May 2010

Probably the best bang for yourpreparedness buck is the common dried bean. Cheap, accessible,  easy to store, nutritious, delicious, so why doesn’t everybody have beans in their pantry? I suspect that a lot of folks have purchased them, then just let them sit around because they take some preplanning (soaking and long cooking) and it’s easier to grab a can of beans. I have done some other posts on canning beans at home and I think I have posted some recipes but I want to get down to basics and give you my recipe for baked beans. Well, it’s actually a hybrid of my recipe, Sherri’s recipe and a recipe I found in a cookbook from the 1950’s. I am thinking about beans because I can smell mine cooking and just checked on my Indian Woman beans out in the garden. I have beans on the brain today.

I started the beans yesterday afternoon. I soaked a pound of navy beans in a couple of quarts of water for 6 hours, drained the water, put in fresh water and simmered the beans for an hour and a half. Then I got out my trusty crock pot which I think uses less energy than my oven. I layered sliced onions on the bottom, put in the beans and a cup fo the reserved cooking liquid. I chopped up  a hunk of slab bacon and mixed that into the beans. I added a half cup of maple syrup,a 1/4 cup cider vinegar, some ground mustard and a 1/2 cup  barbeque sauce to this. Because I like my beans nice and brown, I also added 1/8 cup of blackstrap molasses. This sat on high in the crock pot until the beans were simmering, then I  reduced the heat to low and let the beans cook overnight. Right now they are really brown and smell amazing.

This recipe makes a lot. It’s a good thing as we like bean soup around here.

On this Memorial Day, I want to take a moment to remember not just our fallen military members but all of the men and woman who give their lives for a cause. I have been touched and led by heroes in the movement to lead us to a more sane and sustainable life. Carla Emery was one of  the first for me. I cried the day I found out she had died.


Local folks know that we had major storm here on Monday night. The storm moved in at about 11:30, lasted only 15 minutes or so, and left downed trees and power outages all over Hampshire and Franklin County. The power remains out in a lot of places and some schools are still closed. I had to pick up some canning supplies in Wal-Mart yesterday and heard and saw things that made me want to scream. Some people just don’t learn.

First, the place was packed with people buying flashlights, batteries, lanterns and camp stoves. I just don’t get it. What if they had not been able to get out to buy that stuff or didn’t have the cash or found the shelves empty? I just don’t understand how you live in the Northeast and not have storm supplies. Every place has its vulnerabilities. Why not be ready to deal with them?  But honestly, it was the conversations were what really got to me.

There was so much anger. “I’m going to lose the stuff in my freezer if they don’t get the power on”.” I don’ t know what they’re doing out there. Leaning on their shovels?” “What do they think I’m suppose to about work if the schools are closed?”

Who is this “they” I keep hearing about and what exactly would you like “them” to do if there is a two hundred-year-old maple tree lying in the road? Leaning on their shovels? I know some of these linemen and they often go 24 hour shifts in the midst of a crisis. Here’s my point. Don’t count on “they” to worry about your freezer or your childcare or whether or not you have batteries for your flashlight. “They” will have the big picture to worry about. The small picture is your problem. Only in past 30 years have we been aculturated to believe that we are supposed to be cared for by government every time something goes wrong. Things are changing and we all better get used to being responsible for our own safety and well-being.

All of this brings us right back to Gulf disaster. I think the reality is finally sinking in. No magic. No miracle. Just throwing things at the problem until the relief well can be drilled. In the meantime, I keep hearing that people want TPTB to do something. Who and what?

I  thought we were finished, or nearly so anyway. Every brown patch of dirt was filled with something, although a lot of the somethings are still in my imagination. We don’t usually plant the beans and tomatoes and other tender vegetables until June first but with temperatures in the 90’s, we put even those things out this week. Then, what should arrive but a box of 50 sweet potato slips.

I tried to plant some last year but I didn’t use slips, just some sprouting sweets that I had in the kitchen. The results were pathetic; Too bad because we love sweet potatoes and eat a lot of them. They are, in fact, the only vegetable I buy all winter. So I ordered 50 slips this spring and then found I had no place to put them.

Bruce, bless him, in spite of the heat, found a spot down by the bees, rototilled it and hilled it up for me. Planting the sweet potatoes was easy. I used a stick to poke a hole in the mound, tucked the slip in and filled the hole with water. I tamped down the soil and went on to the next one. It only took about 45 minutes and I now have the prospect of a year’s worth of our favorite vegetable stored int the root cellar.

I had such an interesting experience while planting. We live in the very wet Northeast and water is never a problem for us. It is so wet that I know of more than one house with a  stream running through the basement. I had to carry a heavy, 3 gallon water bucket with me to plant the sweet potatoes. I would pour water into a cup, then pour from the cup into each planting hole. I had just about enough water to get through the entire planting without running back to the house for a refill. At one point I knocked over the cup and spilled about a 1/2 cup of water on the ground. I was really upset. Only when I was facing an actual, albeit temporary and easily addressed shortage, did I truly appreciate and conserve this resource. I think that is human nature. When we have an abundance, we tend not to conserve because our imaginations can’t picture it disappearing. I suppose that’s why so few people prepare. Even with a future filled with challenges, we believe what is will always be.

In the face of this uncertain future, people still do extraordinary things. We are off to town today to attend the adoption of a 12 year girl by my sister and her husband. To enlarge one’s family is always an act of faith but more so when you do it though the adoption of a child who has spent many years in foster care.   This is my sister’s fourth adoption so she knows the challenges ahead but faces them with joy and optimism. I hope for as much grace for myself.

I attended a lecture by Stoneleigh, author of the blog, The Automatic Earth, on Friday. It was lexcellent but I came away with more questions. I follow Chris Martenson too and here are two really bright, well-informed people and one is calling for inflation and the other, deflation. I was discussing this with my friend, Kathy (aka the Peak Shrink) and she asked a really good question. How would knowing this change what you are doing? Hmmm.

I lead a tentative life. Everything I want to do is based on some other thing that is outside of my control. My land runs behind my house and abuts 3 other parcels, owned by different neighbors. In the past, the open field has been hayed by a local farmer. Over the past few years, large parts of the field have been put to other uses. We have the bees and pigs, the orchard and garden spaces and, year by year, the field becomes more difficult to maneuver a tractor through. Rumor has it that the farmer will not hay the field after this year. We can’t let it go; it would fill in and become a young forest in no time. This is happening just as Bruce’s family home is being sold. When it sells, we will come into a bit of money. Not a fortune (he has 8 brothers and sisters) but some. It seems like the time has come to build a barn. I think we could call on all of the people we have helped over the years and get together a work crew for a barn raising so it would be affordable and there would be enough left over for the necessary fencing. We don’t want to over winter animals but there would be plenty of space for a couple of sheep and a big chicken coop. There is even enough room to run a couple of yearling calves. a barn would give us room for a honey processing space, a food processing room, adequate storage for  equipment and expanded cold storage. Maybe we could even stretch a bit and add a second large greenhouse to the south side. Ahhh… to dream.

I am not a financial person. I don’t play the stock market and I am pretty fiscally conservative. Inflation, deflation, who knows? Not me, that’s for sure. As always, I will invest in the things I can control. Myself, in acquiring tools and skills, my house, in making it as comfortable and user-friendly as I can, my friends, family and community, my land.

 I toy with the idea of downsizing from time to time, especially after a day of planting potatoes, when my back aches and I realized I could buy 500 pounds of potatoes for a fairly small investment and let someone else do the work. But when I think “barn” and my heart races, I know I’m not ready to give up this life. My sore back is a small price to pay for the pleasure I receive. Today, i will look over the book Dan lent me on building small barns and let my imagination soar.

It took some extra strength pain reliever and my hot pack to get to sleep last night. We planted nearly 30 pounds of potatoes and 75 tomato plants. We added rock minerals and a prayer to each hole we dug, hoping for a year unmarred by blight. Today the corn goes in. If I have time, the beans will get planted too as will the replacement broccoli and cauliflower plants. My her garden is ready to go as well. It looks like hot, dry weather for a few days. The good news is that is a good window for planting but the bad news is that I have to water by hand. We are bordered by a little stream which means I don’t have to haul water far. Our gardens run around the periphery of our land and are circled by water. We didn’t plan it that way but it certainly worked out.

All of the new trees and bushes are doing well. They too need to be hand watered. I think the water is the most important thing to new tree success and I don’t skimp on it. I believe I will get a harvest of hazelnuts this year and one of gooseberries too. We may get some fruit although the late frost was a problem. Bruce is sinking some post around the tomato patch so we can set up a floating greenhouse if frost threatens. I have a permaculture dream of wild, food-producing places but the reality is different. I need row covers for frost protection and fencing to protect crops from bears and woodchucks. I need raised beds for soil protection and the greenhouse for winter greens and seed starting. The concept of wild is lovely but I need a guaranteed food supply.

I will harvest rhubarb this weekend. I am so excited because I will get to use my new stainless steel canner. It is a beautiful thing. I have two other canners (one I am using for soap making) as well as the big pressure canner. I also just realized that the huge stock pot I just bought is the same size as the canner. I now just need a new rack and I will have yet another canner. This may seem like overkill but there is a method to my madness. I need 350 jars of pickles to get me through a year. I am buying a case of jars each week to get up to the necessary number. And yes, we do eat a jar each night and several at a big holiday dinner. If I can get the girls to help, I can put up a lot of jars in a day if I get four canners going at once. We eat far less jam but the same thing applies. I get two or three canners going when the raspberries are producing and I get all of the work over with in a few days. I just freeze the berries until I have enough to work with.

I am really giving some thought to how much food we eat in a year. We will get a full year out of the potato patch this time as we enlarged the patch quite a bit. I love the idea of growing enough to be spud independent.

I just got some good news. My application was accepted for presenting a workshop on food preservation at the Mother Earth News Sustainable Living Fair that is taking place in Pennsylvania in September. My original interest in homesteading came from receiving a subscription to MEN as a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law 35 years ago. I was further inspired by Gene Logdson after reading his book, Two Acre Eden. I think I paid a quarter for it at a tag sale. I also got a copy of one of the old Storey bulletins on making wine for a dime at the same time. I knew then that I wanted to be good enough at something to be able to write for Storey some day. Not many people can say that their dreams really came true but as I look out over my own little Eden, I must say that mine did.

Now I have the work of putting together the workshop. I will be printing up my handouts and pulling together recipes as well as desgnging posters and coming up with a schedule that will cover all of the basics and still leave time for Q&A. If any of you have any particular tips that make your food preservation easier I would love to hear about them. I am looking for new recipes too.

My guess is that this is going to be a wonderful weekend. We will take the girls with us and Bruce will be charged with keeping them occupied. I am not sure where we will be staying. The fair takes place at a resort and the easiest thing will be to stay there. I sure hope that any of you who live nearby will come (that means you, Kate).

Last night was permaculture night. The plant presented was Arctic Kiwi. I was glad to see it as I have one that has never produced fruit and I learned a lot about what I  need to do to help it along. I need to prune and prune heavily, much like grapes. I am a bad pruner. It causes me actual pain to cut up a healthy plant, even when I know it’s for its own good. 

Today is going to be cool and damp, then we are in for some very warm weather. I have to get in to work but I will be home early and plan to get a lot of plants into the ground this afternoon. I have to stay away from streaming news. There is nothing good going on and it does no good to bite one’s nails and wring one’s hands. The soil, the seed, the chicks, the pigs (the actual pigs-not the nations on the opposite side of the world), these are real. I will get my hands dirty and work until I am too tired to think about oil plumes.

Dorothy’s got nothing on me. I just about kissed the ground when we pulled into the driveway last night. A lot had happened. Frost got the asparagus and the wood chucks ate the Brassicas. The new pigs are in the pen and Tom’s chickens are in his living room. It was life. Good and bad and real. After days in a fake hotel, eating generic food and battling traffic, real seems good. My grandsons are sweet and dear and I loved spending time with my daughter and son-in-law but I was still so homesick I could have cried.

We drove home through the Amish country. It is beautiful although there was a lot of traffic. It’s a bit hard to complain when you are part of the tourist rush. We did manage to get off the beaten path a bit, necessary to recover from the insult of rt 30 in York. Mile after mile of strip malls and traffic lights, fast food joints and belching truck fumes is soul sucking for me. Out in Lancaster, I got waved at by a little boy in a straw hat and overalls and felt better about the world. 

I appreciate all of the well wishes on out travels. I kept wondering if any of you were near by. I had someone ask if I was speaking anyplace. I have applied to present a workshop at the Mother Earth News Sustainable Living Fair in Pennsylvania in September but haven’t heard back yet. I am also doing another workshop for NOFA this summer but I don’t know the location yet. Other than that, I am staying home.

I had another question about nutrient dense soil amendments. These are crushed rock minerals that a lot of soil is lacking. I have come to realize that we gardeners are growing soil before we grow vegetables.

Plans for today: replant the Brassicas, plant the potatoes, rescue the asparagus, can some rhubarb, buy a trap for th e woodchucks, feed the pigs and call a real estate agent. I love my house but we need a barn and more privacy. We talked about it some on the trip home. It is surely not a done deal yet but if we find something that gives us the things we are lacking we would give it some consideration. It may only be a pipe dream fueled by those Amish farms but looking would be fun. I can’t wait to hear from you all. I was catching up on a lot of your websites last night. It’s odd how people I have never met can feel like friends. The world outside can be so fake and depressing. Those of us who care about our planet and are willing to sacrifice transient “fun” for the gritty reality of soil and animals and can see a world beyond the mall are a different kind of family. I cherish what you add to my life. Thank you.

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