I am back, although using a very old computer and really disliking it. It is really quite frightening just how quickly we become dependaent on a new technology.

It has been a very busy week around here. A frost kept us busy protecting plants from the cold, then highs in the 90’s the next day kept us busy protecting them from the heat. The temperature swings are hard, especially on the new plants. We have several new fruit and nut trees that need special care. It is one thing to lose a tomato set when I have 4 dozen more but to  lose one of my plum trees would be a tragedy. I think we can finally hope we have had our final frost. I am so anxious to get out my tender crops. The greenhouse needs some cleaning and I can’t do it until the starts are moved.

Our piggies showed up this week. They are still at the adorable stage. I am already hearing from friends who can’t believe we area able to eat an animal we have hand raised. I think it is far more respectful to raise an animal humanely, giving it plenty of food, water, space and attention, then quickly dispatch it and use all of it to nourish my family, use the manure to enrich my soil, then use the surplus vegetables to feed another meat animal than it is to buy factory raised meat that is mired in cruelty from beginning to end, pollutes water and soil rather than replenish it and fills our bodies with questionable additives. That is a closed end system that only enriches agribusiness pockets. The kids are surprisingly accepting of the notion that the pigs are food, not pets. We take good care of them but we keep the end in sight. They have a lot of questions about the process which gives us the opportunity to talk about some important issues.

I cleaned out the two freezers this week. I found some treasures there. Two bags of peas, one of asparagus and several bags of beans. Perfect timing because the asparagus is the only vegetable besides the salad greens producing just yet. I found a huge bag of elderberries I had forgotten about so I spent yesterday getting another batch of wine going. I am expecting an infestation of fruit flies soon. When that happens, the carboys will have to go in the cellar but for now, I like keeping an eye on things.

Our final big project has been the bees. We are up to 7  hives in the enclosure, two of them belonging our neighbor, Tom. They are ready to be split again. We are getting a bit crowded and may need to either enlarge the space or start selling excess bees. We are also getting a lot of beeswax. I am looking for some good recipes for lip balms and salves. I have also started saving any small containers. In addition to our personal use, there is real gift potential for this product. Speaking of gifts-I had a niece get married and our gift to her was a set of glass cookware. I wrapped the gift in brown paper from some bags I had and, instead of a ribbon, I used a sprig of lavender I had dried last summer. The gift looked lovely and I felt good about giving it. Lot’s of people commented on how unique it was. It just illustrates that living lightly on the planet needn’t be about sacrifice as much as the opportunities that abound for a rich, creative life that is not dependent upon great outlays of cash.

Preparedness wise, this is a fun time of the year. I try to follow the one in one out principle for my stores but things invariably get put off and then I have to do a big shop for medical supplies or toiletries or something. In spring, the preps are all about the garden, the orchard and food preservation equipment. There is a happy, abundant feel to those things.

Our big spend this month is a new, double flue chimney. We have a wood furnace in the basement but we don’t use it because we have an old chimney with a single flu. We are updating so we can heat entirely with wood if necessary. Given what is happening with the price of oil, I think this is a good spend. We plan to be energy self-sufficient as well as nearly food self sufficient. There is no better preparedness.

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We had a great meal  last night. Home made pasta with a mushroom/wine sauce, asparagus and a salad with green house lettuce and wild edibles. It got me to thinking about what made from scratch is.

For most people, a pasta meal means going to the market and purchasing a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce. The salad would come from a bag and the veges from the frozen food isle. To truly make last night’s meal from scratch was a bit more complicated.

I had to buy the wheat from a food co-op, then pack it properly in 6 gallon buckets with oxygen absorber packets. I would love to say we grew the wheat or got it locally but we are in Massachusetts and not a lot of wheat is grown here and only a minuscule amount by home producers. To produce the flour that will eventually be pasta requires that I grind it. I can do this by hand but I use an electric mill. The flour is mixed with eggs from the McMahon’s chickens, kneaded for 10 minutes then rolled out and cut in my Atlas pasta maker. The chickens that are laying now were purchased last year and raised by hand. The noodles dry for the afternoon, draped over the backs of the kitchen chairs. Now for the sauce. It begins a year earlier when someone inoculated some logs with shitake spawn (I would love to say these were my mushrooms but the slugs ate mine and I had to purchase some. At least they were local. ) The wine was started a year earlier, made from dandelions lovingly picked and fermented and given to me as a gift. Next year, the wine and the mushrooms will be from from my backyard. I needed butter too. This was bought in bulk and canned last fall. It too is fairly local stuff. Now for the salad. To have so many greens so early means depending on our greenhouse. We planted the seeds in late February and have been enjoying the greens for the past month. The vinegar we drizzled on the greens came from a small producer in Italy. It is dreadfully expensive stuff, over 25 years old and with an amazing flavor. I will make apple cider vinegar this fall but it will not be the same. The asparagus came from the roots we planted three years ago. This is the first year they will produce an amount sufficient for us to both eat and preserve. The asparagus requires care to produce so well and the season is short. I will dry some to powder for soup mix as it does not freeze terribly well and canned is an abomination. Better to enjoy it daily in season, then grieve the loss and move on to summer squash.

Any leftovers from this meal will feed the compost or Tom and Heather’s pigs when they arrive. We will eat the leftovers again as the compost enriches the soil, the pigs feed our neighbors and the pig poop is returned to their soil. The plants that grow from this healthy soil will produce flowers that feed our bees which will return the favor by producing honey and wax. It is a beautiful thing.

My meal was the result of the labor of many artisans and much investment of time, energy and money on my part. It would  have been possible to produce my dinner for less money, with labor performed by people making minimum wage and not at all invested in the quality of their work or the health and happiness of my family. I could be wrong here but it is hard for me to imagine that a factory worker is able to think about the quality of the product much beyond keeping the rats out of the soup. The machinery is so fast, the noise appalling and the consumer so distant. So I will continue to think about my food, where it comes from and how it circles around. Today is a busy day but I will try to find the time to sneak up to Deer Hill for an hour. The leeks and wild ginger still abound. If I want ginger tea in January, the time to gather is now. Real food is really, really slow.

 The feds just announced that they will be purchasing 17,500 new hybrid cars from the big three to replace an aging fleet of cars. The funds will come from TARP.

I applaud the sentiment. Fuel efficient vehicles are a good thing. Buying from an American company is a good thing. So why does the idea bother me so much?

I think it is because the program so clearly defines what I see as a huge problem in this world which is that, if you have a problem, you can buy and spend your way out of it. The idea of fuel efficiency is a false one. It will take far more energy to make and ship those cars than will be saved by their use. And what happens to the old cars? Somebody will either have to buy them (no fuel savings there) or crush them. A better policy decision would be to cut down the amount of miles driven by the current cars or to cut the overall number of cars they keep on the road. As for supporting American auto makers, 17,500 cars sounds like a lot of cars but it is a drop in the bucket, certainly not enough to stave off bankruptcy.

I think this is the way we approach a lot of problems. We assume that there is a consumption based solution before we look for a free/inexpensive/simple one. Take gardening. If you want to expand your current gardening space to include a blackberry patch, the consumption based solution would be to purchase a roto-tiller and break up the sod, purchase a load of compost to enrich the soil, then purchase  two dozen blackberry canes form a company located halfway across the country. The other solution would be to cover the existing grass with a piece of black plastic. We actually used a discarded pool cover to kill grass. After a season of no sun, the grass is gone and the soil ready to till. Now we get blackberry plants for free from a neighbor who is thinning hers. We give her some of our honey in exchange. We add lawn clippings, leaves, chicken sh… oops, manure and our own compost to the soil and plant the canes. We mulch with lawn clippings all summer and in the fall, enjoy blackberry jam on our breakfast toast.

This method takes a little longer. It’s messier and more work but the results are the same with little environmental impact and no cash outlay. In fact, it puts to good use some things that might otherwise wind up in the landfill.

I have seen any number of garden cloches for sale. They are mini green houses for tender, heat loving plants like tomatoes but I have good luck using recycled milk jugs. They last for many seasons, are free, work just fine and now we have a pile of jugs that do not end up in China for recycling. Win, win, win.

I’ll bet everybody has their own favorite tip for making do. As we face real challenges with energy and the economy in the future, the ability to find solutions for everyday problems that do not require a trip to a garden center or big box store may spell the difference between doing well and doing without.

I am totally jealous. We went to a neighbor’s house last night before the concert at our community house. The first thing I saw was was this neat little seed starter Bob has set up. He made it with a cardboard box, some old insulation, aluminum foil and two compact florescent light bulbs. His tomatoes looked much better than mine, thick and full and not at all bushy. Then he took us out to his unheated sunroom. That’s where he is hardening off the larger plants. He has as much lettuce out there as I do in my green house, lots more tomatoes and many other food plants. It just goes to show how much food you can grow in a small space if you are creative and not worried about the decor.

What Bob lacks is good soil at his house. Our houses are kitty corner to each other and you would think they had similar soil but they are so different. Our land is river bottom. It is rich and loamy and full of earthworms. We have very few rocks and can dig down two feet without breaking a sweat. Root crops love my soil. Just across the street, Bob has rocky, sandy soil that leaches nutrients faster than he can put them back. Bob has a big ould bathtub where he mixes his compost. He painstakingly sifts and carefully plants his crops and has measly little harvests. He also has a problem with bears and deer which we are never bothered by. I think it may be because we are bordered by river on two sides and a road on a third. The fourth side has other gardens and a corn field that may fill up bear and dear before they reach us.

We offered Bob some planting space as we have more land than we can plant or harvest by ourselves (we use only hand tools except for an occasional rototilling if we are breaking up new ground). I think this brings up an important aspect of community. It is in my best interest for my neighbors to be well fed. It is the moral thing to do. In a changing world, we will be our brother’s keeper. Last night we sang and danced to two local bands. The music was terrific. We paid the cover charge ($8.00 a piece) and bought 3 CD’s will play the music for friends who have not heard it before and encourage them to pick up a CD at the Creamery. It is money I could have saved or spent on a tool or another tree but, in addition to liking the sound, supporting a local musician is keeping my brother and the right thing to do.  I want and need these folks to do well. When I buy local pottery or garlic sets, when I eat at the Creamery, when I got to church and plunk a twenty in the plate, I am keeping my brother. When I pass Phoebe’s outgrown snowsuit to a neighbor’s little girl or offer to mind a child so another neighbor can go to a doctor’s appointment, I am keeping my brother. Even scolding a child who isn’t mine for using foul language is keeping my brother. I hope my neighbors scold Phoebe if they find her behaving badly or recklessly. I want to keep and be kept by my community.

Across the world, one country has set off a launch of what may be a test missile and her neighbor is worried and angry. The same country holds two of our citizens in prison. Troops are on alert, the world is shifting uncomfortably on it’s axis. How hard it is to remember that these people, in spite of their dictatorial leadership, are also our brothers. How can we keep them?

Don’t expect an answer from me. I don’t have one. I am not even positive what the question is. I just know that the sun is shining, my tomatoes are growing, my children are laughing and their bellies are full. I want nothing less for my brothers and sisters across the street and across the world.

Well, we just got home from our weekend at a ski resort. Bruce’s brother gave us the use of his time share as he couldn’t make it up this year. It was a generous and loving offer for which me and mine are very grateful. Now I’m going to gripe.

First of all, I hate to travel. I get so homesick I could die after the first hour or two. But, as we were only going to be gone a couple of days, how bad could it be? Not bad at all except I couldn’t sleep and I spent the whole time looking at this beautiful place from the perspective of peak oil, climate change, food shortages and economic collapse. This is not the attitude one needs to bring to this kind of experience.

Is there anything as wasteful as the idea of making snow for the purpose of skiing? Only the further idea of heated indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs and in-room Jacuzzis. There were a pile of college kids there. I watched several of them check in and it seems their main food group is beer. Their other food group was Cheetos. They were an over -ed, over-induldged rude bunch for the most part. Maybe in their real lives they helped the needy and composted and were majoring in sustainable agriculture but I didn’t see it.

We brought in most of our own food but we did go out to eat one night. My plate of food was so huge, I ate part that night, more for breakfast this morning and I still have a sizable bit for lunch. Our plates were not plates at all really, more like platters. Even my teenage girls couldn’t finish their food and trust me, my girls are serious eaters.

The trash situation about killed me. There was no place to recycle anything. We had to sort and cart it all out but I am willing to be we were the only ones doing that. Compost was certainly not happening. I threw out the dregs of the coffee thinking how my blueberries would have loved it. I actually threw away coffee grounds!!! I had no container for getting them home. The kids were making fun of me for bringing home all of the soap that only been used for a shower or two. Perhaps that was the hardest part for me. In two short days, I could see them falling for the lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. They expected to be entertained every minute and were plotting how to get us to take them back ASAP.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been reading Dies The Fire while I lounged by the pool. Post-apocalyptic literature is better saved for a day when you are setting out the tomatoes or foraging mushrooms. All I could think of was the collapse of the Roman Empire. Even with the cold rain, I am happy to be home.

I am feeling just a tad guilty complaining like this. There are millions of jobless people out there right now who would have been glad to trade places with me this weekend. I know that and I really did enjoy myself for the most part. Maybe I had more fun than I am willing to admit. Luxury is a lovey thing and I wasn’t too high on my horse to accept now, was I?

I just read that Americans throw out 15% of the fruits and vegetables they purchase. It is an appalling statistic, especially in few of coming food shortages. When you look at food going into the trash, think of it as life energy and get creative about how it could be used to nurture your family.

I have witnessed people throw the heels of bread into the garbage. I bake a lot of our bread and I don’t want to waste a crumb. The heels make good toast. If not used for that, They go into the freezer to be made into bread pudding, stuffing, bread crumbs or croutons when I have enough saved. I often pull out a few pieces of bread that was going stale to make a crumb topping for a casserole or a coating for meat. Bread can be used right from the freezer as it thaws in just a minute or two. Rice is saved for rice pudding or reheated in milk with some raisins and brown sugar for a quick breakfast. Leftover potatoes are fried for breakfast or added to a cup of chicken broth, some cream and a bit of cheddar cheese, then whizzed in the blender for a potato soup. I do the same with broccoli, asparagus and squash. Quiche is a good place to hide a bit of dried cheese and that quarter cup of leftover vegetables. Of course you are saving all of your vegetable ends for soup but did you know you can add almost any cooked cereal to your bread dough? I never toss that last bit of boxed cereal. I toss it in on to or into a casserole.

If you aren’t eating the food yourself, it should be feeding compost, worms or backyard farm animals. Chickens, rabbits and pigs will turn left over produce into high quality meat or eggs. If you don’t have animals, maybe someone else will make use of what you have.

Too many kids are brought up believing that they don’t have to eat what they don’t care for. They think all food should be sweet or salty or entertaining. What I tell my kids is they don’t have to like a food but they do have to eat a reasonable amount. They can pick one or two thing they just not stand but even then they are expected to eat a no thank you bite. Most kids are not too heavy because their parents make them finish their vegetables; they are too heavy because they eat too much fat and sugar. My kids are expected to bring 2 snacks to school. It’s silly. They get breakfast at home, lunch at school and they are home at 3:00. They do not need a morning and afternoon snack as well. I have been at school at lunch time and most of the food goes straight into the garbage, especially the vegetables. Granted, I wouldn’t want to eat overcooked, canned green beans either but if kids were offered a healthy lunch when they were genuinely hungry, most would eat. Schools would save money by serving raw vegetable with a dip instead of canned stuff.

Years ago, a family in town would go to the school and get the lunch leftovers to feed to their pet pig, a huge sow named Suzy. Yankee Magazine ran a storey about it and, next thing you know, the school is informed that they could not give the garbage away. It was against some health code. Sometimes you just have to scratch your head.

I hate being stuck in the house, especially here on the sofa, but it does give me a chance to indulge in one of my favorite activities, perusing seed catalogs. I have already sent in my big orders but I am not finished. A few weeks ago, I went to a lecture on edible forest gardens given by David Jacke. I returned with a list of native plants I want to naturalize inmy little Eden. Many I can get locally. I will send out an email plea for comfrey, wild garlic and ramps. Some I will have to order. As I plan my order, I will take a virtual walk around property. It may be shrouded in ice today with the wind blowing snow devils but in my mind, it is spring and lovely edibles are popping up.

I have two arbors. One supports several arctic kiwi plants. Arctic kiwi is considered invasive but it is easy to control and the fruit is not only prolific but contains more vitamin c than oranges. The second arbor is for our grapes. We have a cold hardy concord but for high yield, you can’t beat our local fox grapes. They grow wild all over. I harvested enough to put up 7 gallons of juice last year. I have a couple of spots where fox grape used to grow but we pulled them down before we knew how good they were. I want to get some re-established in the same spot this year. I pulled some roots last fall and have rooted them in the green house. I hope they made it through the winter.  Now we come to the asparagus patch. It is well established and we will probably expand it this spring. The rhurbarb patch is next. Rhurbarb comes up early. It is such a treat after a winter of canned fruit.

The blackberry patch creates a natural fence between us and our nearest neighbors and several elderberry bushes are n the same general area. I ordered a couple of new varieties of blackberries this year but the ones I dug up from a friend’s patch were pretty prolific. I am anxious to see how the purchaced, thornless varieties will do. Next is the raspberry patch. We are doubling it this year. This patch is in a spot that was loaded with Japanese Knotweed we were trying to get rid of. Bruce was at his bee meeting last night and learned that honey bees love knotweed. We have decided to guit fighting this losing battle. We are going to harvest some to try as a spring vegetable-rumor has it that it is similar to asparagus-and hack it down if when it gets unruly.

A little further on we have the orchard. We have apples and pears and have ordered cherries, plums and peaches. All varieties are dwarf. This part of the yard is also where we keep the compost piles. We have three going at a time.

Now we follow a path to the lower gardens. The path is lined with fiddleheads. We eat these every day for weeks in the spring, give away pounds and freeze many more pounds.

Below the compost heaps is the spring that forms our lower property border, There is a lovey glade here, perfect for the mushrooms we grow. I have a morel patch and a pile of innoculated shitake logs. My herb garden is right in front with the shady part reserved for my many mint plants. Bruce’s bees have a terrific spot next to the herb garden.

The stream follows the property line. We have hazelnuts, Jeruselam artichokes, blueberry bushes and gooseberries that gorw along the banks. We have four garden plots that we rotate, a large hayfield and just enough maple trees to tap for the gallon or two of syrup we use each year.

I am missing a couple things I really want. I don’t have any sumac. I grew up believing that sumac was poison but I was treated to sumac tea last summer and love it. I don’t have ramps or wild ginger. I do should mention that I have a lot of nettles, lamb’s quarters and purslane. We eat them all summer in salads and as greens.

One place I forgot to mention was the greenhouse. The citrus spends the summer out there. In the late fall we plant cold hardy greens. This is were we start seeds and winter over some cold hardy plants. I could use another greenhouse. I am looking for an abandoned one that needs a new skin.

We have a lot of time money and energy invested in our home. As I watch the market tank today (again!), I can’t think of a better investment.