Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Animal Question

When you get married, the first question everyone starts to ask you is, "when are you going to start a family?"  When you buy country property, the question everyone starts asking you is, "when are you going to buy some farm animals?"

We successfully dodged this question for quite awhile by stating we wanted to put in our orchard, vines and berries first, which people pretty much accepted because it was sound logic. The things that will take the most time to accomplish, like raising a tree until it's large enough to produce, should be the first priorities when growing a homestead. Besides, we already had chickens, and as everyone knows, they are the gateway drug to farm animals, so getting more animals was pretty much a done deal.  

But now that the permanent crops are in and growing, we've begun to ask ourselves the question again....when, and if, we should be getting some animals.

I think at this point, it's safe to announce we've decided the answer is "yes" to the when question, and "soon" to the other.  It's spring, so there's lots of goats, sheep, donkeys, llamas, and alpacas available. And our lower pasture area has never been more in need of some critters to munch down the spring grasses, before they dry out and become a fire hazard.

But its an exciting prospect, the idea of being able to head down to the pasture and see some animals grazing.

Rest assured, updates will be published as they happen.

Monday, April 21, 2014


I don't watch cooking shows on television, but a friend of mine said I should watch a show called, "Chopped," because it reminded her of how things happen at our homestead.

Basically, on "Chopped," someone in charge apparently brings in a random set of ingredients to a chef and they have to create an appetizer, main course, and dessert from what's there.

Today, whoever is in charge here (this would be a toss-up between God, chance, and Mother Nature) provided this:

Carrots, radishes, peas, and eggs.  My idea is to make Egg In The Hat with some Ezekiel bread and some eggs, serve the radishes as an appetizer, and sautee the peas and carrots together as a side dish.  I also have some lettuce in the fridge from the garden, so I'll make a side salad, too.

If we want dessert, I guess a souffle or some vanilla ice cream would be the way to go, since we have more eggs than anything else.

Do you have "Chopped" days, where you get a strange set of ingredients and have to make a feast from it? It seems like the norm around here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy Spring Holiday

May you find pookas galore this holiday weekend.

And so another holiday weekend comes.  This one is associated with fertility, growth, new life and new beginnings.  So many of our secular holidays have their roots in Judeo/Christian as well as older Pagan rites, Easter being one of them.  Of course there's Passover and Resurrection Sunday. But going back even farther than those things, and to different parts of the world, there is also colored eggs, bunnies, spirit animals, new chicks, sweet candies -- and hunts through the green, green grasses of spring for the last one of those. Oh, and fertility rites.  A lot of fertility rites.

You could probably pick any faith tradition and find a holiday which happens this time of year, so whatever you are celebrating, I hope it's a happy time for you and yours!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Bad Seed

I recently had a 100 percent failure with a packet of spinach seeds I had bought a few months ago.  I planted them both in my raised beds and indoors in peat pots and and absolutely nothing happened.  Zip.  Nada. Since I remember having trouble with spinach before this, I was tempted to simply write spinach off the menu -- once again -- for the next year, and accept that I can't grow decent spinach here.

But since we're having a long spring, I decided to try again.  I planted, and this time had about 100 percent germination rate instead of a 100 percent failure rate.  Since the first batch of seeds were planted in two completely different environments (one temperate and one cool), I'm chalking my failure up to a bad packet of seeds.

This can happen with potted plants, bulbs, trees and other plantings around our homes and property.  I don't think you can ever "call the game" on a particular type of plant until you've tried it two or even three times and it's failed.  

Of course doing some detective work doesn't hurt either.  If you think the soil is bad where you planted something, move it someplace else. If you believe weather might have been the culprit, wait until next year and move your planting date forward or back a few weeks or a month.

But bottom line, don't "call the game" on anything until you have made several attempts to grow something and failed each time. I'm glad I prevailed and bought that last packet of spinach that sprouted and took hold in the garden.  

When you work the land, it's typical to blame yourself, but sometimes it's not you at all, it's just some bad seeds, bad mojo, bad moon phase or whatever else helps decide what stays and what goes in our gardens. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Laundry Woes

Big Ag and I have a pretty harmonious marriage.  Some of that comes from marrying later in life; when you marry late, you don't change much and it makes it easier to predict exactly who you will and won't get along with in your advancing years.

But we do have some differences, and some of those differences can happen on the homestead front when you're trying to live a chemical and addiditive-free life.  The latest example is laundry.  

And the difference is this: He wants to stink and I don't.

Before you judge, I will tell you right now that what you just read is probably not what you are thinking it is.  Neither one of us wants to smell of body odor.  We love our showers and we love clean clothes.  But here's where we part ways:  Big Ag likes his shirts to smell "fresh" -- fruity, flowery, and what most of our culture considers a "clean" smell, meaning highly-scented, and I like mine to smell natural, also known as "unscented."

And so our Washing Wars began, where he complained his laundry did not smell like anything and was, in fact, "musty," and I battled back and told him his clothes smelled like actual clean clothes, hung on a line in the fresh air to dry, and that he just wasn't used to that, after years of clothes dried in a clothes dryer with scented fabric softener sheets.

Then he told me someone had hugged him at work and made a face.  Whether or not I think this was his imagination or not was unimportant at this point.  The point was, I'd had enough of the critiquing of our laundry, and the fact that he was uncomfortable.

And so I broke down and bought some in-wash Downey "scent booster" (aka super stinky chemical "dots") which you shake into to your wash, and which gives you shirts you can smell from 50 yards away.  I wash his shirts separately from the other clothes now  -- not a very eco-friendly practice, I know -- but they have the extreme scent Big Ag apparently equates with "clean."  

I try not to focus on the fact that I have no idea what's in these little scent dots, what they do in a septic system, a human immune system, or what they are made of.  I keep them out of 3/4th of the rest of the laundry (his underwear, jeans and socks get washed with our regular, homemade detergent, which cleans just fine but which has no scent), and that is our compromise.

When you homestead as a couple, you will find differences in how you want to live, and this is an example of ours.

The bane of my existence.

And now I'm going to go and throw all the windows in the house open because I just washed a bunch of Big Ag's shirts and our entire house smells like a fruity, flowery, chemical candy store.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chamomile/lavender/mint sun tea

This really is the best cold tea ever. In addition to being hugely refreshing when the weather is warm, it also provides a little tranquility buzz, making it great to have with dinner or in the evening before bedtime, or in the afternoon if your spouse is obsessing about the shop he's building on the south side of the property and wants to discuss every minor detail with you. 

Chamomile Lavender Mint Iced Tea

(makes 14 cups)

A cup of loosely packed fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons of lavender (I use French)

1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons camomile leaves (or 4 chamomile tea bags)

Mix all the ingredients together, and fill a one-gallon jar with lukewarm water.  Place in sunshine for a few hours.  Remove/strain all tea bags and flowers with a cheesecloth and place tea in fridge for a few hours to chill.  

Enjoy the (legal) mellow feeling.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Waste not, want not

A few months ago, I purchased a bag of dove and quail feed for my pigeon and two doves.  Inside the bag were some pea seeds, which were uneaten by any of the birds, and therefore fell onto the floor of the flight cage, where they remained until I cleaned it out. What a waste.

After being collected and mixed in with the chicken waste and a bunch of straw, I spread the mixture over one of our raised beds to sit and compost for a few months.  I covered the bed with a black tarp, and in a few weeks when I removed it, lo and behold, the peas had sprouted. Not a waste at all.

At that point I decided I could use a good nitrogen fixer in the soil as well as a good cover crop, so the peas got to stay.  They grew and eventually blossomed into gorgeous colors of all kinds -- white, pink, red and salmon.  Definitely not a waste.

They formed pea pods, but the pod casings themselves were too tough for them to be eaten as snap peas.  What a waste.

 But instead I let them ripen and picked them with the goal of shelling them. Not a waste after all.

Tonight I had green peas with dinner, cooked lightly and covered in butter.  Perfect. Now the peas are in my belly and the pods are back in the compost pile, where they will break down and become soil for new plants.  No waste here. Once the peas are broken down by my digestive system, they'll end up being eliminated by my body and head through the septic tank out into the leach field to return to the earth that way, while the pods will stay stay topside and grow some new plants as they decompose.

In the next couple of weeks, I will plow down the pea plants remaining and they will return to the soil to provide nitrogen for the next thing that's going to be planted there.  Perhaps if I'm lucky, a few ripe peas will go to seed and give me another crop of peas. 

Compost, plants, flowers, food, compost.  What a lovely cycle, and not a bit of waste in it, if you just relax and let nature take its own course.