Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Dwell in Possibilites

I dwell in possibilites... I love this idea. It is not just an easy play on the simpler notion of hope. It seems concrete. It means that you can accept that anything is possible.

In this vein it has finally arrived...that moment when what I hoped would be a balanced life that allows me to live on my land, work enough to avert financial disaster and provide some security in the form of, if not fully realized at least implemented, savings.

Crunching numbers week after week I have been trying to figure out how to manage on less money than I currently have coming in. Spousal support ends in June and I have needed to find some more work. I will be working one more day a week starting in 2 weeks. I will have caught up on all my bills by the end of June and (goddess willing) I will actually have some money in the bank. Furthermore, I should actually be able to keep banking a at least 15% of my monthly income into two important funds...House and Car.

This is my grand realization. I have this land and it can provide a vast amount of food to us if I have enough time to give it. I just need to have some money set aside for the inevitable rainy days.  From the outside our situation can still seem a little tenuous. But given where I was a year ago with no job, no savings and the panic that comes late at night at the direness of the situation..we are doing SO much better.

The possibilities are endless...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On food, balance and mushrooms

The following is my homework this week. How cool is it to take a class that asks you to think about goals to establish around food?

I have been thinking a lot about food lately. As a homesteader food is primarily what encompasses most of the work I do on the homestead. I was a stay at home mom. I grew a 600 square foot garden, boiled maple sap down, grew meat birds and layers, chased sheep,canned, pickled and dried, collected wild edibles and herbs, made our own medicinals  such as salves, syrups and teas, baked our own bread, made our own yogurt, made mozzarella cheese, made fruit and flower wines, made granola and every meal was from scratch. It was a full time job. I loved standing in my cold room every fall to see just how much food I had produced and preserved. 
    My  life has been in transition over the last year as my partner and I divorced and I returned to work, school and my youngest was no longer homeschooled. Because of these changes last years growing/ preserving season was not what it needed to be. The energy was just not there as I was trying to adjust to our changed circumstances. As a result the changes in our diet were apparent. Many things that I used to make from scratch were purchased. My son started eating school lunch. The amount of time I needed seemed to be a scarce commodity . The amount of money I spend on food for a family of three is considerably more than I used to spend for a family of four. A lot of this food is not as local as it used to be or wholesome.
     It is now a year later and I feel as though I am nearing the point of finding the balance I need between home, work and school. I will be working 4 days a week. This gives me 2 days during the middle of the week to work in the garden and take care of food stuffs. Sundays are a day of rest. I may also be doing a work share for a local farmer which will supplement the food I grow. This is what I know, the more I do for myself the less money I need. In terms of food this also means better quality and more local. One of my goals this year is to return to a level of food self-sufficiency that  I used to have but with some important changes. 
     First, I hope to grow a number of crops that do not need a lot of effort to process. I used to spend so much time at the canner. I will be growing a fair amount of winter squash this year. I also will be growing a fair about of brassicas. Kale can be extended into December. Cabbage can be made into kraut and brussel sprouts are easy to freeze and can also be harvested well into the fall. I will be growing a fair number of root crops as well.I like these because they can be successively planted, easy to store, and can stay in the ground later in the season. I used to have an electric dehydrator. It pooped out and I have been thinking about alternatives to it for a while. I have a crawl space that gets REALLY hot in the summer. I think I could easily construct some drying racks and stick some stuff in the crawl space. I am starting shitake mushrooms this year. I love that they do not require a lot of work and can easily be processed by dehydration.
     Second, I am planning to grow two small batches of meat birds this year. This spring I purchased a meat/ layer bird package from Murray Mcmurray. They arrive the end of May. The first batch of meat birds will be ready for butchering by the time my little guy gets out of school. The second batch I will start in the fall for the winter freezer. This would be the first time I have done this in the spring. It would provide some needed protein in the summer when my work hours may be cut and my little guy will be home from school.
     Third, I find that I have found my kitchen mojo again. I am baking bread while I am cooking dinner. I am planning batch cooking recipes that I can have for quick meals after a long day at work or to take to work for lunch. I want to continue to do this so that it becomes habit and will easily adapt to any further changes that come into our lives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I'm gonna Soap Box!

Grr...I just had a job interview. It was actually a job I would love to do.  I probably could have it if I wanted it.  But as is the trend these days it is only part-time and it pays 8.00 an hour. But part-time is 4 days a week and it would be mostly weekends. There is so much about the job that would be great. It is in a greenhouse, the people that run the business seem pleasant. I could be outside.

I would be working more hours for less money than my current part-time job.

There isn't a lot of flexibility to make both schedules work without either working 7 days a week and paying for childcare and having NO time with my little guy.  Really??

I understand businesses needing to make a profit. I understand about not giving a new employee pay equal to other folks that have been there longer. But really? How about enough that I could pay for the childcare and gas needed to get to this job with..oh ..I dont' know some money left over to buy food.

If only this were an isolated incidence. But I know it isn't.  When employers do not pay a fair wage they are receiving a backdoor subsidy by tax payers who end up paying higher taxes for the social services that I receive.

There's my rant for the day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Isn't this a funny word? In one respect it can mean that something is in equilibrium and in another respect is can can be easily thrown out of whack.  It doesn't feel solid to me; a tipping of scales in essence puts one out of balance. And then there is the holy grail...trying to find balance.

I feel like I am always trying to find balance. In my mind this is a threefold goal of having enough employment to keep, if not grandiose, then sufficient amount of money coming in. Balance means having enough time to spend with my little guy. The third thing is finding the time an energy for my own pursuits.

In terms of employment, I guess I would like to call this occupation. Occupation for me is the time I fill doing things that have an economic value. So this can mean work but it can also mean gardening, putting food by, darning a pair of socks, bartering with a friend. It fills my time. I would like that time if it is going to be filled to have a sense of satisfaction after the work is done. There is no greater feeling for me than standing in my cold room and taking stock of what I put by for the season. For me it means that I can save money at the grocery store, weather a financial storm with a little resilience and if I do not have to get in a car on a cold day in January to make dinner much better!

With my little guy in school for the first time this year I find that the time I spend with him is even more important for me. School sure does eat up a lot of time. But we are finding ways to keep it real. We read at the bus stop. We enjoy mom and little guy dates. Most importantly, we enjoy quiet days at home where he can just play. We make the most of snow days..thank goodness we've had a few those this year.

Finally, time for my own pursuits. I think it may be a challenge for me to always give this part  of the scale the due it deserves. My big problem is, I think, is that I have too many varied interests. I have taken up running again. I enjoy this but for the health benefits and stress relief it provides. I read A LOT, but sometimes this is for work; so my brain wanders into this realm sometimes. I am not hand knitting as much as I used to.  I find that I just don't sit down for the long stretches like when I was knitting more. Still I put a few rows on something when I get the chance. Writing is always an important activity for me and I want to write more but I haven't figured out a way to do this without giving up much needed sleep. Work requires some writing and I feel like even when I am not able to write my stuff I am still flexing that muscle. The writing muscle is not getting flabby; it is just cross-training.

Sometimes I think that when we are in the pursuit of a goal it can be hard to know when we've reached it.  There are only 24 hours in a day but the great thing is there is always another one tomorrow1

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And in other news!

I have an article published in the Daily Bulldog! Trees are tapped, seeds are planted in little pots, and we are going to get another 17 inches of snow this week! Spring will come..spring will come...spring will come...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some of this and some of that

We are getting ready for another storm here.  I feel grateful that I do not have to be to work today. I plan to spend some time baking, maybe some handwork and some reading and some homework for
my class. Tomorrow I will have to find my way to work in the snow. But today is yarn, tea and bread...yum!

Last semester I took a class in Organic Vegetable production. As part of that class I conducted some interviews with some local farmer's.  I am excited to announce that the local daily online paper is going to publish them.  When that happens I will post a link here.  I had such a great time talking with the farmer's about their cultural practices and their approach to marketing. There is so much great stuff happening in in the local foods movement in my area and it would be exciting to get the word out.

This past weekend I went to the 4th Annual Seed Savers Conference at the University of Maine in Farmington. I learned a lot and it was nice to go and be with people and friends that are looking to preserve seed for themselves and for us. With large corporations buying up seed companies at an alarming rate (43% of all seed by some estimates) it becomes even more important that we learn to close this loop. And its kinda fun. It is easy to get started with some seeds like tomatoes. And it saves money too!

Finally, I am not sure if I shared our new friend. This is Shadow. She is 11 years old. She is called Shadow because she follows you around like a shadow. She's a very sweet girl and is well loved!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

By Design part 3

In the By Design Part 2 I shared my observations of my homestead. My goal in this post is to look at ways I can close the loops between coop, compost bins, gardens and house. 
     Why would I want to do this? It seems like it could be a lot of work. One of the promises of permaculture is that the initial investment of sweat equity helps to create self-sustaining systems. This is appealing to me now that I am endeavoring this venture on my own. I don't want to be rid of the work of the homestead ( thoughts I will share in a future post). Instead, my goal is to allow the system I have already invested in  with labor, perennials, soil building to work better. Some of this would include better management of current connections to reduce waste and make more efficient use with what already exists her. In all honesty this past year took more psychic energy from the homestead. Now that the spirit is returning to center I feel a renewed energy.   
     So first I would like to build a better yard for the chickens. This would take some fence post resetting and some chicken wire. The only cash outlay for this will be a couple of rounds of chicken wire which will cost about 30.00 and maybe another box of staples for the staple gun.   My hope is to get some more laying hens this year to round out the ladies I already have. I also want to grow some meat birds this spring as well.  A better yard will allow them to venture out doors during sunny winter days which equates to more sun and day light which, ultimately, means more eggs.
     What goes into the chicken coop is bedding, feed, food scraps and water. I will be getting more mulch hay from my alpaca farmer friends again so bedding is all set. This is free and would otherwise be thrown in the woods to break down. Feed is still an outside input but I can supplement the summer feed with mowed clover from the orchard. I tried growing mangel wurtzle beets ( feed beets) a couple of years ago and may grow a row or two this year to see if they would work to supplement winter feed. Water is hauled from the rain barrel connected to the house but I I have collected a couple of food grade barrels over the last few years. I have some old gutter lying around and it would be an easy fix to put a small rain barrel on the back of their coop for easier watering in the summer. 
     What leaves the coop? Eggs, old bedding and poop. Instead of hauling the old bedding and poop to the compost bin I will use this as part of a plan I have for the garden where I will sheet mulch a back portion of the garden that has been underutilized for the last few years. Even if I am unable to get much planted in this spot due to the warm days slipping away it will still remain easy to tend. I will not have to mow or weed this bit of ground and I can always throw more mulch on top of the sheet mulch to suppress the weeds.
     What goes into the compost bin? Food scraps, leaves and garden waste. No outside inputs: by which I mean inputs from off the homestead. To make a good compost pile however requires a certain amount of attention. It should be turned every  3 weeks, it should be sifted in order to let unbroken down bits continue in that process and it should be watered if we are in a dry spell. There is the slow-motion compost pile. You  know the pile; stuff just gets thrown on it and at the end of the summer you take off the top, unfinished layers off to find some finished stuff to use. Toby Hemenway in his book Gaia's Garden gives a great description of how to build a compost pile and how to achieve finished compost in relatively short order with regular and consistent turnings. However he also suggests that while a " less turned pile won't rot dow as quickly as a more ambitiously forked one …each turing amps up microbial metabolism enormously. This drives the piles contents further down the two forked road of fully digested humus and totally mineralized nutrients. Mineralized nutrients can leach out of soil very quickly." Hemenway observed that a slower decomposition process provided nutrients longer. If it means there is one less chore to do on a hot summer day it means I can get to the lake sooner for a swim:) What leaves the compost pile then is slightly finished compost that I use to side dress perennials with which turns out to be just what I am already doing.   
     The gardens need a little more attention this year. I would like to take some of the early spring energy and devote it to the collection of leaves for mulching this year. In years past when I have done this I have found that the work of weeding and maintaining paths is greatly reduced. I also think that the soil and worms love the leaves as they break down. It is a free resource and feeds the soil with those nice deep minerals the trees tap into to feed themselves. 
     Eliot Coleman believes that by increasing the fertility of the soil the incidence of pest infestations is lowered.  Pests only go after poorly plants. I  learned some interesting facts about some companion plants and their benefits in my last class; organic vegetable production. For example I had heard that borage grown among tomato plants can serve as a tomato horn worm mitigator. Last year I noticed that where I had it planted I had fewer hornworm as opposed to other plants without any borage near it. I had wondered how this worked I had assumed that perhaps the texture of the borage leaves were too prickly for the soft bodies of the worms. Actually the borage attracts a beneficial wasp that thinks the horn worms are a tasty treat. So by exploiting connections that already exist I can lower the labor of pulling those gruesome beasties off my tomatoes. Borage now volunteers in my garden and is easy to transplant it to where I need it.
     My goal this year is to build a tool shed in the back corner of the garden for keeping buckets, and tools. I plan to use wooden pallets with maybe some 2'x6's  for the framing. I'd like a slight tilt to the roof so I can put another rainbarrel in the garden thereby decreasing the amount of labor that goes into watering my garden. Currently I haul water from the rainbarrel connected to the house.
     From the garden to the house I would like to make better use of what gets planted. Part of this requires a realignment in what I grow and how I preserve it. In terms of putting food by I want to concentrate on a majority of crops that will not take too much labor to put up. So lots of pumpkin and winter  squash. Brassicas grow well here and are easy to put in the freezer. I make a gallon of sauerkraut last year and I have found that to be a simple way of getting some really good healthy food into us for very little effort. So this year I would like to get a larger crock for making larger batches. Dilly beans and crock picks will also be on the list this year. I'd like to get better at keeping root crops because with the right combination of cool and moisture they can last a long time in the cold room. My electric dehydrator died last year and while I would love a solar dehydrator some day that may have to be for another year. But maybe another alternative will present itself. 

I'm sure that with a little more observation I will be able to see other connections. This is not a project that gets accomplished in one year but over many years as the homestead evolves into a collective of interconnected systems that nourish each other and us in the process.