June 2010


I made a fatal error. I wrote a post after having just cleaned  up the remains of a yellow throated warbler. In the previous few weeks I had also cleaned  up a humming bird, a bluebird and several other unidentified species. I was sad and angry and frustrated and feeling guilty that I had not been able to stop the carnage.I posted as though I was venting to friends who know al facets of me well without recognizing that I was sounding off to universe that only knows me a few paragraphs at a time. We are, off course, not getting rid of mr. kitty. We are going to make every attempt to keep him indoors although I know it will be an uphill slog with kith and kin in and out all day. We have thought of all of the other solutions (thanks to those who offered them) and this seems the most logical. I am going to take a blog vacation and lick my wounds.

My best wishes,

Kathy

I was taken to task by a long time reader yesterday for my stance on the canning practices of other countries. She was absolutely right! Most of us suffer from a kind of cultural imperialism when it comes to food and best practices and I’m no exception. While I will continue to do things the way I feel most comfortable, knowing other options is a good idea. If I had plenty of fire wood but water was scarce, oven canning would be the way to go. So I stand corrected. Might I also add that the gentleness and civility with which I was address gives me hope for the future of the species.

We have another family of woodchucks. I am not happy. They are devastating to a garden. I either have to get rid of them or spend major dollars on fencing. We have a lot of gardens spread around our property and it would be a nightmare to fence properly. The other problem is that are a bit aggressive. One went right after me yesterday. This brings up the subject of pest control in a prepared family. Do you have mouse traps and rat traps in your supplies? If there was disruption in trash pick up, even for a few days, you will need to ways to combat flies and rodents.We have been inundated with ants this week. The best offence is to keep your counters scrupulously clean and to pick up anything sweet. I can’t keep honey or jam in the cupboards from June until September. I have had some success with a plate of confectioner’s sugar mixed with borax. The ants take the sugar back to the nest and the borax kills the hill.

Now I have confess something. Speaking of pests puts me in a tough place. We got a kitten about a year ago. He’s a nice kitty and has taken care of our mouse problem which is a good thing. Unfortunately, he is also a bird killer. We are bird watchers and can see the evidence of a decline in song bird population over the past decade. I think the kitty has to go the big kitty litter box in the sky. This is a hard decision. My youngest loves her kitty but if I’m going to take the moral high road here I know I have to be honest with myself and with Phoebe. Cats have become predator pests. It will not be easy but it is a decision that is like so many others. We have to be able to put what we want and is comfortable for us on the back burner and look at the greater good. We are all a bit selfish by nature, me more than most, and it kills me to hurt Phoebe. The only other solution I can come up with is to have the cat declawed. A lot of vets consider it a cruel operation and won’t do it. Cruel to the cat, hurt my little girl, participate in the death of the songbirds. I hate being responsible.

I brought out my canner for the first time this year last night. I spent a lovely evening putting up a beautiful strawberry-rhubarb compote. My new stainless steel canner was a pleasure to use. Waking up to the row of rosy red jars lined up on the counter put a smile on my face in spite of the nip in the air that I know is cooling off my tomatoes’ feet and slowing their growth as I write this.

For all of you just starting to preserve food, I have a word of warning. I bought a new food preservation book this week. It arrived in the mail and I couldn’t wait to try some of the recipes but I have to say, I’m concerned. This is a relatively new book but some of the information is dead wrong. The time given for boiling beets is a ridiculous two hours and the author is still recommending oven canning, something the USDA frowns upon. If you are learning to use a canner, please start with one of the standard books like the Ball Blue Book or Keeping The Harvest. If you can find an experienced mentor to work with the first few times you should do that but be sure that this person is following the newest guidelines. Preserving food is not difficult but it is a science and not something you can afford to be cavalier  about. Use the best equipment, the best ingredients and the best instructions.

After three years of talking about Peak Oil to everybody who will listen, It was amazing to hear the President give a speech on it last night. I am watching the early morning news shows and that’s all the heads are talking about. I don’t know if it will change anything or not but one can only hope that it will get people thinking about a future where we see energy shocks and shortages. The cost of food (and everything else) will be drain on family economies. One of the best ways to address the problem is produce as much food as you can locally. If you can’t grow it in  your yard, then talk to your local government about public spaces being used for garden spaces. Churches and schools and parks can be landscaped with perennial food plants. If you buy in bulk from local sources then preserve the harvest for your daily use. You will save money, eat better, support your local economy, enhance your community and mitigate the effect of the coming energy crisis.

It’s the phrase of the day.” Why don’t they just”, followed by someone’s solution to the oil flow. Here’s the answer. The don’t because they can’t or because it won’t work or because it just might make things a whole lot worse. I am no fan of huge oil companies or most government agencies but I honestly believe that both our government and BP want this thing to stop and would try whatever they thought had a real chance at working.

Here’s the truth of it. We have gotten spoiled. We have gotten used to technology fixing everything. My generation has seen the first man walk on the moon. We saw smallpox vanquished. We watched fantastic buildings rise from the sands of the desert. Physicians can replace limbs and organs and cure diseases that killed millions a generation ago. Chemicals made it possible to turn arid, barren land into a  productive oasis and the food produced made nothing impossible to buy, whatever the season, wherever you lived. Computers that used to take up rooms now fit in the palm of your hand and little kids can use them. We can talk to someone on the other side of the globe as easily as on the other side of the room. Progress. We turned it into a god and now we’re bewildered and angry that the god has apparently gone on vacation and left us with a  problem that the best minds in the world can’t solve.

I think this is going to happen more and more. It will happen with food and energy and engineering and medicine. There won’t always be a new frontier. The sky may not be the limit. Our kids may not be able to become whatever they want if they work hard enough. Technology may not find the solution. It’s like we have just hit our teenage years and discovered that our parents don’t actually have all the answers and the fear that comes with the revelation makes us a little crazy.

I suspect that we will do what teenagers have always done. We’ll get angry and obnoxious for a bit. But gradually, we’ll grow up. We’ll learn to accept the fallibility of our parents and institutions and we’ll move on. I think that people who take preparedness and self-sufficiency seriously have already figured it out. It why we keep food on hand. It why we would rather count nr our own ingenuity to solve our problems than look to an expert  for a quick fix. We have accepted the limits of hope and found a life in them.

What I grieve for in the Gulf is not just the loss but the necessity of the loss. I grieve that we are so dependent on oil that we must accept the dangers of drilling a mile under the surface of the ocean. I grieve that taking the step of halting all deep water drilling would plunge our nation into an energy crisis, an economic crisis, a food crisis and a security crisis. We have lost our innocence but it is the first step to becoming a grown up. That’s what will happen in the next decade. We will be forced to grow up and face a future of limits. We won’t like it but we’ll do it because we don’t have an option.

I feel like I should have some conclusion here. But like technology, I have reached my limit.

Okay. So you had a baby or finished up your dissertation or donated a kidney to an orphan or you had some other excuse. Whatever the reason, you didn’t get the garden put in and now it’s too late. Think again. I was in a nursery yesterday and I saw tomatoes and peppers that looked great for $1.00 a flat. Plant the tomatoes deep and you will probable have fruit before I do. The peppers already had flowers on them. Even if you had a lot of green tomatoes-so what? They’ll ripen indoors or make green tomato chutney or something. You can still find herbs and squash and brassicas and all manner of viney things just waiting for a good home. It’s not too late for onions or potatoes either. I have planted potatoes I picked up at the market (use organic as they aren’t sprayed with sprout inhibitors) and had great results. If they don’t have time to get to full size they will still be good eating. Don’t be shy. Make an offer on a lot of flats. The nurseries want them out so they can get in the summer flowers.

We get so bogged down in the details sometimes that we miss the big picture. And the big picture here is food. I am still planting lettuce and green beans and lots of little plants. Every time I see an empty corner, I tuck something in. It’s better for the soil not to be bare anyway. Seeds are cheap so why not?

The progress on selling my MIL’s house is not good. There are too many houses and no buyers as there are no jobs to move to the area for. We are trying to look on the bright side here. The house is large. It has 5 bedrooms and a good, deep yard with a mature apple tree and some very nice blueberry bushes. We are looking at it as a family resource. It can always be a refuge for family members who find themselves in need of one. It can be heated with wood if necessary which is a plus. We have a big family and space is always a plus, even though I would rather have a barn.

On a side note. I have been cleaning my kitchen in preparation for the canning season. I like to start with everything neat and organized. I had noticed an odor from my dishwasher and when I cleaned it out I found a ton of funky crud under the seals. It was a nasty job but I dug it all out and things smell much better. I use my dishwasher everyday, especially during canning season. My jars sit in the basement all winter and are really dusty when I go to use them. I tend to run a full load on the sanitize cycle so I don’t have to use my limited stove space for sterilizing jars. I have made jams without sterilizing jars and ended up with a mold problem.

I was up at about 3:00am. The new moon was lovely peeking over the back hill. I happened to glance at the thermometer and was shocked to see it was only 38 degrees! It was 92 last week. The temperature swings are hard on both people and plants. Living in New England my whole life has taught me not to put the coats away until mid June.

It is time to do a food inventory. I started mine yesterday. The cabinet in the basement  that holds most of my canned goods is nearly empty. The are few pitiful jars of beet sauce left. I had this beautiful red juice left after canning pickled beets last year. I hated to waste it so I made a thin jelly out of it, thinking I would use it to glaze pork. Well, I didn’t. That was fed to the pigs along with a couple of jars of strawberry jam that hadn’t sealed well. If you don’t feel real resistance when you take off a jar lid, toss the contents. I still have relish. I made way too much last summer. I just love making relish and the jars look gorgeous sitting on a shelf but really, hos much relish is one family likely to eat? I gave a lot away as gifts and still have some left. I have a few jars of gingered pears and some peaches left too but we will eat those up. The only other thing left is rhubarb-not good as I have to harvest rhubarb today.

Here’s my problem. I generally plan to have enough food put away to feed my family for a year. But the definition of family is fluid. I want to have enough for charity as well. There is also no telling how much family will be here in a crisis. I usually end up erring on the high side which leaves me with leftovers each spring. I suppose it’s not wasted if the pigs eat the beet sauce and we eat the pigs.

I did the dried food inventory too. We had an amazing pepper harvest last year and I still have a lot of dried peppers left. There were just small amounts of other things like celery, onions, summer squash and such. I put everything in my big stock pot with some leeks, parsley, mushrooms and whatever else was wilting in the refrigerator and made a wonderful stock. I managed to get 5 quart jars and couple of ice-cube trays of stock and the pigs got the leavings of that as well. Waste not, want not.

Phoebe is home sick today (the reason I was up at 3:00) and I had hoped to get out to do some weeding. As that is not to be, I am going to clean out the entertainment cabinet. Know anybody who wants 25 old Barney videos?

I get a little thrill when my GPS announces that I am arriving at my destination. After all, if I’m headed someplace, the whole idea is to get there. What I worry about is heading someplace I really don’t want to be. We spent part of the weekend cleaning out my husband’s family home and I can see how this happens.

My MIL was a dear person (can you hear the but coming?) BUT she never met a “buying club” she didn’t love. Time Life Books, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, recipe clubs, book clubs, music clubs, she had them all, most never opened, let alone used, Then there was the lighthouse collection, one from every place she visited plus lighthouse ornaments and knickknacks. Let’s not forget the bird stuff. She loved birds and we found, not just the bird figurines, but bird clocks and bird pictures and bird calendars. There was so much stuff and we had to figure out how to get rid of it.

I returned home and looked at my house with a critical eye. What I saw was the tea-pot collection, the video tapes, the cookbooks and the books. Did I mention the baskets and the pottery and the decorative tins? I have a picture in my head of the prefect home environment and clutter is not in the frame. If I had my druthers today I would be doing another purge but that is not happening. The rain combined with a few days of hot, sunny weather have got the weeds growing as quickly as the tomatoes and I need to get out in the garden.

So here is my desired destination. I want to be food secure. That means everything else goes on hold when I need to be in the garden. I want my home to be a both a physical and emotional shelter. Clutter saps energy and takes up prime real estate that could be put to better use. I worked hard for my money and I want to be sure that whatever I trade my life energy for provides lasting value and not just a momentary thrill. When I head to my final destination, I want to be sure that where I was headed was where I want to be.

On a side note: The real estate agent said that there are usually 19 houses for sale in that small town. Now there are 60 houses for sale and very little is moving. I have family members who are still unemployed and a few facing the real prospect of losing homes and businesses. I am thinking that the GOM tragedy will put the real estate markets along the coast in a nosedive. We are looking at an active hurricane season and that’s the last thing we need. It is easy to get bogged down in bad news but I haveto  think of my destination. I want to have a life well lived and that means finding joy every day. So before I get to work I am going to sit on the deck and listen to the town wake up. The birds are singing and there is a light mist rising from the pasture. The kids are getting up and I can hear Phoebe singing a little song to her baby dolls. In spite of the clutter and the weeds, I am heading to my destination.

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