July 2010

We had a honey harvest at Barefoot Farm yesterday. We were so much more efficient this year than last and far more productive too. It was not a large harvest but we’ll have two runs this year rather than just one. I was also able harvest absolutely beautiful wax. I have not use the wax I have to make anything yet. Learning to use this valuable resource is certainly on my “to do” list. I have vision of putting in some bayberry bushes so I can use the wax the berries generate to make bayberry, beeswax candles. In the meantime, I am just thrilled to have honey for my tea again.

It was my birthday yesterday. My younger girls gave me 4 books. Three were Storey books; Making and Using Dried Foods (Hobson), Recipes From The Root Cellar (Chesman), Put ‘em Up (Vinton) and The Conscious Kitchen (Zissu-Potter). I had picked these out as must-have’s for my bookshelf. I will presenting at the Mother Earth News Sustainable Living Fair in September with both Andrea Chessman and Sherri Brooks Vinton.  I am so excited at the prospect of three days spent with like-minded people. There will be so much to learn and absorb. I’m missing my 40th high school reunion for this fair. It was a tough decision for me but ultimately, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and high school reunions often disappoint. The few people I really wanted to connect with were not going so I feel better about than I otherwise might.

We are expecting a much cooler week. I’m so pleased that weather will be better as my son and his wife will be home for a visit. We haven’t seen Ben and Maggie in over a year. They are young, married students and live on a shoestring. I really want to show them a good time while they’re here. We have planned some hikes,a couple of concerts, lots of visits with family and friends and a good deal of non-scheduled family time. We’ll also be looking at the space here as the plan is for the kids to move here after graduation in april. I’m so grateful for our big house.

The cooler temps will be good for the garden but we could sure use some rain. The critter damage has been considerable this year. We are thinking about the reality of needing to fence the whole garden next summer. At least the copper sulfate seems to have nipped the blight before it took hold. I hated to spray but I really didn’t see as we  had a choice, other than losing the whole crop again.

I really appreciate all of the input on the blight and other problems. The comments did get me thinking about how I want to plan for my future gardening endeavors, especially after my permaculture meeting last night.

I have just downloaded google earth. I am going to pull up a picture of my land and bring it in to the copy store to have it printed on a large sheet of oaktag. (I’m assuming this can be done) Then I am going to add the footprint of my house, driveway, kid’s play area, shed, fences and permanent plantings; all of the things that can’t be moved will be plotted. With two hole at the top, I can add rings and some plastic overlays. I can then use a marker to add changes as they come to me. The benefit is that I can try things out, accounting for slope, wind, water flow and so on. We are doing these plot plans as a group so I will have help as I need it. I think this kind of planning tool will really help plan for future beds, trees and bushes. Plus it will be a lovely way for Bruce and me to spend a cold winter night.

For now, I’m trying to enjoy the garden as it is. In spite of the heat and dry weather, many things are doing well. I think I am going to have a banner year for root vegetables and winter squash, not so good for the broccoli and cauliflower although I have not given up the fight. I have 48 new starts in the greenhouse, If I get them in the ground in 2 weeks, use some floating row covers at the end of the season and get a little cooperation from nature, I may get a harvest yet. I have replanted string beans too. My potatoes are not as large as I had hoped but they look healthy. I haven’t found any critter damage at all from the ones I’ve dug. Another two weeks of growth and they should be ready to pull.

 We had a decent honey harvest this week. We’ll extract today. Thank goodness! I have no honey left and I miss it terribly. I refuse to purchase cheap honey in the market. It’s sometimes  shipped from China and cut with corn syrup. This keeps both price and quality low and makes it impossible for local producers to compete.

The news hit like a sucker punch. Late blight has arrived in Massachusetts. My tomatoes are beautiful and the thought of losing the whole crop again is horrible. We attended our sustainable living group’s fair on Saturday and fortunately, there were a couple of plant experts there. They are recommending that we spray. There is a copper treatment that can be very effective if the rest of the field management is good. There was also a lot of talk about a spray made with oil soap, peroxide, baking soda and water and that’s what I’m going to try. Good field management  involves a daily inspection of your susceptible plants, removal of bottom leaves, deep mulch and keeping people out of your fields. The recipe for the spray is as follows:

6 t baking soda

6 t peroxide

3 t Murphy’s Oil Soap

1 gallon water

Spray on dry leaves in the very early morning and after rain.

They are recommending 4 inches of mulch but the problem with mulch is that the cutworms live in it. We have had a problem with cutworms this year. Bruce has been going down at night with a flashlight and disposing of them. Whenever people say that they will “just” grow a garden if things get bad I have to laugh. There is no “just” about growing food.

I have new respect for the phrase “slaving over a hot stove”. I made zucchini relish yesterday. I was soaking wet by the time I had finished a triple batch but I have 15 beautiful pints on my counter. They are so pretty, I hate to put them in the basement.

The Sustainability Fair was so much fun. We had the usual wonderful food, terrific company and amazing music. I love to contra dance but I seem to tire a tad more quickly than I used to. I know that what do might seem a bit corny to some people but the day didn’t cost any money and most people could walk or ride bikes to get there. Corny or not, it was my kind of fun.


We are due for another batch of hot, dry weather after a brief reprieve of pleasant temperatures around here. It is hard to imagine but the cold weather will return and we are preparing for it now.

Our house is old. It was built when Lincoln was president and many of the windows are original, leaky and inefficient in spit of Bruce’s best efforts at sealing them. We are finally spending the money to replace them all but it looks like it’s going to be quite a job. None of the windows are standard sizes and most have to be custom ordered. Even then, all of the wood work needs to be pulled off, the leaks caulked and insulated, the new windows installed and then the wood work needs to be replaced. As the old woodwork surely has lead based paint that’s a good thing to do in any case. We are saving a good deal of cash by doing the work ourselves. Bruce had not installed a window in old construction before so the first couple of windows took some time but it should go faster now.

The new windows look terrific and I feel safer with a good means of egress upstairs. With wooden storms on the outside and the windows caulked shut on the inside, getting out in the event of a fire would have meant breaking through both windows. Now, we could just open a window and climb out. I have one of those emergency ladders upstairs. I must remember to remind the girls how to use them and redo the fire escape plan for them. As we age, I am also glad that Bruce will no longer need to spend hours up on a ladder putting up the storms each fall.

Heating our home takes a big chunk of our income each year. We are struggling with decision to replace our aging furnace with a more efficient mode. It will be expensive but the savings will pay off I think. We can heat with wood and have the means to do so but wood is just about as costly as gas around here.  We have a wood lot but cutting that much wood would be hard on Bruce and cut in on the time we spend growing food. I guess that’s why we have 3 large sons living close by.

This is a bit off the subject but I have been keeping track of how much paper wast I’ve saved by using cloth napkins and rags rather than paper towels and napkins. I used to buy at least one roll of towels and one package of napkins each week. At $1.79 for the towels and $.99 for the napkins ($2.78X52=$144.56), the savings is considerable. I toss the days used napkins in the load of laundry I do every day in any case so there is no added cost for that. I got most of the napkins from my mom and I made most of the rags from what I had around like old towels and such so this is pure savings. Now I want to calculate the savings from making 7 loaves of bread a week. That will take a bit more time but I am sure I must not spend more than a dollar for the ingredients and energy for the oven (does anybody know for sure?). As the bread we like is $3.99 a loaf, I am figuring a savings of nearly $1100.oo a year. Makes me feel a lot better about the time it takes.

It has been a crazy gardening season. For us, that means hot and dry. My brassicas look terrible and something is wrong with my Kentucky Wonder beans. The French Filets are fine. My beets have been fabulous and my garlic only so-so. Onions look good as do the tomatoes although not as many as I had hoped. Peppers are good and the peas were as well. The Turnips are amazing and the carrots seem to be fine. It’s too early to tell about the potatoes. I spent yesterday looking over my seed inventory. As I had just pulled the garlic, I added a couple of inches of compost and put more beets in one end and readied the other for another stab at brassicas. I plan to replant the beans too. We had picked up some fabric covers to keep the birds and Japanese beetles off the berries and I will repurpose them for floating row covers if frost threatens early.

When you are gardening as a hobby, you can afford to lose a crop of beans but if you plan to eat out of your garden, a crop failure is devastating. It’s another reason to have seeds stored. The selection is mighty sparse right now and I had a hard time finding enough beets to replant. The Farmer’s Co-op still had seed and I am making a trip up there to pick up chicken feed this week so I will bring some of my stashed case and stock up.As you know, I have no faith in a just-in-time delivery system and I love processing food. If I can’t rescue the broccoli, I will make my way to the valley and buy from the local farmers to insure I have a supply in my freezer.

I won’t have time today but I hope to make some turnip kraut in the next few days. It is just shredded turnip layered with salt, just as you would with cabbage. I hope this works well as we have more turnips than my kids will eat which is to say more than one. It’s one of the few foods they really don’t care for unless tiny and just picked.

I forgot to mention corn. It looks like the best crop ever. I am so excited to try one of the heirloom, painted varieties. I am also excited about saving the seed.

If you are just getting started on long-term food storage, I might suggest that now is a good time to buy wheat. There is some concern about harvest and the price will probably go higher. Only do this if you have way to grind it or plan to eat it sprouted. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money.

People sometimes ask if we ever get bored living out here in the sticks as we do. Honestly, I could be doing something all the time and still miss fun stuff. On Saturday, we went to a concert next door at our church. It was wonderful music-kind of Appalachian folk music. We hosted a pot luck dinner for the performers before the show and had a wonderful time. On Sunday, after church (where we were treated to another concert by the kids from our local music camp), I went to a Transition Town conference. I don’t think I will ever join a TT but there was some really good information and it was very nice to spend an afternoon with people who really get the trouble we in with the three E’s-energy, environment and economics.

The best part of the afternoon for me was the time spent at an open space gathering discussing food security. I came away with a renewed commitment to pay closer attention, not just to my personal food security, but neighborhood security too. These are the places I need to spend more energy.

Grains. We grow very little grain around here besides corn. I need to experiment with growing wheat and also some lesser know things like amaranth and quinoa.  I have a lot of wheat, oats and rice stored but what would I do when the stored grains ran out or became to expensive to purchase?

Seeds: I have a bit of money put aside and I am going to improve my storage system for seeds. Now is a good time to buy seeds as many are 1/2 price. I also need to check the viability of the seed I have and come up with a good inventory. I need to ramp up my own seed bank and to  encourage those around me to do the same.

Animal feed. I could feed pigs on turnips, mangles and beets. I could also grow enough corn to keep a small flock of chickens fed. Rabbits can be kept on very small amounts of food and I want to talk about raising rabbits again.

Additions. I have to think about what we are going to add to our food shed. We are converting some lawn to two large beds, one for blueberries and one for strawberries. I want some cranberries too. I will enlarge my potato field next year and make sure I have an agreement to swap some varieties, pound for pound, with friends so none of us will ever find ourselves without  a good variety of seed potatoes.

Beans. Dried beans are so easy to grow, easy to store and easy to cook. I want at least five varieties and dedicated space for them.

On a local level, it is really foolish for me to keep beating the dead horse of a community canning kitchen when we have a gorgeous kitchen, paid for with our taxes, right here in our school. I really need to figure out some way to convince TPTB that we could make good use of the school in off hours by opening up the kitchen for community use. I suppose I will run into all kinds of roadblocks like figuring out  how to pay for the energy usage and problems with security and so on. It is just maddening to have such a perfect spot and not be able to use it.

The supermarket shelves are always full of an amazing variety of beautiful foods. It can cause sensory overload just wandering the aisles. It is impossible to comprehend just how fragile that food system really is. Three days without a delivery and the shelves would be empty. Local food security deserves a lot more attention than it gets. Storing food is not enough. Eventually, the food is gone. Then what?

Last night, I went with Bruce to his bee club meeting. It was so much fun and really informative. I will be attending with him from now on as there is a lot to learn and lots of opportunities to learn how to market honey and the other bee products such as wax and propolis. Like all things, the good stuff comes with some responsibilities such as helping out with conferences and state and county fairs but that’s the price one pays. I think bee keeping has the best shot at providing us with a good source of income that does not require either of to take a real, full-time, away from the house job.

We are eating more out of the garden every day. We spent Wednesday evening fencing the tomato patch to protect it from the woodchucks and I may get a real harvest today. The garlic looks awful as do the brassicas (the heat and drought have been really hard on them) but the corn, peppers and beans look good. I made a batch of yogurt from milk I got from a neighbor’s goats. It was too runny to eat as yogurt but I have been slicing cucumbers and dressing them with sea salt, the runny yogurt and dill. We all love this, especially on these hot nights but I have just used the last jar so I now I have to make runny, goat milk yogurt again. I am also making raspberry vinegar. The process is simple. I fill a 1/2 gallon jar with raspberries and added plain white vinegar to cover the berries. Now I have to let this sit for three weeks, giving the jar a shake each day. At the end of that tine, I will strain out the berries. The ruby vinegar goes into a saucepan with some sugar (I might try honey) and comes just to simmer. I will hold it at that temperature for 3 minutes, then pour into hot pint jars. The hope is that the jars will seal and the vinegar retain its color and flavor without being actually boiled.

I am also making pickles. One of the sad parts of last night was touring the farm where the bee meeting was held. It is a big farm and the cuke harvest had just ended. The field was filled with too-big and aver ripe vegetables that the harvesters had missed. When you grow on a small-scale as I do, little gets missed like this. I can check every day and even a baseball bat sized zucchini will end up in soup or bread or sauce. But on the large scale, where all of the harvest is done by machine or on a given day, such waste is the norm. I guess the farmer sees the big picture while I see the jars of pickles that will never be.

Some years ago the idea of multiple intelligences was big news to educators. Physical, social, and artistic giftedness were recognized as having as much value as extraordinary skills in math or language. In a world of declining energy and huge problems with waste management, I think we may find a new giftedness category in adaptive creativity, the ability to figure things out.

Bruce is an adaptive genius. He would never throw anything out until he had made sure that it had truly reached the end of useful life. He made the shelter for curing our potatoes and garlic out of old shutters, the canvas top to a discarded camper awning, used lumber and chicken wire. He even scavenged the loop and hook locks form some old doors. A solar cover for a swimming pool became a heat sink for the north side of our greenhouse. When our yard swing broke after being blown over in a windstorm, Bruce not only repaired the swing but found some rescued rebar from another project and figured out a way to anchor the swing to the ground with it. His projects never look sloppy or unkempt. He takes much pride in his lovely gardens and would never tolerate anything ugly out there. His shoes are repaired with Shoe Goo, his gardens filled with plants that were rejects from other’s yards, our deck graced with furniture that he made and our food stored in the root cellar he built with no capital outlay at all.

I have a dear friend who has taken reduce, reuse and recycle to a whole new level. I go into town every two weeks and I now have to stop at our local brewery on my way home to pick up thew huge plastic bags. The hops used in the beer making come in these bags and, in the past, have been thrown out. Leni asked if she could have them to distribute as trash bags. We have hundreds of them. I can’t see that I will ever need to buy another trash bag. I use them for my recyclables and to line my garbage can and we’re passing them out to anybody who will take them. Now I empty the garbage into the compactor and return home with my bag. I can rinse it with the garden hose if necessary and can  reuse it forever as it’s far heavier than anything Glad puts out. Our garbage has been cut in half from a few years ago. The food goes to the compost, the chickens or the pigs, we buy a lot of our food in bulk which cuts down on packaging and we try not to buy anything without really needing it.

Phoebe recently played with a handheld game system. She loved it and, of course, asked if she could have one. I said no. I suggested that the world was filled with these systems that kids had used a few times and tired of. Sure enough, we found a kid with just such a system gathering dust in her room. She handed it off to Phoebe who enjoyed it for about a week before putting it aside. I have now passed it on so another parent can save their money, the game will stay out of the landfill and the kids will learn a good lesson about the difference between true value and transient pleasure.

I have a couple of great scores in the past few weeks. My son and his wife sang at the wedding of a friend. The decorations were a country theme with flowers in mason jars on each table and more flowers affixed to chicken wire background. I was offered the mason jars and lids (never used) and the chicken wire and the heavy gauge wire, all of which I gratefully accepted. Another friend owns a small grocery store and has an abundance of 1/2 gallon jars and plastic buckets to give away. I have plan for a completely reorganized freezer space and I have already made a terrific storage for my dried beans. Now I am going to gather up my courage and ask the owner of a lovely cafe what he plans to do with mason jars he’s using this summer as table decorations. If they are headed for a landfill I will gladly take them off his hands.

The weather promised rain this past weekend and failed to deliver more than spotty showers. It was no where near enough to make up for the deficit we have. There is a possibility fo rain on Tuesday and Wednesday. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, as we can still irrigate, we are actually having a fairly successful garden. I have lost the cauliflower and the broccoli looks pretty unhappy but the tomatoes are doing well and the peppers are loving it. I have just started more brassicas and plan to replant in early August. I will have resort to row covers to beat an early frost but these cool weather vegetables play a big role in our winter eating and I don’t want to face a winter without broccoli soup. More and more, the virtues of learning to like a diet of the things that grow well where one lives makes good sense. Plan A might include family favorites but Plan B has to include what is totally reliable. For us, it’s potatoes and squash, corn and beans. They tend to grow no matter what, especially the old varieties.

I planted an old variety of painted sweet corn this year. It’s doing well with no extra water. It’s a funny looking corn, more like decorative corn than anything else and certainly not as sweet as the hybrids but it’s open pollinated so I can save the seed. I wish I could save the seed on my squash but we plant a number of varieties and they cross-pollinate so you never know what will come up the next year. I know how to keep that from happening (in theory at least) but for now I have just vacuum sealed seeds and stored them in my freezer. Just in case.

A summer like this really drives home the point that nature will always have the last laugh. I have touted the Northeast as the place to live in hard times because of our dependable water. Last year we only had a few days without rain and lost our tomatoes and potatoes to blight because of it. This year, the grass is brown and only constant watering will save the garden in this heat. It just knocks the hubris right out me.

Thank you all so much for the lovely welcome back. I got so many great responses to my pickle post that I wanted to expand on it.

Of all the ways I preserve food, pickling is probably my favorite. It can be done with nothing more exotic than a vegetable and salt. I have used old jars that would have otherwise landed in the recycle bin (as long as the pickles are not going to be canned). Any number of pickles can be stored for months in a root cellar and many will last a good long time right on a kitchen counter-at least they would if my kids didn’t eat them first. People who profess that they hate vegetables (oh, the shame!) readily eat fermented broccoli and cauliflower. Nutritionally, there is even some enhancement in some cases.The live bacteria is an aid to digestion and will help keep your stomach’s flora in proper balance. Then’s there’s the variety.  I have made pickles out of bits of this and that have turned into family favorites. And finally, pickles can elevate a rather pedestrian meal to something special. We go through a jar every night in the winter around here and my two favorite pickle books show it.I use Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz all the time.

 The Katz book till teach you what you need to know about lacto-fermentation. I have not fermented beets this way as we like the sweet pickle variety but I I have done many other vegetables with just salt and water.

 Now I don’t have a salt mine but I do have a food co-op and I bought an 80 pound sack of salt from mine  several years ago. Salt keeps forever and if there is one food to purchase in bulk this is it. Mind you. 80 pounds of salt does seem to weigh more than 80 pounds of almost anything else so you might want to remember that when you think about whether or not you are going to try to carry it into the house yourself. Be sure to get a good quality salt. Regular old table salt will not do for this. You want a pure, flaked salt with no additives like iodine.

Water also matters. If you have heavily chlorinated water, coming from your tap, find a spring someplace or let your water sit until the bleach smell dissipates. Bleach will kill the beneficial bacteria you need to make a pickles.

Finally, watch your kitchen hygiene. You don’t want competition between the good cultures and the bad ones. I have never gotten sick from a pickle but I have lost pickle batches to random spoilage.

Today, I am making pickled turnip. My early turnips need to be harvested but my root cellar is to warm for storage. I hope I will have 5 pound of turnips to peel and shred. Mix 3 tablespoons of salt with the shredded turnip in a nonreactive bowl. Pack the mixture in a one gallon jar. Make a brine of 1 1/2 tablespoons salt with a quart of water. Fill a plastic bag with the brine and use this to weigh the turnip down in the jar. You don’t want any air to come in contact with the vegetable. Set the jar someplace where the temperature is between 60 and 75 degrees. Check to be sure thatthe  turnip is below the level of brine every 24 hours. If you find some scum, don’t panic. Just remove the bag, skim off the scum, wash the bag and return it to the jar. You might find that you don’t have quite enough brine. Just add some of the brine from the bag to the jar. It will take 2 to 4 weeks for this to ferment. When it’s done, cap the jar and keep it in the refrigerator or in your root cellar if it’s cool enough. 38 degrees is about right.

You can can this in a boiling water bath (20 minutes for pints and 25 for quarts) or let pints or quart jars sit on 180 degree water for thirty minutes. I have not done this before but I plan to try it today as the result is not cooked and should retain more vitamins.

From a preparedness standpoint, know how to ferment could be a lifesaver. The power may be out but you will still have a way to preserve your food. Just don’t forget to stock up on the salt.

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