January 2012


We have a lot of bees-wax. A friend and neighbor moved to Florida and left us all of his wax. It was in large rounds, about 15 pounds worth, but it needed filtering before I could use it for anything. As I found myself with a long Saturday afternoon and nothing pressing, I decided to tackle that little project. But, as so often happens around here, one thing led to another. As long as I was waiting for the wax to melt so I could filter it through some cheesecloth I decided to read a bit more about making candles. That led me to looking over my supplies and that led me to a Sunday afternoon of candle making. The results are way better than I expected. I had a mold for some spiral candles and was delighted to have them come out looking just as they were supposed to. I made a lot of votives too. The house smells wonderful. A lot of my equipment is a bit of a mish-mash. Balanced jars on top of bowls and a wooden spoon for a wick holder are not very pretty but they did the trick. I still put in an order for some wooden blocks and a dowel that will fit across the top. It’s the kind of simple thing that will take Bruce just a few minutes but make all the difference to me.

We’re expecting more weirdly warm weather this week so I was pleased that Phoebe and Bruce took some time and did some cross-country skiing. Phoebe loves skiing and she seems to be getting the hang of it pretty quickly. It helps that her school offers cross-country skiing as a physical education option and also as an after school activity. We have a lot of equipment that has been donated over the years so every kids who wants to can participate. A couple of teachers and some parents volunteer their time to do the after school program so the program is essentially free. My kind of fun.

The two jars on the table are my dilly beans and the last of the canned potatoes. I know that canning potatoes seems silly as they store so well in the root cellar but these thing are wonderful. I canned new potatoes in their jackets. When I want a quick side dish I can toss them in the oven to brown with some bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese and they’re really good. I am finding that meals are so much better with lots of pickles and sauces along side.the main course. I don’t miss my summer salads much at all.

I’m doing some research on tea. I was reading about a kind of tea that improves with age. It’s cheap when fresh and as it ages the price goes way up. It comes in bricks so it doesn’t take much room. I’m going to check the shipping price but if it’s good I think I’ll try this. The web site is PuerhShop.com. The descriptions sound yummy and the price is right for the young stuff.

Have you all noticed the change in light? The days are noticeably longer. I’ve been alive nearly 60 years. You would think that this particular miracle would be a bit less awesome by now but it never fails to cheer and surprise me. It really won’t be winter forever. I’m already thinking sugar season and garden plans. January is just about over. February is short and then it’s March. Let’s hope for a lamb.

I used to be quite involved in politics. I followed things like debates pretty closely and made well-reasoned decisions about my voting choices based on my research. I’m so disgusted by the current political process that I can’t even get engaged beyond what happens in my own state. I wish there was a box that read permaculture and raw milk. Could they add a box that votes for full disclosure from Monsanto? How about a place to mandate front yard gardens and the right to farm every place, country and cities, suburbs and gated communities. Maybe we could pass legislation to demand that each new household gets a clothes line with their mortgage. I suppose that’s not likely to happen as there is no money to be made from such things. Well. I make the voting decisions in my own house and here, my vote matters.

I just got a new book. How To Make A Forest Garden (Whitefield) is pretty basic and geared towards England but I still like it. What I need on this icy, rainy Friday is inspiration and that’s what I’m getting. I’m going to curl up with a cup of tea made from last summer’s herbal harvest and make some garden plans. I’m especially interested in my edges. I have great soil and access to water around the edge of my pasture and I want to make good use of it without disturbing the native species already well established. I have a lot of fiddlehead ferns, nettles and Jerusalem artichokes. I also have a lot of things that are just pretty. Whenever Bruce thins out the garden he plants the extras down below. The result is a wild array of bee balm and flock, daisies and black-eyed Susans. The bees love it and so do I.

I got an 80 pound sack of salt yesterday. I thought that was all I ordered but it turns out I ordered 2 of them. What was I thinking? I suppose I was thinking that salt is so necessary and one thing I have no readily available, local alternative for. I must say that 80 pounds of salt is really heavy. I think I’m going to distribute in smaller containers before I try to get it upstairs. I was just reading about the lasted solar storm and that got me to looking over my pantry again.

I have a meeting with the 4-H people today. Nothing is easy. It’s an organization like any other and there’s paperwork to be done and dues to be paid. It makes sense I suppose. If people are going to trust me with their kids it would be nice to know that I’m not a criminal.

The kids are up and asking for popovers as there is a 2 hour school delay. Duty calls.

This is what I’ve been up to. I got a load of turkey canned. The purse was put together in a half hour using some upholstery samples. I thought it was pretty cute.

I learned something today about baking powder from the Sustainable Living forum. I found this really useful information and thought I should share it. Baking soad is alkaline and releases a gas when mixed with an acid in a recipe. (honey is acid) The gas makes little bubbles and this is what makes pancakes and such light and fluffy. Baking powder is just baking soda with the acid (cream of tartat) already added. It reacts when it comes in contact with any moisture. This is why baking powder doesn’t store well while baking soda last just about forever. If you want to check your baking soda just add a little vinegar to some and see if it bubbles vigorously.

I just bought two cans of baking powder to add to my pantry. It will last as it’s still sealed in the can and is wrapped in plastic as well but I won’t do this again In the future I will get my sack of baking soda and my box of cream of tartar and mix it myself. You can add some cornstarch if you like. I’ll have to look for the directions and keep them posted in the pantry.

I braved the icy roads last night to go to my permaculture group. It was so worth it. A small group of us are going to meet a bit early and really delve into the finer points of saving seed. This seems like a skill I need to master. I was watching the news tonight and they reported on the solar flare that’s causing beautiful Northern lights. Unfortunately, a flare is also capable of knocking out the grid. Even a week without power would be catastrophic from a food and agriculture standpoint. I want to be sure I am moving towards less reliance on our fragile and complex systems. That means figuring out what my staple foods are and knowing how to save the seeds.

We’re putting in a plant order in two weeks. I’m adding currants, bayberry, quince, persimmons, cranberry, nanny berry and a couple of other berries I am unfamiliar with. They’ll feed the bees for sure and provide us with interesting wines, cordials and jams. We’re also planning a trip to Scott’s Orchard to get scion wood for grafting the apple trees. As soon as we have the time we’ll be pruning the crab apple tree back.

The summer kitchen is just about finished. I’ll be posting pictures as soon as the building supplies are removed and we get it looking more like a kitchen and less like a hard-hat area. We need to finish up as the sap will be running soon and we’ll be using the space for making syrup. I don’t need much. We tend to eat more fruit syrup than maple syrup. I’m thinking a gallon for home use and another gallon to put up in jelly jars for gifts. We want to plan a trip to Florida to see my grandkids but it sure is hard to do that when so much needs to be done around here. Sometimes you just have to say that work will wait but grandkids are only small once. They need to know their grandparents.

I got myself about 6 pounds of good stew beef this week and did some cold-weather canning. I really like to can in the winter. The extra heat and humidity is welcome and there are no competing, compelling tasks to call me away. I usually can in quart jars but I have switched to pints. There are just the four of us at home now and I don’t need to prepare as much food. I was just reading about a meeting of agricultural ministers from around the world. They called for developed nations to address the problem of food waste as we throw out enough food to keep the 1 billion staving people fed.

I spent a couple of happy hours at the BagShare/Sewing Center this weekend. My 4-H sewing group met for the first time on Saturday morning. We had 7 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 9. They learned a couple of basic sewing stitches and took home some practice fabric, needles and thread. Yesterday, some folks volunteered to repair a pile of donated machines. It was really interesting to watch these guys at work. My brain does not work like that but I can certainly appreciate the ones that can play around with a machine for a few minutes, diagnose a problem and fix it with common sense and a tiny screwdriver. Sometimes, a simple squirt of oil was all that was needed. I wonder how many perfectly useful things are tossed every day for want of basic maintenance. As with the food, waste is habit we can no longer afford, either economically or environmentally. I was struck by the quality of the older machines. The heavy metal bodies keep the machines from bouncing around and parts tend not to break. Once a plastic part breaks, that’s the end of it and finding replacement parts is about impossible. Anyway, I returned with a pair of Duluth jeans that someone had discarded. They were too long but a few minutes of time and some hem binding and I had them shortened and ready to wear. I also made a gorgeous bag as I needed a new purse. I used an upholstery sample for fabric and the bad looks designer rather than scavenged.

We have permaculture tonight. It’s time to gear up for spring and I need to get my seeds ordered. I don’t need much except for beans and squash. I went way overboard on tomato sauce this year and I will be cutting bach on what I plant. Not a problem as I want more space for the things I have already run out of. I’m down to two cabbages and maybe 6 more meals of squash. We eat a lot of both.

I mentions that I was going in on turkey poults with my milk farmer. It turns out that others want to join us and I can see a turkey group forming. Sharing labor and resources is so wise on many levels. Bruce is working with several neighbors to go in on buying a used Kubota tractor together. There is one for sale in the neighborhood and five families want it. None of can really afford the full price and none can really justify the expense anyway as it’s the kind of thing you need only occasionally. While discussing it, one if the interested guys suggested buying it together and sharing. We live next door to each other and share the big field that backs up our houses. The families already share much and get along without being intimate. I think we can pull this off without a lot of effort. I think we need to pull this off. It goes along with food waste, discarded sewing machines and turkey poults. We can’t afford not to share and co-operate. We can’t afford not to have a tribe. In a town as small as ours, finding tribe is lot easier but I think it can be done anywhere. I would love to hear from others here about what you’re doing in this respect. Is it church or school or food co-op or book club. Maybe it’s family and maybe friends, old and new. One thing is certain. You need people. The image of prepper/survivalists is often one of gun-toting isolated military types. Most of us have no desire to live like this and it’s certain that most of us couldn’t, even if we wanted to. Most of us will continue to plug along no matter what happens in Iran or Washington. One of the things I am most sure of is that plugging along will require co-operation and the time to figure that out is now.

Days 49 and 50 maybe? I’m going on a big shop today. I hope to hit a big box store for a few staples and maybe the Goodwill in Pittsfield as well although I don’t have anything on my “gotta have it” list. There was a time I was always on the look out for cast iton and storage containers but I now have all the cast iron I could ever need (thanks Mom) and a neighbor moved to Florida and left us with hundreds of plastic storage containers. I will never run out. I will keep my eyes open for size 10 girls clothing and I’m a sucker for outerwear.

We ate our first mushrooms last night. I couldn’t think what to do with them and settled on making a big pan of stuffing with some leftover sausage and a Granny Smith apple. I covered the stuffing with the mushroom caps and we ate a lot. There is still enough left for dinner tonight. One of the nice things about having so many pickles and applesauce in the basement is that I can alway stretch a meal. I served some squash cauliflower and we feasted. The cauliflower is cooked, then pureed in the blender with some of the water, a pat of butter and some grated parmesan cheese. It looks like mashed potatoes and even people who claim to hate cauliflower like this. The mushroom stems went into the stock bag I keep going in the freezer. I had the room because I used a lot of the bread heels for the stuffing. My cooking is moving toward the “use it up stage”. The waste in most kitchens is appalling.

Actually, the girls will eat the leftovers. It’s my 39th anniversary today and Bruce and I are going out to dinner. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. Was I ever that young? Can I possibly be that old?

I have to make this short today. I’m hitting the road to shop and when I return I need to get organized for my sewing group. It looks as though we may get a lot of snow but I think most of the kids can walk so it won’t matter. I think a lot of the moms are staying which is good. I think many a much better sewers than I am and I will need all the help I can get.

I have been having all sorts of trouble with my internet today but it looks like it’s finally working again.

I’m at days 45 and 46 for preparing. This really just piggybacks my year of growing resilience. So here’s what’s up. I have had my mammogram, emptied my small freezer and consolidated the contents. I actually considered selling the small freezer as we have cut down to one pig but I decided against it. For one thing, I will be a lot more grass-fed beef, 20 pounds at a tie as I can afford it. The other thing is that I just bought turkey poults. My friend, Pepper, the young farmer who runs my raw milk CSA, wanted some turkeys but really didn’t want to drop $8.00 a piece for them. I could pay for the poults but didn’t want to build a coop and raise them. A deal was struck. I’ll pay for them. She’ll take care of them. We’ll split the cost of the feed and we will each pay for the birds we have butchered. I have agreed to take 14 birds. She’ll take the rest, keeping a Tom and three hens for breeding. We choose Bourbon Reds as they are a heritage breed on the watch list for conservation. We didn’t want a critical status bird as we want to eat them as well as protect the breed. Even with the inputs, the turkeys should cost far less than the $60.00 I paid for free-range birds at Thanksgiving. The meat will provide a lot of the poultry I want each month and will give me the option of canning if I want the freezer space for something else.

Other accomplishments were getting a mushroom harvest and buying more Shoo-Goo. It smells awful but it does a great job repairing boots. My Mucks had cracked across the top. I patched them upholstery fabric and Shoo-Goo and will probably get another year or two out of them. Check out my pictures. I’m still working on getting them labeled and haven’t figured that out yet) and inserting them in test but I’m getting a lot more comfortable each day.

One more thing before I add the photos. Guy McPhearson from the Nature Bats Last blog is coming to Cummington to speak on April 10. I hope that any of you who are local will consider coming. He has written a terrific book. Walking Away From Empire will convince you that resilience is a necessary attribute in the coming hard times.

We hit the road at the crack of dawn on Saturday to head to Worcester for the winter NOFA conference. Our dear friend, Pepper tagged along as she was presenting a workshop on Micro-dairies. Pepper runs our raw mild CSA. Thank goodness the roads were clear and the traffic light.

The high point of the conference was watching another good friend, Ed Stockman, receive the Person-Of-The-Year award for his work with GMO awareness. It was well-deserved. In addition to running an organic berry farm Ed works tirelessly to educate people about the hazards of GMO food.

I wish I could say that the keynote by John Jeavons, something I was really looking forward to, was fabulous. It was heavily geared toward agriculture in California. As it was about 3 degrees while he was speaking, hearing about citrus and avocados was not really where my interest lay. I expect he had a lot more information at his workshops but the keynote was just not useful and we slipped out early to get lunch.

My workshop didn’t go well at all. I should have know better. I demonstrated canning chili. It takes 90 minutes and, as most of you know, waiting for something to process is about as interesting as watching paint dry. I was still a good 30 minutes from being done when the tiny propane cylinder they gave me to cook with ran dry. They didn’t have another and it was just awful. I brought the chili home and froze it so it wasn’t a complete loss but it felt disorganized and unprofessional.

I did take agood workshop on lacto-fermentation that explained a lot of my problems. I still have some cabbage in the root cellar and I plan to make some kraut later this week. The stuff she gave us to try was delicious. Bruce took a workshop on raising bees using a method called top bar hives. He came away all excited and is planning to give this method a try with one hive this spring. We just ordered our bees and now just need spring.

A lot of the talk at the conference was about resilience. It got me to thinking about what that really means. One dictionary definition refers to things returning to “normal” after a compression but I find another definition more helpful. It says that resilience is the ability to recover or being buoyant. For the many who are struggling with debt or lack of employment, for families what are not able to feed their families without help or who dread the day they have to put gas in the car, the idea of returning to normal may seem foreign. What and whose normal? Buoyancy is different. I see that as a way of adapting to what is rather than hoping for what may never be. I’m going to be looking at my resilience this year. What steps can I take and skills can I cultivate to improve my resilience? We are facing some cuts to our income over the next few years. In the old days I would have been thinking about how to earn more money. Now I’m thinking about how to spend less. I have one idea that I can put in place right now. When we were raising two pigs a year we bought a gigantic freezer. We also have a small, upright freezer that we use mostly for fruits and vegetables. We have found two pigs to be a bit much for us and only got one this year so I have a lot of empty freezer space. I think I can reorganize the food and manage with just the one freezer. I’ll sell the other and save the electricity costs, considerable on such an inefficient model. I also talked to Pepper about turkeys. She wants to raise some but can’t afford the cost of pullets this year. I can afford the chicks but I have no place to put them without a fairly big investment in a shelter. We came to a meeting of the minds. I’ll buy 25 babies. She’ll raise them and we’ll split the cost of butchering. I’ll get terrific birds for far less than the cost of the free-range ones I buy now ($60.00 a piece this year), and I don’t need to build a coop to protect them from the neighborhood foxes. I’ll have a canning marathon and get a year’s supply of turkey, ready to eat for about $225.00. That sounds like a lot of money but it’s really a deal.

I need to get much better at planning for food and fuel, clothing and other essentials in an intentional way. I look forward to hearing from you all about how you save money and prepare for an uncertain future. I learn so much from the folks who visit here.

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