April 2010


It was Bruce’s birthday yesterday and all available kids and grandkids made an appearance. It was noisy and busy with lots of food and laughing. Bruce got a new recliner from the kids (his old one is pretty awful and no longer returns to a down position with any regularity so you must be prepared to hoist yourself out, much easier for either of us to do a few years ago and not something you want to attempt in a skirt or with an audience. I gave him a Kousa dogwood tree. We have seen a few around here and they are remarkably beautiful with a bright, orangey, red fruit in the fall. The fruit is delicious and makes a nice wine. I also got him some new drill bits for his shop.

We have big plans for today. The mulch comes off the asparagus, the new raised beds are getting built, and work on the chicken coop will continue. I need to buy some straw for the strawberry bed and finish some weeding. I need to replant a few things too. There are some bare spots in the pea patch and not all of the herbs I started have emerged. With the brilliant sunshine, I am feeling all kinds of spring energy and can’t wait to start my day.

We are taking the kids out of school for a week in the middle of May and  heading to Pennsylvania to visit my daughter and our new grandbaby. I want to do some sight-seeing around Lancaster County while we are down there. We rarely travel and want to make the trip count.

I suspect all of us on this site share the grief of the environmental tragedy in the Gulf. I am old enough to remember the Exxon Valdez and the impact on Alaskan wildlife. I suspect it will be a while before we will hear the phrase, “Drill, baby, drill”, delivered to screams of enthusiasm.

I woke to snow yesterday, watch a few minutes of the news (plenty enough for me, thank you very much, what with GS and oil spills and other cheery stuff) and did the only sensible thing. I went collecting ramps.

Ramps are a spring ephemeral, delicate and delicious, a mild kind of wild leek. It doesn’t hurt that, around here anyway, they grow in the same spot as Trillium, a gorgeous, showy flower that carpets the ground with deep russet blooms. Gathering leeks is work. They grow on a steep, slippery slope, in icy earth and they grow deep. You must dig them up. Pulling will get you a hand full of greens and no bulb. Getting enough to provide a nice addition to a dish of fried potatoes takes some committment to wild food foraging. I returned home muddy and cold but satisfied.

Other things are spring up just now. I will harvest and dry nettles today and my fiddleheads are just poking up so I may get a small meal out them too. I think everybody who is interested in local food systems and preparedness needs to have a location specific wild food guide. In fact, you should have several as they don’t all have the same information. I would prefer to know 10 plants really well rather than a tiny bit about 100. It is also very important to know how to harvest responsibly. Some things, like nettles and dandelions are so abundant, over harvesting is impossible, but others, like ramps are delicate and be harvested out of an area. Never take all of something. Leave enough to make a new crop the following year. Watch where you walk. You don’t want to trample a nearby endangered plant in your quest for a prize. Don’t take more than you can eat.

You will never get fat on foraging. I expended way more calories in getting those ramps than I got from them, but greens can provide some necessary nutrients at just the time our bodies most need them. My pickles are gone, my fruit consumed, but nettles and ramps will fill the gap until asparagus gets bigger. My simple blessing is this: Earth abides, earth provides. I am so grateful. Thank you

I have been reading a lot about rabbits and they are high on my wish list. For city folk, rabbits have the advantage of being quiet and needing less space than chickens. The downside for me is that we currently have a bunny. Her name is Miss Olivia which will probably give you some insight into her status as food. One does not eat something named Miss Olivia. It might be a hard sell with my kids to convince them to eat sweet, furry things. On the other hand, I thought we would run into trouble with the pigs but it didn’t happen. The girls were very pragmatic about the whole thing. We probably don’t give them enough credit.

It’s snowing here! Not a lot but white stuff none the less. The only things up are the peas and a bit of asparagus so everything should be fine. I sure could use some warm weather as my tomato sets are HUGE. They really need to get outside but it needs to be a lot warmer. I’m sure I rushed it with starting them. I should have listened to Bruce and waited a couple of weeks.

We are still shopping for a new greenhouse or two. As we have to grow more food, season extenders are going to matter a lot more. Bruce is building a frame for the tomato bed so we can cover it more easily when frost threatens. In past years, we all run around draping the bed sheets over the garden in the fall, hoping to get another week of sun before we have to harvest. This will make the process a lot easier. I will also look around the thrift store for some dedicated blankets and sheets for this. It will take some sewing to get them big enough. All of this talk leads to thoughts of storage. I need a new shed. Gardening at the level we do takes stuff and the stuff needs a home. We have two sheds and both are packed full. If Bruce were not so neat and organized, we would never find anything.

My daughter is home for a visit and mentioned that several of her 20 something friends have moved back home with their folks. As much asI  see this as the wave of the future it reminds me of a funny thing I heard recently. The fellow who was teaching the orchard workshop I took said that you don’t want to make the planting hole too rich as the roots will not reach out to find what they need. This is much like young adults. If home is too comfortable, they might not want to leave.

What if you knew that you had only 2 years before your life was going to undergo a dramatic change? Not a power outage kind of change but a permanent power shortage, really expensive food, gas rationing kind of change? What would you do today to prepare for that change? Would you still live where you still live where you live? Would you still work where you work? How would your spending change? Your travel? Your investments in your community?

I just looked at the charts on projected oil output and usage from the EIA and I fear that may be the case. By 2012, there will be a gap between the energy we have and the energy we need that does not bode well for average families. This shortage will not be helped much by storing food or buying a camp stove. It is a situation that will demand lifestyle changes that  have to be started now if you are going to avoid the worst of the dislocation. Please don’t wait to find a way to grow food. Don’t wait to get your house insulated or to buy the new windows. Start the community garden and raise some chickens with your neighbor. Eat locally (this one is really important). Find out where your water comes from. Buy the water filter and the rain barrel. Download the directions for the rocket stove and the outdoor oven. Start a relocalization group. If you live in the suburbs and can’t grow food or walk anywhere, get out.

Do I sound alarmist? I am. Energy depletion is no longer a distant maybe but a here and now. It will affect you  and your children. It is too late to make plans. The time has come to take action.

I really wanted my book and my blog to have something for everyone. I believe all people need to be prepared at whatever level is possible for them depending on their circumstances. But I realize I have a bias. I am middle-aged and  married with children. I live in small, rural town surrounded by some like-minded friends and neighbors. I have some acreage and my husband is handy. My location in the Northeast gives me a bias as well as I don’t need to worry about water in the same way a person living in downtown Phoenix needs to. Being retired and able to earn a subsistence level of income at home gives me another bias.  Having children with special needs means that I worry  more about medication supply lines than I otherwise would. All of this means that I probably miss some important topics that I should be addressing and spend more time than necessary talking about food and gardening and community because those are the places I’m comfortable.

Today is Earth Day. A lot of people are put off by days devoted to causes and I happen to be one of them. It is all to easy to turn a cause into a marketing ploy. I have seen Earth Day T-shirts made with industrial raised cotton, printed with toxic dyes, produced in China by small children in filthy factories and shipped to the US to be purchased by someone who wants to promote saving the planet. Forgive me for not buying it. I would be tempted to give the whole thing a pass except for some remarkable people who have made real change with Earth Day as a jumping off place.

I have seen friends devote weeks to producing reusable bags from old material to replace the plastic ones that clog our water ways and paper bags that are made from carbon sequestering old trees. Their efforts have kept hundred of thousands of bags out of the landfills-not bad for a couple of folks with a mission. Earth Day spawned a movement to rid our community of inefficient light bulbs, promote local food systems and rethink our buying habits. It has resulted in educating me about some things I really had not given much thought to. While I’m not much for wallowing in guilt, I look back on past choices with real sadness and a committment to do better in the future.

So this is connected to preparedness how? Well, I believe we are approaching a time when we will be forced to live with less because of energy constraints. Consider doing without, making do, reusing, recycling and, using up as a dry run for the f future. Every night that you turn off the television and spend some family time on an energy-saving project or growing some food or cooking from scratch from local produce, you are preparing while you are also reducing your load on the planet. Every time you walk rather than drive, turn down the heat and pass those gently used items on to someone who can use them, you are doing your part. Every time you refuse the styrofoam cup, the plastic fork, the water bottle, you are fighting the good fight.

I am far from perfect. I would probably be even less perfect if I didn’t have friends and neighbors who lead me along by example and make me be a better person. I think we are headed for a different world and I suspect it will come along sooner rather than later. The change will happen whether or not  I reuse that bag, whether I eat the strawberries in January of make do with the apples, whether I drive to town or wait to combine a trip. But I need to do the right thing anyway.

The fragile state of our planet needs to matter to everybody. City people, country people, old people, young people, tree hugging hippies and marketing executives. Well, it may be a bit tought to get the executive on board but we really need to try. Earth day is every day. As you prepare for the future, try to impact it. It’s not enough to store water. You need to conserve it and protect it as well. My Earth Day goal is to rid my home of plastic bottles. This is hard. It means no more seltzer (my no calorie summer treat). It means no more big bottles of juice (a preparedness staple). It means no more milk in jugs ( a problem if I run out of milk in bottles before the next delivery). I am feeling a bit guilty because Bruce and I gave Karen a very hard time for bringing home a water bottle yesterday. Come to find out, she had salvaged it from school, brough it home and washed it, then reused it to bring water on a walk. What do you know? She has been listening all along.

I went to a vinegar tasting at the Creamery a couple of days ago and the talk came around to what we used to consider food. I remember thinking that a meal of those oval pieces of mystery substance labeled veal cutlet, topped with Ragu and a slice of American cheese and sides of Minute Rice and canned asparagus was real gourmet fare. I would no more eat that today than I would my dirty socks. Velveeta cheese, Wonder Bread, there are lots of things we ate routinely that would not be considered fit to eat around here. On the other hand, I made a casserole last night that was made of reconstituted mushrooms, gathered and raised, onions, turnip greens and nettles, all sautéed with some bacon then topped with some sour cream that we all thought was delicious. I am quite sure that in my Wonder Bread days, I would not have eaten such a wierd dish.

I am getting the ground prepped for planting and among the things that I have not planted before that I plan to try this year are salsify, kolrabi and celeriac. I am game for anything that will store in the root cellar as this is the least energy intensive (mine and the planet’s) there is. I am also putting in some new perennial greens, salad burnet, watercress and garden sorrel that I will be able to gather year after year.

The first thing to go with cheap oil will be our food prejudices. We will eat what grows locally and in season and what is easily preserved and learn to like it. I have to say that a diet based on pork and potatoes has been pretty easy to live with. Pickles and fruit sauces, root vegetables and dandelion wine, delicious and accessible.

I’m, the first to admit it. I am easily amused. On Thursday, my dear friend, Sheri, suggested I plant some Crimson Clover on the bare ground between my hazelnut bushes. The area had been covered with black plastic for a few years and needed a ground cover if it wasn’t going to revert to weeds this summer. The clover has some really neat features. It’s beautiful and the bees, which are housed only ten feet away, will love it. I can harvest some of the blossoms to dry for tea and in the fall it just dies down. The mat of clover should be thick enough to choke put any competing weeds. Well. I went down to check on my seeds yesterday and they are already sprouting. The ground is dotted with tiny crimson shoots. I was so excited; you would have thought I had sprouted diamonds.

I tried a new recipe yesterday and it turned out so nicely that I want to share it as it’s made from a lot of pantry ingredients. I picked up a pound of stew beef, a rarity around here, and the cold, damp weather made the day just right for stew. I have been rereading Independence Days and found a stew recipe from Sharon. I calls for all of the stuff you would expect like potatoes, carrots and onions. I added a couple of turnips as I have some growing in the greenhouse, some rehydrated mushrooms and some celery and I added more garlic than the recipe called for. The broth was based on V-8 juice. I happen to have had some tomato sauce that I made last summer so I substituted that, added some Worcester Sauce, red wind vinegar, red wine, rosemary, salt and pepper and spicy mustard. I didn’t measure anything but tasted as I went along. I put the whole thing in a big cast iron dutch oven and left it alone for the afternoon. It was really good with a rich flavor and nice thick broth. I have enough leftover for lunch.

The volcano in Iceland has certainly made a mess of things in Europe. It’s been less than  a week and there are already shortages of fresh fruits and vegetables. If one had  a root cellar, a garden or at least a supply of sprouting seeds, the need for imports would not be so acute. I am grateful every day for my pantry and my garden. I sleep better knowing my family does not rely on a “just in time” delivery system that is easily disrupted.

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