Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Peace and Weeds

Brace yourselves - this may come as a shock...

all this grow-your-own-food stuff takes a lot of work.

Here's the thing though:  it's not often work work.  As in, not sitting depressed working on some official paper kind of work.  No cranky customers (this only applies to when I work during nap time).
Nothing but me 'n the weeds and the hose right now.  Which brings me to my newest weeding rule:

"Get 'em before they go to seed!!!"

That's it.  I don't worry about getting them the second they poke their first leaves out, or even when they're a couple inches tall...I just get them when I can.  Way easier than trying to pull off the Weed Nazi.  I don't really have that kind of time, there's a LOT of weeds out there.  I am entirely outnumbered.  Usually, I know which areas need attention and when, but ultimately, until our soil has been consistently weeded (no matter how you do it, spray, hoe or pull) for a few years I'm going to be seeing a lot of weeds.  Hopefully not their seed-heads empty.

The new rule has brought me a lot of peace.  Yeah, those weeds are there, but I'll get 'em before they go forth and multiply.

Anyways, it's nice to work outside and to make things produce and flourish.  I love seeing the rhythm in things, always assuring me that life goes on and that faith in a seed has some beautiful payoffs in the end.  Sometimes I kill plants accidentally.  Occasionally, I knowingly kill a plant...muahhahaha.  Okay, so it's usually a weed but occasionally I just let them go if they're overly high-maintenance and aren't pulling their weight in the food supply or pretty field.

Since I've learned about and am starting to use mulch for weed control, gardening makes me much happier.  I mulch with newspaper covered in a couple inches of grass clippings; right after I weed an area if it works out that way.  Awesome results.  I water way less, the weeds are suppressed and have very happy plants (especially those heavy nitrogen feeders: tomatoes, corn, potatoes...  ).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Using Greens & Enjoying It

I've heard there are people out there who love greens (as in chard, spinach, kale...the heartier, more bitter ones) just raw, or steamed with a bit of this or that.

I am NOT one of them.  Neither are the kids.  Slathered in gravy is about the only way steamed greens get eaten in large portions usually.


A month or so ago I bought Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution".  There is a ton of good info in it for both the budding and the experienced home cook.

Lots of amazing, fairly simple recipes too!

So.  Chard and spinach are coming on strong around here.  I harvest the chard when it's smaller than my hand (now, since I've learned that those big ol' leaves aren't that tasty) and the spinach small also.  They just taste better that way - those little baby leaves.  Muahhahaha.

Sorry.  Anyways, I had a whole colander of greens and upon reading the recipe for a Chard Fritatta I went back out and pulled 3 young, volunteer onions that needed to be culled anyways (they don't get along with peas that climb - I read this about companion planting, and cannot remember why they aren't compatible, sorry, no science quote).

Here is the recipe (at AARP of all places): Chard Fritatta

 Please ignore my stack of clean (!) dishes and pretend you're just here for the food part.

 Eggs from my mom's hens.

Voila!  Fritatta.  

Some day I'm going to have a saute pan that these babies can just sliiiiide out of...but then there may be much less laughter involved!

We grated a little cheddar on top, and everyone ate as much as they could!  No bitter green taste, just a clean, delicious, nutrient-dense dish.  Perfect.

All of these photos were taken with my cell phone - sorry!!  My mom went on vacation...with my camera.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coming up!

Wow, my early seed planting has paid off.  I am now watching seeds (sown earlier this spring) come up just like they're supposed to - right when they're ready!  They've waited for the perfect time and temperatures for themselves, and here they are:

Bush peas
Bush beans
Blue Jade Corn
Nasturtiums (trailing and climbing - they're Richard's favorite, therefore I planted a ton)
ALL 5 (!!) kinds of potatoes here (2 varieties at my mom's)
Sweet Peas
Miner's Lettuce
Chard (ready to harvest)
Spinach (almost ready to harvest)
Snap Dragons
5 kinds of onions

I moved these out of the cold frame last weekend - before the rains:

Velvet Queen Sunflowers
Winningstadt Cabbage (18 of them!)
Bachelors Buttons
Black Beauty Zucchini (only one, hail and snow are common this month and are not easy on broadleaved plants)

Somehow, planting early (seeds) makes me have an easier spring as well as a more neurotic one.  I am constantly wondering where the seedlings are, did the seeds rot, what's taking them so long...*sigh* it is hard work fretting over plants.  So I've stopped a bit, but it's still very exciting to see them come up!

We have new beds in the back of our lot, on the ground - not raised - and they are composed of some very crummy soil.  So, we've underseeded it in crimson clover (nitrogen-depositing legume and great for creating root paths because they have a vast, deep root system) and have spread soil with a very low pH over it to help stabilize the acidity since it's sky high.  When planting seeds, we dig a hole, plant the seed, and cover it with this better soil then mulch with grass clippings.  We'll see how they act through the season, but it seems to be helping.  The soil we are adding is from underneath a conifer (pine, spruce, cedar, redwood etc) and it is a simple, free (labor excluded obviously), organic way to help lower the pH in your soil.  Results should show within two weeks on existing plants.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Processing Rhubarb! Lots of it.

 We have a lot of rhubarb.  Think 8 or 9 plants.  They make for a busy spring figuring out what to do with them...and this year I can actually process most of it! 

So far I've made (in two canning sessions):
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling (10 pints)
Rhubarb Compote (8 half-pints)
Sliced, frozen rhubarb.

I am a fan of rhubarb for a couple reasons, but mostly it's that it is fresh and edible in early May!  Here, in Montana.  I've eaten strawberry rhubarb cheesecake before, but have never really considered what can be done with it before this season.  This year I'm going to can all that I can! 

Rhubarb Compote

Chopped oranges and lemon (I wish my camera would do close-ups well), I love the colors and the citrus smells;  They go so well with rhubarb.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cows, Milking-Sub, Rhubarb and Seasonally Neglected House

The cows are officially in next to the barn for us to work them!  I'm excited.  Well, maybe not excited about hopping around the pen halter-breaking calves (and teaching Carrara - who's 2 1/2 - to lead, not just tie), but excited just the same.  I'll be gentling a molly-faced black heifer too, she's Opal's best pal and the farmer & co. want her to be the replacement for her aged mama is the mellow cow of the herd (mama was a bottle baby, but is now an old cow).  She was born the same month as Opal, so they've been the two little heifers of the herd and have consistently stuck with each other from pasture to pasture.  They eat, sleep and play together.  Pretty sweet.  Even sweeter is that the farmer who owns her and the land (and the herd) was concerned that they would be separated.  I am not milking her too.  Just for the record.  She's apparently just going to be a best pal of Opal's for the foreseeable future.

Today the kids and I fed the girls, then went in and haltered & tied Ruby, then brushed her spring-shedding-hair off.  She is almost completely slick and shiny now.  My favorite way for a cow to be! 

I went shopping for a couple rope halters for the little girls to wear/drag/get worked in, but only found tricky-looking ones that have all kinds of buckles and chains...not the dragging, comfy-ish type.  So I bought 10 ft of nylon rope and will be making my own.  Or just attempting to.  Maybe just letting the kids "rope" each other with a severly mangled and melted, 10 ft section of rope.  I'll keep you posted, but will hopefully be putting up a "how-to" for making them soon!

Both Ruby and Carrara were artificially inseminated (AI'd) a week or so ago, so we'll find out around the 27th if they took or not.  Hoping, hoping, hoping that they did and they the calves don't come out until next year.  I've watched "The Princess and The Frog" too many times, I just had a flash of the little blonde one asking the Evening Star: "please, PLEASE, PLEEEEAAAASE?!!!!!" and felt that it was a perfect example of how much I want calves next year.

In the meantime, I've been milking my friend Letha's Jersey a couple times a week so that she gets a break and we get fresh milk.  It makes me so happy to milk, and I love that it's a cow that's got a few seasons of milking under her um....udder?  I don't know if it's because I've only milked Ruby - who was new to it entirely - or because she's a very nice girl for me, but it is so so much mellower milking Nova.  So much.  She's a nice girl.  I think that I'll try milking Ruby just tied up and hobbled (I just tie Nova up, she hasn't made me want hobbles yet - thank the Lord!) after she eats her grain; that she may like that more than the stanchion.  Lots of time to think about that.

We got our wheat and clover planted early yesterday morning, and can hardly wait to see how it works out.  I'm fairly certain that the children, the short dogs (we have a Bassett/Bordercollie with short legs and a Chihuahua/Terrier/ghetto dog), and the cats will have a ball running through it this summer.  There may be little tunnels everywhere, and I'll love it.  How fun!  We're hoping that the wheat produced on the previously-a-dog-pen section will help feed my mom's chickens, and that it and the clover will improve the soil.  The wheat that's grown up front (between the sidewalk and the street) will be consumed by us.  Clover is a nitrogen-depositing plant that has lovely, deep roots to help aerate the soil for whatever grows after it.  We have some pretty heavy soil in a couple places so I'm hoping it really works!

My house is clean but covered in randomly-placed shoes and jackets and seed-packets.  I guess that'd be clean but not neat.  I don't know, it's driving me crazy whatever it is, but it's much more important to plant right now than anything.  Plus, it's not like the stuff is going anywhere - it'll be waiting for me when I have a moment!  I've been painting a bit too, priming trim and wainscoting, painting the wainscoting finally, and am thrilled with the results!  I didn't realize how much the rental-looking paint jobs in our house bothered me until now, so I'm resisting the urge to go on a rampage and do the whole house at once.  There's cleaning to do, and planting.  I just paint for a half hour a day or so and it's coming along well, and I'm not going crazy because I want it all done now.  This is new thinking, and I like it most of the time.

I've started harvesting rhubarb, then just slicing it up and freezing it for now.  I need to can it as conserve and pie filling, but haven't had a chance this week.  I have all the stuff though, so soon!!  It is wonderful to be harvesting from the garden again, even if it is rhubarb.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Gardener's Seed of Faith

My tomatoes have come up en masse!  This warm sunshine has brought both the seeds planted on the 12th and the 20th up. 

Nature knows what it's doing.  It is willing to wait...often unlike myself. Sometimes it takes weeks for a plant to emerge, maybe more than a month.  Still, that tender stem will emerge and those soft first leaves will unfurl, slowly pushing the weight of the soil off to reach for the sun.  

Gardening from seed - I've learned - takes a faithful, trusting heart.  It is much easier to skip the hard part, let someone else be potentially disappointed by a dud seed or marauding ants carrying your seed away.  Each year I garden I become more patient.  The winters are so long here that, come spring, we are famished for fresh anything.  We wait and wait for the first edible fruit of our labor to mature enough to be savored. 

To be directly nourished by my labor is about the sweetest return I can imagine; whether it's milk, eggs, meat, or produce.  It makes me immensely thankful for a strong body and a willingness to try, to learn.

I can tell you that some people have no desire to grow things, and I get that...I just love to eat and cook so it's a natural fit for me!  Our place is the land of seedlings at the moment.  We have seven kinds of potatoes in: French Fingerling, Amisk Ranger, Alpine Russet, Dark Red Norland, Yukon Gold, German Butterball and All Blue.  I am oddly thrilled about taste-testing them this fall, but of course, until I'd tasted anything but the .37/lb store potatoes I wouldn't have known to be excited.  We have bush peas (Sugar Daddy and Amish Snap) in & up all over, carrots (Dragon and Scarlet Nantes), five plantings of all kinds of onions, two different kinds of chard, Chiogga beets (finally coming up a month later!), a few kinds of lettuce, some flowers here an there (tons of sweet peas, hollyhocks and sunflowers are going in this year), and the cold frame has masses of vegetables and herbs sprouting by the day (today our Cheyanne Pumpkin and Jade Blue Corn came up along with more tomatoes).  When we get back from our 5 day trip, I'll be planting many more seeds outside because we should be close enough to frost-free that by the time the seeds germinate it'll be past our last spring frost.  This is a gardeners hope anyways. 

May nature treat your seedlings well this spring...I have read so many reports of farmers having trouble in the "corn belt" and they're saying that it will cause food prices to rise if they are in any way attached to corn products (meat, cereal, soda, etc...pretty much 90% of the store is my guess - woohoo).  Not a bad time to test your faith in a seed.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Seedlings & Root-Dragging Tomatoes

I'm getting a bit worried about the tomato seeds I put in on the 12th.  They're not UP yet!  There have been no floods or droughts in the cold frame, yet there they are, snuggled down in the $24/bag organic, gorgeous, super-nutrient-rich soil.  I - of course - want them up already.  Happy little green exploratory first leaves should be showing...info on them says 7-14 days and they're pushing it!  Today is day 17.  I'm wondering if they aren't coming at all.  It isn't just one kind though, it's two, so I'm pretty sure they just haven't hit the sweet spot in temperature yet.  Meanwhile, I'm putting in more this weekend just in case. *grumble*

The broccoli, cabbage and eggplant are all up though.  More each day, so I'm not completely neurotic about the appearance of seedlings.  Tomatoes rate so much higher on the taste scale though.

Outside under the bed hoops though, we have all kinds of lettuces up as well as the peas, five-color silverbeet and spinach.  In the Onion Region the seeds I saved last year from our onions have sprouted!!  Open-pollinated and haphazardly saved, but there they are just the same.  The Walla Walla starts (6" tall) I planted must have some roots out because they've perked up and are starting to grow, and they now have a large neighborhood of red onion sets next to them.  We will have plenty of onions this year.

Since the hoops are over everything but the rhubarb outside, the cold snow and wind we're getting right now aren't phasing the little plants that are under them.  This is a wonderful thing.  Had we known what cheap plastic and salvaged pipe could do, we would have started earlier last year.  Speaking of plastic, we're going to put an inner layer on the greenhouse this weekend in an effort to not use the space heater in there at night (and hopefully get those dang tomatoes going!).  Oh!!  And on Wednesday I made Richard very proud.  Our neighbor was tearing down his hoop house to move it out to his new home, so I asked him how much it cost him to build:  he said about $1,000 including all kinds of things we wouldn't be buying.  Then he mentioned he was building a bigger one at his new place, so I asked if he would be interested in selling the pipe from this one.  He not only said "yes" but also said we could "just have it!"  Sweet deal.  Even if it only lasts a year or two, it gives us an expanded growing area with a deferred cost. 

As far as the Harvest Potluck goes, Richard has gotten both beef and lamb commitments from some of his customers, and one of them has said he will BBQ also (the lamb man).  Just as soon as Rick finishes building his BBQ haha.

P.S.  The large, floppy paws of a snuffling, drift-y basset hound are not real helpful in the beds.  Seedlings can take the snuffling, but not the big 'ol footprint.  Good thing he's so cute and comical.  Not sure what we're going to do about it though...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Function Comes First

In response to people who are under the impression that they have to have "the perfect setup" in order to grow plants, I'd like to share some tips we've learned from our "setup" so far.  Keep in mind that we are not big-time market gardeners, so we do not need sparkly new things, we need functioning, any-age things!

Please don't get hung up in the details, the most important things for plants are soil, water, sun, and occasionally protection (hello, giant hail/wind storm).  Also, try to remember that plants have been around a long time, you are much newer to watching them grow than they are to growing...it'll be OK - so long as you read the tag or label that comes with them and follow it.  Just because you don't have a huge space of your own doesn't mean that you can't have a garden either.  People who truly want to do something can always find a way - sometimes it just takes a while to figure out the path.

Next month, we'll be hosting a planting box workshop of sorts.  We will provide resources for adults and small children to grow a tiny bit of food on their step at home.  They'll assemble their own boxes (we'll help of course) and - hopefully - will learn that gardening is mostly a matter of doing, not of science.

Try not to get caught up in buying the snazziest this or that unless you're food-gardening mostly for fun.  If you're doing it to save money and eat well, investing a chunk of change up front isn't in your best interest.

Learn how to ask people to sell or give obviously un-used items, such as:

a stack of boards nearly hidden by grass "out back" that would be awesome for raised beds
a roll of wire that you could use to trellis plants
a wheelbarrow in need of a bolt or two, or maybe a wheel (replacement parts are cheap usually)
shovels without handles
framed windows (hello protection for your plants - free!)
random piles of dirt from projects dug years ago (to fill a raised bed or planting box)
horses/chickens/cows with a shed of some sort - there's good fertilizer in there and it's probably broken down already (especially if they have chickens)! 

Most of these items can be found at homes/properties that have been owned by the same person for a long, long time.  This stuff collects and they are usually thrilled to have someone use it.  "Waste not, want not" and all.  This also applies to shared fences (train some peas or beans there and you get what's on your side, they get whats on theirs, then you clean up!), open space on the corner down the street, extra space in your neighbors backyard...offer to share the bounty and the water bill, and I'd bet on them letting you use their space to produce food.  Most people, given the option, will not pass up fresh anything...unless it's squash season and they have already been hit by desperately overloaded gardener-friends.  Lock your doors.  Anyways, the point is, don't be afraid to ask!  For the most part, as long as you respect people's privacy and property, you can find a place suitable for at least a bit of a garden.  And if you use your head, you can get started for a very small price!

P.S.  And as I've learned from Rick, keep your eyes open at the dump!  If you're lucky enough to have a FreeCycle in your area, ask for supplies on there!  It's a wonderful resource!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bed Hoops & Seeds In

Yesterday was the first in a long time that Richard got to stay home and work outside with me (nap time is our "outside/work date").  We got some important things done!  A year or so ago, he snagged a huge roll of Pex tubing (think a cross between drip line and PVC, bendy but pretty hard) and yesterday he drug it out for the hoop supports.  This is one instance that I can honestly say I'm thrilled he's a stuff hound.  It's not a common emotion for me, I may have to mark this down somewhere.  Usually I'm trying to sneak things off to the dump!  Anyways, the front bed is half-hooped/covered with plastic and the others will be shortly (one has all it's hoops and no plastic yet).  Happy seeds/starts.

There are seedlings all over the section on the left, but my cell phone is only so skilled at detail-catching.  Note on the white labels you see here:  they are mini-blinds, cut to desired length.  Recycled due to naughty, blind-destroying children :)

We're pushing the season this year a bit, trying to get things growing earlier in an effort to feed ourselves well, earlier!  We have the following in the ground:

Chiogga Beets
Five-Color Silverbeet (chard, but the pretty kind)
Swiss Chard (green stems)
Lettuce Mix
Simpson Lettuce
Yellow Onion Seeds
Walla Walla Onion "starts" aka 6" tall sets
Amish Snap Peas
Sweet Peas

In the cold frame we have:

Siberian Tomatoes
Stupice Tomatoes
Cheyenne Pumpkins
Velvet Queen Sunflowers
Snap Dragons

I am planting in a different way this year in an effort to stem harvest insanity this fall.  The aim is for steady not sudden.  These are things you ponder when you're up at midnight harvesting or canning - "how can I make this less crazy next year?!" 

Next up, we're tracking down a rototiller and getting the "compost" area turned well and also tilling a 12'x60' +/- along one side of the lot, then the strip up front between the sidewalk and the street which is 4' x 120' +/-.  The big, long sections will be planted in sweet clover to prepare for next years production (it's very first).  I am REALLY excited about expanding our planting area by so much, next year is going to be amazing!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Harvest Potluck - September 10th!

Yes, it 'tis the plain 'ol "Harvest Potluck."

Because it's simple, and I like simple.

I wanted a name that would cross cultural boundaries, something fun and snappy, then realized that it didn't have to be.  People were excited enough with the word "potluck" - it'd be pure madness if I had a stellar name.  Crowd control would put this free event over budget!

This isn't a completely thought-out event yet, but here are the basics:

  • It's open to the public - as feeders or eaters or both!
  • The main ingredient of each dish must be produced in southwest Montana but not necessarily by you.
  • There will be music:  The Dillon Fiddlers have agreed to play country and bluegrass.
  • I'm hoping to get local grain, potato, beef and lamb producers involved also.  BBQ would be awesome.
  • Horseshoes for the adults and "wa-shoes" for the kids.
  • An information booth will be available, and all dishes will be tagged with the "production" information.  People can network and eat, no shopping.
  • It is not a fair, festival, or anything else super-duper entertaining.
  • It's good food and community.
  • I have very little idea what I'm doing, but it's working so far! 

I reserved the park (September 10th)- while also paying my water bill, love a small town - and got the run-down from the Mayor on the fact that I don't need a single permission, permit or inspection.  "We love people to do stuff like that. It sounds great" was all he had to say about it.  Oh, and he was glad I was going for participation from farmers and ranchers too.

Talking to the Farmers Market group on Monday, so should have a bit more to say about this then!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seed-planting Has Begun!

Yesterday, we received our order of seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange and we are thrilled!  They are all heirloom varieties and are much more colorful than the hybrids I've seen.  I can hardly wait until they come up and produce. 

We have a ton of seeds already, from seed-saving last year and varieties we didn't get planted (herbs and flowers mostly).

So today, the kids and I planted another batch (10 holes with 2 seeds each) of Swiss Chard after lunch, and then once they'd ditched me for snack, I planted the first of a "gourmet lettuce blend," as well as Simpson lettuce and spinach.  I'll plant the same again next week, and continue each week until mid-May.  In early June the "greens beds" will become the "tomato beds."  I just figured they should go to work until then too.  I'll be covering these beds with bed-size hoop houses to help protect the greens from death by snow-flattening.

If all goes well, we'll be able to eat and sell greens in a month or so;  a very exciting prospect in the land of long winters. 

Next week, I'll be starting several seeds in the cold frame and can hardly express how exciting it is to have so many interesting new varieties this year!  Better get my tail in gear and organize all my pots etc! 

UP NEXT:  The Harvest Potluck

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gearing Up Again

This odd thing happens at the end of every growing season:  we furiously gather the bounty, then sprint inside and peel, slice, freeze, boil, and can until we pass out in our food-stained aprons all over the living room.  Really.  This is what canning days look like.  They always end with two or more of us lounging/napping/staring-stunned-into-the-distance. 

And then this happens...nothing.

Clean-up?  Like, clean off all the beds and prepare for spring? 

I am worked.  No way.  Or in the case of last fall, "there's a crazy man living with us and we all are therefore running around all crazy."

Not this year. 

Not going to happen.  We have decided to get serious - not only about producing - but about making this space produce enough for us all within the next year or two. 

That and crazy people aren't welcome here any more. 

Well, the good crazy ones are fine, it's those bad crazy that you have to watch for.  Good crazy would mean we couldn't live here either!

New things happening this year:

1.  A ton of ground will be rototilled and then planted in green manure (legumes this year - calorie crop next year).  The largest space will be the "alley easement" that is basically a long driveway along one side of our lot.
2.  Another large-ish piece will be tilled and planted with potatoes.  I am really interested in what the soil here looks like - it's been our compost heap (not a well-managed region) for two years.  It is now moving up in the world, it's going to be soil.
3.  There is a strip of ground between our sidewalk and the street.  Not much going on there, so we're going to till it up too and plant stuff.  It's 4' x 120' I'm pretty sure.  Hopefully it'll be a lot of stuff, but it's going to have to be some kind of "stuff" that likes crummy soil and wind....bet that's a long list.  It will get better with use though, and may very well just be planted in green manure also.  Clover's nice...hmm.
4.  We will have both children running around wild and helping us this year.  I am really excited about this!  They both are very good about plants, barring a few incidents, and really love to see things grow.  Between the two of them though, we may not have many tomatoes actually making it in the house.  There are much worse things to worry about though : )  Besides, they're much, much cuter than tomato worms.

We cleaned up around the cold frame yesterday, and Rick and Thomas built all the panels for it (we are getting good too - these are much better than last years).  I will post photos once the snow we got today melts a bit. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Until Today - It Wasn't a Concern

Just yesterday my mom and I were discussing "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" (I've just started it).  I made the statement that while I understood why people were concerned with oil consumption, and were therefore changing their lifestyles to a more sustainable one; our main reasons for producing more of our own food were the quality of food and personal fufillment that came along with it.

Today, I was listening to the radio while making dinner, there was an interview with some scientists involved in an independent study of the affects of the tar sand mining in Canada (National Geographic photo gallery and article).  This little bit of trivia just shot me into the group concerned with oil consumption:  "About half the oil produced heads south: The U.S. is Canada's biggest oil customer, importing more from its northern neighbor than from any other nation." 

I'm not from any kind of background that stands up and shakes their fist at the industrial machine.  I understand the need for fuel.  My husband is a diesel mechanic (semi-trucks and heavy equipment), and I was one for a few years.  Our very livelihood is dependent upon the industry.  I get all these things.  What I can't wrap my head around is the incredible way this process affects everything around it.  Thousands of acres of woodlands are just...gone.  Not just picked up and carted out either, the soil is washed with water.  Shale mining also falls into the shameless-use-of-water category.

It's the water thing that mostly gets me.

And the fact that I grew up in wide, beautiful spaces...and seeing those pictures of thousands of acres of land just gone just baffles me.  When you grow up outside, you constantly think of where animals travel on land, what they eat, where they drink/sleep, and what the predator/prey balance is.   It gives me a big, empty feeling inside seeing this resource harvest...where's the consideration of life in all this?

I can do without a car.
Without a lot of things.

Water is second on the need list only to oxygen.

Therefore, all things have clicked and I'm now concerned.

It's been a long time coming.

I think about what we can do, really simply and cost-effectively.  There is not a chance that we can buy a new, high MPG car.  We drive older vehicles because we own them outright and they're easy and inexpensive to fix.  We spend less in fuel than we would on a payment plus fuel.  Plus, I drive a total of 50 miles a month probably.  Not a big need there.

This isn't where I hop on the activist wagon, just where I add another reason to the list of why we spend our growing season months with our hands in soil.

There will always be a need for equipment and vehicles, but how much it is used depends much on how we choose to live our lives collectively. 


What can we do?

Get serious about producing most of the food we consume.  I will continue to buy big, fat watermelon until we find a way to grow them here.

1.  Convert more of the lot to food production this spring (in reality, we could grow enough food for all of us on half the lot).
2.  Grow our own grains.
3.  Buy some sort of bike (suggestions appreciated here) that has 3 wheels and a basket for 2 small children.  They wiggle and I'm certain we'd get tipped over on 2 wheels.  I am not an exceptional bike operator.
4.  Find a property/barn near town to keep whatever milk cow is fresh in, and ride my bike to milk her.  This would cut down our dairy-based food costs quite a bit...since we drive old, low MPG vehicles!
5.  Raise a beef and/or a few lambs on free pasture (hauling them would be our only costs beyond purchase), and fill the freezer in the fall.

These are just the things that we have been nonchalantly thinking about for the last couple years, and are now more convicted, so may actually get serious about implementing a few of them.

I would love to hear some input on these ideas, the issue (especially if I have misunderstood at some point), things that you may be doing to lessen your impact etc.  Suggestions are always appreciated!

P.S.  The prospect of paying over $4/gallon for gas this summer is seriously influencing the thinking about a bike.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We Live in Town

Yes, in town.  Our 1908 farm house is on a 1/4 acre in town

We'd never lived in town before moving here.
As someone who's from out there, in the end-of-the-long-road-conspiracy-theorizing part of the world, it is sometimes difficult to tell people that I live in town.

It's town after all!

People live there!

They just show up at your place *poof* and you don't even have a chance to slip off to avoid the religious zealots that swing by.

I am from the places where if you see a vehicle you know who it is, where they're headed, how long they've lived/worked/eaten/hunted there, who their kids are and what they want if they're headed to your place.  Conversations revolve around seasons and cows, children and fencelines.

Town is different.

We're learning it's enjoyable with the right attitude though.  It can be absolutely stifling if you don't have the right outlook.  This is a work-in-progress for me.  I'm better.  I don't want to talk about it lol.

But after moving not only our things (of which we brought way too many), our 1 year old daughter, my mother, 4 horses, a heifer (Ruby), 4 dogs, 5 cats (I paid to have them spayed, therefore they were not getting left behind - OK, Crazy Lucy was welcome and my mothers two were quite near-and-dear to her) 1,000 miles in November to Montana...

we were ready to live in a house.

Any house that was warm and had a fair-sized lot.

And was cheap.  The trip cost a penny or two.

Part of the rush was that I got pregnant our first week here and we were all (darling husband, sweet daughter, myself and my mother) living in a travel trailer.

I was vomiting.

In November/December.

In Montana.

It was a touch cool.

Cabin fever was hard core.  More like cabin plague or gangrene.

We were for the most part nice to each other.

In the preceding six months, we had looked online at homes listed in the area, and kept coming back to the one we ended up buying in the end.  It just seemed like we were meant to be there.  The mortgage would be lower than the average rent in the area, and no one would complain about our living habits adjusting to town besides possibly our neighbors.

You may be confused here; as in, "What's to adjust?"

Let me introduce my husband:

He has been known to run a chainsaw at 10 PM.  In town. [insert me frowning and hollering at him here...in town at 10 PM]

He has NO problem with multiple dead vehicles/our two trailers - one of which is bright yellow - parked on premises (doesn't happen anymore, he's adjusted to the town thing in this respect).

We used floodlights, near midnight, to harvest tomatoes and tomatillos frantically before a hard frost last fall.  The kids were asleep, and it'd been a wild week.  You work when you can around here.

These are just what pops to mind, but we ultimately have most definitely had an adjustment period.  Now that it has been just over two years we're settled into the routine of it pretty well.  Our trash can even makes it out when it's supposed to and the kids sleep right through the truck when it "BEEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEEEEPs" out their window.

We have several planting beds:
a 5'x60'
two 5'x20'
four 1'x20' aka "strip beds"

these are built with cast-off wood from the local mill (the bark pieces: flat on one side, bark on the other).

We have a cold frame made from boards hoarded from a nearby feedlot torn down and $40 worth of clear 6mm plastic.  We replace it yearly, convinced it's cheaper since we won't be in town long enough to justify a greenhouse.  Right?

Eventually, we'll move out of town.  But for now, this space works well...except the whole milk cow being 3 miles away bit.  It will be nice when she is "on site."  We're still working on acquiring a leased bit of land, but are certain it will be at least another year before we can sell our home and move out of town again.

Until then, we are forever thankful for our kind neighbors with thick walls and a sense of humor.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Graining The Girls w/ Wild Kids

There is something more to be said about nice cows:

Most of my previous experience with cattle has not been with pets or milk cows or even cows that are fed hay/grain by humans.  I was previously accustomed to cows that would run from or over a person.  The last thing they would be doing was hanging out, looking for a handout.  Steep, nasty country breeds some wild types...and some fun/occasionally frustrating riding.

Our older two (Ruby & Carrara) live with 75-100 Angus/beef cows.   The gentleman that owns and cares for these cows is a kind man - he gives grain to the pheasant, rabbits, and deer on his farm/ranch through the winter so that they don't have such a hard time - and I have found that he only keeps kind cattle.  What a blessing, because our 1 1/2 year old son has no respect for cows.  He thinks it's hilarious to run - squealing in laughter - right at them. 

This is NOT on my list of "it's cool, go ahead" things for him to do with his time. 

However, these beef mamas may startle, trot off, and in general stare at him like he's a tiny crazy man (which he is) but they have never acted aggressively towards him. 

He's only gotten out-of-grasp to do this twice.  Usually I trap the kids in the suburban with the windows rolled down most of the way, so they can watch and look but are not any worry for me. 

I do this because while graining our 2 cows, anywhere between 5 and 30 girls show up looking for their feed tubs.  They stare.  I feel like a heel.  They pace.  I really really feel like a heel.  They sneak in close, I try to touch them, they dance out of reach and pace some more.  Maybe I am a heel, but I love to get one of them to let me touch her.  And I have grain, that gives me an edge.

Today, my friend Christina and her boys came along with us, and it was so fun seeing them experience cows up close.  I was so proud of Ruby, letting all four small children pet her while I am shoo-ing the other cows away.  She did occasionally give me the "this-is-a-lot-of-tolerance-I-should-get-extra-grain" look though.

Poor kid. 

The things a cow has to do to get the good stuff around here. 

I am so thankful that I spent time with Ruby so that now she is safe and kind, especially with the kids.

When she kicks me later this year (probably right after she's calved and her teats are tender), remind me that she was the most wonderful cow ever in February.

I'll forgive her. 

Sore teats are the pits.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Dear Friend and Macaroni & Cheese

We have this wonderful friend, Becca, who lives nearby and walks/bikes by on her way to work.  Sometimes, I snag her off the sidewalk - her all scarves, sweaters, gloves and fuzzy boots - for a warming cup of tea.

I'd like to make a note here that, in being a "walker" here in Montana, you have to be OK with being cold.  Occasionally very cold.  She never complains; I love this gal.  She has fortitude.

Anyways, today her walk turned into being accosted with a dark chocolate truffle (which I thought would surely make her walk more enjoyable), then helping fill a wheelbarrow with wood, then tea, then playing with wild tiny children, helping with dinner and dishes and OH, she's wonderful.  Lovely guest.

We had homemade mac 'n cheese and homegrown & pickled beets.

You don't eat pickled beets with noodles?


Maybe it's a "my grandma" thing.  Which is fine, I love family-specific traditions.

When I was growing up, my grandma lived with us for nearly eleven years.  She taught me how to make many things from scratch, starting at three or four years old.  I miss my grandma.  With her I ate many things, but my favorite (other than homemade, single-apple-spoil-your-granddaughter-sauce on hot, buttered, homemade toast) was when we'd eat this mac 'n cheese with pickled beets on the side.  I don't know how this got started, but I do know that she raised three children through the Great Depression, alone (she was widowed in 1928)...so I'm betting it was cheap dinner.

We make it by first making a rue, adding milk, then a pile of white sharp cheddar cheese, then a teaspoon of horseradish sauce (trust me, it does good things; this is from a different grandma - picked up along the way), then salt and pepper to taste.

Try it, it really is simple and tasty.

Back to the beets, they are slightly sweet, acid, and refreshing with the thick, gooey-ness of the noodles.  Plus, these were canned by my mama last fall, after we pulled their fat little selves from our beds in a frenzy (the soil would freeze soon).  Bulls Blood Beets.  They're so sweet and lovely to eat, plus their greens have excellent flavor and can be harvested as the root grows.

I am learning that some of my favorite times surround sharing food with family and friends.  Having people in the kitchen, all chipping in here and there, talking, learning, laughing...it's good stuff.  I'm considering making a point in having people over at least once a month, just to share food and community.

Note about tea:  It amazes me how many people accept a cup and a chat if you offer.  I am now carrying several blends.  I don't even own a tea pot, but they come, they sit and relax a bit.  It must be the steam and warm hands...or maybe there are more people waiting for me to reach out to them kindly than I realized.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Making Laundry Soap - The "Pictoral"

What you'll need for a double-batch.  Why yes, that IS my cheese grater...I used it to do this:
 Grated soap makes me happy.  It's fluffy and smells nice.
 Add 1 cup of washing soda
We are a high dirt/grease/motor oil/food stain family; I use heaping cups of the scrubber ingredients.

1 cup of Borax
 Heaping.  I almost always spill - powders get me every time.
It's going to look very full, just pop the lid on and shake it like crazy.
Use one tablespoon per load, two for heavy loads.  

Something about this (pretty sure it's the borax) makes my clothes very soft, I no longer use softener.  If you'd like it to smell pretty, just add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil and shake the snot out of it so it gets through to everything.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Plan & Design

Seed catalogs are quite possibly the most stimulating and ultimately depressing thing we get in the mail.  For me anyways, for Rick it's a tool catalog or maybe a bull semen catalog (he fantasizes about having Charlois cattle).  I simultaneously think almost everything would be fun to grow, then "where would we put it all, could I start that many seeds, *bah* it only grows in Arizona?!  Well those are some big, beautiful, will-get-shredded-by-summer-hail leaves after all."  This is usually followed by a frown and a recalculation of some sort. 
My mom is a landscape architect and also a horticulture major.  Yep, eight years of plants under the lady's belt.  Most of my life I took our beautiful, fun, simple gardens for granted.  I now realize that having plants, flowers, vegetables, and fruit is the exception - not the rule.  I learned to plant for textures and colors and smells.  I've loved that there was always something with fuzzy leaves to touch, for tiny hands to explore.  Planting a garden for people - not just children - to enjoy and really experience is my ultimate goal.
Now, I understand that not everyone will understand this "experience" theory.  A garden that is strictly roses, or one of only trimmed hedges and lawn with maybe a few pansies sprinkled in, isn't super-interesting.  When you have edible plants scattered throughout your beds, very short and very tall things, different scents, hidden bowls of water or leaves that catch moisture, leaves of all shapes and sizes and textures...these are the things that make me excited about working and visiting a garden.  As a child these spaces can be ones of imagination gone wild, spaces that encourage them to live outside as much as possible - not to run in to watch TV.
There are very few pleasures that rank as highly as casually picking something ripe and eating it,  incarnate liquid sunshine, whole and dribbling.  It's right up there with eating home-raised meat, eggs, and milk. 
And this, my friends, is the end of nap-time and therefore blogging time...to be continued!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Homemade Laundry Soap & A Calf Lost

Our Carrara heifer has lost her calf.  Big bummer.  A couple months ago she spotted, but didn't miscarry.  Her belly continued to swell, but has smooth, straight sides now. 

Our cows live with a herd (not ours), so we do not know exactly when or what happened.  This is one of those times I'd really like to have them out our door so that they could be micro-managed.  But, she may have just needed more time to grow, and now she has it!  The scary bit is that he thinks that Ruby may have lost her calf also.  This would really make us assess our current management, and really be a downer because we love a baby and the milk we sneak.  It would mean no cheese, butter, milk... *wahhh*

Ever onwards.

Today's very exciting news: I made laundry detergent!


No, it's easy.  Shopping for the ingredients is much more time consuming than making it.
Here's what you use:

1 bar soap (unscented, dye-free) like Ivory, grated
1/2 c Borax (available at most grocery stores)
1/2 c Washing soda (purchased at my Ace Hardware store)
Optional: Couple drops of essential oil if you've got it

Mix it.  Use it.
1 tbsp for normal loads
2 tbsp for filthy loads (ooooooh do we have these!!)

Here's the thing, this stuff works way better on my husbands nasty, oily, grimy, greasy, dirty pants than the products from the store.  I feel like I need to say it twice; way better!  Please give it a try, you'll be doing loads of laundry for pennies and they'll be just as clean - or cleaner - than before.  PLUS, my clothes are softer now, the Borax helps with softening the water.  I am still using a tablespoon of fabric softener, but only because I don't have any essential oils at this point.  Also, I like to use what I've got rather than throw it away.

My hair is still liking the "shampoo-free" method, but is now very much in the midst of the "adjustment period," which will last anywhere from three weeks to three months.  Have to get all my natural oil production balanced out, then the hair oiled naturally.  It's probably going to take a while.  I've got a lot of hair, and luckily, a few braiding skills. 

It feels very, very good to make these little things myself.  Knowing I'm saving a bit of money helps, and knowing that it is better for my family is wonderful.  My favorite part though, is that it was made here, in our home, by me!  No adding it to the shopping list!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seeds! Our first "seed-saving" of sorts.

It is late January, and I am now pulling/cutting all of the dead stuff out of our planting beds. 
Just now.  
No no, it's totally normal for us to do things like this waaaay later than "normal." 
Anyways, the kids and I were excited to find:
- blue sidewalk chalk (immediately sampled by Cole - bleh!)
- mud!
- MORE chard making a break for it through ice (picture soon, this amazes me)
- seeds in some dead growth
- sawdust is hilarious on a small dog when you're little, humurous as a "grown-up"
- a short, fat piece of firewood is perfect for a tiny, 1 yr old butt to sit on
- I am the wood-splitting queen now that I have my own sharp axe!
Ok, but really, the fun thing about this is the seeds.  Last fall we gathered some seeds (Bulls Blood Beets and white onion of some sort that we love) and were thrilled with the sheer number of them from so few plants.  The seeds we found today though - which number well over a thousand (TINY seeds) - are Snap Dragon seeds.  I'm fairly sure that I've never mentioned how much we love a Snap Dragon.  They make our children go "rrrrooooooowwwwrRR!!!"  Their tiny, fat little fingers are almost always gentle as they make the blossoms gape, exposing thier furry tongues.  These seeds are from the 18"-24" and I have an inkling that they will either be magenta or "terra cotta" - my all-time favorites.  Simple joys.  I know that their mama plants will come up again this spring (plants are incredible, if I had to live outside all winter here, I would not be coming up in the spring), but am excited by the idea of their tall stems, loaded with blossoms, all over the yard.  May be the "Year of the Snap Dragon" around here.  It may also be the summer I need glasses from trying to plant itty-bitty seeds en masse.A word about the onion seeds:  some people have a heck of a time getting onions pollinated and producing seeds in a commercial setting.  We have had the exact opposite experience.  It seems as though our house has become an oasis for those helpful bugs that do these things for us; all it took was lots of flowers and a water source for everybody.  No sprays or chemicals of any sort either, which I'm convinced they appreciate. This is our first year saving seeds (obviously not into it yet!) and - so far - it's been great.  Should they not produce plants, I'll probably grumble a bit and keep at it until it works out for us!Much Love,
P.S.  I'm having a hard time getting this formatted right - please bear with me.

Going "Poo Free"

About a year ago, I read a blog (http://simplemom.net/how-to-clean-your-hair-without-shampoo/) about going "shampoo-free."  Met this one with some skeptiscism, but logged it in the ol' mental file. 

This last month I've been using one of Pantene Pro-V's "Natural" shampoo/conditioners and it's making me lose a ton of hair (thank God I had a ton to start with).  Not a good thing.  So before I go spend $40 for quality shampoo and conditioner, I'm trying this. 

For in-depth how-to of this, please go to the link above, but basically:
To "wash" you only need 1c water and 1 tbsp baking soda.  How's that for cost-efficient?!
To "condition" you use 1c water and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar.

That is all!

Last night was my first round, and not only was it really easy, but my hair is much more like...well, hair today.  It doesn't have that weird synthetic feel that it usually has.  It is still smooth, but not unnaturally so.  This cleansing method also makes it feel much cleaner than an actual detergent does (read: shampoo).  My hair doesn't feel oily today, and though the feel of the vinegar rinse on the ends is different than I'm used to, it did the trick!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Here Again & Another Cow

Hello all!  I have obviously been long-absent, and I apologize.  Life has been wild these last 5 months. 

Where to start...?

How about cows?

We have a new bred heifer, bought from the Cantagree Dairy (LOVE this name) in Mendon, UT in early September.  She is another native-bred Milking Shorthorn, and while Ruby is on the beefier side of that breeding, Carrara (fancy name she came with huh?) is on the dairy side.  Meaning she has no butt and is narrow.  She could slip through a chute gate just about and she'll be two in March.  This makes a "herd total" of three head:  Ruby (3 this year), Carrara, and Opal (1 this year).  I will be milking both the older girls this spring/summer, and halter-breaking Opal.  Opal may even get entered in the fair this year if she continues to grow and look like she does - and halter-breaks without serious injury on my part.  Kidding.  Kind of.  Between haltering her and training Carrara to milk (and reminding Ruby she IS a milk cow) I'm betting that I carry some beautiful bruises this season.  At least they'll offer conversation-starters while tubing on the river...I guess, that's the biggest "plus" I can come up with.

Oh!  There is chard & spinach coming up from last years plants on the north side of the house (in a snug 4' space between our house and our fence on that side).  I did not know that they did this...and am wondering if they didn't just go dormant under all that snow we got.  Whatever the reason, it is really exciting to see green - edible green - coming up.  I am actually excited to eat the stuff simply because it's fresh; mark the date, four months from now I will hardly touch it.  Chard is that far down the list of things I'll willingly eat.  Unless there's gravy.

More to come - but cannot remember for the life of me what else I was going to write.  The gravy thing made me go blank.

I love gravy.