Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Won!

It's especially exciting because I never win stuff. Oh, I enter lots of giveaways because...well, why not?

But this time I really did win. These 

aren't they beautiful!?

I won them over at my friend's blog She's the author of a book called The Non-Toxic Avenger that chronicles her efforts to rid her body of the toxic chemicals we're bombarded with every day.

She writes a great blog, check it out.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Organic Pest Management

The farm is asleep for the winter so I thought I'd take some time to gather my thoughts.

When people hear that I grow organically I often hear the same comment, "Oh, you must have a LOT of bug problems." Well actually, no I don't.

There is more to organic food production than simply switching to a different spray. Growing successfully without chemicals means changing how we thing about growing.

Plants are like children, you teach them as best you can but then you send them off to Middle School to deal with the bullies. Building good soil is vital to pest management. Your kids can't defend themselves if they live on a diet of junk food. Natural manures contain important macronutrients, dry leaves contain many important micronutrients, all those creepy crawlies that live in the soil process compost and manures and create a lovely environment for plants to grow.

The next step is to raise tougher plants.  No sissies in my garden. I want plants that will shrug off minor infestations and keep producing yummy food. I start most of my plants from seed. I find that seedlings I start myself make stronger, more vigorous plants. Sure, the transplants at the store look bigger but they've been coddled in greenhouses with artificial fertilizers. The ones you grow at home are simply stronger.

The next thing I do is to interrupt the life cycle of the bugs that would nosh on my plants. Many of them winter in the soil as larvae. Part of my routine is to confine the chickens to the dormant growing areas. The chickens will dig up those naughty larvae and feast on them while depositing more lovely manure and giving you eggs as well. Once the chickens have cleaned up a bed, I dump in a lot of leaves and let them shred and scratch until the leaves are incorporated into the top layer of soil.

Another trick I keep up my sleeve is to confuse pests that want to move in. Planting one wide swath of a single plant is like ringing the dinner bell for bugs. I mix up my planting in a sort of Permaculture way. Each bed contains something tall, something medium, and something short. Like Starbuck's. Venti plants include anything you can trellis, like green beans or things that will grow outrageously tall, like sunflowers. Grande plants are tomatoes, peppers, bush get the idea. Tall plants live close to the ground like sweet potatoes and creeping thyme. Mixing plants from different families means they are susceptible to different pests and pathogens. The bugs don't get established in a bed like this.

Inevitably a few undesirable critters try to move in on my plants. That's when I send in the troops. Chickens eat everything above the ground so the garden is off limits to them all season long. Turkeys, on the other hand, prefer bugs and won't eat plants until all the bugs are gone. Okay, mature turkeys will nosh on tomatoes but young ones just love bugs. This year I kept juvenile turkeys in the garden. It was open season on bugs.

assasin bug - one of the good guys

Then there are the bugs that eat bad bugs. I spent some time learning to identify insects so I could tell which ones to get rid of and which ones to welcome. Hoverfly larvae are great helpers as are assassin bugs. When you spray, even with an organic spray, you run off all the bugs, even the good ones.
                                                       cabbage worms AKA chicken snacks

At some point you'll probably have to remove bugs by hand. Cabbage worms come to mind. Don't drop them in soapy water or squish them under your shoes. Feed them to your chickens, they'll love you for it (did I mention they'll give you eggs in return?)

The most important thing to remember is to have a buffer between your garden and other areas where chemicals are applied. Pesticides can drift a very long way. If your neighbor insists on spraying everything in sight you may need a privacy fence and a dense row of shrubs to keep that stuff out of your yard. Lucky for me, my neighbors are way to cheap to spend a dime on their yards.

I wanted to write all this out, hoping it would prove useful for others. There's no fun in knowing stuff unless I get to share it. Take care friends.

Monday, December 5, 2011


By now we've all heard about Occupy Wall Street, right? The issues that inspired people to camp out in Zuccoti (Liberty) Park resonate so deeply with ordinary folk that now there are "occupations" all over the country. Protests make some people uncomfortable but I think there are a few things we can all agree on.

A lack of regulatory oversight has allowed financial institutions to reap obscene profit at the expense of everyone from homeowners to every single worker with a 401K account.

Wages have been stagnant for years while stockholders enjoy record gains on their investments.

Large corporations are raking in profits from wars in which our sons, brothers, and husbands continue to fight and die.

Those of us who have been quietly opting out of the industrial food system understand the need to remove the corrupting influence of corporations from out lives. Every day small family farmers struggle to survive while giant food conglomerates and commodities traders are walking in high cotton.

Today a classmate told me it's crazy to fight the system, that Goliath is too big and David doesn't stand a chance. Okay, so maybe we won't change the world. But my little corner of the world is worth fighting for. As we learn to stop spending our hard earned cash on disposable plastic junk from China, perhaps we'll learn support local businesses. We can vote every day with our wallets and our feet.

Michael Pollan says we have an opportunity three times a day to make our wishes known. If I buy beef at Wal Mart, I have cast my vote for CAFO operations that disrespect the animal and the eater alike. If I buy from those nice guys down the road, I've cast my vote for healthful food that builds my local economy.

Go to Enter your zip code in the search box and click the enter key. You will get a list of small scale food producers close to you. Cast your vote for family farms, for healthy food, and for your own local economy.

Okay, I'll get off the soap box now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

I know it's cliche to talk about gratitude on Thanksgiving. Today isn't really Thanksgiving for us, we'll be having our holiday meal tomorrow.

Today is a day for cleaning and cooking. I'll be brining the turkey for the first time. It will also be the first time I've eaten a turkey that I raised myself. Back in the summer I bought two turkey poults at the feed store. They lived in a washtub in my spare bedroom until they were old enough to go outside.n They spent all summer and fall as the Integrated Pest Management Crew. In other words, they ate a lot of bugs.

                                                                 My how he's grown.

I processed one turkey a few weeks ago. He was in the freezer but is now thawing in the fridge. The big guy in the picture received a stay of execution when the weather turned cold and I came down with bronchitis.

What does this have to do with gratitude? Well, my presentation to the class was a bit of a wake up call. You see, I usually hang with people whose priorities are similar to my own. It's only natural, that whole "birds of a feather" thing. So I rarely have to justify my lifestyle choices. Some folks may look at my life and see what I don't have. I look around and see abundance.

In a time when farm families are wondering if the new Farm Bill will put them out of business, I carry no debt other than my mortgage and I have very few bills to pay each month. My home is peaceful (when the dog isn't playing with his favorite cat). I don't have the worries and pressures I used to.

This is a sleepy time pf year on the Not-So-Urban homestead. The fruit trees have lost their leaves but the end of each branch is thick with fat buds just waiting for spring.

The little chicks I hatched out last spring have been laying for awhile now. Soon they'll need a more substantial home. For now they are conditioning the soil in the raised beds.

The incubator is full and new peeps should start hatching out tonight and tomorrow.

I have big plans for the spring. I don't want to jinx it by announcing the next step in the dream that is this microfarm. Remember us in your prayers, if you will. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Farm Financials and Establishing Priorities

Yesterday I gave a presentation to a class of college students. I talked about my growing methods (organic no-spray with a heaping dose of permaculture), about direct sales and relationship marketing, and about specific techniques that allow me to supply a CSA program while working at it part time. They were very interested in my hugelkultur beds and how I use them to boost potato yield. They asked a lot of questions about permaculture terms they hadn't heard before.

Then they wanted to know how many clients I had and what the price was for a year's subscription. The answer to both of these questions is readily available through my order page so I went ahead and told them. Their faces fell. I had been expecting that response so I had deliberately waited until the end of question time to give them that little tidbit. As soon as they learned that this is not a get rich quick enterprise the questions dried up and they had no more interest in what I had to say.

I need to remember that these are kids who have never maintained a household so all they see is the dollar amount of gross income. Homesteaders like you and I know there's a lot more to it than that.

1. While growing food for the CSA I also produce the majority of the food my family consumes. A conservative estimate of that savings adds $2200 to my bottom line. But that is based on an average family's food budget. You and I know that homestead folks often eat like kings. My family enjoys food that is much higher in quality, nutrients, and flavor.

2. By working from home I have no additional expenses that take away from my income. By now my neighbors are used to seeing me in the garden in my pajamas, coffee cup in hand. I don't pay for a working wardrobe, or lunches at a diner. I have no transportation costs associated with my part time work.

3. My growing techniques are such that I have no cost of production. I don't buy pesticides or herbicides, I don't need equipment. I don't buy fertilizer - that's what chickens are for. I grow open pollinated or heirloom varieties so I save seed from year to year.

4. I work about 10 hours a week for about 30 weeks of the year. I am able to be a full time student and still keep my home and family together.

5. I have a grand total of 1/3 acre and my house sits on it, too. Of that 1/3 acre about half is currently in use producing food. When I figure out my income based on $/acre the profit margin makes me very happy indeed.

6. I work from home. My daughter doesn't have a key to the house, she doesn't need it. I'm present and available for all the daily joys and trials of having a family.

These kids see the enormous amount of grain that comes off their parent's farms but they aren't there when mom starts writing checks to pay the bills. The overhead associated with that kind of farming makes it unsustainable without subsidies.

I'm probably preaching to the choir. Homesteading types get it.

Farm kids don't.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big Dreams

Now that the weather has turned cool and the garden is tucked away for the winter. It's time to start thinking about next year's plantings and make a game plan. Invariably this is the time of year when all the "what-ifs" start to rear their heads and my mind wanders off into a dreamy world of things that aren't likely to happen any time soon.

I don't dream of kitchen remodels or new cars, although those would be nice. I dream of acreage. Not big, commercial farming acreage like the farmers around here have. I honestly don't know what I'd do with a thousand acres. No, I dream of farm houses that sit on ten to forty acres, with a year round creek and a small stand of hardwood trees, some open spaces for growing and some native fruit and nut trees.
It's the sort of place my grandfather grew up on. His family was largely self-sufficient. They kept a dairy cow, a few goats and sheep, chickens, turkeys and guineas, and they grew almost all of their own produce.

This dream state is always brought on by an exercise in planning the garden spaces for next year. I sketch out the beds and take note of what I grew in which ones to make sure I'm properly rotating my crops. I take a look at my inventory of seed which I keep on a spreadsheet (nerdy, I know). I map out what I will plant where. Then I reach the point where I feel I'll need a shoehorn to fit in one more plot and my head wanders off into if-I-just-had-more-land mode.

More land is like more storage space. You know that extra room will fill up with stuff within a few months of building it. I'm sure my crops and livestock expectations would expand to fill any space I had.

Right now my efforts are like a scale model of the farm I dream of. I raise just a few turkeys and just a few chickens, I allocate plots to crops, trying to balance yield with variety. The day will come when I'll be able to scale up what I do.

For the moment I just keep learning. This year I learned about blue corn and raising turkeys.

What did you learn this year?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I've been silent for a long time. I apologize.
It seems my run in with the city left me with little to say. I received lots of messages about it, some in support while others thought I was out of line. I think the worst part of it was that I let it silence my voice. It shook my confidence and caused me to wonder if my priorities were off.

So I've spent the fall quietly going about my business. We raised a couple turkeys, just to see how hard it is (not at all), and grew some blue corn to see how well it did here (very well, indeed).

And I spent some time thinking about what I do and why I do it. If you've seen Food Inc. feel free to skip the explanation.

I am convinced the food I grow organically is healthier for my family and myself. I know the poultry I raise is spoiled rotten humanely treated and I know they meet a swift and respectful end. When I produce my own food I feel I am not contributing to some of the biggest problems our country faces. When I teach my daughter these skills I'm giving her some control over her life and her future health.

This Thanksgiving our entire meal has been produced here on my little third of an acre. The turkey is already plucked and cleaned and in the freezer. Green beans were pressure canned, sweet potatoes dug and stored in the spare bedroom. The cranberries came from elsewhere, but I chopped them and made them into sauce that was then canned in pint jars. Apples for pie were sliced and canned a month ago. I can't describe to you how good this feels. 

The pantry is full of jars. We enjoy an abundance that has nothing to do with our income (low) or social status(also low). Some produce came to us through the generosity of friends (3 feed sacks of pears. Yippie). The rest of it we grew here.

So I'll just keep plugging away. The yard is enclosed, although it isn't very pretty. Privacy fence on the east and west sides, green wire fence across the back, cattle panels and green metal posts across the south side. By summertime I should have privacy fence around all of it. I'm still hoping to get bees in the spring. mmmm honey.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I have new growing techniques I'm looking forward to sharing with you.
Take care.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lotsa Love

Well, after my last rant I had to take some time and some deep breaths. Getting all worked up over silly people is a waste of time but I do it anyway. Here's a photo of Otis reminding me of what's really important.

Cleo did some reminding, too.
They both love to get between me and the keyboard for some serious cuddling.

This year has been a big learning experience. I suppose I was cranky partly because the Farmer's Market just isn't cutting it anymore. Most of the vendors are folks who grew a few extra tomatoes and don't need to earn much for them. This is not a business for them. Many are retired and this is their hobby. It makes our produce seem overpriced when it really isn't. A couple of the other vendors buy their produce at the wholesale markets and pass it off as their own. Grrr.

So I'll be spending some time this winter reevaluating the business. I am eternally grateful for our CSA clients. These are the folks who pony up for the whole season and they enjoy what we grow for them without reservation. I have yet to hear anyone say, "What? Tomatoes again?"

There has to be a way to make an honest living at what we do. Perhaps expanding the CSA is the answer. I don't know but I do know the Farmer's Market is not a solution.

Early fall is a busy time around here. The chicken run has to be moved, compost screened and stored, coops cleaned out and prepared for the winter. Our chickens condition the soil in the growing beds. Throughout the fall and winter they'll be moved around to thoroughly fertilize the beds and tidy up any remaining plant material.

There are also chickens to cull. It is a sad thing but not every hen has desirable traits. Some are just too small while others have very narrow breasts. It's a balancing act keeping the ones that will produce good table birds and lay plenty of eggs as well. So some of the girls will end up in the stew pot. If the day comes when culling hens becomes easy I'll stop doing it because there will be something broken in me. It always hurts because taking a life is supposed to hurt. There, I'll get down off my soap box.

There is still more canning and dehydrating to do and then we can settle down to the time of year when the earth rests and so do we. Take care.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back Among the Living

This was a rough summer. Let's just get that fact out of the way.
I am naturally introverted and when I feel stressed I withdraw until I feel safe enough to come back out from under my rock.

"Hi" *waves*. I feel safe now. Relatively.

This summer I attracted the attention of my town's new Mayor and the City Council's Code Enforcement efforts. It seems someone doesn't like big gardens or backyard chickens. There are no specific ordinances prohibiting these things so I was scrutinized for the length of grass along the edges of my growing beds. Many visits from our town cop. Many threats of fines and liens on my home. I fired up the weed eater. I mowed, I edged.

Then the complaint changed. My yard was found to be full of  refuse and waste. I still don't know what that means but looking at the yard I have to assume they meant the compost bins I'd carefully constructed of white lattice so as to make them attractive enough to placate the neighbors. So I built two vertical compost tumblers so my compost could not be seen.

Then I was told I would be fined if I did not cut down the weeds. I don't have weeds, I have a garden. I have to admit, the tomatoes got a little large. Maybe I'm getting good at this garden thing.

So my summer was spent trying to comply with what I felt were unreasonable demands instead of enjoying my hands in the dirt and green growing things. I'm in the process of building a 6' privacy fence. I've wanted one for a long time but I felt I couldn't justify the expense. Now I simply must have one if I'm going to continue.

A few things did go well this summer. We tried a new/old variety of corn that, so far, has met the needs we have. We grew a blue corn that is tasty, if a little chewy, as a sweet corn. It can be left on the plant to fully mature into a beautiful blue flour corn. I'll be sending it off to have it tested for protein content so I'll know how to use it in chicken feed.

The CSA grew a little. We served 12 member families with weekly deliveries of fresh eggs, whole grain bread, and fresh fruits and veggies.

The figs produced a little crop and the Asian pears bore fruit for the first time. The chickens are happy, the garden area is twice the size it was last year.

I was awarded three scholarships to help out with school costs, which makes me very happy. It feels good to have a good GPA and to be recognized for it in a way that relieves some of the pressure of being the only parent in the house.

Fall is here. The temperature has not realized it yet, but the sunlight has definitely changed. Time to harvest, tidy up the growing areas and take stock. I learned a lot this year, not all of it positive. Fall always feels like the completion of the cycle. The old Celtic New Year was Halloween, which I completely understand.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On the verge

You know that feeling of anticipation, like being at the top of a hill on a rollercoaster about to plunge down and around, screaming with delight?

That's how I feel right now. We've been in this house nearly 5 years now. I've cleaned and scrubbed and demolished and built. I've scrubbed some more and dug up useless landscpaping that was plopped in inappropriate places. It seemed like a never ending project. While I'm sure there will always be things that need done around here I believe I've begun to see some results.

Grape cuttings waiting for the rain to stop

                             Container-grown strawberries. I am soooo looking forward to these.
                                     Asian pear trees are producing for the first time. Woo Hoo!
                                                                 Happy Rooster

                              Happy chickens. The grass is always greener on the other side, right?
           White broiler chicks. They're almost 4 weeks old and they are little white eating machines.

                   Elephant garlic and egyptian walking onions (they are related to shallots. mild and tasty).

  Black raspberry vines are covered in buds and blossoms. Last year there were just enough for a full batch of jam. This year there will be plenty to share the the CSA subscribers.
 We've hatched our own peeps this year. The yellow ones are purebred White Plymouth Rock.
 The colored ones are White Rock crossed with my best Ameraucana hens. The cross chicks are larger, more active and are developing much faster than the purebred chicks. This is an extension of the epiphany I had a while back. As we become more self sufficient we eliminate the need for external inputs. So long as I have hens and a rooster I need never buy chicken or eggs in a store again. What freedom!

Now we can call ourselves a proper CSA, with 20 shares available and deliveries starting next month. After all the hard work this is the exciting part.

I didn't get photos of the potatoes just beginning to bloom or the newly grafted apple trees. I didn't get a photo of how the front yard is being converted to edible landscape. Nope, the rain cut my celebration short.

I'm coming to the end of the initial garden creation/landscape renovation part. There will be plenty more refining and adjusting to come as I learn from my mistakes.

Take a deep breath. Here we gooooooooooooo.

Monday, April 11, 2011


To Life! I love that toast.
Here on the Not-So-Urban farm life is exploding in all its springtime glory.

The Asian pears have bloomed for the first time. Various pollinators have bellied up to the bar so we're hoping to taste sweet fruit this fall.
Mr. Man (I know, not very imaginative) has been growing bigger and bigger. He's now 8 months old and he's well aware of how beautiful he is.

Everything in the garden is growing like crazy. I planted potatoes back in February. The early planting forced me to wait patiently for green sprouts but now they are full and leafy. There's two beds each of lettuce and cabbage and a full bed of spinach. Onions, shallots, garlic, and peas are all growing well. 

New life is everywhere.

We'll start delivering for this year's CSA in Mid May with twice the variety we had last year. I'm so looking forward to seeing our friends and clients on a weekly basis again.
We have a Facebook page now. Mamas Garden on Facebook, come on over and say HI. I've been collecting some of the best Local Food/Slow Food/Urban Homesteading pages so check the left sidebar for some great pages, awesome people and latest news about good, healthy food and the people who produce it.
While you are there, post your favorite pages and links.

Now that a few warm days have brought us all back to life, what have you been doing outdoors lately? Post your links so we can cheer you on.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Unexpected but welcome

It seems most folks are either cat people or dog people. I've thought of myself as a cat person, not willing to get a dog for fear the cats would eat it.

I'm not sure which one of these characters would do the deed but I was convinced they would never tolerate a D-O-G in their house.
Then one day, about three weeks ago we spied something that made me pull off the two lane highway and stop. A dog was running frantically from one lane to the other, confused and unable to get off the road. It was pouring down rain and the little guy was not going to last long unless someone did something. My daughter and I got out of the car, convinced the traffic to stop and gathered up Mr. Cold Wet and Shaky. We checked the neighborhood to see if anyone recognized him. We placed an ad on Craigslist. We refused to give him a name because we were not keeping him.
No one claimed him. We waited.

This happened

Who knew?

So now he has a name. Meet Hamish, the mystery terrier.

We have a dog.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Community of Faith

There is a movement in this country. It is an extension of a movement that was alive and well forty years ago, carefully preserved and nurtured like an heirloom apple tree by a small but dedicated group of urban and not-so-urban farmers/homesteaders. A few years ago this movement began to grow again. It touched something in the deep dissatisfaction many of us felt from living a suburban life where our hands were always clean and our food came in plastic.The urban homesteading lifestyle burst into the mainstream. People with little more than a postage stamp of a yard found a way to produce real food and take some control over their own diets. Those of us with a little more land took inspiration from them and incorporated some of their techniques into our own small scale farming enterprises.

But now there is a family trying to control the words we use, claiming ownership of this entire movement. It is not right and it deeply saddens me as I had admired this family's efforts. The news is all over the web. The Dervaes are laying claim to the phrase Urban Homesteading along with many other phrases that have been in use by individuals and organizations for many years. They have trademarked these phrases are are doing all they can to prevent anyone else from using them. Facebook has received "takedown" letters and many pages related to our movement are gone.

The authors of this book have found themselves unable to promote it. After all their hard work they can't even write about their own book anywhere on the web. A book that was written BEFORE the D family trademarked the phrase that is the title.

I believe we all deserve to make an honest buck, even the Dervaes. But this is wrong. I am not an articulate writer so let me offer you some links to people who do a much better job of expressing themselves.

and here is the Facebook page for Take Back Urban Homesteading.!/pages/Take-Back-Urban-Home-steadings/167527713295518

Please join if you feel offended by the Dervaes actions. The authors of this book have asked that, if you feel you'd like to help please make a donation to EFF (the organization in the 4th link from the top) so that it can continue to defend free speech and fairness on the web.

For many of us pursuing self sufficiency by growing our own food has become a spiritual activity. We've rediscovered our connection with this Good Earth. We've found that quiet place inside ourselves where our connection to a Higher Power lives and thrives. We display our gratitude by being good stewards of the soil. We also claim our independence from the domination of corporate (or D family) greed.

I personally will not be linking to or visiting any website run by the Dervaes family nor will I support their enterprises in any way.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


It's 24 degrees outside. The roads are clear now but the ground is still covered with 4 inches of snow. The weather channel promises that the temperature will rise to 41 degrees today. AND we're supposed to get a full week of nights above freezing! Woo hoo!
Earlier this week it all looked like this.

Now I'm hovering over, waiting for the temp to rise above freezing so I can pull the row covers off the spinach and see what survived.
I can't tell you how I long for spring. Winter has always been something to "get through" for me. I'm sure this week's taste of spring will lift my spirits and have me feeling like myself again.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Carpool nightmare

Please lend me your advice. How does anyone survive a carpool? I've got girls who don't want to ride with me because I make them wear seatbelts. Hello, its the law. So they tell their moms stories so they can phenagle a ride home with a cute boy.
If I were rich I could just drive my child everyday myself. But I'm not so I can't.
Anyone wanna buy some fertile White Plymouth Rock eggs and contribute to the Help-Elly's-Mom-before-her-head-explodes fund?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We Are Fully Chicken Operational

The eggs keep rolling in...update on chickens.
Last summer I purchased 25 white plymouth rock chicks with the intention of putting them all in the freezer. They grew nicely and all but one rooster gave himself up to feeding us. But then life intervened; the freezer looked like it might not last and between college and work I just plain ran out of time. The chickens received a procrastinator's pardon and they've been happily scratching up the back yard all through the fall and winter. Actually I had an alternate idea in mind. I've learned to always have a Plan B. I found the Ameraucanas weren't giving enough eggs for us and the CSA so I was hoping the White Rocks would provide.

They have really outdone themselves. The new girls began laying about 4 weeks ago. Just a few at first, little pullet eggs. But now we're collecting 10 to 12 big brown eggs every day! So yesterday I bought one of these.

Yes, okay. So I swiped that photo from a website. But its a Little Giant styrofoam incubator. Not the fanciest one on the market but I have some friends who have one and are willing to walk me through the process. I did get the egg turner, too.

Hatching chicks seems like the next step in a natural progression. But today the concept really sunk in - I could conceivably have an endless supply of meat and eggs for my family. I can cross two things off my grocery list - PERMANENTLY. Unless I get a yearning for another breed (or the unthinkable happens) I need never purchase a chicken from the store. So this is how this sustainability thing works. This is how we get off the treadmill. Oh yes, I save seeds from each harvest to plant the next year's crops. But this is much more tangible.

And very, very satisfying.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Who let the emu in the chicken house?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Decisions, decisions

This week I received some wonderful news. I've been offered a scholarship to an organic farming conference. At first I was elated, then I began to add up all the costs of attending that weren't covered by the scholarship. Yikes! The reality of it all took the wind out of my sails. I have another week to mull it over before I have to decide whether to accept the scholarship or let it pass to another worthy recipient.
What to do, what to do? There's the 8 hour drive each way, plus two days off work, hotel, food, and dealing with a teenager who doesn't want to go but can't stay home alone.
Then there's the opportunity to learn lots of skills from people who are really doing this organic farming thing.
If I go I'll be dead broke for months. If I don't go I'll be sorely disappointed.

What do you think I should do?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More Stuff We Don't Buy

Now that I've had my rant on food, here's how I combat consumerism at home.

1. No cleaning supplies.
That is, no prepared concoctions designed for cleaning. Just baking soda, salt and a spray bottle with cider vinegar solution. By keeping it simple I'm avoiding toxins and saving a bundle, too.

2. Laundry soap
Almost a year ago I bought a box of borax, two boxes of washing soda and 4 bars of Fels Naptha soap. Now, I don't really know what's in Fels Naptha soap so I'm hoping to use some homemade soap once I'm out of this stuff. (waste not, want not) I mix up a batch of gel laundry soap in a 2 gallon bucket and it lasts us at least 5 months. I do love Seventh Generation laundry soap but the goal is to be as self sufficient as possible.

3. Body/face soap
I'm not making my own soap just yet. But dear Charlotte up in Jackson makes some of the loveliest hand made soap I've ever seen. She sets up at the Winter Farmer's Market there so if I run out I know where to find her. I even use her soap to wash my hair sometimes. I'll bet there's someone near all of us who makes soap in her kitchen and would love to sell you a few bars. Shop local.

4. Moisturizer/ hair conditioner
Charlotte's soap is so wonderful I don't really need moisturizer anymore but if the weather gets too cold or dry I give myself an all over rub with olive oil in the shower.

5. Facials/deep cleansers
Here we go with the olive oil again. Just warm up a little on the stove, not too hot just warm, and massage on your face and neck. Then get in the shower and scrub with some salt. If you like you can add a couple of drops of lavender oil to the salt to make it smell delightful.

Next installment, closing the loop in the garden.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jumping Ship on Factory Food

Have you seen Food Inc? If you haven't, eat a meal beforehand because afterwards you won't be able to.

Fresh, The Movie is a good one, too. Industrial farming is all over the news, from salmonella in eggs to contaminated feed lot beef. Its been nearly 5 years since we left the big city for the trials joys of small town life. In these 4+ years I've learned a lot about growing things. I've also learned about how most of the food in grocery stores is raised, making me want to grow more of my own stuff.

We haven't sworn off grocery stores for a year, although I kind of wish we could. Out here we lack the robust local food systems that places like Los Angeles, Austin and Portland enjoy. Instead my goal is to steadily reduce the things we buy from stores. Like...

1. Eggs
Just a few backyard chickens can supply all the eggs a family needs. They don't eat much and they're kinda cute. Just don't name the ones you might eat (see #6).

2. Salad greens
Have you noticed that smell when you open a bag of store bought greens? Ick. Easy to grow, quickly maturing, salad greens are something almost everyone can grow for themselves.

3. Potatoes
Okay, I did buy one 3 lb bag of red potatoes this year because I ran out of the ones we'd grown. They like loose soil but will grow nicely in a container or even an old feedsack. This year I have 10 lbs of Red Dale seed potatoes waiting to go in the ground.

4. Tomatoes and peppers
Yep, more stuff that's easy to grow whether you build a raised bed or just plant them in a 5 lb bucket. Commercial farmers have to spray their monoculture tomatoes with all sorts of nasty stuff but when you grow just a few for yourself they don't make much of a target for pests.

5. Melons
Okay, melons do take up a lot of room but a freshly picked cantaloupe is so good it will make your toes curl.

6. Chicken
See item #1. If you buy straight run chicks you will likely have too many roosters. They fit nicely in the freezer and are quite tasty.

7. Beef
No, we don't raise cattle. But there's a nice family down the road that does and we buy grass fed beef from them once or twice a year. Check craigslist, there may be a nice family close to you who does the same thing.

8. Fruit
This one is more difficult as we live in zone 6b/7. I grow a lot of the fruit we eat. The Farmer's Market is a good source but it only runs from June to September. So I have made good friends with my water bath canner. My pantry is full of jars of pears and peaches that will hopefully last until the early summer fruits are available again.

So we've made a good start. We still have to buy some things from the grocery but the list is getting shorter. The foods we produce or buy locally are a better quality, we're supporting local business and we are consuming less oil as our food doesn't have to travel so far.

Our plans for this year? Well, there are 6 fig tree cuttings happily rooting indoors in a pot of soil (thanks, Sal). I have apple and pear scions on the way and cuttings from 4 different kinds of currants. The seed collection has grown considerably while the chickens tear up and fertilize more of the yard for garden space. It's going to be a great year!