Saturday, December 22, 2012

Food; Sharing it and Stocking Up On It

On a forum I follow, someone brought up a good question. "If you knew the economy was going to collapse in six months, how would you prepare?"
It's a good question, and one that's relevant no matter what country you live. We have a global economy, and what happens in the U.S affects us here in Canada. What happens to Japan's economy will affect Canada. So, as much as I hate the news, I do try and keep one ear on it; if only to find out in which direction the world is falling into the crapper.
But this question started a lot of conversation. We talked about global weather patterns, imports and exports, who grows what, and the loss of industry. I've talked here before about the loss of Canada's textile industry and how much wheat we export while the price of our bread goes up. I've also talked  before about how the weather impacts the price of our groceries. We've all seen it, so the economy collapsing isn't that far "out there".

Many talked about squirreling money away at home, cashing in whatever savings bonds they had, buying silver coin, cutting up credit cards or in some cases, getting credit cards. Some folks talked about the underground economy, and that saw a lot of interest. I've talked about it here before, and it's something that I see a lot of. Folks that are no longer reporting that they're looking for work, they've found a way to "work under the table" and yet still support their family. On one hand, I see the sense in that. What's the point in handing over gobs of money to the government for your retirement if by the time we're retirement age, there's nothing left? On the other hand, if you ever find yourself in a position that the government money is keeping your kids from hunger, and you haven't been paying into it... so it's a double edged sword I think. I know some folks that would advocate putting enough money aside that if you were laid off for a year, you could still live comfortably. But I also know how many of us live from check to check, and it's not possible to put money aside in that case. So for many of us, it's a delicate dance.

I suggest buying an extra box of cereal, or an extra can of tuna or two, perhaps an extra can of frozen juice or maybe an extra package of chicken quarters if you can. Add your extra to your grocery list. Yes, it's more fun to use that extra $8 to treat yourself to lunch, but if you use that extra $8 to buy a big jar of peanut butter instead, it might make the difference between your kids skipping lunch or eating one day. Yes, I personally know people that have been in the position of not eating their own lunch so their kids can eat. It happens more than you think. I'm a big fan of being more self-reliant though, and if you've been reading this blog for more than a month I'm sure you know that. I think it's important to support our financially challenged, empower them to have access to better quality food, teach them what they need to know to make their lives better and allow them to take control and have some pride back.
It's all about control and independence.
Those that can help, however, should. If you can spare a can of tuna, or peanut butter for a food bank, no matter what the season, consider sharing it. So many families, on both sides of the border, live with malnutrition simply because they don't have access to the kind of food they need. Yes, a can of soup can make a big difference.

I volunteered at a food bank many years ago, and it used to drive me crazy how many out of date cans of soup there were. The food bank had to throw these out because they weren't allowed to pass them on. But, I also saw folks that had gardens bring in  bins full of vegetables and fruit. It gave me hope, and the inspiration to do the same when I could.
So I encourage all of you this week to do something positive, for both yourselves, and for your neighbors.
Go out to lunch less, put some food aside for a wintery or $ crunched day. Share what food you do have with those who don't have enough themselves.
You'll be glad you did.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Creative and Colourful

For those of us blanketed in snow and grey mists, color is important. Colour, depth,'s missing right now for many of us. I think that's one reason why my Christmas trees are always a riot of colour. So one idea I've been exploring is sketchbook journals. One paints whatever, or draws whatever moves them, and apparently then one writes one's thoughts or observations over top of the dried paint. See the example at the left? That's a great example. I have no idea who did that one, I found it on the web.
I used to paint quite a bit when I was younger. I did it because I enjoyed colour, and watercolors and the transparency of it all. Then I got into acrylics and a Native style, and I pursued that for some time. And then life went weird and it got left along the way somehow, like my sense of impulsiveness and fun. But the Universe has pointed me  back in that direction over and over again these past couple of months, and I have been giving this the barest of acknowledgments. Tonight I ignore it no longer.
I have decided  that I will pick up the brush and the pen again.
How does this tie into homesteading? Oh, very easily.
I can paint nature, the birds in our yard, the feeder they eat from, the trees I
co-habitate with, homesteading ideas and concepts....the possibilities trip over themselves.
I can also use this watercolor journal/sketchbook to prompt new ideas in beadwork. I have been bitching lately that for a time, we weren't making anything new. Whose fault was that? Mine! I remember the snippet of a dream I had not long ago in which I clearly heard a voice say to me "if you want something new to create, dream it"
And so, I will!
Not that I need another reason to, but here's a good reason to plunge into this...
"...this safe haven of personal expression can become for you, if you let it, a source of relaxation. A ready breathing space in a busy way of life. Learn to do relaxation and breathing exercises before and after you draw not only so that you tap into the more intuitive side of your brain but that so that the discipline of drawing and the artistic pathway becomes a source of great personal pleasure. Your journal should never be a chore but something you look forward to as a little breather in the busy pace of life."

What do you do to be creative?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Almost Deleted and The History of Knitting In Canada At Least

You know, for a while there, I lost sight of why I blog. I didn't think anyone gave a good whoop about whether or not I blogged, but then someone very dear to me reminded me that if I was enjoying it, that's what mattered. So because I enjoy it, I'll carry on.
So, I can't chat too much about gardening and homesteading and living off the land too much in the winter. Around here, it's the season for knitting and crocheting. I don't crochet, although Betty and my mother keep trying to get me to pick up the hook. Once again over the next few months, I'll be knitting for the homeless. We have a soup kitchen in town, and I've been told they'll take all the scarves, mitts, socks and hats I can knit. So you'll be hearing a lot about all sorts of knitterly things over the coming weeks. One thing in particular has caught my attention, the history of knitting here in Canada. We have a few American friends that tease us about living with polar bears, all in good fun of course, but we tend to have a lot of winter in our corner of the north, so I figured there has to be a pretty extensive history of it, right? So I've begun to dig into it. Today I found an archived version of "Canada Knits:Craft and Comfort in A Northern Land", by Shirley Scott. It's fascinating stuff, believe me! Oh, here's some for you to read!

"Despite their excellent needlework skills native Canadians did not knit before Europe an contact. They worked with skins, grasses, and other animal and vege- table fibres; weaving, sewing, embroidering and ornamenting their clothing and
household objects with intricate skill. In fact, one of the reasons why the first intrusive Europeans were not more positively repelled was the native people's interest in the trade goods that the Europeans brought. Their fine metal sewing needles easily replaced the more awkward bone needles and were among the earliest and most prized trade goods.
Native Canadians did, however, have some skill in woolcraft. They made use of the wool of wild animals that was shed in spring and found caught up on twigs or blowing loose across the land. Inuit women today, for example, tuck bits of qtvtuq, the underdown of the musk ox, into their sealskin boots for added
warmth. We may safely assume that such an opportunity for warmer feet would
not have been neglected in past centuries. We know too that the hair of
domesticated dogs was used by Pacific Coast Indian tribes to make clothing and that these people also had spinning skills. Anthropologists tell us that the
Salish people, who have a rich textile tradition, were skillful blenders of dog hair, duck down, and vegetable fibres, which they twisted and spun into
yarns and wove into blankets. Some spinning whorls and blanket pins have
been found that are two thousand years old. The adeptness of native women at needlework, their skill in shaping garments, their love of ornamentation and
their eye for design meant that when they were finally introduced to knitting they seized upon it and became some of the most dedicated practitioners of the art. Knitting skills were passed on to many native people at the same time as religion and the other fundamentals of European culture . The missionaries saw the teaching of knitting as a means of avoiding idleness and of building
character rather than as a form of artistic expression. Nevertheless, the tools that they gave to native people were valuable indeed.
Canada ' s first kni t t e r s did not s t ay. The first Europeans to establish a
settlement in Canada were the Norse, who came from Scandinavia via Iceland
and landed at l'Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. They did not leave any actual knitting behind them. However, we do know that they worked with wool.
Excavators at the s i t e of l'Anse aux Meadows have uncovered a small number of artefacts that offer a glimpse of the woolcraft of these Norse colonists. A spindle whorl of soapstone, a small needle-hone of quartzite, and an elongated bone needle were found. All of these objects are indisputably Norse and were not known to the local native Canadians of the period. They were part of
a woman's tool kit. Socks and mittens were probably knit using the single-ne edle nalbtndnlng technique, a form of knitting that predates the two-needle method. The yarn used at l'Anse aux Meadows was probably wool, although the Norse occupants did not practice agriculture here as they did in their other colonies where sheep and cattle farming dominated the economy.
The settlement at l'Anse aux Meadows was short lived. Perhaps, as Birgitta Wallace suggests in The Norse Atlantic Saga, it was merely a stopover point for trading voyages. The journey south may have seemed too long, the season too short, and the goods no more exotic than those easily obtained from Europe. For whatever reason, the outpost was abandoned. and with it disappeared
the opportunity of leaving knitting knowledge behind.

The e a r l i e s t known knitted piece found in Canada did not come from
settlers at all but from seasonal workers who probably brought it with
them. It is a fragment of a knitted cap found at the late sixteenth century
Basque whaling site at Red Bay. Labrador. The Basque people harvested our
rich coastal waters for many years before the French and the English
established themselves here. but the Basques were economic opportunists, not empire builders. They were happy to return home when their work was done. Their most lasting legacy is the place names that remain on the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, not the art of knitting.
What an interesting glimpse me at least! What did you think?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Season of Seed Catalogues!

It's time for the much-anticipated arrival of seed catalogues here in the North, and in the spirit of sharing, I'd like to share a bit of how I decide where to buy, and where not to!

I like to shop locally if I can. Sometimes that means either my own region or at the very least, my own country. Not only has changed laws now made this nearly mandatory, but it makes more sense to me. Especially if I can find seeds guaranteed to grow in either my zone, or colder. This year, I've been lucky enough to find two seed companies that grow successfully in colder climates than mine, AND believe in non-GMO's! Yay! Heritage  Seeds and T&T Seeds, both in Manitoba. I can't wait to see how their seeds do next summer! No matter where you live, you'd be wise to buy as locally as you can. Please consider heritage types. They are worth the time, consideration and research. We lose an alarming number of plant species every year to hybrids, and the heritage types have colors, taste and shapes that no lab can reproduce reliably.

I made a list in the summer, and again in the autumn, and again just last week. I then compare this to how much space I'll have for growing, and how much work I'll be doing in a heat wave, or weeding  amidst mosquitoes. The seeds that make the cut are the ones I order.

This coming year, I'm going to attempt saving more than just pea seed. Starting small, and being realistic, I figure I'll probably move up to tomato, pepper, pumpkin and zucchini. If all goes well, I may not have to buy those seeds next winter.

Have you got your favorite seed catalogues yet? Who do you like to buy from? How do you decide what to buy and what to leave?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Food Efficiency

These days, it's easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of our goals. Around here, it's as easy for us as anyone else. Usually, this is signified by an upset in blog posts. When this happens, I flip through my "big binder of homesteading knowledge". It reminds me what I want to learn more about, my goals and where I'm headed. Today, I landed on a link I'd written down, with no explanation of why I was writing it down. It led to a very good article on improving efficiency by ten percent on the small farm. In it was a point on food waste that I'd like to share with you...

"According to the David Suzuki Foundation, close to half of all food produced worldwide is wasted; discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and kitchens. In the U.S. — and we can assume Canadian figures are similar — about $600 worth of food is tossed each year. Therefore, if we can prevent the waste of just five dollars’ worth of food each month, we will have reduced food waste by ten percent.
When buying in bulk consider how much food, teetering near its best before date your family can consume. Freezing extra meat is easy; freezing extra vegetables takes a little effort but what can be done with a case of on-the-verge-of-over ripe mangos? Mango jam? Mango themed party?
Plan ahead, work out your menu for a week and make a shopping list, say the experts. Also try not to shop when tired, hungry or fighting with your spouse, prime triggers for overspending and impulse purchases. Watch those “best before” dates. And know what’s in your fridge.
Wrap bread and baked goods well to keep them fresh but don’t choke the life out of produce with tight plastic wrap. It keeps the moisture in and condenses it into tiny drops of water that dampen and eventually decay the produce. Don’t wash fruit and veggies until just before you use them. Chopping, dicing and even de-stemming gives microorganisms a place to grow.
Organize your menu to eat the most perishable produce first. Berries before apples, fresh fruit and vegetables before frozen, etc.
Ethylene is a colourless, odourless, gaseous hormone that all fruits and veggies release. It hastens the ripening process. High emitters include apples, apricots, avocados, unripe bananas, cantaloupe, figs, honeydews, nectarines, peaches, plums and tomatoes.
On the other hand, ripe bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, kiwi, lettuce (and other leafy greens), parsley, peas, peppers, summer squash, sweet potatoes and water melon are ethylene sensitive. If you use your fridge’s two crispers to keep the emitters away from the ethylene sensitive, you’ll keep the ethylene sensitive in prime condition for a longer time.
Freeze bread crusts and stale cheese and use later for crumbs and sauces. Throw leftover wine into gravies and ripe fruits into smoothies. Make your own stock with leftover meats and vegetables. Make a weekly date to clean out the fridge. And, when you shop, remember that a bargain is not a bargain if half of it rots before you can eat it."
(Taken from

A very good reminder that we have all forgotten from time to time. Especially in this season of holidays and get-togethers.
What ideas do you have for being more efficient with food?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No Berries For Chickens

My most humble apologies for neglecting the blog for the past couple of weeks. I do have a very good reason though. I've been giving an old enterprise a shot of newness. Cee Cee Native Crafts. It's a family venture, we create native-style beadwork. But lately I've been envisioning all kinds of beadwork that incorporates gemstones. Wild colors, vibrant designs and exciting new designs! So....I sort of got carried away with myself. But!
I am here today to share with you my plan for brambles!
So I might have mentioned a few dozen times my plan for the garden for the summer of 2013... lol
A part of that plan is golden raspberries like these...

So according to "The Backyard Homestead" book, raspberry bushes like nitrogen. And they can produce year after year, if they're cut back in the fall and tended carefully. Hmm, this got me thinking, maybe I don't have to ignore the tired red ones already here. Now the plan is to try and rejuvenate the reds and plant goldens. If I can get more fruit from the reds, woohoo! If I get no more, oh well, I tried.
So, according to the book, I should have cut them back in late summer to ground level. But then it also says that in late fall, cut them back to 4-5 feet. Well, mine are not that big now. Taking the middle ground would tell me to cut them back to a foot then. See, these reds are scattered all over the property, they aren't in a nice bed, all orderly and controlled. But, I do want to cultivate the bunch down the property line. So I'm thinking, mulch those, stake the canes and mark with a piece of twine and posts so I know where I "babied" when the snow melts. In the spring, I'll take up the mulch, top dress with compost and see how they produce fruit. And then compete with the birds... and the bears.....
As I've said, I also want to plant a variety of golden raspberries, such as "Fall Gold". According to all the literature, it prefers drier soil, well, we sure have that! It likes partial sun, we have that, and medium nitrogen. I can do that.
The question is, where in the backyard should it go? I'm thinking the side of the yard that we have a neighbor on. Because the other side will eventually have chickens.
I'm looking into growing forage for my eventual-chickens, but it won't be raspberries!
No berries for chickens!

Stay warm!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Our Lives Are Not Our Own...

 “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present … and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
Cloud Atlas

Ponder on this. what do you think about it?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dark, Gentle, Harsh and Beautiful

Yesterday I was reminded of one of the benefits of living in the woods, or the "bush" as we Northerners refer to it. I was out picking ground hemlock (Taxus canadensis) with a couple of friends, we had found a beautiful patch, thick and dark and on even ground! (Hemlock seems to prefer slopes where one has to almost be a mountain goat to pick it) The weather was nice enough that we had shed our coats, it was sunny and I got two big bags picked! The only drawback was the radio that was blasting away. When I pick I prefer to hear nature, so that I can hear any unwelcome thumps, grunts or shuffling that might warn me of a bear or coyote. Both animals are prolific up here, and both have been sniffing around in broad daylight, so it's not unheard of. One of the friends I was picking hemlock with prefers to keep the music loud, and thereby scare off any curious animals bigger than a squirrel. I know her reasoning, and I respect it. So I put up with the loud music all day. At least it was country and not music that makes my skin itch and my teeth grind! All that being said, I had a great day. As I've said, I was pretty productive and I still had time to think.

There are so many people picking in this community that I worry there'll be no hemlock to pick next year. But I've seen quite a bit of hemlock over the last month, so the chance of there being none left is pretty slim. What's the attraction? Generally speaking, it's easy money for the amount of work one does. There's no one looking over your shoulder, you are responsible for how much time you put in, and you can work solo or with someone else, depending on your preference. You want to find branches that are no more than eighteen inches long and no bigger than a number two pencil. A harvester is paid .45 cents per pound, so the more hemlock one has, the more one is paid. The harvesters with trucks and ambition are better off than those of us who do not have trucks or ATV's. While I'd love to have an all terrain vehicle, it's not in the cards right now. So I pick what I can, and pack it out on my back and enjoy the birds while they're still here.

Yesterday, we were reminded of nature's dark side when we came across the remnants of a fox, reduced now to only scraps of fur and a skull. But that's Mother Nature for you. Kind and gentle one minute, and dark and harsh the next.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Catch Up and News!

I love autumn.
There's things to do that just can't be done any other time of year, the air smells different and there's an urgency that doesn't feel the same at any other time. The to-do lists are different, the days get shorter and you really need to watch your step on the back steps!
Here, our leaves have passed peak, we've had a couple of snows and more than a few frosts. We've harvested tomatoes, one of us ate peas fresh from the pod frequently, beets and we're pretty pleased with the showing of pumpkins. (We got 2!)We've made plans for crop rotation for next year, I've dug two more garden beds with hopes to get a couple more in yet, and we planted one bed with red clover as a green manure crop. I had plans to have 7 new garden beds dug, but a money making opportunity and weather worked against my plans. Oh well, modify and adapt, as Betty says. My to-do list has changed. Now is the time to weather-proof windows and doors. So the big picture window in the living room is on the agenda for today I think. Maybe even a couple of the basement windows. Next time we go to town I have to have measurements for two doors  and the windows in the craft room that need heavy plastic, since they'll be covered outside. Also on today's list is to start cleaning and organizing the pump room. Cleaning out the mud room comes after there is room in the pump room. This coming spring we'll be taking down the old mud room and building a newer, bigger, brighter and better one.

That money making venture I talked about? Picking hemlock. Quite a few people up here pick it and sell it to a neighbor, in turn, he sells it to a medical lab. Eastern hemlock is being used by many to treat cancer. So we were doing that whenever we could, and then the weather turned nasty. Which is why I didn't get more garden beds dug.

As if all that isn't enough, two days ago we got a new puppy!

His name is Harley and he is of "mixed heritage" Kind of sounds like a questionable tomato one has found in the garden, lol.
So, now you know why I've not been around much. With the cold and damp settled in though, and Harley, at least I'll be closer to home.
Are you getting ready for winter?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Huge Food Corporations Will Make Upcoming Food Price Hikes Even Worse

An interesting quote this morning from an article I read called, "How Huge Food Corporations will Make Upcoming Food Price Hikes Even Worse"
First the quote, then a link to the article if you're interested.
(And there's a print link if you're like me and prefer to read articles without all the flashing ads on the side)

"Nearly 90 percent of U.S. cropland is comprised of just four crops. This year, the USDA estimates [10] that the nearly 30 percent of U.S. cropland is planted in corn, 23 percent in soybeans, 18 percent in hay, and 17 percent in wheat. Of these, only wheat is significantly different from the others: it mostly goes to feed humans (not livestock), it is less affected by the drought [11] in the U.S., and the U.S. is not the world’s top producer (it’s fourth)."

Here's the link to the article. It's worth a careful read.
How Huge Food Corporations Will Make Upcoming Food Price Hikes Even Worse

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chop Your Wood And It Will Warm You Twice

I found this of interest this morning, and thought perhaps someone else might as well.
From "The Farmstead" book,

"The most common measure of firewood volume is the cord. A standard cord can be described as a well-stacked pile of logs, 4 feet high by 4 feet long by 8 feet long. Since few people burn wood in 4 or 8 foot lengths, most sales are a face cord - that is, a 4 by 8 foot face, cut into desired lengths. A face cord of 16" long pieces is really one third of a standard cord."

Later on in the same article, the author continues with this advice,
"Most wood species will not burn if freshly cut, so the wood you purchase should be reasonably dry, or "seasoned". The surest way of having dry wood is to purchase it several months prior to using it. Splitting logs hastens drying. Split logs or small round logs should be stacked  outside under a roof for 6-10 months before burning."

I remember many years ago, when I was a teenager, we burned wood here. There was one or two places I lived after I left home that we also burned wood. That old saying that "chop your wood and it will warm you twice" is accurate. I remember splitting wood being a lot of work, then stacking it, then bringing it indoors, and then finally clean up. Not to mention keeping the fire a reasonable size, minding the chimney, keeping the chimney clean, etc, etc. But all of that being side, besides the mice that inevitably got indoors, I enjoyed burning wood. It smelled good, it was good exercise, and it was relatively inexpensive. Wood is a renewable resource, if managed correctly. And if you're lucky enough to own a wood lot, it can be source of income for those industrious enough to eke out a living from it.

Have you ever burned wood in a fireplace or woodstove? Do you plan to do it at some point in the future? Tell me what you think about burning wood as a source of heat in the comments!

Coming up next, what wood burns best, wood stoves and their history and the future of burning wood.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Water, Precious Water

Turns out, the problem was two-fold. A bad pressure tank and a hole in the line leading from the well to the pump. Both issues are fixed. Thank you so much to all our friends. Everyone who put up with our whining, helped us get water from the spring, lent us water vessels, suggested and loaned family members to try and help fix the pump, those who went down the well, as well as those that were out in the rain this morning.
EVERY ONE OF YOU is an angel, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
And a SPECIAL thanks to those wonderful friends who let us shower and 
do our laundry at their house. YOU ROCK!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Tidbit About Aquifers

Did you know?
A hole dug into an aquifer will turn into a water well because the openings between the pieces of sand or gravel or shattered stone are so large that water molecules can easily flow.
The thickness of an aquifer from top to bottom varies with the nature of the earth. An aquifer can be only a few feet or inches thick, or it might be hundreds of feet thick. It might extend for miles without a break, like the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from Nebraska to Texas. This aquifer is as large as California and contains as much water as Lake Huron. The aquifer might only be pond-sized, or it might stop abruptly because of some prehistoric geological upheaval. Generally an aquifer follows the topography of the land. Where the land dips, the aquifer does likewise.

From "Wells And Septic Systems"
by Max and Charlotte Alth

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Tomatoes, Zucchini and Apples, Oh My!

Hello from the bush!

The other day was a very good tomato harvest day for us. They taste so sweet and such a nice colour! Wonderful in both the salad and the sandwiches we ate.

We were lucky enough this morning to be invited to a friend's orchard, to pick all we wanted. By my rough guess we picked somewhere around 10 pounds of apples. They were on the smallish side, but firm, very red, and did I mention free? Of course, we'll make him a couple of pies for all his help, with both the apples and some other things that are still "classified" as yet.

Another friend gave us a massive zucchini yesterday, there is zucchini relish in it's future! So tomorrow is all about fruit and veggie prep here.

Tuesday I think we'll go foraging in the bush.

What's new where you live?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Black Bean Soup and Bright Yellow Happiness

There's lots happening out our way lately, never a dull moment you know.
I've been knitting a little more lately and I'm happy to report that I've recently gotten a long-hibernating project finished! I started a very wide, bright yellow baby blanket as a bus project a few years ago. It got packed away when life got too busy, and then forgotten, and then found again as we were packing for our move. I've finished it, and I'm quite proud of it!

I've also started and finished the first hat in a series intended to be gifts to our local soup kitchen for Christmas. Because they will be given to the soup kitchen, and because I organize and chronicle all my projects on Ravelry, I've decided to name all the hats after soup! Corny? Maybe, but I like to have fun when I can. Here is "Black Bean Soup"

Now all I need to do is wash the blanket, and block it and it can be given to our community's newest expectant mother!

What have you been doing to stay busy?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Disappointment and Good News!

Today we harvested a bright orange, yummy looking tomato that we'd been watching slowly ripen. We anticipated each of us getting a slice, chins running with orangey, tomatoey goodness.
This was a new kind of tomato for us, "Golden Queen".
I couldn't wait!

With slightly shaking fingers I gently grasped the fruit, tugged it gently from it's green plant, and found;

Blossom end rot.

I can't tell you how many dirty words were uttered in the chipmunks' presence. But I'm sure I expanded his vocabulary.

I brought it inside and cut it open, and found this.

Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil. And the cause of many nasty, foul words uttered by a gardener. The soil PH can also contribute to the deficiency, so between this month and next spring, I'll be amending the soil. Surprisingly, we've only found one other tomato with this maddening issue.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and this is mine;

Our  "Small Sugar" pumpkin is almost 11" around!!

So I celebrated by toasting it with a glass of orange juice.

A lesson for the day, and hope.
What's new with you?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We Canadians have a reputation for being polite, Canadian  gardeners are both polite  and generous! K, over at My Old New House is having a dried bean giveaway, and who doesn't like beans that have interesting colours and stories?
Go check out her blog, won't you?

A Wriggle Fence Here, A Wattle Fence There...

Back in May of this year, I posted  about a style of fence I wanted to use here, the Wriggle Fence.
Well, at long last I've gotten off my butt and started  a fence, although not quite the one I wrote about. I was unsure how the cross-pieces were to be attached, and the video was of no help. So I did the next best thing and improvised. I'm quite happy with what we've gotten accomplished so far.

In time, this patch will hold a variety of herbs, as well as a young apple tree that resides there now, along with a mallow plant, I believe.

There's not a lot of fence so far, but enough that I think you can see some progress. The corners are solid, and in fact, you can stand on the branches we've woven in so far.

It won't be high enough to keep out deer, but when it's done, it will at least be a deterrent to the squirrels, rabbits and neighborhood dogs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No Soil, No Veggies

It's always been an interest of mine to see what other people do on their land, including design, functionality,  Then I come back and look at my piece. I used to get a little depressed about our gravel-laden, mossy, weedy yard. (That's it there to the left) Then I turned my thinking around to realize the potential it has. I certainly don't need to worry about drainage! I don't need to worry about putting a shovel into it and coming up with construction trash (like our last home). I can do whatever I want with our piece of land...mostly. Because the front yard is where the septic tanks and weeping field is, I'm going to plant most of our vegetables in the back. It's logical, larger and by growing crops in the back, I'm not tempting Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame).

My first issue to address in the back is the soil. As far as I know, there is only one way to grow anything in this soil, and that's to amend it. Many of you know I am a big fan of organic gardening and farming. Some of you know I believe whole heartedly in growing food and not grass. I know we have the potential here to grow a butt-ton of food, using a combination of square-foot and bio-intensive methods. But first things first, something has to be done with the soil.

We have two composters here on the property, and they get used, tended and mixed quite often. One of them had sat in the same location for a couple of years until just recently. When I moved it, I was happy to see that there was enough finished compost for me to use in a few spots around the yard. Those spots will be herb beds next year. (With what remains of this growing season, I will be focusing on building garden beds, growing herbs and lettuce indoors and of course, soil improvement.) The composter that I moved had a lot of wet items in it, what the composting gurus call "green" matter, but it wasn't real high in "brown" stuff. Before I confuse you, let me explain.

What you put into your composter has a lot of influence on  how quickly  the raw materials break down, as does the size of these items. If you fill your composter with only sticks and dry leaves, they're going to take longer to break down. The same can be said of vegetable trimmings. The trick is find the right ratio. The organisms that do the work in a composter need four things to work properly; carbon (this is where dry plant matter comes into play such as small broken up twigs, dry leaves and straw), nitrogen (in order to make new and more of the aforementioned organisms to oxidize that carbon), oxygen to help decomposition, and water (to help maintain organisms without giving too much moisture and creating a stinky situation). Now, if you remember that fresh, juicy, wet materials are usually "green", it gets easy to think of "green" compostables. Apple cores, grass cuttings, banana peels, feathers, manure, tea leaves, potato peelings, watermelon rind, coffee grounds and so on. All of these are high in nitrogen as well. Now the "brown" ingredients are easier to identify as well. Dry leaves, shredded corn stalks and cobs, wood chips, small sticks, grass cuttings that have dried on the lawn, peanut shells, straw, bedding from all kinds of animals from gerbils to horses ... you get the idea, right? Remember, the smaller the pieces you put in, the faster it will all break down. I've heard of a lot of people acquiring worms and dumping them into the compost pile. Proponents of vermiculture say there is only one kind of worms to use, and that's the red wiggler. I don't know this for sure myself, but I know that it's now possible to order them through the internet! Google is so useful...

So, compost is a key element of organic soil amendment. No matter how much I want to hurry it along, it takes time. Depending on the style of your composter and what you put in it, and how often it's mixed; it can take either months or weeks to get finished compost. Or so the experts say. I've never had compost in weeks. Apparently if one has a tumbler style composter (this one looks like a barrel with a handle), the drum can be rotated every week or so and therefore better mixed. There are composters that look like a drum that gets narrower at the top. I've never been able to see why this design is better than any other, but if you ever get the opportunity to go look at composters for sale, this may be the most common design. Another design is the three bin system, with each bin holding progressively more completed compost. I have never tried this style, but with six of us in the house, I am faced with the possibility of making a three bin system soon! I think design comes down to the preference of the person composting. What's more important is rebuilding the soil, and giving back to the planet instead of taking away.

So what's in your composter, you might be asking me... We eat a lot of fruit and veggies here, and the fresher the better. So we have a lot of vegetable trimmings. Potato peels, watermelon rind, cucumber trimmings, and beet ends Small twigs and dry leaves from my ongoing battle to not let the forest take back our property, dried straw, and coffee grounds. This week I'm hoping to acquire a source of goat and chicken manure that I can mix into the composter as well. Before you start wondering about the smell, let me assure you that if a composter is managed correctly, there is no smell. I had a 5 gallon bucket that I had put small holes into at my former home, an apartment, that I put all our kitchen waste into, as well as dried leaves and sticks and some small amounts of soil from a local ravine. (The soil came with the dried leaf matter on the shovel. I wasn't digging holes in the ravine, in case you wondered) As long as I was conscious of the ingredients of my bucket, and kept an eye on things, (or should that be nose?), and kicked the round bucket around the yard to mix it all up my neighbors never smelled a thing. In fact, many didn't believe me until I showed them the compost.

So, to wrap up, compost is the first step to any soil amendment, and definitely my starting point. It's not as overwhelming as it first seems when you break it all down. Pardon the pun. Plants are better off for the time and effort put into compost, the soil will be richer for it, and in the end, the vegetables grown with it will be all the healthier for it.
Do you have a composter? If you do, what style do you have? Is it a barrel or three bin system? What do you put into yours? If you don't have a composter right now, is this something you plan on doing?
Let me know in the comments section; I love learning what everyone else is doing!

Friday, August 10, 2012

An Award !! award? Me? Shucks....

Many thanks to Jacqueline of Blether fame for it. Oh? It comes with rules? Oh...
Here are the rules as she explained them:

1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
4. Create 11 questions for the people you've tagged to answer.
                                            5. Go to their page and tell them.
                                            6. Remember, no tag backs!

Here are the questions she has given for me to answer:

1. Why?
Why not? Ok, seriously, to grow into a better person. I hope.

2. You have the power! The superpower! What power is it?
The ability to tell when others are lying.

3. Are you Clark Kent, Magneto, or Wesley from The Princess Bride? Or are you Lois Lane, Cat Woman, or Princess Buttercup?
Cat Woman. Slightly unbalanced, but in an interesting way.

4. You dream of the past, I know you do, what would be your perfect era?
Hmm. Toughie. Either steampunk (beginning of the tech age) or the 1800's.
Both are fascinating.

5. What have you listened to most recently?
Birds, squirrels and my family.

6. In what medium do you best express yourself?
The written word.

7. For 24 hours you may change the world to suit yourself; in what way would you change it?
I would do away with war, killing, poverty and hunger. Everyone would have a home, food and basic needs. Oh, and a job if they wanted it.

8. What comforts you?
Love, a peaceful home, a warm blanket and smiles.

9. You are locked inside a white room, do you try to escape or do you grab crayons and/or paint and use the room as a blank canvas?
I'll take crayons, markers, paint, anything that will allow me to color that room.

10. How difficult is it for you to say no?

11. You are at peace with yourself; how do you show others how to achieve that peace?
By appealing to their sense of maturity, logic and teaching them how to tune out our "inner babble"

So now it's my turn to nominate some of my favorite bloggers. No tagbacks, damn.

Stephanie the Yarn Harlot
Paula, from Weeding For Godot
CD at Canadian Doomer
Liz at Darwin Hills Farm
Gaye at Backdoor Survival
CallieK at Backyard Farms
FarmGal at Just Another Day On The Farm
Jarhead Survivor, RangerMan and Calamity Jane over at SHTF Blog
Todd at the Prepper Website
Bernie at The Apartment Prepper
BadVoodoo at The Retreat

Now to try and provide questions for all you fine folks, no promise there'll be 11 though.

1) What prompted you to start and maintain a blog?
2) What makes you smile?
3) What is your favorite season of the year?
4) Zombies are coming! What's the first thing you do?
5) Are you a tea or coffee kind of person?
6) What hobbies do you have, if any?
7) Do you watch television or read books predominantly?
8) Would you classify yourself as a deep thinker?
9) If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
10) What do you think is the healthiest habit one can have?
11) If society were to go BOOM tomorrow, what would you miss the most?

Hmm, that was easier than I thought.
Back to the outdoor chores!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Productivity and A Spring

Today was a busy day for me. Today's highlight was burning some of the brush that the boys helped me cut down over the past week.

Of course, every time I added a branch, the wind would pick up. So I took it slow and got a little brush burned, as well as a few more boxes. So over the course of the day I got 6 boxes unpacked, burned a few as well as the aforementioned brush, sorted and repacked two boxes of kitchen stuff which then went out to the shed.

Got some things sorted out in our bedroom as well as a couple of things hung up. Checked on my meager growing things, and I'm happy to report the pumpkin is still growing.

We all took a ride out to the spring this afternoon where Betty took some pictures, which I then put up on Facebook, and will be sharing over time, with you all here.

That spring water sure is cold, but man is it good! It's great to wash one's hair in too!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Lesson From Five Acres and Independence

This is interesting advice from a book written in 1935, "Five Acres And Independence" by M.G. Kains, B.S.,M.S., on how to tell if your soil is poor or healthy just by looking at what trees and weeds grow on it.

"Beech, sugar maple, hickory, black walnut and white oak trees of large size and positive thriftiness indicate rich land; white pine, scrub oak and scrawny trees of most species are typical of poor land; extra thrifty willows, poplars and alder and elder bushes suggest too much water and probable need of drainage.
Weeds however, are more often telltales than are trees and bushes because they follow cultivation, whereas large trees precede it. It is not necessary to identify species, although this is desirable. What does count is the character of growth made by the weeds actually present. Lush, sturdy very dark green, leafy growths indicate that the plants are well-fed, especially with nitrogenous compounds, but if the growth is pale, sickly colored, scrawny and apparently eking out a miserable existence the land is certainly not rich."

He continues by saying,
"Ox-eye daisy, wild carrot and mullein in abundance and poorly developed indicate lack of humus as well as fertility and prove that the land has been badly mismanaged, for these plants cannot stand neither rich soil or rational tillage."

For me, this was both interesting and disappointing.
Guess what's in the backyard where I want to grow?
Mullein, scrubby trees, pale stringy weeds and moss.

I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Chevy's Icicle Pickles

I'm pleased and proud as punch to report that we spent a bit of the morning canning! We've now got eight jars of Chevy's Icicle Pickles. So far, they've all set as they should (I love hearing those lids ping!) and they should taste delicious if the last batch made with this recipe is any indicator! Yes, that's them to the left.
Here's the recipe.

Makes 5 500 ml jars

Approx. 12 pickling cucumbers
6 med size onions, sliced and cut into pieces. OPTIONAL

Pickling liquid:
3 cups granulated sugar
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup pickling salt
5 cloves garlic
5-6 heads fresh dill or 10 tsp. dill seed

* Fill boiling water canner with water. Place 5 clean pint (500 ml) mason jars in canner over high heat.

* Wash cucumbers. Remove blossom ends, at least 1/16th of an inch of all cucumbers. Cut the cucumbers into 1/4" spears, set aside.

* Place Snap Lids into boiling water, boil 5 minutes to soften sealing compound.

* Combine sugar, vinegar, water and pickling salt in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan, bring to a boil. At this time, you may wish to add onion pieces.

* Place 1 clove garlic and 1 head fresh dill (or 2 tsp. dill seed in a hot jar. Pack cucumber and onion (if desired) to within 3/4' of the top rim. Add pickling liquid to cover cucumbers to within 1/2" of top rim. Remove air bubbles by sliding a rubber spatula between glass and food, readjust head space to 1/2". Wipe jar with a clean, damp cloth, removing any stickiness. Center Snap Lid on jar, apply screw ring/band just until fingertip tight. Place jar in canner. Repeat for remaining cucumbers, onions, garlic, dill and pickling liquid.

* Cover canner, return water to a boil, let boil for 15 minutes. Remove jars and let cool. Check jar seals after cooling. Sealed lids curve inward and should not bounce back when pressed lightly. Wipe jars, label with contents and date, and store in a cool, dark place.


Well talk about frustration! I had started a handful of lettuce seeds last week, they sprouted fine and so they went in the cold frame where I harvested the beets. I had been checking on them every day. Yesterday there were four sprouts left and this morning there is only one. One! I have no clear suspect, but I know it's none of the rabbits, they can't get into it. Our first suspect of the day is the resident chipmunk. The cold frame is built with 2X4's, so we're wondering if he's been climbing down those and into the frame. All of my onions seedlings are gone too. Do chipmunks eat lettuce and onions?
Clearly, I'll need to start again and start making wire sides for the garden beds that are already here.
Little punks... First squirrels now chipmunks!
Good thing he's cute...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere...How Do We Get It Inside?

I'm pleased as all get out to report that the pump is fixed and seems to be running well. It took our kind friend and neighbor 4 hours to fix it, after installing new parts, priming the pump a million times, finding air in the lines, priming, cutting, going down the well to check something down there...
You get the idea.
At any rate, the poor guy dedicated his entire afternoon to our pump and was subjected to rounds of hugs from all the women here after declaring the pump working. Yes, I hugged him as well. We made a point of asking what his favorite baked good was and I've promised that I would deliver it to his house personally.
And I will too.

So this water crisis has had me thinking a lot about water. How important it is and how much we take it for granted. Now, our problem was not a lack of water exactly, but a lack of usable water inside the house. So, I was grateful for the rain barrel. Until I looked in it and found so little water that I had to tilt the barrel to get any water to wash dishes in this morning.
Uh oh...

We'd been using water from the watering hole in the back to flush with, since it didn't need to be clean enough to drink. The water barrel had the water to do dishes with, which required a lot of hauling in from outdoors and boiling, and we traveled to a spring for drinking water. The system wasn't perfect but it was better than nothing. On the slightly more personal side of things...I don't recommend waiting to "make solid waste", so to speak. Waiting is not good for a body. Anyway, all of this has gotten me thinking about water. Did you know that for the kidneys to eliminate waste products effectively, the average person needs to drink enough water so that she or he urinates at least one pint each day? (When water is not limited, most people drink enough to urinate 2 pints. Additional water is lost in perspiration, exhaled breath, and excrement.) Under cool conditions, a person could survive for weeks on 3 pints of water a day if he eats little food and if that food is low in protein. Cool conditions, however, would be the exception in crowded below ground shelters occupied for many days. Under such circumstances, four or five quarts of drinking water per day are essential in very hot weather, with none allowed for
washing. (Thanks to the unknown author of the Water Procurement and Treatment PDF for that info.)

I was trying to hold back on drinking water or coffee while we were without a pump. Just thinking about a big cold glass of water made me feel guilty. If you ever find yourself in a tight place for water, keep drinking as much as you can. You can drink during the day and still get dehydrated you know.

I also recommend re-prioritizing your job list if you ever find yourself without water for a short period of time. Yard work especially will make you sweat and you'll be thirsty. All that sweating will not only make you feel slimy and nasty but yes, you'll smell bad too. So save the yard work for when you have water. Later on, you'll be glad you did.
Also, try and learn as much as you can about your water pump and/or well now, BEFORE something happens. Do you know how to prime it? Do you know how it works? Can you get a backup water pump even? I have spent the past week wishing we had a backup pump. I tried to learn how to prime it the other day, but after watching a strong guy almost burst a kidney on loosening off what needed loosening, just to PRIME it...I knew I was out of my league. So learn what you can while you are NOT in a state of emergency. You'll be better off for it. And look less like a dork if you need to bring in help.

My final piece of advice if you are ever in a water-down situation... this too shall pass.
You WILL get water again. I promise.
In the meantime, consider storing drinking water.
More on that tomorrow.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Gibbs-smack From The Universe

It's funny how the Universe will slap us upside the head sometimes to reset our priorities. Wether we listen though... that's up to us.  I swore this recent move wouldn't be done hastily and haphazardly, everything would go smoothly.
There things left behind, the truck was too small, but I couldn't afford a bigger truck. Without going into all the details, let's just say I wasn't happy with the way the move went. But I was damn glad when it was over. For a couple of days I bitched and moaned about it.
And then the water taps spit air....

We thought we were out of water. When Dad and I opened the lid, there was water. A neighbor came over and lowered his ladder down and took a peek. (It's only a shallow well.) We had water, and good flow, so it wasn't that. So the same neighbor went downstairs to the pump and gave that a once over. He did whatever he did, and came up scratching his head. He was stumped, he said, he couldn't figure out why we weren't getting water. Then we hired someone to come and dredge the well. Even they said we had good flow. We got one load of laundry done, and one shower in and then...air again.
First one thing was tried, then another and the neighbor came over again. He started the pump again, I watched carefully so that I might learn how to prime it, since it's next to impossible for Dad. He's not a contortionist, and I felt frustrated that I couldn't do anything. All through this experience, I still hadn't learned the lesson the Universe was trying to teach me. I did learn about the pressure switch, where the points are, I learned too that we don't need a check valve on the pump in the basement, I learned it was installed stupidly and in a bad corner and that only a small strong man can take it apart in three places to prime it. With a torch.

So the pump was primed, the neighbor left for Manitoulin Island and we celebrated having water. I even sent the youngest son in for a shower.
He came out saying there was no water.
So now we are making trips to a local spring to get water suitable for drinking and using what's in the water barrel outside for washing of dishes. Yes, after it's boiled. Super-Neighbor is supposed to be back on Sunday (tomorrow) and replacement parts for something on the pump down in well have been purchased.

This morning I was the first one up, not counting Dad at 4 am because he made coffee and went back to bed, and I was sitting outside with my sweater and coffee when it hit me...
This is the Universe teaching me to let go of the "stuff" in my life and focus on what's important.
Like running water.
Like showers and clean clothes.
I sat there letting the lesson sink in with the rising sun, humbled by how stupid I've been.
Regardless, today the family and I, minus the parental units because they aren't spring chickens anymore, bushwhacked a path back to the spring that I remembered from 12 years ago. It's just at the back of the property, we just needed to get to it. It was an enjoyable way to get the kids out of doors, and they were each given a job they liked. I was a little disappointed to find not a spring, but a small waterhole. Stagnant water was not what I was hoping for.
But on the bright side, it's enough to flush the toilet with, so I wasn't complaining! And as an added bonus, I made acquaintance with a small green frog.

Of course, all of us here are glued to the Olympics. None of us here are very spry to be sporting, but we do enjoy the world stage for others to compete. Are you following the Olympics? Who are you rooting for?

So, I would say that all in all, it wasn't too bad a day...I suppose. It could have been worse.
It can always get worse, and this too shall pass.

(Btw, for anyone wondering...The Gibbs-smack in the title is a nod to Leroy Jethro Gibbs, of NCIS fame)

Monday, July 23, 2012

We're Not So Urban Anymore

I'm very pleased to report we all made it safe and sound! We're now Northerners! This isn't the first time for me, or the 16 yr old, but for the rest of the family, this is new. I'm relieved that everyone seems to be settling in well. The youngest has even expanded his palette of acceptable foods! The dog also seems to have found himself.  He's become quite the explorer, if only of his own yard.
We made crabapple jelly today, albeit a very, very small batch. But we learned some things and it apparently turned out tasty, so it was not a complete waste of time. First thing I learned; ignore the recipe when it tells you to put the jelly juice on to boil before the jars. Get the jars warming first, otherwise the jelly is ready before the jars. Bad. Also learned; no matter how often you think you have enough, it isn't. Keep picking. But above all, look for the beauty in your day. Today it was in a sunbeam through a full jar of crabapple jelly. Can't wait to make more!

There's a lot of work to do here, but I expected that. There's garden beds to lay out and make. Lots of space to do that in though. There's a few piles of junk that can be sorted through, reclaimed and re-purposed. The composter needs to be emptied, repaired and moved. There's lots of weeding, lots of trimming and bush-whacking to do. It seems as if the woods have been pretty determined over the past 12 years to take back the yard. I shall prevail. I have to learn about pumps since the one we have is like a cranky old man determined to ruin everyone's day. I don't think it's big enough, but then again, I doubt I'm qualified enough to have an opinion. It seems all we ever do is cook and do dishes.  You would think that at some point we'd get ahead of it, but no.
I have visited a website once or twice that's written by Amish women (I think), and they share recipes they've enjoyed when they've cooked for crowds of 15 or 20. I think perhaps it's time to revisit that website! I need to re-learn how to cook for a crowd!

So in the spirit of Sharon Astyk's Independence Days Challenge:

Plant something: not yet, but tomorrow is peas, mesclun and lettuce
Harvest something: beets the other day
Preserve something: made crabapple jelly today
Waste not: well, nothing to report there I'm afraid

Not much else to report for this week. It's been so hot that just thinking about working outdoors has made me break into a sweat!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Sorry for the blog silence, my friends, but there is only 3 days left till my big move and still so much to do. My family went ahead and I'm pleased to report they've arrived safe and sound and have feasted.
As long as I have any sanity left  by Wednesday evening, we'll all be reunited.

I wouldn't turn away any prayers for a smooth second leg!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Good Yeast
Boil a handful of hops in 3 pints of water; add 3 mashed boiled potatoes; strain, and mix with a cupful of flour; set aside to cool, and then add a tea-spoonful of sugar, and bottle up for use. A more permanent ferment is made by boiling a quantity of wheat-bran and hops in water; the decoction is not long in fermenting, and when this has taken place, throw in a sufficient portion of bran to form the whole into a thick paste, which work into balls, and afterward dry by a slow heat. When wanted for use, they are broken, and boiling water is poured upon them; having stood a proper time, the fluid is decanted, and in a fit state for leavening bread. 
[Maine Farmer's Almanac, 1852]

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

From The Five Principals Of Preparedness

Self-Reliance is, in its simplest form, being able to create or provide all needed things as the result of labor using a developed skill or talent and being able to provide resources as a result of a judicious practice of storing needful things. Therefore, becoming Self-Reliant is the actual process of developing skills and talents while putting away resources.

Phil Burns, American Prepper Network

Monday, July 02, 2012

Eating and Planning On Real Food

My post on "E" has been delayed over and over again, and for that, I apologize.

Those of you who read here regularly may be aware we'll be getting chickens next spring. The goal is to get as many of our own eggs as possible. This has led us on an interesting adventure of comparing coop designs, breeds, free range vs. penned and so on. We've tossed the idea at the boys that perhaps they may want to sell some of the extras, but considering they're city kids, we'll see. But all that got me thinking, at what point do we decided what is extra? All of us eat a lot of eggs, never mind what goes into baking. Do we eat and use whatever we want and then sell the eggs that are left over? Which then begs the question, how long do we wait to determine what is extra? 2 days? 4? How long is an egg fresh? All of this will also determine how many birds we get. 15 have been suggested but I'm new to chickens, and I don't want to get over my head right away. It's one thing to say we'll get 15 birds, but another to build a brooder for and keep 15 little fuzzy peepers alive. So I'm thinking 12. Crawl before we walk and all that.

One of the elements to my plan is to be more proactive with our health. Part of that involves growing our own echinacea. Some of you may know that echinacea is commonly known as coneflower. Many say this plant can shorten the recovery time from the common cold and flu. Others say that the herb can relieve urinary tract infections. I know through personal experiences that instead of suffering 7 days with a cold, I felt less miserable and more able to cope when I was taking echinacea tablets. I can only imagine how much better I would have felt if I had been drinking homegrown echinacea tea. I'm looking forward to growing some next year.

Another part of my plan involves building elevated garden beds instead of growing in traditional rows. There are a few reasons for this. I'm a big fan of intensive planting, which involves planting seeds or seedlings closer than most seed packets recommend. It doesn't harm the plants, increases yields, reduces exposed soil and erosion, cuts down on potential pest problems and makes more sense on smaller lots such as we have. As a side benefit, I'll be able to implement a crop rotation plan, which I've written about before in the blog. Elevated beds are of more benefit to the small scale homesteader than traditional rows, and are worth the effort.

So that's just a few thoughts on what's to come. Next time on the blog, adapting in place.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Environment and A Grand Plan

As I ponder my next alphabetical installment of "E", and pack my life away, I've been pondering the concept of environment. Not just my environment that is about to radically change. Not just the environment that houses species screaming toward extinction, not just the broken and bleeding  concept that keeps all of us alive, but our own personal environments too. In a conversation with a customer the other day, I shared my opinion that children are as much a by-product of their environment as they as they are by their genetics. I won't bore you with the whole conversation, but I was still mulling it over long after she left the store.

I am comfortable with the thought that children are shaped by their environment. Both the larger one and the one in which they're raised. I see evidence of this every day in our three sons. One is very much like his father, his mannerisms, his reaction to stress and even how he chews his nails! I find this interesting because this son spends no time with his father, only seeing him for about a half hour perhaps once a year when his father takes the time. This son has not had steady exposure to his father since he was four, and he's now sixteen (ack!) So did his formative years install all those similar personality traits, or are they genetic? Was there a tradeoff  between babbling when stressed and a  receding hairline? (If there was, son should be glad he got my hair!)
The youngest son is an interesting mixture of me, which can be seen in build, facial features and hair, and his eldest brother. The step-brother, in which there is no DNA shared. To look at our youngest is to see our eldest. In personality, in mannerisms, reaction to stress, joy and happiness, pain and  uncomfortable situations. In this example, I point to one's environment shaping the person. In our case, this has turned out to be a good thing.
But what about those people that go on to better themselves above their "lot in life", as it were? The children that go on to be astrophysicists from a farming background?  The politicians of old who went on to become presidents that were born to extremely poor parents? These people exceeded their environments while carrying their genetics with them. What makes these people tick? Do they have more determination than the rest of us? Are their goals clearer to them? Are they harder workers? I've often wondered what the difference was between myself and the famous actress who is only 9 months older than me. Besides the fact that she hails from a small-ish island. Her parents were no more rich than mine. She too was once a single mum. But her name is a household name, her face instantly recognizable, her voice too. I'm not complaining, merely pointing out that she and I are not that dis-similar.

Is there some grand plan somewhere that determines these things? Without getting too far into matters of faith, I believe we each have a role to play that helps shape the bigger picture, even if we don't know it at the time. Did Abraham Lincoln's mother know she would give birth to one of history's most influential and doomed figures? Likely not. All we can do is the best we can and hope it all turns out for the best.

But at the same time, we also have to keep in mind how the bigger environment fits into our own environments. The big one, the one that sees the loss of millions of trees each year, the one that is cracked and bleeding species, that one needs our help. We've messed it up in the race for convenience, for less work and for comfort. Our "normal" has changed, and it's our own faults. All of us, for the last  three generations. After WW2, the people of North America enjoyed a glut of cheap, easy and time-saving devices. Even was I was a child, we fluctuated between comfort and hard scrabble. I remember sunday drives that went nowhere, but they were fun. We'd have breakfast, pick a direction and drive till the parents decided it was time to go home. Or we would drive to see the Grandparents, or we would drive to see the countryside and count horses. Even then I thought it was fun, and I dearly wish I could do the same for my own children now. Having no vehicle and stupid-high fuel prices are two big reasons why I can't pass on that tradition. I remember camping too, and in time, this one tradition I can pass on.  Although in a different way. I remember sleeping in a tipi, I remember sleeping under a van at a rodeo and waking up to the smell of bacon cooking somewhere. I remember the pop-up tent trailer. I remember the old VW van with hammocks for my brother and I. I remember the tent that seemed  to need 5 people to put up with the crinkly floor. But then, camping season was clearly delineated. Spring, summer, fall and winter had distinguishing earmarks and one did not bleed over into the other. These days, we have mild weeks in March that  drives some people to plant weeks too early, summers that bring frost to kill apple blossoms and wipe out 85% of a province's apple farmers, and sometimes we seem to miss winter's bite entirely. Gone are the cold snaps  and 10 feet high snowbanks from my childhood. Our new normal is not normal at all.

Parents abandoning their babies in the middle of winter on concrete stairways, polar bears unable to find ice-floes to rest on, warm winters, normal people turning into face-eating zombie druggies, fuel prices insanely prohibitive, food that has next to no nutritional value, our own leaders making backroom deals to fatten their pockets at the expense of their neighbors, hurricanes in January wildfires that rage and decimate everything in their path, taxes that will eventually eliminate the former middle-class into poverty, an increasing number of people that cannot afford what I took for granted as a child ... this is our new normal, and it sucks. This is not what our children deserve. We can do better than this, as parents, as people and as stewards of the planet that's been loaned to us.

Time to get off our asses and start correcting our mistakes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What If It Doesn't Happen? What If It Does?

This morning, I'd like to share something important to me with all of you. Even though I'm a writer, I could not have expressed this as eloquently as Gaye does over at Backdoor Survival. Please read this carefully, and all the way through. As you do, I ask you to think of the wildfires in Timmins, Colorado, California and all over the country. Think of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Think of all of the communities that have been wiped out by floods and hurricanes, think of the families who have no choice but to go to the food banks to feed their kids. Think of the rising unemployment numbers and how that translates to re-claimed homes or vehicles. Think of all these while you read with an open mind.
Thanks go to Gaye for making this letter available to share with all of you.

An Open Letter to Family & Friends
I’m writing this letter because I care about you. Please take a few minutes to read it and think about what I’m saying.

Why the Letter?

Our lives are crazy. We take care of our family, work, eat, play chauffer, pay the bills, etc. When we have a little bit of free time, we like to just veg in front of the TV and watch some brain numbing pictures flicker across the screen. We can go at it like this for days, weeks and even months, not knowing what is going on in the world outside our local community and just getting by with the talk around the water cooler.
And when we take life in these little chunks, separate blocks of our time and attention, it seems a little bit more manageable. We move from one task, event, errand, chore to the other.
The problem is when we look at our lives from a big picture perspective. What if our lives all of the sudden changed? What if the stress of the day came bearing down at you all at once? How could this happen? This can easily happen during an emergency. I’m not talking about your son just stuffed his GI Joe down the toilet, or the dog is out of food emergency. I’m talking about the BIG stuff.
The Big Emergency
The BIG emergency is the one that stops you in your tracks. It can be personal, based in your local community or worldwide. But it is the one that everything else stops and all resources and energy are put towards it.
The problem is that most people are not prepared for the BIG one.
Are you and your family most people? Do you have an emergency fund for financial emergencies? Do you have insurance for medical emergencies? Do you have food and water if there is a food supply/transportation emergency? Do you have other means of cooking and preparing your food if utilities weren’t available? Do you have first aid supplies and extra medicine on hand? Do you have basic skills that could help you: fire starting, water purification, gardening, first aid, etc.?
This is the whole reason for my letter. I want to help you see the importance of being prepared and to start being more self-reliant. It’s not too hard, but it does take time, planning and effort. But then again, what would the time, planning and effort that you put in ahead of time be worth in the middle of an emergency? You’ll be glad you did!

Action Steps
  1. Make a plan – What are you preparing for? What needs to be done? Don’t look at the magnitude of the plan, that can be overwhelming. Take it in chunks. In reality, you will never be “prepared.” You can be “not prepared” or “overly prepared,” but never “perfectly prepared.” Consider the basics: financial, medical, etc. but also keep in mind your region of the country; hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires, etc.
  • Set goals – When do you want _____ accomplished?
    1. Get a 3 day supply of food. Then move to a 3 week supply.
    2. Revisit insurance: house, vehicle, medical, life, etc.
    3. Start an emergency fund – 3-6 months of expenses
    4. Start a garden
    5. Take a class: first-aid, sewing, gardening, firearm, wilderness survival
    6. Watch some videos on YouTube (search preparedness)
    7. Read blogs and articles on “preparedness” and “prepping”
    8. Get active – go meet your goals!
The world of preparedness/prepping can be an addictive one. It can suck you in, mess with your emotions and get you seeing the world in the fragile states that it is in. It is always best to approach preparedness within community. You should go it alone only if no one else is willing. Eventually, they will realize that you were right, even if that is in the midst of a storm.
It is not in the scope of this letter to discuss all the possible emergency scenarios that you should prepare for. But outside of regional, natural disasters, it is important to me to briefly mention our global situation. Things outside our local community have gone from bad to worse! At first, we might not care about what is going on in some Asian or European country, but the fact is that we are ALL tied into each other now. What happens over there, affects us over here.
There are many “End of the World as We Know It” type scenarios out there. One such scenario is an economic collapse. Someone recently replied to me and said, “Yes, times can get hard, but we have been through it before during the Great Depression.” The fact is that it is way different this time. Our country didn’t have the debt that we have now. And, if for some reason the world loses faith in our government’s ability to pay its debts, we are up the creek. It really isn’t too far-fetched to imagine this happening if you’ll look into it. The concern has gone beyond the foil hat people. Just research it!
Do Something
Please take this letter seriously. If you prepare and don’t need it, the worst is that you have some food (food costs are going up/buy now at cheaper prices) and other supplies. But if you ever find you are in a position that you do need it, you and your loved ones will be glad you were prepared!

For more information, visit Backdoor Survival