Wednesday, March 22, 2023

yeah yeah yeah

 I dropped the proverbial blogging ball. I got to reading One-Straw, and I got busy.  Still thinking about those books tho.

Meantime this op-ed popped up for me, and in so many ways (but not every way) it says what I've been trying to say for these decades: live differently.  Live smaller. It is infinitely richer. 

It's WaPo but I hope you can see it anyway!

What if climate change meant not doom but abundance?


 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

stepping out on the road

The next book came (along with five "new" to me ones!), but now I have to re-read it.  Because back in the day, it was one that I didn't read carefully but somehow almost absorbed? I don't know.  Anyway, I'm reading The One -Straw Revolution.

This is the cover that came.
This cover one would be the tattoo. 

A new project for us is syruping! There is a new job that I like pretty well so far, and a guy there, who is the son of someone I know from my last two jobs and actually my very first job too, has been a chef (among other things) and seems pretty nice and competent so I gave him some feta because I figured he could appreciate it.  In return, he gave me a pint of maple syrup he'd boiled down.

Wow. The flavor.  So obviously, we can do this, right? And this friend mentions offhand, "I've read of people tapping black walnuts." And in the husband's research into this potential project, he also runs into this possibility, and the description that it tastes like maple syrup with butternut flavoring. Well heck.

So we got some spiles, read a few things, decided gallon jugs would work fine for collectors, and just happened to tap a walnut before we tapped a maple. And in that decided that this year we'd tap walnuts, process the sap, see what we learn, ID trees for next year, collect supplies, and see what we decide to do with it,
The first tap. Overnight we got a gallon from this one. Completely clear.  Looks like water. We tapped a few more today. That gallon is on the woodstove. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.

Another adventure begins!



Monday, January 09, 2023

Books: New (to me)!

Still waiting on One Straw, which is really what I want to write up next, but these Logsdon books came in!

 


Friday, December 30, 2022

in a very pleasant liminal space

 

You can tell I'm enjoying this project because it is getting done!  The books I have written about so far I've gotten down and looked at again, and contemplated, and remembered where I was and what I was thinking 25+ years ago. Geez, this blog is almost 20 years old!

And then I'm also asking the question, "What book is next?" and thinking about that, and about all the books!

Anyone the least bit familiar with this blog or with me knows Gene Logsdon is my favorite agricultural writer hands down, so I was thinking about him and his books, but also thinking that One Straw Revolution probably came to us before Gene did (well, except for his how to books that we already had, but before Contrary Farmer, et al.) and in poking around the internet I was like, "We don't have THAT book?" and "We don't have THAT book?"  And we had read One Straw from the library so we'd never owned it. So with my small Christmas bonus I sure did buy six books!

And just after I placed this book order, I had some french toast (made with our own limed eggs) topped with maple syrup a fellow worker had given me and oh my, that syrup is stupendously good.  Of course I'd already offered to work for syrup but after tasting that I was like, "Hey, yall want to see about making some of our own?" Especially because we now have someone local with experience to pump for information.

And we do have the Nearing's Maple Syrup Book, the observation of which daughter #2 said, "We have a book on making maple syrup?" with genuine surprise. Then,  "Of course we have a book on making maple syrup! Who are we anyway!" with genuine amusement.

One of the reasons I had to buy more Gene Logsdon books was that we did not have his Organic Orcharding book, and I'm studying up on what to do with our planted last spring baby orchard in the next few months: pruning, mulching, feeding. (I am reading The Backyard Orchardist and The Pruning Manuel at the moment.)

And One Straw is coming so now I just have to decide if I want to write about that before it comes or wait until after . . .

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Books: How to Grow More Vegetables *than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine (John Jeavons)

I have not looked at this book in years. I used to carry it around with me as I went about life as a social worker and dreamed of what this new husband and I might create. So it is very interesting to look at it again.

 
 
What I remember is that it was full of a whole bunch of minutiae -- how to double dig, how close to plant plants together, how much you might expect to harvest. What I remember was that it was incredibly inspiring to me that this could indeed be done.


In looking at it afresh today, I'm struck by the tone of encouragement, the admonition to try. To a large extent, that is what this blog has always been about. Try. Fail. It's fine. It's fun. It's healthy. It's delicious. It's heartbreaking. It's hard, healthful work. It's interesting. It's challenging. Try. An upside down tomato and a basil plant. Start and enjoy.

All of the book's technical information can give you places to start, hints to improve, things to think about.  Truth is, on this farm, we aren't all that technical. We might have more "success" if we were taking soil samples and adjusting pH minutely, but in general, we try to "farm" the soil, we are pleased when it is full of life, and we go on.

This book, with all its charts; all its technical, precise information could be a turnoff.  Also, I don't think it has much in it about failure, but in my experience, people get really bummed out when something fails. AND something ALWAYS fails.  But here's the thing: something ALWAYS succeeds. And there is NO TELLING beforehand what is going to do what.

Farm the soil; plant diversely; budget it as entertainment; be ready to be overwhelmed, amazed, puzzled, frustrated, and delighted. Grow yourself some veggies! Broccoli in the wild!

(here's a YouTube of him talking about his system. Personally, I don't think his system is sacrosanct. We dug lots of deep beds via his method, and then we did it a bit differently. Experiment.  Play. Chop wood. Carry water. Bake bread. Grow food. Smash the Patriarchy!)


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Books: The Good Life (that is, the Nearings)

 The first book is

 
The Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing, published in 1989. It is the single volume edition of Living the Good Life (originally published in 1954) and Continuing the Good Life (originally published in 1979). And not unlike Carla Emery's book, it is really about EVERYTHING. And we learned so much from them, a whole lot of it NOT in this book.  But this book was the start.

They were the original back-to-the-landers (in 1934). They grew food (and cooked and preserved and ate), they built their own houses, they wrote and spoke and were artists.  They traveled. Bullfrog made a film about them. They asked big hard questions and didn't give themselves a pass. Yes, in thinking about them, one of the things I really admire about them is how they didn't give themselves a pass. They were, I believe, hard to get along with. It seems to me that anyone worth their salt who is doing real stuff is likely somewhat challenging. This isn't fluffy, cushiony, comfortable work.

They were INCREDIBLY interesting people in their own rights.  He was an economist, a communist, charged with sedition for speaking out against WWI. She was a musician, a girlfriend of Krishnamurti who had traveled the world. Sometimes I think having lived a lot makes it easier to live simply because you know you aren't really giving anything up.  Your 15th trip to Disney World isn't really going to improve your life any, and certainly not anyone else's.

This was only the first book about the Nearings that we read.  We sort of made a study of them. In so many ways their contradictions make them all the more interesting, certainly less monolithic. They claimed to be vegans but actually ate a lot of dairy; they claimed to live on a "cash economy" but were rich and actually traveled quite a bit; they were "self-sufficient" but had a crews of help from people; Helen actually put Scott in a nursing home for a short while -- he didn't justdrift off happily shortly after his 100th birthday.  

The truth of the matter is that not bumping their asses financially gave them the room to ruminate on bigger questions. But it is also true that living simply means you need a whole lot less money or income to have that room.



Highly recommended further study:
Living the Good Life (Bullfrog Films)
Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life (Jean Hay Bright)
Free Radical (Ellen LaConte)
On Light Alone (Ellen LaConte)

and if you want more from the Nearings themselves:
Loving and Leaving the Good Life (Helen Nearing)
The Making of a Radical (Scott Nearing)
(also, visit The Good Life Center)

not on my favorites list but we have it:
The Making of a Homesteader (John Saltmarsh)

 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Books: The Encyclopedia of Country Living

The first book has to be the book before the first book: the one single book we had in common when we met.

We were both older, had established households, and both had plenty of books and varied interests. But the only book we had in common was

Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living. Neither of us had the original mail order edition, and his edition was one previous to mine. Mine still has the BDalton Booksellers price tag on it: $14.95.

What IS this book even? Subtitled "An Old-Fashioned Recipe Book", it's part memoir, part philosophy, part how-to. I already had the idea that, given the choice, I'd like to live out somewhere with lots of different animals, but I'm sure it was this book that planted the idea of homesteading with me. This book helped give me vision, an idea of the possible, a positive view of children and family and "living off the land".

The first thing I learned from this book was how to make bread. It certainly gave me the idea that bread was doable and forgiving and didn't have to be perfect to be good -- and it probably still influences how I write recipes! Eventually I made soap from the instructions in this book. I loved reading the sections on "what to look for when looking at land". I first read of preserving eggs in this book, although I remember her talking about waterglassing them, and we use a lime water method instead.
 
Still, it's the ideas, and the idea that it can be done.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

enough

 

A friend texted me this morning. Yes, sometimes I can get texts here at home now. Amazing. We also have relatively decent internet now. Even 10 years ago, we probably couldn't watch videos online. Now we can zoom and only get thrown off a couple times an hour usually.

So yes, a friend texted. "I seem to recall that once-upon-a-time long ago, you talking about the virtues of living an ordinary life and being content in an ordinary life, etc. It wasn't an introspective musing, but rather a philosophical idea and you referenced a book or article or something-or-other from an author you were familiar with. I think. Does any of that sound remotely real or am I recalling some dream I had?"

The floodgates opened. A book? An article? Oh my where to even start. Of course I thought of a few, unsure if any of them would have been exactly whatever we would have been talking about whenever that conversation happened. And I thought, hmmmmm, I haven't thought of a lot of those books in quite a while. Wouldn't it be interesting to review them and their impact on our lives and my thoughts about them? Perfect for the blog too.  And gee, I haven't really blogged in forever.

So, I think I will try it.  If'n you are interested, feel free to hold me to it. But first, some thoughts.

It IS philosophical. I understand in theory that there are folks who get through life without philosophy, but I don't understand it. Truth be told, the last few years, I could have used a good bit more philosophy but instead it was a season of action that was required.  Different action. Tangential action? I'm not sure that is the right word still.  Action that was directed outward. Trying to shove that wheel of fortune just a little bit, to help to bend the arc toward justice and freedom and equality and respect. Because tRump. Because Christofascists.

But I think there is a current turning back to what really matters, and what really creates change, which is stepping out of the stream of exploitation, forging and marking and mapping the paths away from the raging rivers of consumerism, and creating and producing on a tiny micro-scale of cooperative sufficiency. Littling along as Harlan Hubbard put it. Daring to be a nobody.

So let's look at those books!

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

about those green beans

It's a pretty classic meal: chicken fried steak, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy.  Just depends if you take gravy on your meat or not; extra pepper or not.


 I'm pretty proud of this meal as all of it, except the potatoes, is off the place.  Ironic that the potatoes are not, since most often they are.  Except for this time of year when any we still have left are sprouted beyond eating (and being fed to chickens and rabbits) and those in the garden are growing but not "new" yet.

But about those beans.  Those are salted green beans, which is not a preservation method I grew up with.  I first heard of these reading John Seymour's Fat of the Land. I love the narrative books on how people do things.  I don't want a prescription: I want to know how you did it.  If you were successful that is. If you tried homesteading for a year and quit, or put in one crop of cabbages and the groundhogs ate them, or anything else that you just gave up on, I don't like those books (and there are a shocking number of them).  Give me Payne Hollow by Harlan Hubbard, The Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing, Coming Home to Eat by Gary Nabhan. Luckily there are lots of these too.

So John Seymour talked about salting green beans, and we thought about it but I don't think we ever tried it.  Years went by.  (Home) Canned green beans are ok. (Home) Frozen ones are pretty good but only for about half the winter. Dried green beans, "shuckey beans" are grand but they aren't green beans. Then the husband started following Jon Townsends of Nutmeg Tavern on YouTube, and he salted some beans (and also limed some eggs).

Two years ago we had green beans coming out our ears, so we decided to try it, finally.  Almost all the examples did mention frenching the beans, but we didn't have a frencher and we thought, ah, surely if you use enough salt....  Well, that didn't turn out so well. The chickens got all those, and we got a tiny little green bean frencher.

Last year we also had plenty of green beans, mostly McCaslins.  We canned quite a few, and we frenched and salted I believe two buckets full. Interestingly, last year's McCaslins were randomly tough.  We knew this even eating them freshly picked.  We tried picking and using only the youngest, smallest beans.  Didn't help. And so, randomly, some of the canned ones and some of the salted ones are tough too. We haven't figured out why exactly. Needless to say, the ones I had canned as gifts didn't end up getting given to anyone because of that. Still, for us, they are fine, at least until this year's beans come in.

I have always been somewhat of a green bean snob, having grown up calling them "string beans" (and who remembers the comedian by that name other than me?) -- we've always grown some variety of beans that require stringing, defaulting to half runners and McCaslins and greasy beans.  Lawd I love a good greasy bean. But this year we have at least one small planting of blue lakes that don't require stringing, especially destined for the frencher and salt preservation.

Because, you see, everyone has planted the cabbages that got eaten by the groundhog, or had their sweet corn eaten by the bears. Everyone has baked a cake that fell, or a loaf of bread that was just not all that. No one does the dance correctly the first time. The bread and cake and even the tough green beans are still edible, even enjoyable. And you learn.

Something always fails, and something always surprises you with how well it does. And you never know what will be what.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

fruit

Mowing waist high grass is hard.  Really hard.


But there's this.


We'll see if the new orchard survives.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

It takes a village

 And so, after supper made of broth off the pork roast from a few days ago, the one I pressured absolutely plain (well, some green garlic and some salt) so as to call up the taste bud memories of a very favorite dish that my mother would make especially for me, three of us took to prepping the gooseberries for the freezer.  And it brought so many thoughts.

Like the other day I had SO MUCH to do during my one day at home in an absolutely brutally busy week, processing milk and eggs and prepping for a big pot luck (and when you are bringing a lot of people to a pot luck, you ought to bring a lot of food!) and feeding us too, still in the middle of that I thought about how much easier it is with more of us to share the work.  I might have been processing four gallons of milk, but I didn't have to milk.  And the milker didn't have to milk alone. And we can spend an hour in the garden and get four beds prepped for transplanting. Or two hours and get half the corn and potatoes planted. And I don't even end up with a blister.

That doesn't mean it is easy living with so many people (sometimes my heart is blistered, or my ego), but it probably is easier to survive.

This political situation is batshit crazy. Batshit. Record corporate profits go untaxed. It takes many people working cooperatively to afford housing. People screaming "freedumb" are hell bent on oppressing anyone not like themselves, while they identify a seasonal coffee cup as oppressing them.  

And "All Men Created Equal" is about to mean exclusively men.  Again.

I don't know what to say to you. Except, read Gooseberries. Thank the Gods for gooseberries.  Yes the real ones, out of which we will make fried pies next week in a wonderful quality time ritual.  But also the metaphorical gooseberries. How does the hard, sour gooseberry become sweet?

People think they can buy their lives, they can be divorced from their products.  People think they can be happy. But all we can really do is be ok to one another, not even kind.

Our gooseberries have grown wild and threatened to take over the whole place, and when they do that, they don't even bear. The only cure is severely cut them, mow them, beat them back. And making them sweet takes the village of cutting them back, picking them which their thorns demand a blood sacrifice to surrender their fruit, cleaning out the stems from a seeming million tiny berries, and finally fashioning them into the art of the pie, whether baked or fried.  Or once a chutney. And enjoyed en famille. EnJoyEd.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

[waving]

 I might just be ready to come back to posting semi regularly.  Who knows.

What I do know is that in the so many years since starting this, so many things have changed, and also so many things have stayed the same. The children have gone from little kids to accomplished adults and I'm frankly proud they are still outside the norms, and that a few other "kids" have joined in. Husband and I have gone from what at least felt like young middle aged to kinda old if still kinda young. My politics have changed but not the reasoning behind them. I've found more compassion and less tolerance of bullshit (translate tRump and anything connected to that lying sack of feces).

But "homesteading" remains.  And in fact improves. It is Spring and the leaves are back (chartreuse and miniature) and today I'm liming my second bucket of eggs for this year, and making my first batch of feta in several years. Some kids are working on building some new rabbit hutches while another works on fixing on side of the fence. In the evening we'll all head to the garden and get some stuff there done.






We have meetings to make sure we are going in the same directions -- there's a lot to coordinate.

And I still think that this is one way to DO BETTER in the world. Grow some food. And eat it.

Oh yeah, almost forgot.  There's pickled eggs and ricotta too.