Monday, April 27, 2015

A fertile time

Things are going like gangbusters here on the homestead right now, especially where fertility is concerned. I am pleased to report that Ellen is sitting on a small clutch of fertilized eggs which I got from the neighbors across the street.  They lost several hens at once to old age and disease about the same time that Ellen went broody for the third time in her three-year life, and so I took four eggs from their non-broody hens and put them underneath Ellen who is happily clucking and mothering them under her fluffy wings.  

We will see if this pans out; if these eggs hatch I am guessing it should be around May 15 or so (chicken eggs incubate 21 days) and I would love to see Ellen become a mother in her golden years. All the other times she went broody I had to break her of it, meaning she did not get to do what she most wanted to do, which in those cases was hatch a batch of sterile eggs, a pretty useless endeavor for something as energy-sapping as brooding is.  We shall see!
Mama in-waiting.

The other fertilization project is going on outside, in the vegetables.  I have some peppers and eggplant with clear nitrogen deficiencies, but before I start monkeying around with organic fertilizer I am going to try a gentle, natural nitrogen booster, which is our own urine, diluted at a 1 to 10 ratio and used to water the plants around their bases.  I do not use this on anything where we'd be eating the crop either from or on the ground, but with peppers and eggplants this is not a concern. (And it's probably OK to use for other crops like lettuce, I'm just concerned about splash-age and don't want to risk it. 
Urine great shape, vegetables! Or will be soon.

So hopefully we will have green vegetables...and maybe even some chicks running around here soon.  Just two of the reasons spring is my favorite season. It's all about fertility...fertile earth, fertile animals, and hopefully fertile crops.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Strange Views from the Vineyards, Episode #779

Giant blimp above Big Ag's vineyard just north of our house. What?  It had the name of a gin company on the side, so perhaps they're scoping out their competition from the grape biz. 

Why buildings matter

Undeniably lovely, but would you want to be here in an earthquake?

One of my favorite type of article in Mother Earth News is when they feature someone who has, by the sweat of his or her own brow, built the house they live in.  Some houses are made with old-style adobe bricks, some are made with straw bales, others are built into hillsides like hobbit homes. Most are adorned with lovely stonework, nice floors and natural wood beams, and look quite idyllic, at least to me.

Someday I'd love to build something like that -- lay out a mere 20 grand or so for materials, and with the help of friends and neighbors, build a home of our own design, using some very cool old-style method to do it. And then live in it forever.

And then I see something on the news like what happened yesterday in Nepal. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which would be pretty bad in a first-world city, but is totally catastrophic in a third-world one. I see the collapsed buildings, the bricks scattered in the streets, and see the news footage of rescue workers trying to dig out those who have been buried alive.

And suddenly I am very thankful for the 2 x 6 wood frame of our house and the steel straps that bolt it to the concrete foundation, because of course we live in earthquake country and know exactly what the shaking of a major earthquake feels like.  Because the one thing you realize once you've lived here is that it matters -- very much -- what kind of house you live in and what kind of building you work in. 

We talk a lot in the homesteading world about preparedness -- we have our emergency kits, our canned goods, our solar ovens and our generators -- but we often don't think about the structural risks occurring within the buildings where we live and work.  When I traveled to Mexico on a business trip many years ago with a boyfriend who was doing a laser light installation in a large discotheque,  he called me up a ladder to look at the crawlspace above the ceiling while doing the installation.  Between the walls and in the crawlspace, everything was piled high with dry straw, used for insulation and soundproofing.  "If there's ever a fire," he said, "this place will go up like a haystack."

It was a sobering shock to realize that other countries do not have the same building codes as we do, but in disaster after disaster you can see it -- in everything from cyclones to earthquakes to fires...what would cause moderate damage and no loss of life in the States causes nothing but those things less-economically blessed countries abroad. All because of the building codes.

And so, while we pray and hope for recovery for all those caught in this terrible disaster, it should also be a reminder to keep building safety in mind both at home and while traveling.  Choosing a boring 2 x 6 wood frame house is uninventive, but I like to think it will keep us alive in a disaster.  Choosing a modern hotel when traveling, built to first-world standards, might be more boring than staying in a 16th century monastery, but if I had to take bets on which would be standing after a quake I know where I'd put my money.

Being prepared means not only preparing with goods, water, flashlights, etc, but also in choosing structurally sound homes -- and the same goes when we are traveling and staying in hotels, pensions, B & Bs or hostels. No one can predict the odds of your just being in a bad place at the wrong time, but anything you can do to improve those odds is a good thing, right?

In the name of safety I'm willing to be a little boring in where I lay my head and eat my meals. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The simple life, or a complicated one?

I have a relative who needs one of these.

This last week I had an elderly relative come and stay with us for several days, which is why posting was a bit sparse.  This relative comes about once a year and it's always a very stressful time for us all, due to their being extremely techno-phobic. For while the Simple Life may be an admirable way of living on the homestead, to completely unplug is to virtually guarantee trouble for yourself and those you love.

This is because the technophobes or Luddites among us continue living in the same world we do, only without the conveniences.  And because of that, their technophobia is, rather than a statement about how simple their lives are, instead a signature characteristic of someone who manipulates, cajoles, or otherwise manages to get others to do their techno-bidding so they don't have to live in the same century everyone else does.

Seems like a good compromise.

See, the thing is,  all those techno-chores the Luddites scorn still need to get done. By someone. The Amish solicit automobile rides, when necessary, from non-Amish with cars, and borrow telephones when they need to.  They also use the bus systems and bring their children in for 21st century medical care when needed. 

Maybe there are people in Alaska or someplace like that, living off the grid and off the radar of the government, banks, etc., but for most people, at some point they need to make contact in a 21st century way, and the way technophobic people do that is to task their connected friends and relatives to do it for them.  So they don't really eschew technology,  they just pass the buck onto someone else to do the heavy lifting when they want or need something.

Take my relative's arrival, for example. I had to go online to arrange transportation from the first US airport they flew into, because they did not have a credit card to book a shuttle bus or hire a car.  If they got stranded, there would have been no way for them to let me know, because they refuse to own a cell phone. And without a debit card, they could not even have used an ATM to take out enough cash to pay a taxi.
Be a Luddite at your own risk.

All of this avoidance of modern technology is actually a source of stubborn pride with this relative -- they actually believe they are living a simpler life because they are avoiding all that technology.  Instead, their lives balance on a fine thread of a) well-meaning people willing to help out, combined with b) the luck that nothing will go wrong.

Because, like it or not, we all need our credit card in times of emergency...or our cell phones...or our checkbook. To live without those things in this day and age is inviting disaster. 

This relative finally moved on to someone else's house after a week with us, and I have to say, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Yes, we live the simple life here on the homestead; as I write this there are sweet cucumber and tomato seedlings growing in the conservatory, and a nice strawberry-rhubarb pie in the oven.  Later tonight, I will light the candles and get ready for bed, thankful for another day of home-grown simplicity.

And yet, when I cash my check at the bank tomorrow, it will be at the ATM, and I will pay my bills online after that. Because to try and do otherwise -- to live without computer, without plastic money, without a checkbook, and without a cell phone -- would make my life more complicated, not more simple.  

Yes, we all sometimes long for the days when those things were not part of society.  But not having any of them does not mean you have successfully turned the clock back.  All you've done is made doing life's business more difficult for yourself and, inevitably, for those you love.

Sometimes, living a truly simple life means living a hybrid one, somewhere in between our grandparents' century and this one. So my advice is this:  farm, eat and consume in a 19th century manner...but for heaven's sake,  bank in this one.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fire Safe

Big Ag borrowed the neighbors' tractor this morning and not only cut the grass in the pasture, but also cut a huge firebreak around the rest of the property.  It's not a guarantee this place won't burn in a wildfire, but it definitely improves the odds.

This will be a long, dry summer by all accounts, so it's best to get started and be prepared early. This year was actually wetter than the last two have been, and so we saw a lot more growth of native grasses -- four foot tall native grasses -- than we have in the past.  And so we have finally realized we have two choices:  Buy a tractor or put up some fence and get some sheep.  Or maybe both. Because while I love sheep, Big Ag looks awfully happy on that borrowed tractor!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A little slice of heaven (photo heavy)

Creston, California -- a little slice of heaven just down the road.

I got to spend yesterday with a good friend/coworker, traveling the back roads of our county for a special Industry Afternoon, hosted by several wineries of the "Creston Wine Trail."  The Creston Wine Trail is a relatively little-known area around the funky, cute town of Creston, a locavore's heaven if ever there was one. It's probably what Paso Robles was like 25 years ago -- small, intimate, with uncrowded tasting rooms and fantastic wines and locally grown and raised food.  

If I was recommending this area to someone who wanted to "get away from it all," I would recommend the Creston area. It really does feel like a little slice of heaven as you are driving through the gently rolling hillsides and green fields.

August Ridge Vineyards

One of the greatest parts of my job is that doing things like this is such an important part of it.  In a tasting room your main job is as wine educator; informing people not only about the wines you are pouring, but about wines and the region in general. It's always nice to spend a day like this in the company of knowledgable and competent peers, because I always learn so much about our region and wines it is capable of producing.  There's also always a lot of shop talk about number of punch-downs and pump-overs, specific yeasts and their benefits, as well as talk about where the industry is headed.
Unofficial mascot at Shadow Run Vineyards and Winery

We stopped at several wineries as part of the tour, as well as an olive-oil producing tasting room which also featured locally grown-and-harvested lamb for sale. I am not a lamb person, but my friend David was, and so he talked meat with the operations manager while I sampled some of the incredible flavored olive oils, vinegars, and other products.

Another huge perk to working in the wine business is that we generally receive anywhere from a 30 to a 50 percent discount on any bottles purchased at other wineries when we visit.  And tasting is always free. This allows us to sample other wineries' fare and then make good recommendations to our customers, depending on what they are looking for. I know that just from my afternoon spent on the Creston Wine Trail that it is something I can now wholeheartedly recommend not only to customers, but also to friends and family who visit and want to get off the beaten path of the most popular 20 or so wineries that everyone seems to visit when they come to Paso.
My two favorite wines from Chateau Margene -- Pistolero Chardonnay and Mooney 2012 Pinot Noir.

Not only were these wines great, but you also got the chance, at each venue, to sit and chat with the owner (who is usually also the winemaker) and get to know the character of both the wine and its maker at the same time.  It means that by the time you leave, you feel more like a neighbor or friend than just a customer, which I think is an important (and unfortunately, rapidly disappearing) part of any wine country experience.

Mmm. Delicious salad and marinating possibilities!

I came home full of great food and with a bag of new wine purchases, as well as olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which means not only will I be making some great food, but now have even more options on what I can serve it with. Yes, for us it was just another day at work, but sometimes here in wine country a day at work can also be a little slice of heaven.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Impulse and Romance

Impulse and romance are rarely a good combination. Exciting -- oh my yes -- but rarely good in the long run.