Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our Way

We always try to grow enough potatoes to feed our family for the whole year if that was all we had to eat. We always try to grow enough hard corn to feed our family for a whole year even if that was all we had to eat. Then, no matter what happens, what fails, how little money there is, whatever, we have food to eat. Our children have food to eat. (just think about that for a moment, what it would be like if your children did not have enough to eat) That is the basis.

Now, that’s a lot of corn, and a lot of potatoes. The image I always have in my mind is of the seven fat years and the seven lean years from the Old Testament. Seven fat years is enough to convince people that it will always be that way which is a reason it is significant. What do you think cannot be pulled out from under you, and imagine that it is pulled out from under you. One year we did have a near total failure of the hard corn crop. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Weather. Crows. Weather. Caterpillars. Weather. ‘Coons. But we still had, from the previous years, enough corn. For the humans.

Eventually the corn gets cycled into animal feed, but not right away. The potatoes won’t keep like that but do make good animal feed. Potatoes are probably the crop that can best meet caloric needs in the smallest space. (that’s a hint)

Everything else is, as they say, gravy.

Sometimes I think the secret is how small everything else is. This spring, as we’ve had extra eggs, I’ve taken to freezing them. We generally keep the chickens laying some all winter, but we never have enough eggs in that we always end up buying some in winter. Even having just a few in the freezer will alleviate that. We have day neutral strawberries and as they come in, I freeze the extra. It isn’t much at a time, but will add up over a season. We’re about to pick gooseberries. I’ll freeze most of them to have for winter fruit. What a treat is a gooseberry pie. I may experiment with drying them and reconstituting them this year. When our blueberries come in we will no doubt eat them all. But I will also visit a nearby u-pick blueberry place and try to get several gallons which we will mostly freeze and dry. With greens, the first thing is to try to keep them growing for most of the year, but the second is to freeze extra as it comes in. Just blanch and freeze. For the short time of the year when the greens aren’t growing, and for those times running to the freezer is more convenient than running to the garden, it doesn’t take that many put up. We’ll pickle various vegetables along. We scythe for hay along and put it into haystacks.

Ok, everything else isn’t gravy. When the blackberries come in, it is a major project since we try to make 75 to 100 pints of jam each year. But I always make a few cobblers and freeze enough extra to make a cobbler per month for the rest of the year. Green beans and tomatoes are also things that are put up in some quantity. If we’ve got good apples or pears, they can hold in storage, but apples or pears that are compromised have to be processed in some way right now and I’ve blistered a few fingers peeling and coring. But I’ve never regretted doing it.

We have many bases. We own our house and land. We built that house with our own hands, and we’ve increased the fertility of the land. Never say never, but we aren’t likely to end up homeless. That is a the basis. We cut our own heating fuel with hand tools. Our children are warm. That is the basis. Our relationships with each other is the basis. Maintaining our health (which maintaining all these other bases does) is the basis. I would even say that being willing to die, being willing to suffer a few aches and pains and blisters and bruises, is the basis.

We do stuff with the animals nearly every day, and make meals every day, and garden nearly every day and cut wood every day we don’t garden. I’d say we read every day and write every day and talk every day and listen every day and create every day. And I’d say that all this stuff, these bases, these routines, they are what life is really all about. People do tend to ask me, how do I find time to do all this. What I always wonder is, what the heck they are doing with all their days.

And why they choose that way.


dND said...

That's true 'simple living', right back to basics and not dependant on imported or dwindling fuel etc.

Over here in Europe the truckers are on strike because of the rocketing fuel prices. In many places food has stopped moving. Maybe, just maybe, governments will start to appreciate locally grown food and start to suport their own growers rather than the multinationals who have shipped growing out to undeveloped countries from where it has to be shipped in.

I'm really impressed with you scything hay, I'm just getting to grips with the scythe but not got a good enough rhythm yet to cut evenly.

CG said...

Well, I personally don't cut it any too evenly. We're also gleaning some hay that the big rakes/balers don't pick up.

But I think your take on government "supporting" local food is off target. What we need is not government support (please forbid such) but for the government to get out of the way. Just today, there is an article on msnbc about the government cracking down on raw milk. Oooh, like I need the government to protect me from my cow, and so do the people who would like to drink my milk. grrr.

I am really flattered to have a European reader, I am.

The Purloined Letter said...

Thank you for this lovely reminder about those things that truly sustain us, body and soul.

Cielo said...

Are there special requirements for freezing eggs? Enquiring minds and all that...

Vicki said...

I really admire your self-sufficiency and dedication.

If you don't mind answering, how do you grow potatoes on a small scale? I planted a 2 inch sprout from a neglected potato in a pot, and now the greens are about 8 inches high. What do I do now?

Kitt said...

You tempt me to go and radically expand my vegetable garden. But at least I will plant some potatoes. Always meant to try the garbage bin method.

CG said...

Vicki -- depends on how big a pot it is in. You can probably leave it there and see what you get. You can do potatoes in pots (like, 5 gallon or garbage cans or old tires stacked up) by putting the potato in the bottom and covering, when it sprouts and grows some (like your 8 inches), cover it with soil again (I personally always leave the top leaf showing), do again and again until the container is full. Potatoes are swollen stems so you should get potatoes at each level. This is why, even in the garden, you hill potatoes, to increase the yield. If you do it in a 5 gallon bucket, you can dump them out and see what you got!

On the eggs Cielo, all I've done is scrambled them and frozen them in our common quantities (some are 6 eggs, some 3, some 2). Some sources said they needed "stabilizing" with either some salt or some sugar -- when I remembered I put a very very small amount of salt in a few of them. Since I haven't done this before, we'll see if they are something we will really use. I'm thinking for flan and cakes and pies, certainly. Not as sure if we'll have them for breakfast. Carla Emery talked of preserving eggs in "waterglass" but I've never been able to talk to anyone else who actually did that. Waterglass is some form of silica I think that sort of makes a jello around unrefrigerated fresh eggs in something like a crock and then you just use out of that.

We got a pint of strawberries last night, a quart of gooseberries, and a stack of hay.

Ren said...

I saw a product in some poultry or country magazine once that was a sealant for eggs. It was supposed to preserve them for over a year without refrigeration (if I'm remembering correctly). Maybe I'll go look it up again just fer fun.

I was all worried about my potatoes, because I never saw blossoms (a couple at best) but then when I dug down a couple days ago I got two decent sized potatoes out. So maybe they blossomed while I was away the one week? Can you lose the whole crop if they don't get pollinated correctly?

I think I'm a very nervous gardener.:)

CG said...

Ok Ren, put your thinking cap on and you will know this. Or, as I am wont to tell people, think like a potato.

Your potatoes under the ground are produced asexually and are not dependent on the blossoms. What the blossoms tell you is when they are setting potatoes, and then, of course, the blossoms make seeds (and that is dependent on pollination and I know NOTHING about potato "seeds" so let's not even go there or I'll have to look it up and know even more useless information). Ours are blooming now and I don't remember exactly when you got yours in. Also, different types of potatoes have different season lengths, so if you have a real long season type in (like a russet), they wouldn't be blooming yet. We tend to have the best luck here with a fairly short season potato, Yukons being the shortest of the short. We did, for awhile, have a relatively short season russet and I really liked it, but alas.

barefoot gardener said...

You have, once again, both humbled and inspired me. You are a treasure, CG, and I am so glad you share these stories with us.

questionsaboutfaith said...

Interesting site. Gives one a feeling for country living.

Anonymous said...


The egg preservative you read about may be 'water glass' (sodium silicate).

Your potatoes are likely very fine. Potatoes reproduce sexually and asexually. The sexual reproduction comes from the blossoms which in turn set on little green tomato-like fruits with seeds that will NOT be true to type.

Asexually the potato sends out underground stems (called 'stolons') which form the tubers (not roots, of course). Any part of the potato plant is capable of setting stolons and tubers so when dirt is hilled up around the plant, it is provoked into setting on more stolons and more tubers.

If the sexual reproduction fails entirely, the asexual reproduction goes on unabated. The two are not related only that when potatoes are in full blossom, that's usually when there are new potatoes to be had. Coincidence more than anything.

Ren said...

Very cool! I knew I was being overly paranoid once I pulled out two lovely potatoes. BUT, being new to it I was still nervous that something was wrong.:)

I have Yukons, Bentje, blue, red, some kind of white variety (can't remember and the stakes are pretty well under the jungle of leaves now) and just got the sweet potatoes which are sitting in water waiting for some tilling to be done.

And yes, it was sodium silicate that I was thinking about. Any experience with using it? I don't have a need just now but thought it might be fun to see how it does.

Ren said...

Meant to say thanks again for both the inspiration and information.

I'd have to go look at my notes but I think the potatoes went in the ground in early April.

CG said...

just remember that sweet potatoes are not the same thing as potatoes, so you have to think like sweet potatoes to think like them!

Ren said...

More like a Yam right?

dND said...

Hi CG I agree with your take on the government bit, in an ideal world they would support but as you say in actuality they regulate and take responsibility for our lives away from us. The UK lost their unpasteurised milk years ago. There is nothing quite like milk straight from the cow, just passed through the strainer; now it’s almost all heat-treated and homogenised.

Right Waterglass, I’ve not done this myself but I have this wonderful book of my dad’s called ‘Fortunes in Formulas for home, farm and workshop’, Books Inc New York, from the 50’s with this information:

“Water Glass (Sodium Silicate). This preparation mixes readily with cold water on a basis of one part Water Glass to nine parts water and is a wonderful egg preserver. There is no better or simpler preserver known. Water Glass is odourless and colourless. Eggs may be preserved with it for six months or a year and come out as good as fresh laid eggs.
After mixing the Water Glass with water as above, pour onto the eggs, which have been placed in a bucket, barrel or stone jar. As the eggs must be covered entirely with the solution it is advisable to place a plate or cover over the top layer to keep them from floating. Eggs thus preserved should be kept in a cool place.”


CG said...

Thanks Deborah. And really, I don't want the government's support -- only that it leave me mostly alone.

Ren, pretty much everything that we call "yams" in this country are really sweet potatoes. And they are a totally different plant, and different type of plant, than potatoes. And yams for that matter.

javaseeker said...

Great read, CG. I too often get excited about the "gravy" and don't cover my basis. Then we're left short and frustrated in the off-season. The humble potato from your own earth is gravy enough.