Saturday, March 23, 2024

another year

 Hi there. I was thinking about this blog tonight as I walked to the garden at sunset to spray the blossoms on the peach trees with water hoping to protect them from the frost (although really, it isn't going to be that cold until almost dawn and will the water stay on there that long? I don't know, but intentions are out there in the universe). I still haven't completely finished re-reading _One Straw Revolution_. We've made a lot of hominy and grits and masa this year to go along with the corn meal. We are eating a lot of chickens and goats. I made the first cheese of this milking season yesterday. I bought these towels months ago thinking they'd be good cheese draining clothes and . . . they are!

I have several projects, mostly continuing from last year (sweet potatoes and pawpaws). We have lettuce about ready to be transplanted, and the seed potatoes are waiting in the basement as we finish up eating the last of last year's potatoes. I keep a thermometer in the sweet potato slip slightly warmer than the outside frame:

Yeah, it got wet and part of the LCDs don't work, but it works good enough.

And healing goes on, from everything and everyone, eh? You can't love without knowing you could be betrayed, eh? Will be betrayed even. Most times I think we don't mean to and yet, eh?

There's been a lot of wind this year. Spirit moves on breath/wind.We've had at least four big trees (well, one was half a tree) come down, most bringing a couple more down with them. So plenty of firewood and fortunate on all other aspects.

There are huge shifts going on. I hope you are weathering them well. And voting like your rights and the world depends on it, because it does. *uck tRump.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

all weeds, no hope

Well, it's July. The end of July even. And if you make it to Soltice in June with hope, you are doing well. By now it is obviously the time of all weeds and no hope. Which is just the juxtaposition to that time early in the year when things are cleaned off and beginning to be planted and growing and you can stay ahead of the weeds and we call that time "all hope and no weeds". And if you are a *real* farmer/gardener and you have "farmed" the soil and not the plants or the harvest or the profit, then the weeds are going to grow as enthusiastically (or more so) than the intentional plants.

And that is not a bad thing, all in all. It's all carbon: sequester it. It's all pulling nutrients up out of the subsoil: they are helping you to "farm" your soil. Weeds can tell you a lot about your soil: is it wet, nitrogen deficient, acidic?

But it's not all a good thing either. Weeds can smother out your intentional plants, out-competing them for sunlight, water, and nutrients. Weeds can make it so you don't want to even go in your garden.

There is a middle path, tho, between my grandfather's weedless rows and an old friend's three carrots lost in the weeds. And that is, doing the best you can.

One, plant things close and they'll shade out a lot of weeds. Cabbage is the poster child for this strategy. Realize that sometimes things fail, or get too far out of hand, and it's ok to abandon them (and sometimes later you'll find three surprise carrots like our friend did). But the biggest thing, really, is to give the plants that you mean to grow a little advantage and forgive yourself for the rest.
That's a kale patch with some black palm kale and ragged jack kale and I took that photo after I'd weeded the right half and before I went to weed the other side of that bed. It's had some cabbage moth damage, and probably some snail damage from being deep in the weeds, but it's plenty healthy really. It probably had a pretty good start before the weeds got so thick (meaning we probably weeded it pretty well when it was still little), and now it will probably have a pretty good "finish". We'll spray a little Bt on it and be glad for a mix of sun and rain to encourage it to flourish. I foresee big batches of kale salad and maybe some frozen for winter greens.
Here's what else: It may nearly be August but it's still time to plant stuff! This patch is either October or Jacob's Cattle beans -- beans that should mature about the time of frost. Soup beans are another thing to grow if you are serious about feeding yourself.

Let me tell you about one year! It was the early '90s. One infant and us in a tiny trailer. All weeds and no hope had hit in early June and there wasn't much for it with town jobs and everything else going on, but during it, the husband had taken a not yet developed section of the circle garden and mounded up some beds and planted some October beans. October beans are the soup beans of choice in our culture (what momma always fixed), and the thing about beans is what you eat is also what you plant so you just go to the store, buy a pound of beans, and plant them!

So he planted these beans, not a very big patch. And October came and things died back and there were ALL THESE BEANS! We had a 3/4 ton Ford as a farm truck at that time so the husband took that down, pulled those bean vines, and filled the bed of that truck up. Literally. You could not see out the back window for the piled-up bean vines. He drove it up and parked it near our little old unheated, uncooled, 5-gallon water heater trailer and we'd bring in an armload of vines and strip the pods off (feeding the haulms to the rabbits) then shell out the green October beans and can them. There is nothing better than a green (matured but not dried), home-canned October bean!

A few years later he worked with someone whose family lived in Maine and was given a pound of a Maine staple, Jacob's Cattle Beans. We grew some of those, canned them, and gave the giver a few jars. She asked for the recipe: beans, water, salt. That's all. So that's how we got started growing Jacob's Cattle beans.

It's time to start seeds for fall cabbages, and get a lettuce bed started in a shady area, and process something every day.

Monday, June 12, 2023

calories and condiments

As I weed things like leeks, that most people would think a luxury or novelty, not a staple, I have thoughts.

If you start out wanting to grow your own food, that desire can be daunting. How in the world do you grow that much food? Which is why I implore folks to just get an upside down tomato and a basil plant. Because a little success there and the ideas will grow as well as the produce.

But what most folks are growing is entertainment and condiments. And I don't mean that in any sort of belittling way. I always say our garden "budget" comes out of our entertainment budget. Of course, we don't actually have an entertainment budget and if we did, servicing the vehicle's transmission and my dental needs would have wiped that out for the next, oh, decade. But picking up a sweet potato or three doesn't strain the budget. Going to see my friend on her horse farm and picking up pawpaws doesn't strain the budget. Saving toilet paper rolls. . . you get the idea.

Here's the thing: your calories are potatoes and grain and beans, all of which you can buy bulk if you don't grow it. We don't grow rice, but we eat a good bit of it.  We do grow hard corn, so we've learned more different ways to incorporate it into our lives, including tonight's hominy soup.

The rest of the stuff is condiments. Onions, for example.  Onions make darn near everything better. Ditto garlic. You almost couldn't grow too much of that (include shallots and leeks and the like in with that) -- IF you can figure out how to preserve it in a way that you will utilize it. Because nothing is more disheartening that growing and preserving something and then NOT eating it. It happens all the time. We've certainly done it. And that has led to several mantras, like "don't save it -- eat it now". Because if you eat it now, you will also eat it when you preserve it.

For reasons I don't understand, I have always gotten a kick out of wildcrafted things -- picking the wild blackberries, finding all the poke, making locust blossom fritters. And none of that is going to feed you long term but it just might make life worth living. This year my amusement has been pawpaw trees and sweet potatoes. There's the whole permaculture thing of making guilds. It doesn't take a big space to grow a lot of lettuce, and if it's shady in the summer, all the better (in the south anyway). All this to say two things: no matter where you are, you can grow something; and it can be a great amusement to do it too.


Saturday, May 20, 2023

a small thing

By early May we were eating our own salad; wonderful tender leaf lettuce, with some random chard, kale, and arugula thrown in. And green onions. And we had a chicken stock based soup with all the green in it green onions. And we still had green onions.

We had the dehydrator going for some masa we'd made, so we added a few trays of green onions to it. And it seems like such a small thing, three trays of dried green onions. About three cups dried.And we haven't used dried green onions before and that's half the battle in preserving food -- knowing how and then remembering to use it. And we could easily use that up in just a couple of meals. And these days people don't much use onions as a vegetable staple but as a flavor or condiment.

It seems like a small thing, these dried onions. It seems like a small thing, having a few cups of strawberries to put in the freezer or to make into jam. A few raspberries at a time, a few blueberries at a time, a few gooseberries at a time.

Sure, maybe once every couple of years we'll go to the u-pick and put several gallons of blueberries into the freezer to draw from. You never know from year to year what is going to make plenty and what is not, but with those few berries, we have plenty to top cereal both hot and cold, and it is such a treat!

It might seem like a small thing to put up those onions. It might seem like a small thing to make two batches of cheese off this season's milking. And it was a lot less cheese than I've made in the past. But it will top lots of gyros probably, that will be made with sheep and goats that also seems like small things to put by, especially compared to a cow but we can't process a cow and we can a goat, and then we can keep the skin and learn to process that too.

It might seems like a small thing to take that little bit of sweet corn we grew and freeze a couple bags of it, but it was truly the best sweet corn I've had in a long while. Those few winter squash this year also seemed small, but a year or two ago we had hundreds of pounds of squash to eat on through the winter.

From year to year you never know. You never know what will succeed and what will fail, and something will always fail but something will always succeed too. Hard corn and potatoes are staples. If you have overwintered a cabbage to go with it before the first greens of spring are up, or if you've made kraut, that is no longer a small thing. The onions, even just as a condiment, are no longer a small thing but a treat, a joy, a luxury.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023


 I went on a wander the other day. I need to do more of that. But I went on a wander and eventually ended up in a place I used to frequent that had changed, drastically. And it's probably, what? Only 200 feet from the house? But it's on the steep side and it doesn't get wandered very much.

Used to, it was just over the hill from the trailer and offered me a quick and quiet refuge. At least that's how I remember it. Two grandmother pines defined the area, one high and one low. And in between a forest of what I called "fairy pines", more usually known as "ground cedar". You knew, sitting there with those great pines towering not only above you but above the surrounding trees that they were nearing the end of their time. But it was, for that time, a place to be held, quiet and still.

This was it the other day:

The tree that was uprooted on the right was what broke the tree in the middle. That area begins a whole side of the hill that is a woven tapestry of blow downs and it could seem desolate. It is certainly difficult to navigate. There are no fairy pines, at least not that I saw the other day. (They are still in other places.)

But there are plenty of other things! If I had edited this photo a bit to pop the green, all those hundreds of mostly maple seedling on the forest floor would be more obvious. I may well not see much of what happens in this succession but I am fascinated by it. And all those dead trees? Such terrific food for all sorts of things -- fungus and lichens and bugs. So many birds depend on snags to nest in.

I was in the garden today, quiet and still after everyone else had left. And from that hill came a sound like a hammer except deeper, and I tried for awhile to work out in my brain what in the world someone up at the house was working on. Before I figured out is was a woodpecker, likely a big one, working on some tree that was sounding as a drum would -- not just the percussion of beak on bark but amplified. It sounded most like a bass drum.

My kids have remarked on my stillness. One complains how I always hushed them when they were small on the walk to and from the garden so we could all hear all the stuff that was going on around us. My husband has called me a sack of potatoes and a pill bug, and not as an endearment. If I could be as still as a stone, could I watch the eons passing, or at least the succession of the trees?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

a strange time of year for pawpaws

Pawpaws are ripe in September.

Mack appreciated food in a way I have only experienced with other people who have grown and preserved and eaten their own food. He wouldn't mow food down as I experienced on one farm. He was aware of it, appreciative of it. He had pawpaw trees and a persimmon tree and wine berries and he'd always point it out and share it with you. One time I asked him if the passion fruits that grew in his hay fields were edible and he said he thought they were just insipid. He'd probably tried them as a kid. He helped me gather locust blossoms.

And I always talked about wanting to get some pawpaws started here. We talked about digging up a couple of saplings but we never did, and his pawpaws never seemed to bear all that well either so I never had a bunch of seeds or anything. Plus, frankly, I was probably busy riding horses instead of growing things. 

Ahhh but last September I hit my farm friend Laura up because her pawpaws bear! And I gathered a whole bunch! And I made pawpaw ice cream among other things, and in fact, I need to do that again as we are milking now and I can get that out of the freezer. Anyhooo, I saved a lot of seeds, and I threw some fruits that were too far gone to preserve in places in the woods that might be hospitable to pawpaw trees.

Keep in mind, in 30+ years on this farm, we've never seen a pawpaw here. Keep in mind that not a seed has sprouted yet this year. But last September, after I'd gotten the pawpaws, we were looking around at the trees growing near the edge of the orchard area and said, "Hey, that looks a little like a pawpaw tree. What do you think?"

And this year we kept an eye on it.

Lo and behold, it's a flipping pawpaw tree BLOOMING. 'Themboysonline' say a seedling pawpaw might take 10 years before it blooms so this thing didn't just show up this year. Several smaller trees around this one look to be pawpaws too. Pawpaws will grow from their roots (they like to be in "clonal" patches in the understory) so this is likely.

Here's hoping there's another pawpaw tree blooming somewhere near to share pollen. I'm still having fun with my seeds in toilet paper rolls experiment. My sweet potatoes are beginning to produce slips. I've almost got the goat hide fleshed. The orchard and blueberries got formally mulched today.

But this is part of what I really want to say here: You get what you pay attention to. I don't mean that in a strict sense, although a shift in perspective can hugely shift perception. Lawd knows I've been working on that with myself a bunch recently. I mean that what you need often appears. What you ask for from the universe often comes. Every time I become aware of a new plant, I can see it everywhere! Where I would swear it wasn't before. Maybe the universe brought it; maybe it was a shift in perspective. The result is the same. Peace. Abundance. Grounding.

Shift is this year's word by the way.


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)