March 2010

I have been doing a food inventory check as my son and his wife are coming to live with us in August and I will need to increase my stock to accommodate the two extra mouths. I opened my bean bucket and found that I had only twenty pounds of dried beans! Now, I am quite sure that there are many folks who would say, “Twenty pounds of beans! What the heck will you ever do with twenty pounds of beans?” I, on the other hand say, “Twenty pounds of beans! How would I manage with only twenty pounds of beans? Where did they go? What happened to my inventory control?” Obviously, I know what happened. Rice and beans, bean soup, baked beans, burritos and quesadillas happened. We ate them.

I keep a lot of dried beans. They are cheap, nutritious, versatile and store for a really long time. You can grow them if you want to but they are available in every supermarket. I won’t be happy until my stock is back where it belongs. 100 pounds will allow me to use 2 pounds a week for year. I also store bean seeds.

As long as I had my bean bucket out, I decided to change the way I store my beans. In the past, I have kept them in  6 gallon buckets, right in the original plastic bag. I separated the beans by type and put them in half-gallon jars which I then vacuumed sealed. I had a bookcase available in my storage room because I had moved the pasta so I now have 3 dedicated bean shelves. I have Great Northern, Navy, Kidney, Pinto, Garbanzo, Lentils, Black, Pink, split peas and a 13 bean soup mix. I used to have Indian Woman but I couldn’t find them. I greatly fear I ate my seed stock. I will need to order some. I know that Seeds Of Change carried them.

Herbal Pagan mentioned in yesterday’s comments how much food we eat in a year. It’s true. Most people would be shocked to find out that the weight would be measured in tons for a family with a couple of teenagers.  This has been another crazy weather year. No snow, then feet at a time. In the Northeast, we are having record floods. I can see some garden problems looming. It was the wet spring last year that made the blight such a catastrophe for our potatoes and tomatoes. The very early, warm spring will cause the trees to bud out early. A late frost will usually zap them and that’s the end of the crop. Food security is everybody’s problem, everybody’s concern. I am taking my food storage very seriously as rising prices and lack of availability may make feeding a family well a real challenge. 

The next time I shop I will put beans at the top of the list. I can generally get 5, 1 pound bags for 4 dollars and sometimes see them for even less. I can get a better deal at Costcos or BJ’s but I don’t get there that often and I don’t want to wait. I need 80 pounds. I can get 4, 20 pound hauls without affecting my budget. I will just to cut back on something of lower value for me.


I went looking for some jam in the big cabinet that holds my home canned food and found PICKLES. Okay, not good on a popover but still, I was pretty pleased as I thought I was out. I found eight jars of beets, beets and cabbage and some mixed whatever pickles. I even found a lone jar of bread and butter pickles. I will use a couple of jars for Easter dinner and save the rest to dress up an otherwise bland meal.

I plan to do a lot more pickling this year . Bruce went to a bee meeting at a commercial farm last year and this guy had a field full of cucumbers left after the harvest. They were free for the gleaning and I ended up with a couple of boxes. This year, I am growing many more but will be open to taking leftovers too. We love bread and butter pickles. I never have luck with dills. They always get soft on me. I like kraut, especially jar kraut which is so easy and takes up little room. My big winner this past year was mixed vegetables. I like to pickle those things that might otherwise get wasted.

I am thinking about all of this because we are planning  our garden space. It occurs to me that, for all we grow, we still buy more than I wish we did, especially this time of the year. If the EOTW happened in October, we would do pretty well but if it happened in March-well-not so much. I have quite a bit of commercially canned food but we would still be nutritionally deprived until the garden began to produce. Tonight, we are having flat bread stuffed with black beans, salsa, corn, lettuce, cheese and diced tomatoes. I have some yogurt to top it with. I am making the beans but they are not home-grown and the salsa and corn are commercial (all my home-made stuff is gone). The yogurt is commercial. Even the flat bread is store-bought. Maybe it’s the gloomy weather, the gloomy news, the head cold that goes on forever, or just the ennui of not eating my own food. My get up and go has got up and went.

What I need is to find some fiddleheads or ramps. They should pop up soon as the weather is warming up fast. Too fast. It is hard to hear city people going on about the lovely, early spring. They do not get the relationship between weather and food. If things like apple trees bud out now, we will have no apple crop. People who rely on store-bought will not realize the damage until September when all that’s available is expensive, mealy stored apples from someplace far away.

Things are heating up around here. My son, Ben, and his wife, Maggie, ae coming home for good in August. I am anxious to get them back here and settled. It is really lovely that they want to live close to us and get involved in the bee keeping and the farming. I thought of them so often this weekend as a lot went on that they would have enjoyed.

On Saturday night, we attended an Earth Hour concert. Now lots of people get all nasty and cynical about Earth Hour but I beg to differ. It is a good thing to have a non-violent, non-commercial, non-anything hour devoted to being on the same page with the others around the world who care about our planet. I am not saying that I expect any big changes to come about, just that I had a lovely time being in communion with folks next door and neighbors from across the world. The music was terrific, played by some of my favorite musicians. There was commentary between songs from people letting us all know what they’re up to on the energy/food/permaculture front. The kids came with us. I am always pleased to have foil for them against the consumerism they get from school and television.

After church we had an Easter Egg dying party. It was so much fun. I think the old guy with dementia, the retarded 40-year-old brother of a friend of mine and the retired chief-of-police had the most fun. Dying eggs is one of those irresistable activities that everybody should get to do. The only down side is that I had to buy commercial eggs. Our local eggs are blue, green and shades of brown and don’t take color like the nasty white ones from the market.

On that note, I got some groceries on Saturday. I don’t et them often so I think I notice the price hikes more than I would if I shopped each week. All I can say is that it is a darn good thing that we don’t food and energy in our inflation numbers. Otherwise I would think prices were going up.

I did some minor prepping this weekend. I picked up new underwear and socks for all of us and restocked some first-aid supplies. We will be having a Sustainability meeting on the first Wednesday in April. We are having a seed swap and pot-luck dinner. I am thinking that we should also have a prep swap. I have extras of some things like n0n-latex gloves. My guess is I’m not the only one with things I would be willing to share.

It’s pouring out so I am heading off to work. I do a bit of work for DCF. I get to pick my hours which is great for me. I don’t mind going in on day I couldn’t get outside to work anyway. The rest of the week looks fine. Bruce and I are in the planning stages of garden design. He wants to put in some more permanent raised beds as were the recipients of some great lumber. I want to find space for some strawberries. We have not had a lot of luck with them but I am an eternal optimist. Maybe this year I can get them before the ants do.

We are doing some work on the house. Nothing much, just updating some paint and wallpaper. Out big splurge is getting new windows for the upstairs. Ours are original to the house, complete with wavy glass and rotted frames. The new ones should look great and make it possible to open the windows. Yeah!!

I know. This should be a recipe day but something occurred to me yesterday and I don’t want to let the moment slip away.

Every morning, I do a quick run through of some sites I really like. The King of Simple has a good essay every week day. From there I check out Prudent Home. He doesn’t post often but when he does, there is usually some good info. Yesterday, I found an older post that had a link for building a nifty solar oven for less than six dollars. The link included the diagram for cutting the cardboard base. I really want to try out the oven so I bookmarked the link. Than got me to thinking about rocket stoves. There are some excellent diagrams for building these stoves from sizes as small as a #10 can up to HUGE! I have some of these bookmarked as well. The benefit to both stoves is that they use little or no fuel and can be built from stuff most of us have hanging around and by people without engineering degrees.

This got me to thinking about all of the information I have bookmarked in my computer to be downloaded if needed. How silly is that? If I need a rocket stove, I sure as heck won’t have a computer or a printer. I spent some time yesterday downloading a couple of things I know I will want and will finish up today. Included are the directions for making a Kearny Fallout Meter, some other stove designs and some food storage facts. I want to be sure I copy things as I find them. I just can’t trust my memory.

My greenhouse has exploded! We are eating broccoli, salads with lettuce, carrots, spinach and tat soi. I just dug up my first Jerusalem artichokes yesterday. They are crispy and beautiful. I can’t decide between eating them raw in a salad or cooking them as a side dish. The salad sounds might good.

I forget sometimes just how blessed I am to live in a home with enough land to make it possible to grow a good deal of what we eat. That’s not the case for most people. The 1/4 acre lot may provide the space for some gardening but maintaining soil fertility is a problem when you garden that intensively. Most people who find themselves trapped in the suburbs or in a city neighborhood just assume that they are doomed to eating from a can or buying expensive, fresh produce shipped from 3000 miles away. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Actually, the problem is not with acquiring food but storing it that keeps people from eating local year round. Now I am speaking from a bias here. I live in the Northeast and this is the food system I know. If you live in Southwest Texas, the opportunities will be very different and I can’t reliably address them.

What is necessary for storing food are specific conditions; cold and moist and cool and dry. I have a basement with a root cellar and a spare bedroom that meets both criteria. If I could not garden, here is what I would buy and store.

potatoes: We eat a ton of potatoes. In the fall, spuds are available in bulk bags for far less than what it costs to buy a 5 pound bag each week. I store my potatoes in a bin right on the dirt floor of the root cellar. In those cold, damp conditions, they still look great 7 months after I dug them. A year’s worth take up surprisingly little space.

carrots: Ditto on carrots. Bought straight from the farm, this is one inexpensive vegetable, packed with flavor and nutrition. I store mine in big plastic bins filled with damp sawdust. They are just now getting some black spots but they are still crispy and delicious. I just cut the bad parts off. Carrots are so versatile. We love them raw, candied, steamed and in soups and cake. Two big bins will store a lot of carrots.

beets: I store my beets like my carrots although they got soft quicker. That doesn’t matter as we prefer our beets pickled anyway. A day in the kitchen and you can pickle enough to have beets once a week for year.

Other things I store in the root cellar are turnips, cabbage and rutabagas. I know you are not supposed to store apples with your potatoes because the gas that the apples release will cause the potatoes to sprout. I have heard that keeping the apples covered with a towel and stored higher than potatoes will prevent this but I am too much of a coward to risk my potatoes with trying. I keep my apples in the bulkhead of the basement.

I keep onions and garlic in the main basement with no problem. It is cool and damp there.

In the spare bedroom I store bulk purchased grains, dried beans, flours and sugars as well as other packaged foods. My winter squash holds pretty well in this dry, cool space.

I can fruits, jams and tomato and apple sauce  and store those in the basement.  It is too damp to be ideal but it works. I keep a lot of pickles and sauerkraut in the kitchen and in the basement. I do my sauce over many weeks but a marathon session will provide a lot of sauce.

I dry a good deal of produce. Dried food takes up very little space. I keep that in a separate cabinet in the kitchen. I also store sprouting seeds. I have two #10 cans of mixes sprouting seeds.

If I could not garden, I would make a couple of trips to the country, buy my produce in bulk and store it or preserve it where I live. It would take some time and forethought but it could be done.

Now what about space? Root cellars went out with zoot suits but there are alternatives. Could you put the word out and maybe share a space with friends? An old refrigerator can be repurposed to store food that requires a cold spot.  Bins, barrels and even dead freezers can be sunk in the ground and protected from snowfall. Basement bulkheads often have the right conditions. This is about getting creative when you’re desperate. I used old coolers before I had a root cellar. I would swap out a jug of ice every day to keep it cold enough. A pain for sure but doable.

In addition to what I could store, I would also manage to find space for a couple of self watering containers to grow some greens indoors and I would grow some potted herbs too.

If storing fresh food is just not an option, consider investing in a dehydrater and watching the youtube videos from dehydrate2store. Dried food takes up much less space than fresh and, as long as you have water, is a good alternative.

A final word is about freezers. I have three of them and they keep us in things I like a lot like meat, vegetables that don’t store well any other way, berries and cider. Having so much space also makes it possible to buy butter in bulk and store lard.  A shared freezer could work if you  had a really good relationship with someone. There is also no law that says freezers must be in basements or garages. You can always put one in a spare bedroom if you need to. The big problem with the freezer is the need to tie it to the grid. If the worst happened, I do have enough jars to can most of what I have in the freezer although I would eventually lose the hams.

Thanks for all of the good wishes. I did spend the day drinking tea and felt well enough last night to go to my permaculture guild meeting. As usual, I learned a lot and had a wonderful time. The problem is, that what I learned has given me a huge job to get do  ASAP.

I am an orchard novice. Like most things, growing tree fruit is a lot more complicated than digging a hole and sticking a tree in it. We  put our first trees in three years ago I have now learned that I did it wrong. Fortunately, there is time to fix the mistake (I put them in too deep) but I need to dig up at least half the trees. I think the take home lesson here is to ask for help before you tackle a new skill.

If you are thinking about putting in some perennial food plants, fruit and nut trees are a good bet. You will wait a bit before you enjoy the -ahem-fruits of your labors but the rewards are immense. A dwarf or semi-dwarf tree costs in the neighborhood of $30.00 and will produce a crop in 4-5 years. I picked trees that would produce good keeping apples. I would love a cider orchard as well.

If I have any energy left when the trees are replanted, I need to separate my rhubarb too. I want to give some to my neighbor, Heather, and move some plants to other parts of the yard. I canned quite a bit of rhubarb last year. It makes a dandy crisp and is good for stretching other fruit in pies.

I want to find some walking onions. My onions are just about gone. I am splitting a 25 pound sack with some friends to get through until harvest. The variety I planted last year held really well in the root cellar but I didn’t plant enough. Walking, or bunching onions are perennial and I am determined to get a plot started this year.

There is this interesting thing going on with me right now. I used to be a news junky, especially financial news. Lately, the thrill is gone. I’m interested but with some distance. I can read some really terrible news piece and it just doesn’t matter much. Now my trees getting planted too deep, that matters.

So it’s pouring out. I have a nasty cold and I have to leave the house by 7:00 to get my daughter to a doctor’s appointment. I have a permaculture guild meeting tonight and if I’m not a lot better I won’t be able to go. I was out all day yesterday and the house is a mess. My tomato sets are drooping and my broccoli is leggy. Phoebe wet the bed. Karen crushed her finger in the car door and I have to change the bandage on this yucky mushed up mess twice a day. I forget to soak the beans last night and I have no idea what to make for dinner.

So here’s my plan. I will take Karen to the doctor and come right back home. I’m going to turn the heat up to a toasty 70 degrees. Then, I’m going to take a shower, get into my comfy sweat suit and spend the day in front of the fire with tea and a good book. My DH can figure out dinner (cereal works for me). I’m out of elderberry syrup but I think I may have blackberries in the freezer and I can make a hot tea from that. There is something a bit indulgent about being sick on a rainy day. I have permission to let things go. I can sniffle and whine and feel sorry for myself. That’s the plan and it’s all I’ve got for you today.

message to Madison: I have been trying to reach you about the book. Could you send me your contact info again please?

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