May 2009


My yard looks haunted, with sheets and towels and tarps covering all of my tender plants. I am afraid that my tomatoes may be beyond help. The basil is probably toast as well. They just don’t handle the cold wind we have been cursed with for the past week. In an effort to make it feel a bit more like summer around here, I decided to mix up a batch of ginger ale. It isn’t hard to do although if you are inherently sloppy as I tend to be, it can get sticky.

You probably have all of the ingredients in your kitchen and most of the equipment too although a bottle capper is handy. You can make an acceptable batch of soda in screw top plastic bottles although I have heard they are more likely to explode.

I used a recipe for Virgin Island Ginger Beer from another Storey book, Homemade Root Beer Soda and Pop by Stephen Cresswell.

You need to grate 2 1/2 ounce of ginger root into a pot. Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 2/3 cups sugar and 2 quarts of water. Bring this to a boil and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes. Remove it from the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 1/2 hour. Pour 1 quart of cool water into a gallon jug the add the ginger mixture. Top off the jug with more water, leaving a 2 inch head space. You want the mixture to be just lukewarm. I needed to add cool water to get the temperature right. Shake the jug really well. Put 1/8 teaspoon ale yeast into 1/4 cup luke warm water. I used wine yeast but even plain bread yeast will do in a pinch. Wait about 5 minute and add the proofed yeast to the jug and shake it up again. Now you can bottle the soda. You will need 11 12 oz bottles. I like to use Corona beer bottles. They are clear so I can see that they are really clean and they don’t have screw caps. Of course this means that my kids are drinking from beer bottles. The kids, of course, think it’s very cool but I can see why another parent  might have a problem with it. Just pour the soda into a cup if you do. You will need to use a funnel and a strainer to do this. A piece of cheese cloth in a funnel works too. Now cap the bottles and you’re finished. I bought a bottle capper and a large supply of caps at a wine and beer making supply store. You can get one from Lehman’s but it is a lot more expensive. Now comes the hard part. Patience. You need to wait 36 hours to check for fizzies. If it’s warm, that may be long enough. In this weather, with no heat on in the house, it may take 72 hours to ferment. When you see bubbles, put the soda in the refrigerator or down in the basement to keep it cool. Otherwise the fermentation will continue and the bottles may burst. That has never happened to me. My kids drink it up as soon as it’s ready.

The question I am often asked is, “Why bother?” Soda is cheap enough and this is a lot of work for 11 bottles of pop. I could, after all, make a batch of lemonade and have it ready in 5 minutes. The easy answer is that I just like knowing how to do things. It is fun to try something and have it be sucessful. It’ s actually fun to try something and have it bomb, then go back to the drawing board and figure out where I went wrong. I like knowing that if I had to, I could manage to make do with very little and still have a good time.

As you might have guessed, I was left feeling a bit grumpy after yesterday’s interview. There was so much I wanted to talk about-the importance of community, raising food, sustainable living, individual choices, but all the interview was really interested in was food storage, important, yes but a very small part of my preparedness program. But I have been out to feed the pigs and peruse my garden and I am feeling better in spite of a frost warning for tonight.

My tomatoes, lovingly tended and started from heirloom seed, look plain pitiful. It is simply too cold for the poor things and a week of rain has not helped. The only ones that look good are the extra ones I popped in the cow poop. The composting manure is keeping their little feet nice and warm and they look wonderful. My basil looks even worse than the tomatoes. I hope I don’t need to replace everything, more because I will need to listen to my DH say I told you so. He never wants to plant early and I can never wait. Next year, I swear I will wait.

I am planning to do some fun stuff today. I will make a pot of black beans and bake some bread. I will probably make some yogurt too. A new day, a better attitude.

The Today interview took place yesterday. It forced me to stay inside long enough to clean really well and get my preps organized. That is all I have to say on the subject. If you are all too busy to watch when it airs, I will be really grateful. Enough said.

In preparation for today’s interview, I straightened out my cellar storage. I made a few discoveries. I have a lot of stored butter. I wondered why that was as I am usually good about rotating my food. I realized that we don’t like the stored butter for general consumption. It has a slightly grainy consistency and tastes just a bit off. It cooks just fine but we all avoid using it when it’s in the fridge. The other problem is that, contrary to what I expected, it get really hard when it’s cold and really runny if left out for long. I have some commercially canned butter that I would love to try but it was dreadfully expensive and I hate to open it. I am afraid that when I die, my kid will throw out the expensive storage food and make terrible remarks about what a nut job mom became in her declining years. to avoid that, and to see what the commercial stuff tastes like, I am going to bite my frugal bullet and use it. Oh, the pain of it all.

I found 6 ( 6!!!!!) jars of applesauce in the back of a cabinet so all of the work moving things around was well worth it. We love my canned sauce and hate the bottled stuff from the market o this was a great find. The secret to fabulous sauce is to add some of those little cinnamon candies while it’s cooking. It gives a little zing to the flavor and turns the sauce a lovely, deep pink. I don’t know what happened with the apple butter. I must have been loaded with apple and sick of making sauce because I still have a dozen jars left. I am giving it away to anybody who will take it.

I have yet to put in my cucumber plants and I need to get to it. We adore bread and butter pickles and I didn’t have anywhere near enough this year. My dills were not great. I need to find an expert to help me out this year. The dilly beans were fine and the pickled beets fabulous so I don’t know where I went wrong.

I had to do a big shop for toiletries yesterday. One of the hazards of storing essentials is that it is easy to get spoiled. I always have toilet paper and shampoo and such-until I don’t hop for a year (really) and then notice that I only have a couple of packages left. I am stocked up again and it feels really good. A whole year’s worth of soap, shampoo, toothpaste and such takes up very little room and cost less than a night out. The toilet paper and sanitary supplies take up a lot of space but is well worth it. I talked to my daughter about using reusable sanitary napkins and she had the kind of fit only a 15 year old with major OCD issues can throw.

The sun is shining today. Thank goodness. I fear my beans may have rotted but I can replant them if necessary. BTW. I visited chicky bit’s web site yesterday. i am so jealous. She is so far ahead of us here in cool, damp Western Mass. Her plant are beautiful. One other BTW. I visited with Heather (faith,funand family blog)> Her new son, Florian, is one of the prettiest babies I have ever seen. My kids were tiny (4 1/2 pounds when I took my youngest home) and looked like gnomes for the first few months. Florian is round and pink and perfect. I can’t wait to hold him.

I have a big interview forJust In Case here on Saturday. My house is pretty tidy most of the time but it is definately a working house. All of the bee feeding stuff is on the kitchen counter. I have a pile of canning jars on the island waiting to go back to the basement. When the interviewer called to set up the time to come out I had to bite my tongue not to yell “Henry! Get out of Gramma’s wine! ” (at 10:00 in the morning, this could sound a bit alarming) but I always have wine fermenting in carboys along the back wall and Henryfinds it irrestable. We read a lot so there are always books everywhere. I have to keep a pile of coats out year round because our weather is so unpredicatable. Let’s not forget the bowl of slop that sits on the counter. I expect everybody to put the dregs of cereal and any other leftovers in the bowl to take to the pigs. There is no chance that HGTV is ever going to feature my house as anything but a before example.

But today, my house is really clean. I had to teach a class last night and came home to find that Bruce had even washed all of my floors. We got rid of bags of clutter and found homes for things that generally just get left out. It really looks wonderful. Now I have to keep it this way for another whole day.

As I write this, I am watching the morning news. There is not much good going on there. General Motors will file for bankruptcy withing hours. North Korea has launched another test missle. The deficit continues to soar. It would be easy to let the negative news pull me down but I have other, if not bigger, fish to fry. The pigs need feeding. My friend, Heather will come home with her new baby today and I want to get a casserole in the oven for her. I need to water the greenhouse plants. I found a stand of nettles and I want to make soup. I need to get a batch of soda going too.

My life could seem small to a lot of people, consumed as it is by pigs and compost, wine and clutter. But as I listen to the news, small seems like not such a bad thing. In a post carbon world, small will be what saves us. I bought a copy of Carleen Madigan’s book, The Backyard Homestead, to give to Heather as a baby gift. (that tells you a lot). It is a book that celebrates small. When I do this interview tomorrow, I hope I can do that-celebrate the virtue of small. The interview is actually about regular people getting ready for an economic collapse but I plan to make it as upbeat as I can. I want to let viewers see another way to do things-another way to live a life.

I was asked recently if I worked. I know it is petty and silly and I should just get over it but it annoyed me anyway. No. I am not in any technical sense, working.. I don’t get dressed up,get in my car, drive someplace and do a job that somebody considers essential enough that write me a check for doing it. I get up, slip into a pair of jeans so crusty they could stand alone. I mix up a pan of slop-powdered milk, wheat germ, crusts of bread, a can of green beans or two and whatever didn’t get consumed the previous day and walk to the pen to feed the pigs. I return home and get the girls up and off to school, clean the house, check the garden and do whatever else I am doing. I plant and preserve and cook and blog and write and so on. There are a lot of days when I sit in my swing and drink tea while reading a good book but we won’t discuss that here. I am looking for a little sympathy and letting on just how much pure fun I have is bad for drumming up any poor you’s.

I think there is a whole sub culture of us out there doing the kind of stuff we do who look poor and dirty and overworked on the outide but are actually having an absolute blast most of the time. This is close as it comes to being Peter Pan. I never have to grow up and do the loathsome stuff that a lot of grownups are forced to do.

Now if you want to have more fun that looks like work to the outside, I would stronly suggest you get some chickens. We raised them for years and are working on the plans for a chicken truck so we do it again. If you don’t know anything much about chicken farming, there is a nifty course on line at www.postpeakliving.com/chickens-101. Kathy McMahon, the Peak Shrink over at Peak Oil Blues, who happens to be a good friend of mine and smart as all get outs has given the course here in town. Bruce took it and held on to all the resources. He said it was really useful and he doesn’t say that about much. Now it is available to everybody with a computer.

I hope the rest of you are warm and dry but not too dry. We have an embarassment of water in the northeast. It is so cold and damp that we actually turned the heat on. Now that I have warmed up I am a much more cheerful person.

We are usually very fortunate in the water department. We have a spring source that is gravity fed to all of the houses on our main street. The tank hold 10,000 gallons which is enough to get us through a short term power outage and there is a generator to run the pump after that. But this week the pump broke down and, while we were never out of water, we did have to conserve until the pump could be repaired and the tank refilled. The amount of water a household uses really becomes apparent when you are focusing on it.

I fill a couple of 3 gallon water jugs twice a day just to water the greenhouse plants and the newly planted sets. Several times a week, I fill those jugs another 4 or 5 times to water the new fruit trees and berry bushes. We run the soaker hose a couple of times a week for a fer house to give the new raspberry and blackberry canes a good drink. The pigs require a good deal of water and surprisingly enough, the bees use quite a bit too. Bruce mixes up their supplemental feed 4 days a week. Now I haven’t even thought about the house yet.

With 4 adults and 1 child, there are showers and laundry and toilet flushings, dishes and cooking and general washing up. We must wash our hands 10 times a day because of all the dirty work we do. We handle cow poop, pig slobber and have our hands down in the earth.

In the midst of trying to conserve, I put up 7 pints of rhubarb and the canner uses a lot of water. All of this leads me to ask-Where are you in terms of water security? I was able to haul water from our stream for flushing, animals and plants. We just didn’t shower for a day and we let the laundry pile up. I had enough water stored for drinking and cooking so my only use was for the canner. I guess I could have used stream water for that as well as it never comes in contact with food and is boiled in any case. I used my tap water just for washing hands and teeth brushing.

I hope this is something you think about. Check out your neighborhood for sources of clean, or not so clean, water. Invest in a water filter if you can afford it and get the directions for building one if you can’t. The Internet is full of good instructions. I think that Ole Remus at The WoodPile Report had some good ones and so does Rawles at Survivalblog.

If you are ever thinking of relocating, I would put availablity of water at the top of mulist of got to haves. Bruce is actually thinking of finding our old well head and getting it back in working order. We havea dowser friend who could find it in minutes. With a hand pump we would be in business even if the power fails and pump breaks.

The forecast for tonight was for temps in the 40′s then at 8:00 the weather man added a frost warning for the higher elevations. That’s me so out we went, armed with tarps and sheets and buckets and tupperware containers, anything large enough to cover my tender plants. I have a large supply of clear plastic cups that are perfect for the smaller plants. I actually use them for mini greenhouses for some heat loving starts. After all that work, the threatened frost never arrived but I am not complainngi. This falls into  the “better to have it and not need it thatn need it and not have it catagory. I would rather spend 1/2 hour covering plants for no reason than not to take the time and lose 35 tomatoe plants I started from saved seed. My peppers are lovely, my green beans stately. I treat them all like newborns and I am a fussy mother.

I am beginning to feel motherly toward the pigs too. I really tried to see them as food units, nothing more, nothing less but they are so distinct. One is always the first at the feeding bowl. He has two lines across his shoulders and is easy to pick out. The smallest one is always last to make it to the bowl. They are beginning to come when I call and no longer pull away when I pat them.

We put in the potatoes yesterday. I went way overboard when I ordered seed stock. I spent the early evening walking the neighborhood looking for people who might need them. I managed to get rid af several pounds that way. I stuck a bunch more in our various copost heaps. We’ll see what happens. I have high hopes for the ones I stuck in some grass clippings we forgot about last year.

The wine continues to do it’s thing. I am so looking forward to the elderberry. We loved our last batch. It was a lot like a nice port. This is short post. This is the first week I have to get get kids out the door to school, get out early myself and still manage to feed the pigs and uncover the plants.

I want to keep an eye on the news as well. North Koreas is agitating again with an underground nuclear bomb test. I think the earth must rebel in some way against the insult. I will find what joy I can but it is a worrisome time for sure.

This is probably the only time I will sit down today, other than for  meals. I have started to preserve some food and once it takes off, it doesn’t look back. Yesterday I got a beautiful harvest of rhubarb and canned 7 pints. We love rhurbarb added to any crisp or cobbler. I was short just a bit so I stretched it with some knot weed but that’s just between us. I also dried a lot of asparagus overnight. I am turning that into soup mix. I gathered some nettle this morning. I will dry that today. I  love soup, especially easy soup made from mixes I put together in the heat of the summer. 

Until our piggies came I was feeling guilty about some of the canned vegetables that were not getting eaten. My kids hate canned green beans and who can blame them. I do a couple of batches so I will have some to show at the fair and some to pop into a quick soup or stew but a lot just sit there on the cellar shelf, mocking me. Now the pigs will eat them and everybody is happy, especially the oinkers.

This is the time of the year to think about cleaning out the freezer and pantries. We are having blueberry muffins for breakfast as I found 3 bags of frozen berries and need to use them up. You may think you will eat old food that is less than palatable in an emergency but why should you? In a crisis you need to be at your best and that means good nutrition and a good attitude. Shriveled vegetables and weevily flour aren’t going to be good for either. As I clean and organize, an ongoing project around here, I am getting all of my processing equipment “back to ready”. When I decide I want to can or dry something, I do not want to go searching for the big funnel or the jar lifter.

I am paying special attention to how I do things this year as I have been asked to do a food preservation workshop for NOFA this September during their annual conference. I am really excited. I love this organziation and I am delighted to pass on information that so many need.

I am up to my elbows in wax. We are cleaning out some bee frames and the solar melter left us with 3 solid pints of wax. Now I have to decide what to do with it all. It is a terrible mess, especially when mixed with the dregs of honey.

Bruce and I are still debating. Do we have a hobby or a business? So far, it is a business that has produced more bills than honey. It is always expensive to begin something like this and the learning curve for bees, like every other animal, is steep. On some level, there must be a love of the process.

I can easily see why so many left their small farms for the lure of what seemed to be an easy life in the city. Of course, what those people found was a life that was just as hard and demanding but without the grace of working your own land. I was up a bit after five this morning. I walked through the dew soaked grass to bring some food to the pigs. The air was so soft, you could imagine that it could be worn like an old nightgown. The birds were up and singing, the goats bleating for their mamas. My back and knees still ached a bit from the hours I spent yesterday spading up another row of sod for the tomatoes. It was a good ache. I like knowing my body is there and will generally do what I ask of it. I returned to my kitchen, cluttered a bit with the work of a small holding. Wine is fermenting against one wall. An old toy sits on the island waiting for the pasta I am making later. There are some jars of produce sitting out that I need to use up. They will stretch the sauce for dinner tonight. My life would not be considered easy by many but it is the life I chose, It is hard and dirty and busy and beautiful and full. I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

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