July 2009


My dear husband, good guy that he is, is putting down a sheet of mulching plastic toady so I can put in a new herb garden nest year. I tried to make a kind of wild garden last year in a cool, wet spot we have down by the bees but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t terrible the first but very little came back. I had a poor return on my lemon balm and, as this is my favorite tea herb, I really feel it. I have decided that the wild kind of gardening is not for me. I like things more organized and neat. I planned my new bed to be very organized. The first year will be devoted primarily to culinary herbs and I will follow with medicinal herbs as I expand the bed. I am in the early stages of learning about medicinal herbs. I hope I can find someone local to teach a class on making tinctures and such. I have no experience with that.

I have a number of herbal books. My favorite is Roaemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal. She has the best information and it is really clear. A lot of herbals seem to think you have a ton of previous experience and are lax about amounts. If you are a novice like me, that doesn’t always work. I want military style directions. Do this. Do that. I can get creative when I get confident.

My new bed will be 12×12 to begin with with space to expand as the bed is established. I will have a trellis on two corners where I will put the hops. I want some seating under the trellis. I can put in pots of herbs ( like mint) that need containment on either side of the bench. I will enclose the rest of the garden with bushes (bayberry and currents on two sides and across the front I will put lavender and pansies. My list of herbs is fairly short. Stevia, lemon balm,oregano, rosemary, cilantro, sweet woodruff thyme, sage, tarragon, savory, dill, chervil, borage, licorice, chives, and parsley. I want a narrow brick walk up the middle, flanked with a row of geraniums, johnny-jump-ups, nasturtiums and calendula and couple of small pots of catnip and parsley. I made out a diagram and it looks like I will have the space for all of this. The following year I want a medicinal bed. I should add that I have dedicated beds for the things I use a lot of like garlic and basil. I am so lucky to have a handy husband. I can come up with an idea and he can execute it.

I get most of my herbs locally but when I need to order I use the Richters Herb Catalog. You can order one by phone at 1.905.640.6677 or go online to www.richters.com. It is really fun catalog with a good amount of information about each herb so you can decide what plants will suit you best. I learned that a ground cover I have, bishop’s weed (laceflower), is being explored for the treatment of cancer and aids. We have a ton of bishop’s weed around here and cook it as a vegetable like spinach. It would be silly to put it in my garden as I have it growing as a ground cover right next to the house. I also learned that jewel weed usually grows by poison ivy. That is true for us. Bruce  has picked up poison ivy a couple of times and  it turns out that jewel weed is a good herbal treatment for poison ivy. Nature put the treatment right next to the ill. How cool is that? I keep an aloe plant. I had a bite from some awful thing this week. The skin around the bit blistered and looked awful. I squeezed a bit of aloe juice on the wound (which really looked infected and nasty) and today it is dry and the red has all but disappeared. I have used aloe on burns with similar good results. In coming hard times we may all be called on to treat minor illnesses and injuries ourselves. A working knowledge of how herbs work could be a life saver.

herbsThere are some items that you can’t have too many of. These are the things that have multiple uses and can be adapted to odd uses as well. Here is my list but feel free to add to it.

6 gallon buckets-Not only will they store food but they can be used to collect rain water, become a toilet with an added seat, haul pig food, transport water, compost, soil and piles of potatoes. You can drill holes in the base and grow anything from carrots to tomatoes. Turn one upside down and it is the right height for a garden stool or a step ladder.

wool blankets- not only good bed covering but blankets can be hung over windows for insulation, cut into a poncho or stiched into clothing.

canning jars-bug, leak and moisture proof storage for all manner of food and seeds, incubate yogurt, sprout seeds, ferment kraut and shake cream in one to make butter.

hay bales-make cold frames and enclosed, no till gardens, mulch, insulate the base of you house or green house, wind brake for animals including bee hives.

rubber bands and paperclips-I have made a number of different sized bungee cords from these for blanching cauliflower and anything else that might need fastening.

I can add duct tape, baking soda, bees wax and string to this list. I could also add books on gardening, homesteading and emergency preparedness. Lots of times the information is something you already know but reading about can jog your memory or motivate you to get busy on a project you have been putting off.

The opposite of this are the things you should find a new home for. Single use items like rice steamers, bread makers, and electric ice cream makers are rarely worth the space and the investment. It was my birthday yesterday and I knew I needed something to grind spices in. There is a dandy little electric grinder on the market but it’s electric and really hard to clean. Bruce got me a mortar and pestle set that is sweet, small and a breeze to wash up. I like it so much I might get a second so I will have one for spices and one for more pungent flavorings like garlic and onion. I will make a decision when I see if this one holds odors.

As an aside, I pulled my garlic yesterday. It has been so wet that I feared it would rot if I left it in the ground any longer.  I pulled carrots for dinner and they were beautiful, long, straight and very sweet. I will pull beets in the next couple of days as they are good size now. I have started the seeds for my fall garden and begun the plan for a new herb bed. I am thinking I will start with 10×10 with an arbor at one end. I will have a culinary and tea bed primarily as I know so little about medicinal herbs. It is on my bucket list to learn more but I have not had time yet to give this the attention it deserves.

Yesterday was both busy and productive. We headed out early on a quest for a stove, broccoli and cauliflower sets and some rosemary plants. I could not find the rosemary I had planted. Really. I looked everywhere and decided I had thought aI had planted it and just hadn’t. The stove was easy. I found just what I wanted. A gas range that does not require electricity to operate. I am glad to be getting rid of my glass top stove. I can finally use my cast iron cookware again, cook when the power is out and use my new canner without worrying about ruining the stove. The new stove has 5 burners and a super burner for things like my canner. This was a big spend for us but I think well worth it. There were a lot of really expensive options to consider. I saved a lot of money because I did not want a stove with a computer or one that was so complicated you needed a manual every time you wanted to turn on the timer.

The broccoli and cauliflower were another storey. There were none available at any of the nurseries we stopped at. I did find some cabbage sets that were so sorry looking that I got 6 of them for a $1.oo. I planted them and will give them love and fish emulsion and hope for the best. We picked up some beautiful multi-colored daisys from a free table. They looked pretty sad too but maybe we can revive them.

I had a treat last evening. Our sustainbility library showed the movie, Juliet Of The Herbs, a lovely little film about the life of Juliet de Bairacli Levy. There was much to recommend this film but one of the images I can not shake was that of the animals on a factory farm. I defy anyone to watch this stuff and still be able to eat factory meat. If the filth doesn’t nauseate you the cruely should. I would rather eat a lot less meat and have what I buy be in line with my values.

I am not sure how it happens but my kitchen is cluttered again. I need to straighten out my baking drawer and pots and pans. I hate to begin a baking or preserving project when my kitchen isn’t neat.

I have two preparedness items to see to, one important and one not so much. The first is laundry. I pine for a hand washer and wringer but the cost is prohibitive, more actually than a new washing machine. I have a notion that I can use a regular toilet plunger (a new toilet plunger) and a mop wringer. I can get those things very inexpensively. I know I won’t use them all the time but I would like to commit to two loads a weeks so that, should I be without electricity, I would be familiar with the process. That’s the important project. The less important thing is to think about sanitation. We have our own septic system and do not live in an earthquake zone that would break our pipes so the odds of not having a flushing toilet are pretty low but, again, one should have a back up plan. I have an old toilet seat that I can set on a 6 gallon bucket. I also have a supply of sawdust and heavy duty contractor bags. I can line a bucket with the bags and cover waste with sawdust after use. It would not be a perfect, long term solution but it would get us over the hump should we not be able to flush for a while. I should mention that we also have a swimming pool so if the pipes were intact but the water not running, I could flush with that water. Lots of preparedness is about being creative and willing to work hard. I would do pretty much anything to remain in my home, no matter what the emergency.

We have been fiddling with a name for our mini farm for a while and finally settled on Barefoot Farm. My daught-in-law, Maggie, designed the logo for us. I wish I knew how to post it. Maybe Heather can come over today and show me.

I have been working on coming up with a set of good recipes that can be made with food I raise, purchase locally or buy in bulk. This  had to be food that everyone enjoys and also easy on the pocketbook. I have foud that looking to traditional peasant cooking is a good place to start. Last night, We had Golumpki. ( I am probably misspelling this) I got the recipe from Heather, my neighbor both on this blog and in life. She is an excellent Polish cook. I steamed some cabbage leaves to soften, cut out the thick ribs and stuffed them with a mixture of cooked rice, leftover, ground steak, onions, peppers and diced tomatoes. I made a sauce out of the last two jars of home canned tomato juice that was simmered with a bit of sugar to thicken. It was a terrific meal. I am thinking that if I didn’t have the beef, I could substitute black beans or marinated and sauteed oyster mushrooms. We followed this meal with a cobbler of home canned cherries and sweet biscuits. Nothing was purchased from a supermarket as I bulk purchase all of the baking ingredients and the rice. This will definitely go in my preparedness recipe journal.

Heather came by yesterday and said something we laughed at but it is really true. It is expensive to be a peasant. We were talking about buying crocks. I needed a couple of good size crocks for making kraut and pickles but they are dreadfully expensive, as in $200.00 for a locally made, hand crafted crock. Old ones have become collector’s items and are hard to find. I found some huge, glass jars that will do for what I need for only $13.oo so I bought a couple of them. It seems like a lot of us received things when we got married like fondue pots and panini makers, bread machines and espresso machines. What we needed were the basics, crocks and ceramic bowls, cast iron cookware and gardening tools. Now a lot of us have to build a homesteading life from scratch. I sure didn’t inherit that stuff from my parents. We got boxes of knick knacks and murder mysteries. I wish they had not been so anxious to dismiss their peasant roots for the life of cosmopolitan retirees. Of course, they had no way of knowing that the stuff they threw in the dump would be the very thing I would crave a generation later.

My plan today is to spend some time doing an inventory on my bulk grains, flour, rice and sugar supplies. I am afraid I am getting low on a few things. I also plan to look for a new stove. I bought a new stove several years ago and it is the worst piece of junk I ever bought. It has a glass cook top that is not supposed to be used for canning and the burners blow out on a regular basis. The temperature is hard to maintain and it is a pain to clean. I want a gas range. The cook top will work without electricity which is a real selling point and I can use my canning equipment without fearing I will break the top. I hate buy it but my stove is a tool and I need one that works for me.

Over the weekend, in my constant quest for free things to do that require little or no driving, I went to visit one of my town’s two historical museums. It’s a dandy museum, set up to show how life was lived in a New England Village from the 1700’s through the 1800’s. This is not just a decorating exercise with art and furnishings but a terrific collection of the tools and equipment that made life livable before the advent of the age of oil. Naturally, my preparedness thinking turned my mind to how this stuff could be resurrected to meet the needs of a community should the apocalypse happen. It was an interesting intellectual exercise.

The first thing that struck me was how creative and intelligent the minds were that thought of these things. I think many people tend to think of problems as things we solve by throwing money at. We also assume that somebody, somewhere is working on whatever it is which gets us off the hook for putting energy into designing solutions, at least at a community level. For instance, there was the problem of snow removal. I live a hilly area of New England with frigid, snowy winters but even in the 1800’s people had to get to town and to school and to distant fields. Pushing snow aside was not an option so the snow was instead rolled with heavy wooden rollers pulled by teams of horses. This left a hard packed surface that could be walk on or that a horse and sleigh could easily navigate. In later years, kids went to school in horse drawn buses so a storm did not mean shutting down the schools for weeks at a time. Kitchen equipment was beautiful and durable and meant to be used daily. There was no room in those days for the glitzy clutter that defines many current American kitchens.

The second thing that occurred to me was how much community effort there was. Many tasks such as cider making and cutting ice for the ice house was done as a group. The cider presses were massive as were the the grain mills. People brought their apples and grain to the mills and took home cider and flour. This is a far more efficient way to use equipment and had the added benefit of providing community gathering places.

I also noticed how local the world was. Our town is small by any standards, only about 800 people, which is the same population that existed 200 years ago yet it supported several schools. First the cider mill went up and then the school. There might have only been a dozen kids but having schools so close to home made sense when most kids walked in what was often terrible weather. I wish the proponents of large, central schools could think in such concrete terms.

I am not going to pretend that life was perfect in early America. Old cemeteries are filled with the grave of little children, sometimes several in one family who all died withing weeks from diseases that are now just history. Life demanded constant, hard work as the pictures of hunched and weather beaten men and woman give testament to. I have no desire to return to those times (well, I do actually but I know I would miss a lot of conveniences of this life). I like easy access to medical care and my computer and telephone. Still, I think it behooves us all to remember that we didn’t always have those things and lives were live that were full and rich and rewarding. Every chance you get to visit these places that hold and preserve our past should be grabbed. New England has many and I expect that the rest of the country does as well. It will help illustrate that we don’t have to buy but rather innovate our way back to the future.

I have been thinking a lot about food security lately. I am anticipating a tough fall on the economic front and expect the cost of food to rise sharply and the availability to be reduced. It is making me look at my gardening from the standpoint of providing the most bang for my preparedness buck.

We are in full swing on the harvesting front. I put up 2 weeks worth of veges yesterday. I got a great haul of string beans, the last of peas up and I froze the most beautiful broccoli I have ever grown. I had a real treat when I weeded. We rotate entire beds so the garden that help our spuds last year is this years main vegetable bed and the potatoes moved over a bed. I put the tomatoes in a new bed hoping to avoid blight. Corn has it’s own place as do the wanderers like squash and pumpkins. Herbs are scattered around.  Only the perennial beds for asparagus and rhubarb are fixed. Anyway, I had a number of volunteer potatoes that sprung from some I missed last year. They had shot up these spindly little tops and didn’t look like much of anything so I pulled them out yesterday and was thrilled to dig 18 pounds of potatoes. My stored potatoes had long ago gone bad so this was a real find for  me.

Now I need to think about what to plant in the place of things I am pulling up like cabbage and peas. I am thinking of plants that will tolerate the cold like more cauliflower and broccoli. I am also going to start some beets and carrots in toilet paper rolls and get them ready to transplant into the greenhouse when the cantelope comes out. I have not had luck with spinach as it always bolts on me but I am thinking I will make a cold frame and try for a cold weather crop.

If I do it right, I think I can have some fresh food year round. That means growing herbs and some greens in the house, making good use of row covers and cold frames and finally understanding the limitations and intricacies of my greenhouse. In our climate, it is a real boon but it has a learning curve. Now that I am getting it, I would consider a second one. The next thing I need to consider is my cold storage. I am going to offer my sons a good meal and childcare if they will spend a day helping their dad build a cold cellar. They would get the meal in any case and child care means the grandkids spending the day in the pool which they would also do so it’s not much of a deal for them but it will mean a dedicated day as opposed to a possible day.

I got several responses from yesterday’s post that spoke to how many of us who grew up poor and worked our way out of poverty, now feel we have overindulged our children. I know that is true for me. Bruce and I absolutely gave our kids more than we should have for no other reason than because we could. It has been a real shift for us to beginto say no, especially if saying yes is possible. We are doing it now, both to protect our own financial future and to insure that our children figure out how to meet their own needs. The challenge for me in particular is to do this without feeling as though I am depriving my kids.

I can best illustrate this with a couple of kid stories. My Phoebe has her first loose tooth. When I asked her what she thought the tooth fairy might bring her she replied, “A kazoo!” When I asked her why she thought that she said because a fairy would know what she wanted and she wanted a kazoo. Let me assure you that I immediately bought a $2.00 kazoo and put it away so she would have one under her pillow. It was a small request and easily met. Karen asked for an Ipod. Everybody has and Ipod and without one, her life would not be complete. She did get an Ipod. She had to earn the money herself but as it mattered to her, she was willing to put in the energy to make and sell enough granola for the purchase. I must say, she loves the Ipod and, while I would never get her one, I do think it was a good spend for her. She also wanted a lap top. Same deal. If she wanted one, she had to figure out how to pay for one. After doing the math, she decided that my old lap top would meet her needs quite nicely, thank you and has not brought it up again.

There are any number of ways to help our kids become more self sufficient and feel more capable, responsible, valuable and lovable and most have little to do with buying stuff. I believe that, as parents, raising kids with a positive self image is our ultimate goal. Somewhere along the way that got tied up with praising them for every small deed, making sure they never failed at anything and pretty much giving them the impression that they were the most important little creatures to ever  draw breath. We were so concerned with giving them a happy childhood that we have  lost all of our common sense. Here is one of my pet peeves. We are bombarded with information about the national disgrace of obesity in children. So why is it that we insist on providing a “snack” for every event. When was the last time you took your kid to anything where a snack was not provided? Even church school usually has a juice and cookie break and the kids are there for about 45 minutes. We provide 2 snacks, breakfast and lunch at our school. That’s crazy! Do we really believe our kids can’t go from 8:30 until 11:45 without something to eat? Maybe if they did not get the mid morning snack, usually something sweet and high in fat, they would not be so incline to toss out their lunches. Kids can tolerate being hungry. They can tolerate waiting. They can learn to eat what is put in front of them. They won’t however, if they are fed every time they turn around.

I have always said that preparedness was 90 % mental and I believe that is true for kids as well as adults. If kids feel capable, they will be far less likely to panic in a crisis. In this culture of instant gratification, it may be necessary for you to create ways to insure your kids develop that “can do” attitude.

Teach them real skills. It may be easier to do it yourself but teaching your kids to prepare meals, repair a broken tool, change a tire or knit a scarf will pay big dividends down the road.

Make charity a part of life. Working at a food pantry or shelter, donating to good cause, assisting an elderly neighbor or  joining a community work bee give kids an opportunity to see the world beyond them.

Let them solve problems. You don’t need to intervene in every instance. I would not let my kid be bullied but I don’t interfere in every squabble. Sometimes the best discipline is letting them live with consequences of their actions. If they forget their homework, they will miss recess. If they don’t get their laundry done, they will be wearing dirty clothes.

Not all work is paid. I will pay my kids to do a major chore that I really want done but they do not get paid for being part of the family. Dishes, laundry, sweeping and weeding are part of family life.

Let kids be bored. It is not my job to keep my kids entertained. There is a lot to do around here. If you chose not to take advantage of what’s here, do not expect me to drive you to the mall.

Teach them early that fun is free. Everything does not have to be an “activity”. I set my grandson up yesterday with a bucket of water and some spoons and cups. He played happily for an hour.

Let them fail. If you never experience failure you can never fully appreciate success. This whole notion of “you are all winners” is a sweet but misguided notion. Being a winner defines everything as a competition. I make sure my kids see me try and fail and try again without getting down on myself.

Life may well be different for our kids. If gas goes up to $5.00 a gallon they will walk more. If small business are having trouble keeping their doors open they will less able to sponsor sports team. Fewer leagues may open the door to more neighborhood pick-up teams. More expensive food may mean kids will have to develop some after school time to the growing, preserving and preparation of food. Less money may mean less emphasis on status clothing. Maybe our kids will be happier and healthier as a result. Like I said yesterday, different is not always worse.

I have been doing a lot of reading lately about life during the great depression. There are two completely different perspectives. In some books, The Grapes Of Wrath for example, the depression is depicted as a horrible time with the hunger, the loss and the deprivation given the face of real people. In other books like The Worst Hard Time, it is portrayed much more as a time of hardship but also one of good times, a time many people consider the best of the lives. I expect both perspectives are accurate based on individual experience. No one event is the same for all people at all times.

This led to a conversation with my husband about the future, what we expect to happen and how it is likely to impact us and more importantly, how it will impact our children and their children. Neither of us expect the the end of the world tomorrow. We do expect a gradual, or maybe not so gradual, reduction in our standard of living. We expect energy to get dramatically more expensive and food to tag along. We expect jobs to become harder to find and benefits like retirement and healthcare to no longer be a given. We believe we are dreadfully vulnerable to a great many scenarios that would change the trajectory of collapse to a far more dramatic shift from one life style to another. Any international conflict that interrupts our energy supplies is a game changer for food and heat for the average family. Rationing may be achieved by price with a lot of people faced with the choice between food and gas, mortgage or health care for the first time in their lives. That is already happening to many but it could easily become the norm. We prepared so we are able to feed our children while we transition from the life we now enjoy to one that is very different.

One of the major differences between the way Bruce and I think about these changes and that of some of our friends and even our own kids is our histories. Bruce and I both grew up poor. Not poor like I didn’t get a car for graduation but poor like no electricity or running water. Poor as in a true problem putting food on the table. Bruce was country poor and while young, I was city poor but we both come from families that knew how to make do and do without. It was not always fun but it was an education that has served us well.

We can envision a life without so much stuff and not be frightened by it. It isn’t necessarily worse, just different. If our lives had been defined by excess, that might not be the case. Sometimes I look around and marvel at all I have been blessed with and I could weep with gratitude. Most of the world would consider me wealthy. I have a lovely home in a safe community. I have water that gushes from the tap, heat that comes with a flick of my wrist. If I get sick, health care is a phone call away. My pantry is full. My land produces. My kids are safe. No one in my family is fighting in a war. I can go to church if I wish, vote as I please, say nasty things about elected officials and the police will not come bashing in my door in the night. My life is charmed.

I am not sure where I am heading with this rant. I love my life. I love sitting on my deck, watching my kids splash in the pool but I know the pool is luxury I could live without. I love lots of luxuries but my life is not dependant upon them. Being poor, even for a while, helps make clear what is necessity and what is luxury. In a different world, a peak oil world, this is a lesson that will be learned by all.

Yesterday was a very good day, food wise, for me. I consider any day a good day when we eat very well and very cheaply, primarily from our garden and what we can forage locally.

I started with breakfast. I had a bowl of my daughter’s homemade granola topped with a local maple yogurt and raspberries from my patch. Then I put in a hard day of drying peas, making sauerkraut, freezing broccoli, pulling out the snap peas and just trying to catch up after a couple of weeks under the weather. Late in the afternoon, my friend, Leni, came by and we went off to harvest a truly remarkable bunch of oyster mushrooms. It was the largest flush I have ever seen, running from the base of the tree all the way to neatly the to, a good 3 feet or so. We cut down a six gallon bucket of shrooms, took them home and divided them up. I had already taken a bunch earlier in the day so I had a lot of mushrooms to preserve. Most will be dried, some frozen in butter sauce but the rest ended up as dinner. I made some pasta (a lot of work but so worth it) with a white wine, butter, fresh peas and mushroom sauce and served it with some garlic bread. It was amazing.

I tried to figure out how much this meal had cost me but gave up in short order. I had better things to do like sit on the deck and watch the sunset, read for a while, help Karen make cookies and take a late swim. At some point I do need to sit down and figure out some basic things like the price of bulk purchased flour per cup. It pays to be aware of information like that, especially if you are trying to live debt free, eat well and prepare for coming hard times. I had it all computed at one time but prices have gone up since then.

I have a birthday coming up and, as usual, have a list of books I want. There is a new home dairy book that looks good and an old one about being independent on five acres. Other than that, I have nothing I crave other than more kitchen equipment but I am starting to feel like an addict in that department. I may have to go cold turkey and just not buy anything new for a while.

I had such a nice weekend. I was feeling, if not terrific, at least well enough to get out and about a bit. I went to the used book sale at our Community House and came home with a big stack of books for $5.00. Then I took off with my friend, Leni, for a chanterell hunt. We were successful but to early. We found a huge patch  (multiple patches actually) but the were still too young to harvest. We will go back in a bit and harvest them. I found a huge flush of oyster mushrooms too but the are way up in a dying maple tree. Even with a long handled tool I may not be able to reach them without a ladder.

I am pulling up the snap peas today, digging in compost and planting that space with some kale. I am still harvesting peas. On Saturday, after the mushroom hunt I picked a huge basket. The girls helped shell them and I got brave and put them in the Excalibur. It was hared for me. We love our garden peas and I am worried that dried will not live up to frozen for quality. But there are certainly advantages. That whole basket of peas dried down to less a full pint of tiny, funny looking orbs. I could store a years worth in my dried foods cabinet and never need to worry about power outages. They are supposed to taste as good as fresh. Now I just need to see if there is way to generate enough solar power to run the dehydrator if the power is out. I wish we had enough sun and hot weather here to just get a solar model but we don’t.

There is a lot of talk around here about the blight affecting both tomatoes and potatoes. If it is as big a problem as it sound like it might be, it could well spell tragedy for farmers both large and small. I am going to pick up some neemoil today. It is the only organic likely to work on this scourge.

I want to take a quick moment and discuss money. I hope you have some put away. A stash of small bills could be so important in the event of a forced bank holiday or an extended power outage. Plastic is nice (well, it isn’t nice but a credit card can be handy) but cash is king when you need to buy your child milk or medicine and the plastic won’t swipe. There are a lot of places that can’t operate with no power but small stores often can.

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