recipes that substitute kale for basil. But I was looking for something a little different.  Whenever I think of kale, I like to think of it's super food potential and pair it with other equally healthy ingredients. So this morning I took a walk out to the garden to harvest some kale and play around with a recipe.

This recipe includes some flaked dulse, a seaweed high in iron and many other great minerals. Maine Coast Sea Vegetables provides a great, easy to use and local  dulse. I substitute it for salt, sprinkle it on salads or throw it in a soups. But if you do not like the taste of seaweed you can use sea salt.

Parsley is also a really good super food. Last fall I was going through some health issues and my local herbalist suggested a tea make from parsley. Her suggestion was to drink  the tea until I could stand it no more. It really helps during those times when I feel a little depleted.

Kale Pesto

1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 fresh, minced or 2 table spoons dried parsely
4-6 cloves minced garlic ( we like a lot of garlic:)
1/4 -1/2 cup olive oil
dash of lemon juice,
4 cups steamed kale
1-2 table spoons of flaked dulse or salt to taste

The flavor is more earthy than a traditional pesto. This made about four 1/2 pints that I put in the freezer. I think I will use this a spreads for sandwhiches. I think this would taste really good with some sprouts and yogurt cheese. For a little extra zing you might try adding some onion too!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Independence Days Challenge Update, Here Comes the Harvest

All of a sudden it is here. Each day brings a bounty of piles being hauled into the house. Broccoli, peas, soon to be beans. Smells of garlic and herbs are infused into my skin. Often I find myself commenting about how much more this growing season is providing us than last year. Truly grateful and not a little boastful that my efforts are paying off. We really are saving a lot of money from our garden this year.

Planted:  Summer Cabbage, beets, cabbage, lettuce. I am filling in those empty spaces with succession crops this year; first, so I don't have to weed those spots  and second, so I can hold off eating what we put up by extending the season.

Harvest:  peas,broccoli, lettuce, garlic, shallots,dill,basil,cilantro, carrots,beets, oregano, 2 grape tomatoes...yum;)

Preserve: pickled beets, dill pickles, mustard, fermented pickles,peas and broccoli

Local food: local milk, local sausage, cukes for pickling ( mine had a catastrophic invasion)

Eat the food: fermented pickles are going fast. I only made three quarts. We don't have a good cool spot for them this time of year so that we can slow down the fermentation when we want to.  So after living on the counter for 4 days we ate one quart, put 2 in the fridge. A local farmer told me that in July the cukes go fast because folks wait all year for them. August the farmer is inundated with cukes but folks don't buy too many of them. Then folks remember the season is at an end and rush to buy the last ones. I think I will buy some in late August to ferment pickles for longer keeping. But for now we are enjoying our first successful fermented pickles. YUM!

Waste not: I am using cultures from some purchased lebnah ( kefir cheese) to make some kefir. We are expanding our seed saving efforts the lazy person's way. I have let some lettuce, chard and a few garlic scapes go to seed. I will havest the garlic bubils to plant as garlic grass next year. I hope to let the chard and lettuce  self sow next spring.

Want not: I found a nice glass carboy at an estate sale. We want to make some cider from our apples this year.  I found a winter jacket at the Goodwill for Evan.  Bottled the dandelion wine, racked off the mead and the strawberry wine.

Learn something new:  I made some mustard. The results were great. I will share a recipe soon. It is definitely worth making and canning your own mustard. The quality is excellent and the savings considerable.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Playing with Food

I love this time of year. I open the freezer and find it no longer has an echo. The shelves in the cold room are starting to fill with colorful jars. Each morning brings in more herbs than the dehydrator can hold. A trip to the farmer's market is a feast for the senses:  colorful produce, samples of cheese, music played by my husband:)

As I progress through the summer I have to temper my enthusiasm for food preservation with some wisdom.  There  have been years when I have made a couple dozen pints of rhubarb chutney that were not all consumed. In my defense, we used to grow pigs;  rhubarb chutney is really good on pork. Just not that much.  I have learned to grow foods that can be preserved just the way they are: onions, carrots, beets, rutabaga,potatoes and winter squash. These go into cold corners and the cold room. I still do some canning;  jams, jellies, tomato stuffs, applesauce, pickles, I am just more choosey about what I can. Just because something can be canned doesn't mean it should be. We gotta eat it too!

Last year I took a class at Koviashuvik on lacto-fermentation. We like to play with fermentation in our house. Mark makes beer. I make wine, apple cider vinegar and sourdough. We enjoyed some kimchi last winter. This year I want to try making some small batches for consuming in the fall. So yesterday I made some dill sour pickles to try later in August. If the troops like them then I have enough time to make some more in September before the cucumbers are done for the season. By then the cold room should be cooler and I can store the pickles longer. Fermentation is so much easier to do than canning. Cooler too! (Literally and figuratively speaking)

On my kitchen counter I have mustard seed soaking in vinegar. I am going to try making some mustard today.  We have local makers of mustard. They make very yummy mustard. But like   everything these days it is getting expensive and seems like a luxury more than a condiment. If I could cook my own mustard then I could include seasonal ingredients  as the year progresses. Spring mustard could include maple syrup. Summer mustards could include different herbs from the garden. Some mustards could include fruits like cranberry or blueberry..ooh yum!  If it all works out I will share the recipe

There is one experiment that did not work out so well.  I have an abundance of mint. I thought I could try to make some essential oil. John Green, in his book, The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook, had instructions for making a simple still from a pot, a steamer basket and a bowl. I ended up with mint flavored distilled water. I was not able to extract the oil from the water.  But I will try again. I thought I could make some mint oil to include in some lip balm. Try, Try Again.

Ultimately, food preservation is about making the best use of the bounty. I love that it is an evolving process of learning.

So what are you putting up with these days? Are you trying some new things this year? Please share!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I am humbled...

I recently heard someone say that the perfect garden is the one in your imagination in January. Isn't it easy to feel the allure of lush tomatoes, abundant greens; a perpetual salad bowl right outside your door?  It is this little deception I play with myself every year. It becomes especially enthralling while I am planting little seeds into soil in early spring...before the bugs awaken.

Earlier today while I was in the garden picking peas I was thinking that this post would be filled with all the good things that are doing well in the garden. There is much to boast about. I have never been very lucky with peas. It seemed my germination rate was poor. They would not produce enough to fill quart bags for the freezer. I would hoard them from random boys who would wander into the garden looking for a quick snack. I would, inevitably, buy shelling peas. Those are too expensive to do now. Last time I priced them they were 16.00 for a peck, or two quarts of peas, frozen. Then last spring I noticed that robins would perch on a fence post, swoop down to my pea patch and then flit  away with a new, very tasty pea sprout. This year I covered them up with row cover until they were several inches tall. My germination rate was excellent. I chose an edible pod pea to reap the most calories and the least effort in processing. So far I have collected 6 quarts for the freezer. We have had them in salads and with lunches.

There are some other successes as well. The fertility of my soil has improved greatly. I have a nice patch of beets. Many of the plants in my garden are from seed I started indoors or outside. I have had to buy very few seedlings this year. This feels like a big step towards reducing the cost of gardening and reaping the financial benefit of self sufficiency. We have eaten large green salads. I have more food in my freezer than I did this time last year. Given that this is still early in the season I hope to have a goodly amount of food put up for this winter.

I really should not complain. Relatively speaking it has been a great garden this year. I have learned to plant a fair amount of cold weather crop so that the garden can withstand the wet summers we have had over the last few years. I am learning to adapt to climate change.

But....there is always a but...I have planted cucumbers, winter squash and zuchinni 3 times now.  Each time they grow enough to give me hope they will survive the onslaught of the cucumber beetle; only to find  lacy leaves. I have covered them, spread DE. Short of firebombing, I have tried everything. They are just terrible this year. I think it may be the very warm winter we had last winter. The ground did not get a good freeze last year. This is what happens.  I will probably buy some winter squash from local farmers to keep in the cold room but it will not be a big staple for us this coming winter. Eliot Coleman says that pest and diseases will diminish as the health of the soil improves. I hope to see this theory put to the test over the next few years.

We also have a garden visitor or visitors. I have been planting successive rows of beets. One spot started showing wilted greens. and nibbles on the tops of baby beets. Mice! Last year they enjoyed our potatoes. I have plated the spuds in huglekultures in different spots around the yard this year. The critters have decided perhaps beets are just as tasty. So the other day Evan and I set out a trap with some raisins on it.  We also invited Scuffer cat to wander around the garden.  The trap has not caught anything yet. But the beets are no longer bothered. The local animal shelter is giving away adult cats with all their shots and spayed/neutered. Think it is time for a good barn cat.

So far the garden in in good shape. I can see the improvements over last year in the vibrant health of the greens and the abundant production of the plants. It is not a perfect garden, they never are.  There are always challenges. It is what we gardeners face very year. We commiserate with each other's  woe. We share the bounty. We share our successes with pride. It is life in microcosm each turn of the calendar page....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


                                        My husband Mark. Mark has started his new website!
                                                                Stop by to hear his music!

Friday, June 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn something new: Cheese making.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The work of these days...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Independence Days Challenge, The Glory Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wound Care Salve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All herb measurements are approximate.

Wound Care Salve:

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Building Community One Plant at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A little of this and some of that...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Independence Days Challenge...These are the long days...

Indeed. These are the long days. I wake early in the morning. While the rest of the household is preparing for their day I am outside, in the garden, with my little enameled bowl , collecting the first hints of harvest. This time of year it is herbs and rhubarb. There is still dew on the grass. The dawn chorus has completed but the there is still song in the air. A slight breeze sings through the trees as I follow the call of the robin, stealing straw mulch for its nest. A frog lives in the ditch near the house. I can hear it croak its come hither.

I've been doing this homesteading thang' for a few years now and I have learned a few lessons along the way. The most important is that an investment takes time to mature. We are into our second year on this particular land I have learned more about the investment in the land this past spring than I have in all the years we have been living this life. Each layer of mulch, each application of wood ash or lime or compost is an investment on the soil that will reap its benefits in years to come. Good tilth is an investment in the future. Plants are bigger and greener than they were this time last year. There is still some issue with soil. Uneven growth but I think that we can get that worked out this year.

Plant:  potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, summer cabbage, rutabaga, cleavers, more bunching onions, more beets, more carrots, marigold, painted mountain corn ( for corn meal) black coco dry beans, Kentucky wonder beans, marina di choigga pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, butter cup squash.

Harvest: Bee Balm, rhubarb, black raspberry leaf, chickweed, dandelion root, catnip, mint, spinach, blood root, elecampane.

Preserve: 1 quart frozen spinach, 2 quarts frozen rhubarb, 4 pints rhubarb chutney, 1 quart blackberry leaf, 1 quart bee balm tea, 1 quart cat nip.

Local foods:Eggs, local milk, tomato plants, local chicken

Eat the food: Still eating sorrel. First green salads with a mix of lettuce, spinach, borage, kale and wild greens such as dandelion, chickweed and wild lettuce.

Waste not: Mucking out the last of the sheep pens. The girls ( the new girls have arrived) and boy are eating from pasture now. We are scything up grass from the orchard for them to eat when they are not on pasture. I planted painted mountain corn this year. It is a dry corn that I hope to grow for cornmeal/flour this year. It should be easy to save seed from this corn for next year.

Want not: Mark finished shearing the sheep for a friend which is how we got our new sheep; a ramboulett  (derived from merino) and a corriedale cross. I will have photos of the new girls tomorrow. I returned to the wild herb class this spring with a walk instead of just a lecture. I love this learning. As much as I have so many other interests to pursue; learning about the food and healing herbs underneath our feet is really exciting to me. I love adding new herbs to my garden every year. But some of those herbs are not native to our own state. Rhonda, my teacher, is full of knowledge about what is available right here, growing wild,  every ear. Each year I choose a few herbs and wild crafted greens that will build on the knowledge I already know. If you don't use it you lose it.

Learn something new: herb class.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crunch Time

This is crunch time for us. It is a busy time of year. Mark is finishing up his school year; this means that he is home late from work because of school concerts. It is also shearing season . He spends good portions of weekends on farms getting to know many different breeds of sheep. (If you ever find my husband on your stead, please don't let your sheep lie in hay. Veggie matter really gums up the works.)

It is also planting season. There is so much seed in the ground and so much bare soil yet to plant. I have one more sheep pen to muck. This will be used on the corn patch, dry bean patch.. Tomatoes, peppers, cukes, zukes and other wonderful winter squash seed still need to find the soil. I am trying to mulch with leaves this year. So there are many days in the woods and along our road raking up leaves. I am trying to make the work of the garden easier by not needing to weed so much. These are beneficial to the soil. Those tree roots dig deep in the soil and bring lots of great nutrients up to their leaves that now can feed my sandy soil. Which will be important to our seasonal bottom line because I think that Mark will be making the leap to becoming a full time, independent musician.

There is so much economic bad news out there. But at some point you just can't let that hold you back. Playing safe does not always assure security. How many school years have we faced the spring budget season and worried whether he will have a job the following fall? Too many. At some point you have to take your life into your own hands and see how it turns out. Fall on your face or lift yourself up; only you can find that out by trying. So we shall see. He is trying to see how all the pieces will fit together. I will try to find a job,something part time; preferably, at a book store.

A few months ago I made a list of all the things I do around the house that save us money. I was thinking about what my work at home was worth. What economic value did it have? Quite a bit, actually. I grow the garden and preserve quite a bit of food.  I collect wild ( FREE) foods. I cook many foods from scratch that we used to buy in a package. We cut our wood. I conserve cooking fuel (propane gas) when I can by using my fire-less cooker, cooking outdoors, and using the oven with many things cooking at the same time. I make our laundry soap. I hang our laundry. We do not use paper towels or paper napkins. We feed our soil with what we can glean from our land. I save some seed. We collect rain water to water our sheep and garden. Mark repairs our cars whenever possible. We have a tiny fridge and use our cold room a lot. We drive a biodiesel car. I knit much of our winter wear and wool socks.I darn socks and mend clothing. We make many of our holiday and birthday gifts. I use my rudimentary sewing skills to make pj's and insulated curtains for our home. We grow meat birds. We make most of our own sweetener in the form of maple syrup.  We have all those apple trees. I make simple herbal remedies: elderberry cough syrup, jewel weed salve for itchy rashes, healing salve for wounds. I make herbal tea blends that help with sleep, colds and my wacky change-o-life hormones.  We make our own beer and wine.  We use the library and buy fewer books. We buy many tools, clothes and household items second hand ,but made with quality. We have found a community of friends who gather together frequently for work parties and music making. I volunteer for a community garden that donates food to low income residents of my town. We are allowed to take some produce home which supplements any crop failures I might have at home. We have perfected bartering so that we can provide our own hay and add to our flock with barter. Mostly, we have learned to make-do.

There are still many things I would love to do. We need to get laying hens again. I would love to learn to make soap. There is still a wealth of herbal knowledge to learn. I would love to challenge my sewing skills so that I can update my wardrobe.  I would like to build a solar food dehydrator and a green house. I would love to find a way to only need one really good, fuel efficient, reliable car.

This life assures that we will find a way to make most of  these things happen because we can see the economic value in them. Nearly all these things mean that we eat a healthier diet, rely on our own ingenuity and need less money.  When I come indoors at the end of a long day working out doors, I can see the results of my labor. I  don't leave a cubicle with a pile of paper waiting for me the next morning. Nice work if you can get it.....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Turning Tables

So, I've been writing here for about 5 years now. I have watched my followers numbers increase. Each time I see that number increase I get a little thrill.. So this evening I looked at my stats and I saw that I have a real international following.

So I would love to hear from you. Where are you from? What are you growing? How do you spend your time? What are you making? What are you reading?

Please share:)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A writing life?

I've been writing for a long time.  When I was a girl I remember receiving a locked diary for Christmas one year. I felt so mature. Someone thought enough of my 9 year old life to give me a diary to record my thoughts and daily life in. I think that I was able to keep writing in it for a month or so.

When I reached high school. I was a new kid to the school. I had moved to a new town and did not know anybody. So when I arrived in study hall one day to sit at a table with a girl; who my mom introduced me to, a tentative friendship began. Soon there were a gaggle of us getting shushed by the teacher. I was able to break the ice with a story I had written about an egg salad sandwich cum science experiment gone wild. It was written as a series of letters to teachers meant to be excuses for not attending class. It was funny. My classmates laughed a lot. We were shushed some more. Later I would revise this and submit as a class assignment. I received an A for my effort.

Most of high school life was spent writing on the side. Poetry, overly fraught with teen angst was the next genre to take my imagination. A teacher I had senior year taught me the valuable lessons of writing what I know and showing, not telling. These lessons helped grow my poetry.. At that age writing was about the act of writing.   It was about expression for its own sake. Perhaps a chaotic childhood helped me to find an outlet for expressing and organizing the chaos into something I could understand.

I was an English major in college. I loved to read and I loved to write. I got to do both while I was there. I never finished the degree but I consider myself an English Major for life. I am always writing, I am always reading. I did not stay in college but instead chose to live the life of vagabond for a couple of years. I worked for a nuclear arms control lobby. I followed the Grateful Dead for a while. I had some adventures for sure but, at heart, I like be settled. 

Once I decided to settle I began to write more frequently. I started frequenting poetry readings. The writing was still a little immature but I took the bold step to consider getting published. I had a poem published in a local poetry journal called, "Potato Eyes". This was the most validating experience for me as someone who liked to write.

I worked in kitchens and bookstores. I lived in a town, Portland, Me, where the writing community was strong and there were plenty of opportunities to share what I wrote. Writing groups, writing classes, open readings.

Tristan came along and I reached a writing silence. Motherhood will do that . I think motherhood those first few years of a child's life, especially single motherhood, is a difficult balance. If I found myself with extra time I would try to catch up on all the items on the ever present to-do list. But finally the combination of a broken heart and a writing friend, Steve Lutrell of the Cafe Review, convinced me to take up the pen again.

And pen it was. The, now,  ever present computer was not a device commonly available  at the time. I have boxes and boxes of old notebooks filled with ramblings and multiple revisions of poems I wrote at the time. This time around the writing took on the maturity of a woman. The writing was deeper and layered without needing to tease out these qualities with any great effort. I took any free time I had, any time Tristan was with his dad, to write. It was exciting and mysterious. I never knew where the writing would take me. I never knew when inspiration would take me but inevitably it would happen while I was walking. I lived in a city where you could witness a paragraph in someone else's story and fashion it into a stanza for my own creative endeavor. I had another poem published at the," Cafe Review" I was selected to join a juried poetry reading at a local Bookstore. It felt like, with some more effort, I could make the writing more than a creative outlet.

And then...I hit a writer's block. I felt like there was only so much navel gazing someone could do before all they found was lint. I was finding a lot of lint.

I moved north. I met Mark. We married, had a baby boy, moved to the country. I was living a different dream. And day I am standing in a gulley picking wild raspberries. Mosquitos were humming and lines of poetry awere running though my head.We had just hooked up DSL in our home and so on a lark I began this blog. This was not the kind of writing I was accustomed to. Sometimes the entries were informative. Sometimes they were opinionated. Sometimes they were reaching for something more creative. This was writing that was enough. It didn't have to have a life beyond the bits on some hard drive. I could find some immediate satisfaction without the angst of rejection. I didn't ( but sometimes should have) revised the work several times. This was writing that happened when there were kids running around, dinner was on the stove and the dog was barking at a squirrel outside the window. It was writing that I did not take seriously. But it was writing just the same.

This morning I am sitting upstairs in my little local library,  It is a quiet, un-distracted by housework time. This is now my dedicated writing time. I am now writing beyond the blog. It feels really different this time. Perhaps it is my brain returned from Evan's early years. Perhaps it is what I find among some of my other mom friends; the desire to be more than just a mom, to find some other means of expression. Either way here I am again writing and wanting to do more with it.

So yes, I guess I am a writer. I've never really called myself a writer before. Somehow that seems a title that can only be validated by publication.  This is what I hope to do with the writing beyond the blog. Can't wait to share this with you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Independence Days Update

May flowers are bursting out all over. The pear trees are covered in white flowers. Now the apples are showing signs of pink and white. The weather has been a little tough. After April's unusally dry weather we have reached May where the weather is wet for 4-5 days in a row and then 1-2 days of dry sunny weather.  This means that for those 1-2 days I spend all day outside trying to get as much in the ground as possible and the 4-5 days compiling to-do lists that, hopefully, I will get to soon.  The one postive of this is that the iside of my house is surprisingly tidy for this time of year. It is all a balancing act.

There is so much wild green goodness that wants to be picked. Dandelions are shy during the rain but during the breaks I have been able to collect a few quarts of flowers. Dandelion roots are easily pulled out of some of the mulched beds. Horsetail is up. Purslaine and yellowdock are everywhere. I love this time of year.

Some friends and I are gathering to do some community canning. Some of us are just learning this skill. Others, like myself, enjoy adding this element to what can be a very solitary activity. My friend Sara believes that women need to work in community more. It definitely makes the job more enjoyable. We began our first gathering this week making dandelion jelly and dandelion wine.

Plant: So much has gone into the ground I hope I can remember...carrot, onnion, Good King Henry potherb, chard,broccoli, parsnip,beets, lettuce, rosa rugosa, hazelnut, everbearing raspberry, peony, rhubarb, cranberry, jerusalem artichoke, arnica, borage, blessed thistle, motherwort, hollyhock, yarrow. Started gourd, basil, melon indoors.

Harvested: french sorrel, chives, rhubarb, dandelion root, leave and flower.

Preserved: one gallon dandelion wine, 5 pints and 2 half pints of what should have been dandelion jelly but is more of a syrup ( more on this later). 1 quart dandelion leaf dehyrated. 1 quart dehydrated dandelion root.

Local Foods: Shared some elecampane with an herbalist friend. Fiddle heads, lettuce from farmers market. Some one gave us some turkey eggs to try and some one else gave us some duck eggs to try. Local meat and dairy.

Eat the food: Fiddlehead quiche with local bacon. Local salad. Dandelion salad dressing ( with dandelion syrup). Last years dandelion wine. Sorrel, dandelion green, chive frittata.

Waste not: I am working on  a funky little project using some crocks ( the shoe) and a cedar post I hope to have something posted by the end of the week or so.

Want not: I found some old canning jars, the sort with the glass lids, at a yard sale. Our local hardware store sells the rings for these. I use this to store dehydrated foods in. I ran a 5k this last week. I was the last adult to arrive but I felt great that I finished. I used to run all the time but after Evan was born I sorta slowed down a lot. Exercise is supposed to be good for perimenopausal symptoms so I say bring it on!

Skill up: This is a new catagory for the challenge that I have not been including. But I think an important one. I have a wild herb walk I will be going on at the end of the month. There  is also a wild greens class offered locally that I will participating in this month as well.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

From scratch living

It always amazes me how unexpected people are. As we go about our daily lives we may see familiar but unknown people  going about their own lives. There is a lady at the grocery store who is nearly eighty and runs a small pick-your-own apple orchard in the fall. There was a  kid serving up gelato who just had his art work shown at an important gallery in Portland. These are small details, important details of these folks lives that one would never guess just by the job they do to get by.

Today was another of those wow moments for me. There is a back road that I travel to get into Farmington. It is a beautiful road that is sometimes forested and then opens into beautiful vistas of the mountains not too far away. There are gorgeous dairy cows at the Hardy Farm. I do mean gorgeous; healthy, pretty Ayershires grazing on lush green pasture. I always slow down so I do not miss a healthy dose of cow for my drive.

There is a field I drive by where I have seen a rather large fox frolicking, or hunting mice. Either way he is a sight to see and another reason to slow the car down. I never seem to travel at the speed limit when traveling along the road.

There is a guy I see who is often walking along the roadside collecting bottles for redemption. He seems a bit of the Maine old timah. Scraggy beard, dirt stained dickie pants, like my papa used to wear. He always gives the obligatory country wave as you drive by. He does not have a car. His house is pretty run down. But he must work hard at what he occupies himself with because there is always a good woodpile, cut and split, outside his door yard every winter. In August he sells blackberries he's picked from a patch in back of his house. For all the run down facade of the house, he has a lovely patch of tulips every spring.

Well, this morning Tristan and I went for a drive down this road. There was going to be a seven mile yard  sale. We got there a little late and missed any good finds, we thought. And then we ended up in the door yard of this man where we found at least 100 paintings by the man. Beautiful landscapes, very impressionistic. Some of the work was more abstract.  He had his bio up. He has been painting for over 40 years. He has had his work in several galleries. He also writes poetry and has his poetry published in several chapbooks. He has stopped showing his art in galleries and now sells his paintings from his front yard. He likes to advertise that he is the only artist who sells his work, rent-to-own. He says that he has pretty good luck working this way.

Oh and did I mention, he doesn't have a car.

There are a lot of folks in  the backwoods of Maine that are making their living by piecing together odd jobs and their art. It is a lifestyle we have contemplated. Especially every school budget cycle when Mark's job hangs in the balance. Another situation we find ourselves in this year. More than likely he will be hired full time for next school year. But the anxiety is a seasonal aspect to his job we could do without. This is not to say that self-employment doesn't have its own challenges.  But we know that if we were to pay off all our debt then we could be free to create the way we want and not necessarily the way we need.  Our own version of Possum Living.

Our artist neighbor seemed happy, content and nourished. He lives pretty simply. His art is beautiful! He sells it all summer long and his art is hanging on walls all over the world. "Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you try...."

Monday, April 30, 2012

Phew! What a day!

My hands are work sore. My skin feels sun worn. Since early this morning I have been hard at work in the garden.  I'm makin' hay while the sun shines.

I sorta have to. I find it funny that there are times, usually around this time of year, when the work piles up very  easily. Saturday we drove down to Clinton to the Fedco tree sale.  We go to the sale every year. I place my tree and potato order in the winter and we drive down to the sale to pick up the order. I also like to pick up any amendments I may need for the garden there. It saves a ton on postage and handling.

It is also a social gathering. We run into old friends from our time in Milo. One friend, who owns Checkerberry farm, has a greenhouse set up. I usually try to find some herbs from him. Nancy works for him. She makes a wonderful pine scented soap that I pick up at the sale.

There are also more trees, perennials and herbs for sale. I was able to find some arnica, astragalus and stinging nettle for the garden. All these plants, on top of my order; which included potatoes, onion sets rosa rugosa, cranberry, hazelnut and ever bearing raspberries, came home with us.

I also was given some bachelor buttons, lily of the valley by my aunt when we went to visit her recently. Another friend, Wendy, mailed me some jerusalem artichokes. The ones I had planted last year seemed to have gone  missing. I think it may be the same culprit who ate my parsnips.

So, needless to say, my to-do list was significant.. We instantly got to work when we got home on Saturday. I had seedlings here that needed to go into the ground.Onions and cranberry  and hops plants made it into the ground that afternoon.

Yesterday was another busy day. I made bread, dandelion jelly. I planted the hazelnut.I planted the the jerusalem artichokes and roses. I have been clearing areas that have been overgrown since we moved here. In the process I have found a couple of forgotten peonies, horseradish and rhubarb. I planted the rhubarb in the apple tree guild. I am using the guild as a nursery for future guild plants. I have bunching onions, paperwhites, comfrey, yarrow under the first tree I am working on this year. Mark finished a gutter project and connected the rain barrel. He finished mucking out the boys ( sheep) side of the sheds. Now that Rama-lama  has moved and Leroy Brown goat is residing with Sadie we have an extra shed. We plan to use this as a place to keep hay in the winter. Their old yard is richly amended with poop. So we are going to make this another garden this year. Maybe some fodder for the livestock. Mark is working a barter of shearing 20 sheep for two Rambouillet.

Today, I started clearing an overgrown area. There is a bunch of chokecherry saplings that have over taken an area that I would eventually like to put some grapes, maybe next year. I turned one compost pile and made a new one. I planted the raspberries and finished planting many of the smaller plants.I cleaned up and amended a bed in the front of the house. I plated hollyhocks and other flowers. I have some sorghum to plant there for birds and some dyers broom for this bed when the weather is a bit warmer. Tristan had a list he was working off today. He was a big help. Evan, too, helped out today. He picked dandelions for me. I will make some wine this week with some friends on Wednesday.. He helped me dig some post holes for staking the raspberries. He also helped  water plants.

I love days like this. I can stand back at the end of the day and see the results of good hard work. This time of year when the garden is waking up, small sprouts of spinach poke through the soil and there is so much promise of what will grow and be on our table, I can forget about such things as slugs, cut worm and late blight.

Tomorrow it may rain. My work will bring me indoors where the housework has been neglected these last few days. The to-do list is shorter...for now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kitchen Tools, some words about what is enough.....

For a very long time I had this fantasy about the perfect kitchen. I would drool over Better Homes and Gardens photos of granite counter tops, six burner gas stoves, counters with a few most important gadgets; ya know the Kitchen Aid mixer, the cuisinart food processor.

Then I got simple. Gettin' simple included the question I always found myself asking," How was this done before electricity?" It really narrows the field of tools down to the essential elements every kitchen should have. It also requires perfecting my cooking skills to not need fancy gadgets. It also means that the process of cooking itself takes on a different pace.Some foods will take longer to prepare now that I have cut out some of the cool whiz bang stuff. But not much more time really. If there is an approach to slow food that really slows the process of food preparation down then it  is finding the joy in  chopping every vegetable for a stew with a really good knife.

Well, and then, there is the more practical reality. I have a small kitchen. My pantry/ cold room could store a host of appliances but then I wouldn't have any room to store food in there!

So this is how I have distilled my kitchen necessities down. This is what I consider essential to my kitchen. I have never been unable to make something because a recipe called for a utensil I did not have. Well, okay, I will admit to making some not so pretty mozzarella because I did not have a microwave to get the whey out of the cheese. But I consider this a challenge to learn how to make it without a microwave rather than an impediment because I did not have the zapper.

I could not live with out my cast iron skillets. I have a collection of  5 skillets. Four of them belonged to my great-grandmother. They are really well seasoned. The smallest skillet is a small one I use for toasting a small amount of seed or melting butter. I have a cast iron muffin pan and a dutch oven. The muffin tin is used frequently and is seasoned enough that I rarely have the muffins stick. And the dutch oven replaces a crockpot when I use it on the woodstove for a slow cooked stew.

One really good rolling pin. I use this nearly daily it seems. Pie crust,crackers, pizza crusts, homemade pasta, tortilla.

Good knives. I have an old favorite that I bought from the knife man when I used to work in a restaurant. I can still bring up a good edge on it. It fits well in my hand. I have a couple of good pairing knife. I would like a good cleaver for when we do butchering. But I have made do with my other knives. A good steel and honing stone for caring for the knives is important to have.

Several cutting boards. I have a large one for making bread.A smaller one for chopping veggies and a couple of smaller ones for cheese and such. I will use cutting boards for serving trays when I make a meal that is mostly cold and fresh.

Mixing bowls in several sizes.

An array of hand utensils including: spatula, a few wooden spoons, a couple of ladles, a couple of whisks, a veggie peeler,a can opener,a couple of rubber spatulas in large and smaller sizes to make sure that everything gets used up. A cheese grater, funnels.

Foley food mill. For most foods that might need puree this seems to do the trick. I use it to make applesauce, pureed soups, making tomato sauce, ketchup or paste.

I do have an electric food dehydrator but it really is nearly on its last legs and I have plans for building a solar food dryer.

A hot water canner and a pressure canner.

I have some beat up everyday dishes but I also have a nice set that I bring out for special occasions.

One 6 gallon stock pot. We use this alot We use it to finish off maple syrup in the house. Mark uses it to make beer. I use it for canning. I've used it for processing lard and making large batches of chicken stock. I use it when I am making a large batch of tomatoes stuffs.

A soup pot and a couple of pots for cooking, a couple of colanders.

Measuring implements. Cups, spoons.

A grain mill. I love my grain mill. I use it for grinding wheat, buckwheat, flam seed and sunflower seeds. We are growing dent corn this year and I would like to get an attachment to grind my own cornmeal  this fall.

I do have a chopper. I've had it since Tristan ( my 19 year old) was a baby. I used it for baby food then but now I use it for chopping basil for pesto, cranberries and nuts.

Finally, a mortar and pestle.I love my little one for grinding herbs or breaking up camden tablets when I make wine.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First greens in a rambling sorta way...

Tonight's dinner is in the oven. I sneak a few minutes on the computer. Small boy is drying off from a "tubba" while singing "Tom Doolie". Tad is composing. Big guy is in his room writing. LOVE THAT.

The house smells of sweet potato french fries roasting in the oven and a most local quiche. The first gleanings from the garden have finally found our plate. It is a quiche with dandelion greens, a meager stalk of precious asparagus, french sorrel and chives ( splendid chives).

Evan has exited tub and asks if I have invited his friends for lunch tomorrow. His bath towel is over his head and those lovely curls spring out from underneath. He will be six soon and I can not believe that he was my baby and now he is firmly in his boyhood. There will be no more babies at my age (45). There are so many moments in this boy's day that I wish I could capture by photo but they are so fleeting. They come and while I get the camera they are gone. So it goes...

At this point in my life I begin to think of second acts. I have so many ideas for so many things so I start and stop. The garden is always a source for inspiration. So for the moment I will work with this idea in this space.

There are so many good things coming out of the garden. Whether it is tender spinach sprouts or garlic or the first pokes of chard; I love this time of year. This is the real magic in the garden. I love to plant perennial greens in my garden. They are always the first to bloom and promise an early harvest. They are loaded with really good minerals and cleansing properties that our bodies crave this time of year.

Spring greens quiche:
Preheat oven at 350 degrees


6 tablespoons of  chilled butter
1 and 1/2 cups flour, may substitute 1/2 for whole wheat flour
7 tablespoons of cold water
dash of salt

Cut butter and salt into flour till it is the texture of cornmeal and add water until  blended well.  Roll out onto floured board. Roll to about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thickness. Place into 9 inch pie plate, crimp edges.

Quiche custard:

French Sorrel about 1/ 2 cup chopped.
Dandelion greens 1/2 cup chopped
Several stalks of asparagus chopped.
1/4 cup chives minced
7-8 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
3 eggs
1 cup of milk
 salt and pepper to taste

Layer cheese in the bottom of the pie crust, layer chopped vegetables and chives onto the cheese. Beat eggs and milk together pour custard over vegetable.  Give the pie plate a little shake in order to disperse the custard evenly.

Place pie plate on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven. Cook for 45 minutes or until solid in the middle.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before cutting.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Independence Days Challenge, The full blush of Spring

I've been tempting fate this past week or so. I have started planting the garden already. The temps have been above normal by just a bit. The last few days and the next few to come are supposed to be very warm. So soil temps are high enough to try some seed in the soil. This morning I found some spinach sprouts poking out of the ground.  These first few weeks of gardening season seem to be a bit of a scurry. Gotta try to get as much in the ground that the weather will allow. Clean barns, amend beds. Blackfly season will be upon us soon and even though the spring chores will still beckon no one really wants to be outside when they begin to hatch. With this warm weather it will be here sooner than most years.

So just gonna keep truckin',

Plant: brussel sprouts, kale, shallots, spinach, peas. Transplanted bunching onions, paper whites. Today I will beet it!

Harvest: Parsnips. Oh do I love this vegetable. You plant it in the spring and it is patiently waiting for you to harvest it the following spring. Alas this year when I went out into the garden with my handy trowel I found a pot full of parsnips for dinner one night. But when I went back out to find just a few more for our plate, there were few to be found. I planted a 5'x2' bed last spring. As Evan would say,"Apparently" the deer ate them. Gotta finish putting up the fence. I am grateful they at least left us enough for one dinner.

Preserve: Maple Mead

Local foods: local milk, local ice cream

Eat the food: I am making lots of herbal teas from wild herbs I collected last year. Strawberry leaf, dandelion leaf and red clover flower. A good woman's tea.

Waste not: Just trying to keep a good routine of tidying the house. Once spring comes it seems that the inside of the house gets  neglected. 

Want not:We are chicken hunting. We have not had  layer chickens for a couple of years now.  But we would really like to ramp up our food production now that we have settled into our home. We will be ordering meat birds from a local chicken farm one town over in May.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What is essential?

So as a follow up to last weeks post I would like to include all the great suggestions to last weeks post plus a few other ideas that I came up with.

Heather suggested a crock to do some lacto-fermentation . I agree that this is a great low cost, method of food preservation. I am just breaking into some kimchi that I made at a class  I took last summer about lacto-fermentation. But I would also add that some wide mouth  canning jars would work if you have limited funds. A crock would be a great addition to the kitchen. I have also used baked bean crocks for small batches.

Practical Parsimoney suggested a greenhouse or more shelves for food storage. If there is a corner of your cellar that can be used for cold room or root cellar storage this would be a great investment to make in your home. The idea of short term food storage is to preserve summer bounty for winter lean times. Some years when I have done this I have only needed to buy dairy and cleaning products during the winter. Money is tighter in the winter;especially when folks pay for higher utility bills or if business is seasonal; which it is in this part of Maine. I would add that if this is your goal it is worth the investment in a CSA Share to supplement what your garden produces. Short of a CSA share I would save some extra funds for pick your own produce. Around here we have strawberries, blueberries and apple picking. I also buy corn for the freezer, extra bulk potatoes. There are some great plans  online  for building your own root cellar. This is a good book for for covering all the bases of root cellaring. If you do not have the funds or skills for using a green house building cold frames will help you to extend your growing season; providing greens for you during the cold winter months.

Stevie suggested cattle panels. I agree that one to four of these are good to have around. Especially if you would like to move chickens around the yard. Instead of a chicken tractor you could move them around the yard without a tractor.

Wendy suggested a good garden wagon. I have to agree with this one. It has been on my garden wish list for a while now. They are so much easier and longer lasting than a regular wheel barrow..

I have one more suggestion.that will be a worthwhile suggestion. I suggest an investment in some edible perennials. Fruits like blueberies, strawberries and raspberries. Some fruit or nut trees. Edible or common medicinal herbs like comfrey, oregano, mint,, lemon balm, thyme. In Maine we have Fedco Seed company just a bit away from where we live. They have an annual tree sale starting on the weekend of April 27th and 28th. It continues the following weekend. It is a great opportunity to find some off catalogue varieties and on the second weekend I have found some 10.00 apple trees. There is also a greenhouse for some early seedlings, and the warehouse is open to find any amendments you may need without paying postage.

Finally, I would like to distill the the total list down to what is essential. It is tough because each investment we make in our homesteads makes them  more efficient. But if I were to start with a foundation I would suggest a good water bath canner and canning jars. Some chickens and a chicken coop. Extra shelves for food storage. Good gardening tools and an investment on edible perennials. If this were the year that you really wanted to take this task at hand then the must have book is the Encyclopedia of Country Living. After this it is all cream....oh...speaking of which...little cooler for yogurt! Just mad a batch and hmmm good!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tools of the Trade

So the question is if you have a bit of money at this moment; but, you know that you will not have this money in the future, which tools would you purchase to improve your self sufficiency?

For the sake of this post I think that we should consider tools that someone just at the beginning of this journey would need.

This is a partial list. I invite you to include your ideas and I will post an updated list with everyone's ideas on it.

So this is my partial list:

One hot water bath canner. If you did not have the canner maybe you could find the rack to put inside a big stock pot at a Goodwill or antique shop. A pressure canner is nice but can be a bit pricey. I find that when I first started canning I would can anything and everything. What a lot of work. Now I can tomatoes, jams, jellies, some vinegar pickles, some salsas and chicken stock. The pressure canner gets used for some tomato product, salsas and chicken stock. But I use the hot water bath primarily.

Which brings me to my second important food preservation tool. A dehydrator. I started using a small electric dehydrator from RONCO ( off all places). But ideally I would like to make a solar dehydrator. Dehydrated food retains its nutrition. It is so much easier to chop some veggies or fruit than it is to heat water on a warm August day.

Jars. Canning jars for canning but any ole jar will work for dehydrated food. Most of my canning jars have been purchased second hand. I just make sure that they are not chipped. If I had my druthers I would purchases some TATLER reusable canning jar lids and use them for those foodstuffs I know I will be using just for myself and not giving as gifts.

5 gallon buckets have many uses around the homestead. I use them for making compost tea, rhubarb leaf tea. These teas are used in the garden for amending the soil and garden pest control. They can also be used for growing tomato plants on a deck or patio, thus saving you room for other crops if you have a small garden.

A rain barrel. I can not say enough for water storage. We have lost our water several times due to power outages. Water from the rain barrel can flush a toilet, it can be used for washing.

Chainsaw, safety helmet, ear protection, chaps and a good ax. Especially the chaps. Mark wears his everytime he uses his chainsaw. Safety first!

I love my pitchfork. I use it for harvesting some food, turning compost, loading up the wheel barrow with soil amendments. A couple of good hand tools for the garden.

A small lunch box sized cooler. I use this for making yogurt.

If I were to invest in any home improvement I would consider building a rootcellar. If you do not want to dig a big hole in the ground you can build a small room in a cold part of your cellar to preserve food for the winter. With a rootcellar you can store winter squash, potatoes, apples, onions, garlic, cabbage and so much more.

Or a chicken coop. Chickens are cheap to obtain, they eat food scraps, they provide compost for the garden, the eat slugs from your garden and they provide eggs. Some of they can be a source of meat.

Finally, the ultimate resource of knowledge The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. This book has all sorts of information on growing and preserving food. It also is a first resource for information on livestock and homesteading skills.

So, are there any other suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Waste not...

There have been some cold nights and some warm days. The sap is still running on some of our maple trees. More than likely this is probably very grade B sap.

A little while ago I took a walk though the sugarbush. Some of the trees have completely shut down. Some of the buckets have colonies of spiders and flies. A good observational experiment for the little guy;). But some of the buckets were overflowing with sap. Some of the sap had become a little milky;which means that it has started to ferment. So I collected what I had. It turned out that there was still about 10 gallons of sap.

So this is what I am thinking...I am going to boil that ten gallons down to about about 1 quart. In past years we have used this kinda-gone-past sap for making a pretty potent ale. This year I was thinking about making a maple mead.

Think I'll use the recipe from this site.

Friday, March 30, 2012

This moment

Independence Days Challenge Update

So yes we bought a Mega-Millions lottery ticket. Yup. The odds are stacked against us. But in the end someone picks the winning number. Could be us.

In the meanwhile we daydream about what we would do if we had half a billion dollars. There are some pretty big dreams. I would love to open a whole foods restaurant. Mark would like to start a premier entertainment venue here in the foothills that would be small and intimate but would attract some big names. In terms of the way we live; well it would be nice to have the money to take care of that big to-do list. Build a good barn, build a greenhouse, get off grid. Maybe some travel. And we would take care of our friends and family. I would love to create a fund that would make sure that low-income folks have warm homes in the winter by improving efficiency and subsidizing some heating costs. There are several good community gardens I would like to help.

In the meanwhile we tend our own garden.

Plant: Gosh there are a lot of seed pots sitting under lights and hanging out in windows. I hope I can remember them all. 2 kinds of peppers. One of them is from seed saved from a really cool looking organic sweet pepper I found at the local health food store. Brussel sprouts, motherwort, stinging nettle,broccoli cabbage, kale spinach in the cold frame, lettuce, nasturtium,hollyhock. A friend who is new to gardening gave me a bunch of strawberry daughters. I put them in the ground last week. Hope they make it.

Harvest: nope not yet. But I did notice some new sprouts on the french sorrel. OOOhhh I can't wait. If you ever have the chance to grow this perennial green I highly recommend it. It makes a lovely quiche.

Preserve: the final tally on Maple sugaring was 10 quarts and 1 pint. Just over 2 and1/2 gallons. We will have to be frugal in our syrup use this year.

Local Food: Just the usual but we did find a local CSA called the Pickup that is a farmer's market over in Skowhegan. The weekly pickup includes goods from several farms and includes eggs, meat, milk, veggies, some prepared food, locally roasted coffee, maple syrup and honey. We are thinking about it. It might just be the perfect supplement to our diet and help to reduce the amount of money we spend at the grocery store. We are still trying to balance how much food we can afford that is local with what our actual bottom line is.

Eat the food: We are still eating a lot of winter salad. Egg meals are more common as the price of local eggs drops a bit as supply increases. We have one chicken left in the freezer from the roasters we tried last fall. Not a bad result since we harvested them last November.

Waste not: We have a children's clothing swap in town. I took a bag of outgrown clothes there and found some f shorts, hats and mittens. I also sent a quite a few bags to the thrift store. I rescued some cardboard boxes from a neighbor's recycling. I use these for sheet mulching in the garden. I gave my cold room a really good cleaning and found a I had some extra canning jars to give to my friend who is just learning how to learn to can.

Want not: Kid's clothing swap and strawberries from my friend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Evan's new Sweater

I just finished Evan's new Sweater. We call it sleepy forest after the name he has given our home in the woods of Maine. He might actually get some use out of it this year. That is a fresh snow fall from last night.

Crazy. It was over 80 degrees one week ago!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A rainy day in the orchard

The rain did not keep us indoors today. The weather is damp but not torrential. The light is bright for a rainy day. So we donned our mud boots and raincoats and headed outside to putter. Last weekend we were simply excited to hang our laundry outside instead of indoors. One week later we have had summer temperatures. The snow has completely melted from the garden. Some of those leafy herbs; catnip, horehound, mint, have started showing new spring green.

I have discovered that I have matured as a gardener. I poked my trowel in the soil of the cold frame, moved a little soil around and tossed a few spinach seeds in there. Otherwise I have resisted the very great temptation to do too much else in the veggie patch. I know that although the earth is waking up from her long winter's sleep, she may decide to go back to bed for a little while longer.

I've had my nose buried in garden books this weekend. I've been excited to start planting guilds under the fruit trees this year. I began with planning last fall by transplanting a couple of volunteer comfrey plants under a granny smith. I mulched a ring around the tree's drip line, the furthest point where the rain drips off the tree. My plan was to plant bulbs along this line. But I have a good amount of bunching onions seedlings started, so I think I will start with those instead. Around the base of the tree I will plant nasturtiums. This will help deter borer's.

So we headed out to putter in the rain. I started picking up the branches we trimmed from pruning the apple trees this past month. Mark and Evan were picking up brush from other areas. Evan was mostly playing in the mud.

I looked out into the orchard and noticed that it could also use a good raking. A clean orchard is a happy orchard. So I started raking up the leaves and laying down mulch and some defrosted compost to continue my work in the guild. I will not till the soil when I plant the guild so having some killed sod will make the ground nice and soft for planting. I read in Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway that placing a few small piles of stones around the guilds is also good for attracting snakes and frogs.

While toiling away in a happy frame of mind my thoughts wandered to the trouble spot behind me. It will be a challenge. There is a forsythia planted too closely to another granny smith tree. Mark cut down some overgrown chokecherry bushes there. The whole area is crowded by wild blackberry bushes. I love picking wild berries but I also know that paper wasps like to build their nests in overgrown patches like this. The patch is just on the other side of veggie garden fence. There are some big boulders buried in there. There is another very interesting looking chokecherry tree that will stay. My long term plan is to build a small bench for this area and perhaps plant a few shrubs for attracting beneficial insects. Butterfly bushes, maximillion sunflowers. I will plant everbearing raspberries from Fedco this year so the berries will be replaced.

As I ponder all this stuff I look up at the apple tree I have been working under. There is a small bud of white. At first I thought it was just the rain dripping off the limb. A trick of the light. But no. It is an apple blossom breaking free from its winter coat. I know something this tender bud does not. I know that night time temperature will reach the low teens in a couple of days. I know that apple trees should not be blooming this time of the spring. I walk around to check on the other trees. The green varieties are starting to bloom. The reds are still nestled deep in their coats. This is not good. It could mean that if those blooms have been coaxed open by some warmer temperatures that those trees will not bear much fruit this year.

This is what I know, we had a warm winter, and an extraordinary stretch of summer weather; which started before spring had even arrived according to the calendar, that shattered all sorts of records for temperatures for this time of year in Maine. This is just weather. But when we think of climate change we have to pay attention to the variability in the weather. Climate change can be seen in the extremes in weather we have been experiencing. This has all sorts of consequences. For our small homestead it has meant that this warm weather slowed and then stopped the flow of maple sap so that we did not get as much as we did last year. If the apple blossoms come early, before the pollinators, and then get zapped by a hard freeze we won't have many, if any, apples to put up next fall. For farmer's this can have harder consequences. They grow the food that we eat.

I know that every gardening season is a bit of a gamble. Sometimes you get a good tomato year, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you get a lot of rain, sometimes it is dry. But what happens when all those interconnected species of flora and fauna are thrown askew. Pollinators need the food they need when they wake up, migratory birds need the food they need when they arrive. It really is an interconnected web. When one piece of the web missing it has a cascading effect.

In my way of adapting to the changes we are experiencing I will probably try to make some more fruit syrups to replace the maple syrups. I will probably buy some maple syrup or honey to supplement our shortage this year. If we do not get many apples here, perhaps we will find an commercial orchard that will might have a colder micro-climate. I will hope that other crops will have bumper years to balance out what we have already lost this year.

In the meanwhile, I will continue to work on that apple tree guild. I know that my work this year will benefit my garden for years to come. Even if we do not get apples this year.

I place my hope in those little bunching onions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Maple Season 2012

The snow crunched under our snow shoes. Mark broke trail and carried the drill and hammer. I carried the buckets and taps. We wandered around the sugar bush looking for the tell-tale holes in the trees from last year's maple season to be assured that we were tapping maples and not an ash by mistake. After so many years of tapping maples you would think that we would know a maple in winter, undressed of leaves we have to know them by their bark. We were 29 for 29 taps!

The start of the season was slow. From conversations we've had, we missed a run at the beginning of February. We tapped 2 weeks early because the season seemed like it would be early. At this time we tapped 15 trees. After a week or so the trails were well trodden. But my bucket remained empty while I walked from tree to tree. We tapped 10 more trees. We tapped 4 more trees a week later. The sap started to flow and by the following weekend we were boiling sap down.

This process has evolved over the years we have been making syrup. The first year we just used the stove in the kitchen and a big stock pot. It was great humidity for my skin and hair ( wild Irish hair) but terrible for a process that is essentially a free food source. We used gallon milk jugs on the trees. Inevitably a new spring chore would be to find the jugs that blew off the trees and around the yard in one of those March winds. The next year we boiled it down in our big stock pot and an old pressure canner on an old wood cook stove outdoors. The following year we repeated this process. Those three years we tapped about 20 trees and got about 2 gallons of syrup which would last until September.

When we moved to our current country eden we decided to try and perfect our set up. Ideally it would be great to have an evaporator pan. But those are pretty pricey for our small operation. Our outdoor arrangement has become an old woodstove that was in a shed on the property. We created a small channel of cinder blocks that comes out from the stove. We saved all the brush that remains after cutting trees for firewood for the winter and used this to fuel the fire. Mark found a pretty awesome chaffing pan at cooking supply store that sells second hand and vintage kitchen ware.

Our sap boiler sorta looks like this one now; only ours only has one pan.

Four weeks after we tapped the trees our season is over. A bit disappointing. Last year we got 4 gallons of sap. This year, when all is said and done, we will probably get 2 and 1/2 gallons. We put out 29 taps all together. The last two weeks the nights were cold enough and the days were a warm enough. I could walk in the sugar bush and hear the plink of sap filling the metal buckets, that we use now instead of milk jug. But now it is too warm. Even if the night were to get cold again the trees have probably shut down for the season. So now I walk from bucket to bucket; my boots crinkle old leaves or make smucking sound in the mud. Spring is here and other seasonal work awaits...