Sunday, December 4, 2011

Know your zone

I found this helpful link if you are curious to find out a little more information about your neck of the woods. Average first and last frost dates, plant hardiness zone, soil properties, plants and tree ranges, interactive maps, etc.

Just an interesting thing to check out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


   Silvopasture is essentially multi-purposing land for both raising livestock and tree crops. It was and in some areas around here still is a technique used in this hilly locale. It is a method that some of the 80 acre farm's first farmers utilized.

 The layout was determined by them, and it is quite logical. The "top" of the hills were cleared and somewhat flattened over time. These were the tilled plots for crops. The steep hill sides and valleys were pasture/orchard/ wildlife.

  Tucked into the various wooded sections near the barn are also old overgrown ruins of what once were chicken coops and what looks like an area for pigs (just a guess. Either it was meant for pigs, or someone went a little crazy with the fencing.) Some of these wooded pastures are being swallowed up by nature as the landscape hasn't been grazed in many years. A lot of junk has been hidden in the woods by previous residents. In the U shaped pasture.. at the bottom of the "U" is a massive junkyard. Everything from glass bottles to an old dishwasher, and old furnace, right on to a burned out car. That is a clean up project we will tackle later.

 The farm was primarily dairy cattle and black walnut lumber. The pastured areas were mainly cleared of black walnut (toxic to several livestock, but as well to fruit trees) and that is where the apple, pear, plum orchard was planted. Back in the day the fields were alternated of various crops. After a field was harvested or cut, the cattle were rotated to that field for grazing, which then gave the primary pastures time to recover. I don't know the accuracy of this as I do not have any dairy cattle experience, but the farmers around here move cattle out of pastures that have apples. I asked about this and was told that they believe cows will dry up if allowed to feast on fallen apples. Instead they leave it to lure yet another prize.. whitetailed deer and turkey.

  This was just an example I wanted to show of old style silvopasturing. The concept can be scaled down significantly and altered to suit different needs. It is combining trees for various uses (lumber, fuel, fruit/nut crops, bee forage, wood working, fencing, etc.) with an understory crop and as well able to be used as a sheltered location for animals, a windbreak, and a means to help energy efficiency of a home.

 Which trees to use? Several considerations need to be taken into account when selecting trees. Speed of growth, utilization properties, toxicity (if you are working with livestock), maturity size, compatability with surroundings, canopy spread/ density, invasive potential, soil condition, etc. Shade is also a big thing to take into consideration. Taking note of how much shade is cast and the effect on the surroundings. Some with a thinner canopy may let you get away with berries planted underneath, while others block out so much light that many plants could not produce a crop (unless you consider mushrooms!) 

 An example of this would be my ponderings of planting a black walnut grove. If I have the proper spacing I can also plant Black Locust. Black Locust grows rather fast, it is a very good rot resistant wood which makes it a good candidate for fence posts or even for constructing raised beds. It has a highly invasive property with the ability to send out many seed pods as well as suckers. However it is not resistant to juglone. So while it would encourage the black walnuts to grow upwards more quickly and more straight by competition, it would not be a long standing companion as the black walnut will essentially kill them off in about 2 decades. Black Locust is an excellent wood for fuel with a high BTU and good burn time. It is a nitrogen fixing tree and also produces a potential bee forage crop. It is toxic to many livestock however, so the placement would not be in a pasture (even though it has wicked thorns that would deter nibbling.)

 Right now my Mom is getting some estimates on a few of her black walnuts. Value of the tree is determined by quality and size. To give a ballpark range on the value of these trees.. it can be a few hundred per tree on up to $2,000+. That is when someone else is coming in to cut and carry them away. Nut crop vs wood crop in this case. The methods for achieving the best lumber isn't the most ideal for nut harvest (shorter trees for harvesting and more spacing for heavier yields.)

 The black walnut grove is only a concept right now. Reality is that it is a VERY long term crop and one that I quite frankly will doubtfully be alive to benefit. Unless I somehow live well into my 100' It would produce nuts well before that, but still well over 20 years from planting.

 For now I am identifying what species I do have, what qualities they offer, and how they would fit best into overall land management.

 I mean.. it was no small coincidence that the old timers situated the pig pen where the oak trees grow. (Acorns a bountiful and well loved crop that fattened up the pigs in the fall.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Cuckoo's Nest

 At some point in time many stop denying the insanity and just own it. In the case of my Mom.. she digs deep and gets in tune with her inner raging German and proclaims everyone else is out of their gourd.

 Hast du einen vogel?!?
 translation: Do you have a bird?
 meaning: Are you nucking futz?

 It asks if you have a bird (in your head).. the phrase is accompanied by a gesture pointing to the head.  The American equivelent is asking one if they have a screw loose.

 I am a master of miscommunication. Without the use of an outline, puppets, a cinematic trailer, and an interpreter.. conversations are dangerous with those to which they claim I am genetically linked. There is no room for forgiveness even with a language barrier. The language barrier.. oh the joy. Finding yourself so far up a creek without a paddle, that soon you discover you also have no floatation device to pilot in any case.

 A prime example is this..  many years ago my Grandmother came for a visit. After several months of expected kowtowing from the younger generation, one snowy afternoon I made a catastrophic error. My lackluster grip of the German language sent me hurdling to the lowest peg of the family pecking order.
 I had the heat cranked in the car and in 3 little words I managed to cement my familial ranking not just at the bottom of the barrel.. but under it.
  I asked...

 "Bist du warm?"

 The simplistic translation in my mind I was asking "Are you warm?" As in.. the inside of the car is hotter than Vegas in July can I shut the farking heat off yet? But oh no... that was not what I had asked. It seems certain key slang phrases take many many many many years until they make they way to the Chicago suburban German weekender speaking handbook.

 I had just asked the UMU (Uber Maternal Unit) if she was gay. (Takes a bow.)

 Truly it is a gift. It's like the compulsion I develop in other countries to ressurect hand gestures I felt no need to do after 3rd grade.. only to my sisters' horror as it turns out I am giving the masses the bird.
 Timing is everything. Leave it to me to have a moment of inspiration at the most inopportune time and announce my amusement without the tact of a verbal filter.

 With the arrival of the Maternal Unit back to "home" came yet another flurry of work. A lot to do, little time to do it, none of it makes sense... and almost none of it is in any way productive. I mean we are getting a lot of things done, just almost nothing is being tackled on our "To Do" list.

 When one door closes, sometimes it automatically locks. Her current battle is with doors. Frankly.. they are winning. No less than a half dozen times a week she is locked out, or locked in somewhere. Anyone and anything is also subject to finding themselves unwittingly imprisoned. I can now say my Mother has locked me in the basement for hours. She's also locked herself in the basement for hours. Did I mention there is no way out/in the basement except for the door? No phone either.
  The furniture apparently is on a pilgrimage to destinations yet to be determined. I know I can't be the only person who is related to a chronic redecorator. Not long after her return, 9 very large solid wood bookcases were compelled to take residence in her living room. A flight of fancy as not long after they whispered to her their need to be moved yet again... and then again.. and then again. The only thing worse than indecisive bookcases may be the wanderlust found in couches, desks, buffet tables, etc.

 The window to ideally work the soil has long passed, but the prospect of quickly turning in some compost into the heavy clay soil so it can breakdown over winter was so tempting. Double digging clay is back breaking work. My husband and his mechanical brilliance revived the old beast and got it roaring once more. Flea beetles and several other pests will overwinter in the debris, so getting the garden turned is a serious need just to help control their population next year. 
 The plan was to till the next day. The beast not only tills the soil, but as well puts you through the wringer as you try to control it. You essentially get twice the amount of work done for the same amount of physical discomfort. Compost in various stages was unloaded onto the garden and sorted. (My Mom tosses her compostable materials onto the pile.. still in whatever container it was collected.) Any movement near the compost pile instantly triggers a poultry party. The scramble is on to beat the birds to tidbits that should have never been in the pile.. like milk jug rings, rubber bands, twist ties. The inevitable chase as one snags such a treasure and runs off with the prize... and me right behind them attempting to reclaim the loot.
  As if I didn't have enough action going on while chasing chickens all over the yard.. my Mom decides while someone is outside, it is a good time to let her dog run free for some fresh air and exercise. 

 Her dog is young, tall, untrained, able to CLIMB fences, and loves to chase anything. All hell broke loose. Now my husband and I are both running like a-holes saving chickens while trying to catch the dog. McGinty the Rhode Island Red rooster hopped the fence to hang in the backyard patio now that it was dog free. He pecked my Mom who was hanging ever menacing laundry on the line while wearing offending footwear. She promptly went inside and called a neighbor.
 We caught the dog (he had roughed up a few chickens, but none were hurt.. just terrified), brought him back inside, got McGinty back to the coop, dealt with the compost, got the birds tucked in for the night... and then put the tiller away in the garage it was already dark.
 The next day a panicked call from my Mom at 9am. Something about the dishwasher.. yelling... yelling... come quick.. then a click. Her kitchen was a bubbling mess. Seems she accidently put Palmolive dish soap in where the Jet Dry was supposed to go. Back to the house, get the shop vac and tools... back to the farm.. mop the mess. Mom decided now was a good time to go to the store.. on her way down the street she sees her dog tied up to a tree in the front yard of a farm several doors down. As she is getting him, animal control comes up. Fiasco follows. We still are working in the kitchen tackling the bubble trouble. When she finally returns she informs us..

 "Oh the neighbor will be here in an hour to take the roosters."

 Wait.. What?!?!? One of the larger farms was processing their birds as well as others that day. We already had arrangements set in place. I'll spare you that drama. My husband managed to fix her dishwasher the next day.

 The garden is still untilled. Oh.. maybe now I should mention that she broke the tiller the same evening my husband finally got it working.

 With our freezer now currently holding roosters, she kindly offered to hold the organically raised turkey in hers. She pulled it out yesterday to start thawing. Her dog got at the turkey.
  So today I have to see about getting another turkey. I went over to the farm this morning to let out the birds, feed and water them. I brought in some eggs as the girls are offering 6+ now every day. My Mom was on the phone with my younger sister and said..

 "Can you believe that they still don't have the garden tilled? They still haven't put in any garlic. I don't know what they do with their time." 

 I can still get a frozen turkey ready in time for tomorrow. I don't know why I am rather unphased by any of this right now. It does get to me sometimes...  then my daughter asks me how our day was with unabashed glee. The worse it is the funnier she finds it.

 Some families occasionally fly over the cuckoo's nest. My family owns it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Big Agri-quagmire

 Russell at his blog reflexiones finales posted an interesting video. It is regarding the farmer's perspective of what some are seeing in their fields and a little of the dilemma they face with the current availability and methods. The last farmer interviewed quickly gives a simplified insight as to how the markets were manipulated. That tactic is just one of the arsenal being employed globally.  

 The timing of it rather made me smile as yesterday my daughter got into a slightly heated debate with a small group of friends and the librarian about GMO crops and how safe are the chemicals. The librarian's main job is farming.. conventionally.

  Frankly, I doubt much of this will even be glanced at by the general public until their plates are empty and are forced to look around. Hunger has a way to motivate people into making change, but frighteningly the opposite is true as well.  

 Big Pharma is Big Ag. The lovely way these corporations are subdivided is in such a way that one may think there is several Goliaths. Take DuPont as an example..
 E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont), incorporated in 1915, offers a range of products and services for markets, including agriculture and food, building and construction, electronics and communications, general industrial and transportation. The Company consists of 13 businesses, which consists of its segments. DuPont operates in seven segments: Agriculture & Nutrition, Electronics & Communications, Performance Chemicals, Performance Coatings, Performance Materials, Safety & Protection, and Pharmaceuticals. The Company includes certain embryonic businesses, such as Applied BioSciences and non-aligned businesses in Other. As of December 31, 2010, DuPont had operations in more than 90 countries worldwide and about 65% of net sales were made to customers outside the United States. In January 2011, DuPont and its wholly owned subsidiary, DuPont Denmark Holding ApS, entered into an agreement for the acquisition of Danisco A/S (Danisco). In 2010, the Company’s Safety & Protection's business completed the acquisition of MECS, Inc. In July 2011, the Company acquired Innovalight, Inc.
  They are Pioneer brand seeds.. do you see the range that they cover? Like Corporate bindweed, you see 1 plant and don't realize the network unless you dig further. How often do they make the news? Well, when is the last time you realized the same company that creates your fire extinguisher and carpeting also makes the corn in your soda, cereal and ethanol enhanced gas in your tank?
 You'd think they would be rivals with the other companies. Competition is not as profitable as cooperation. The push for yields, the myopic vision of agriculture being run like a factory withhout the realization that it is in essence an ecosystem. The funding of the wave of the future by those with little practice in the field... ahem... Bill Gates. Irony in that often those on the board of directors for agriculture colleges...... are not farmers or even gardeners.
 If you listened.. you heard them say they patented the process of mixing in the tanks. The current approach is modifying genetics to resist more than 1 herbicide. Farmers now are under the gun of overwhelming overhead just to work. 
 There again is the lure, the siren call that is the normal mode of operation for most.. the cheap way out, the easy road, the shortcut. Farmers are in an occupation that is always a gamble. Weather, insects, disease, weeds... and the most fickle beast of them all... the market. The market pricing fluctuations can determine if you keep the farm or are forced to sell. The market prices determine how much or what crop is planted each year. 
 Yet another farmer rolling his eyes at the "buffer" zone. He's referring to cross pollination but it as well applies to the bugs. It is like releasing the helium from a balloon into a room. Contained in theory but not in reality with no way to be sure where or how much escaped.
 In a short amount of time, crop diversity suffered. Control over what selections are available was quickly and expertly taken from our grasp. 
 It is unfolding in front of us, a scenario much like the Irish potato famine. Diversity was the old school crop insurance policy.  

 The rat race in food production has more than one motivator beyond feeding the population.. the weather and the effects of industry. Weather predictions for the future show many variations and until it happens all of it is theory, but a major concern is drought occurring globally on a much more frequent basis.  Increase in the intensity of storms are expected.

 The GMO focus on the future is aimed at mitigating drought situations. I think we have all seen how the effect of a bad wheat harvest in Russia impacts us just at the change in the grocery store prices. How much water is used for producing crops is often overlooked.

 In general, about 70% of the water withdrawn from freshwater sources globally supports agriculture, while about 20% supports industrial activities and 10% is used for municipal supplies. Water withdrawal and consumption are not the same metric and a much greater percentage of the water withdrawn for agriculture is actually consumed as irrigation water while a much smaller percentage of water withdrawn to support industrial and municipal supply is actually consumed and rendered unavailable for other uses. Worldwide, about 93% of the water consumed by humans goes to irrigated agriculture, while about 4% and 3%, respectively, are consumed by industry and municipal uses.

 Change is inevitable. The natural state is one of fluctuation. That which fails to adapt fails to survive. Diversity is the means by which nature ensures survival. Even if the human element was completely removed from the equation... the climate, the environment, the ecology would still continue to change. We are just speeding it up but not wanting it to be changing this rapidly as currently this environment is more suitable for our exisitance. 

 The flaw I see in banking on GMO crops is beyond just the unkown potential health impacts. You can not sustain something indefinately that relies entirely on applications based from limited resources. For as advanced as science may be, it is child's play compared to the scope in which nature typically operates. Corporate ethics is one that wants you to have to need them.... always. The less options you have, the more it benefits them. Cleverly what looks like many different seed companies are actually the same entity or from the same source.

 Like the meat in the store, where our seeds for our gardens come from is just as much of a mystery... even to many conventional farmers. Who grew them? When were they harvested? Were they treated? If you are intending to store the seeds for later use, these are crucial questions.     

 The disconnect is that we don't know anything more about what we grow, how long that strain is offered for sale and it's quality than what is printed on the package.  Unless we save our own seeds and make the effort to support the ethical seed vendors.. the option of choice is nothing more than an advertising illusion.  




Sunday, November 6, 2011

waiting as I put the pig before the cart

  A pig? 

 Someone in town needs help putting a dome on a greenhouse and is paying with a live, young, being naturally raised, pastured porcine.  They need 2 or 3 guys.. and I am pretty sure we know 2 other great guys who probably can help.

 Oh the temptation. The thing is.. we have no shelter to keep the little darling. Processing runs about $200 (roughly 250+ pound pig = approx. 130+ pounds of meat.) We sent them an email. If it is the farm I think it is... and I am hoping it is... I really, really, really hope it is...    I wonder if they take interns? Adult adoptions? Human powered greenhouse heat generators? All terrain drink holder/ palm frond waiver?  

 Let me explain this farm.. they naturally pasture raise a rather large assortment of animals (turkey, chicken, pigs, beef, sheep...) No antibiotics, no hormones, no GMO, etc. They even grow ALL the animal feed. They are established and already have it set where they market their meats to key restaurants.

 I dread winter. I'm one of those people that needs green all year round, and I need to keep busy. The thought of cleaning out barns in the winter... is overwhelmingly appealing to me. Something to do while being surrounded by critters.

 Oh.. there I go again. Always putting the cart before the horse..   I can't help but wonder if the sell compost or manure... or would ...   Wow that was all of 2 seconds before I was day dreaming again.

 Time to go completely clean out and scrub down all of the kitchen cabinets. Staring at the phone pleading for it to ring doesn't seem to be working.. 





Thursday, November 3, 2011

First eggs we found

 Wooden eggs at hobby lobby... $1 each

No longer needing to crawl through the hedges looking... priceless.

The chickens have been hanging out in the coop during these chilly days. It is so well insulated that just a few of the birds can make it nice and toasty inside.

 On Halloween we got our first treat!
One egg from each breed!
  The brown egg on top is the first one we found and the coloring suggests Zippy (the lone Rhode Island Red hen.) Barred Rock eggs, according to a family friend who is a chicken enthusiast, have more of a pinkish coloring. The faded sage colored egg is from one of the Americaunas (Easter egger).

 The eggs are a good size, and I just LOVE the colors!
  I honestly didn't think they would lay anything until January. My Mom's coon hound  keeps sneaking out and terrifying the birds. Thankfully he hasn't caught any yet. Her dog is going to take a LOT of training. My Mom is not adept at training dogs. Her dog, like every other creature my husband has encountered, is smitten with my husband.  

 With everything going on, we haven't gotten to planting the garlic. Still hunting for more employment, still trying to do what we can with what we have. 

 As the weather is too cold for crocs and clogs... my next younger sister sent me something fun... obnoxious converse! The Dr. Suess ones in particular seem to offend McGinty to no end. 

 We haven't gotten to the roosters yet. My husband will be making killing cones soon. For now they are ever excitedly devouring pumpkins donated by quite a few neighbors. They had the first one raw (and just LOVED the seeds).. the second one I may bake 1/2 of it so it is nice and soft.

 A few roosters figured out how to crack open dried radish pods and eat the seeds. I didn't even think about them getting into that when I pulled them down from where they hung to dry in the polebarn. It keeps them busy!

 Keeping an eye out for guinea eggs, and should we have any luck next spring we'll be potentially hatching some keets. We have someone who is interested in a few for their table. That would work out well for us even if we buy more keets. I seem to have the knack for selecting mostly male birds!

 Off I go... I am currently trying to keep busy twisting 14 gauge wire by hand to make a curtain panel for the front door. 

 Wishing you all the best.


(Un)natural food

 I found this blog and it was too interesting not to share. It is regarding "natural" foods and it seems to be a young blog.  

 My ex-brother-in-law was in advertising with a company that coined phrases many still use (come fly the friendly skies...) and struck up iconic images (Marlboro man). I had gotten a rather unique glimpse at how far the truth could be stretched.. or how precisely orchestrated it is to deliberately mislead. The impact of color choices, locations, smells, emotions deliberately invoked..  Advertising is essentially the art of psychologically preying on the populace in the attempt to fill the corporate wallet.







Saturday, October 29, 2011

 My sister passed yesterday morning at 4am.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Skunked... again

 Just a few feet from the front door.. our dog got nailed by Pepe Le Pew... again. I thought I would share this recipe that we've tried (and it works pretty decent) to remove skunk stench. Do not get it into their eyes, mouth, ears!!!!!! 

This mixture does not keep, and do not put it into a closed container (it will fizz a little... and blow up a sealed container.)  Mix it in a bowl and (with rubber gloves on) apply it to the dog. It may cause the fur to lighten in color where it is used. Apply and let it sit for 5 minutes and then rinse off.

 1 quart hydrogen peroxide
 1/4 cup baking soda
 2 teaspoons mild dish liquid

 Should you attempt tomato juice (which does not work as well.. it helps, but even after several applications and 1/2 a bottle of dog shampoo he still stank.. and then so did I).. I found that a watering can with the nozzle taken off makes it easier to hold the leash and direct the juice better.

 Currently I am making a list of detergents that do not seem to be able to de-stink clothes. Tide, Era, oxyclean, Purex, Arm & Hammer......  don't work. I had better luck with baking soda and then another wash with distilled vinegar.

 Thankfully I was wearing my husband's fleece...   

my sister's cancer

 My sister's cancer has spread very far.. now it is up into her lungs and as well is pressing the bottom of her stomach closed. Unable to eat or even drink water as the tumor keeps her stomach from emptying. A several day delay for getting the part.. a shunt to keep open her stomach.. and then the emergency surgery to put it in. 

 None of the pain medications work.. at all. She won't take them any more as she wants to be able to be coherent during those few moments she is awake. After surgery she went to a hospice in Madison, WI.. almost 3 hours away.

 We picked up our daughter last weekend when my sister went into the hospital. Our daughter went to spend a week at my sister's over the summer, my sister asked her to stay longer. Our daughter took over preparing the juices and making the foods for her (Gerson diet). Our daughter insisted on doing this.. and it is no small task to prepare specific juices on a timed schedule ALL day long. It involved countless hours of scrubbing produce, chopping, setting up the hydraulic press juicer, then cleaning it after each use. Each juice had to be made right before being consumed and could not be made ahead of time. 

 While the juicing helped, my sister's cancer was too far spread to do anything but try to slow it down and buy what ever little time possible. Our daughter started the school season out there. She tried to keep up as best as she could, but my sister at this time was being worn down quickly and often slept at irregular intervals. 

 The pain is overwhelming her. She had a procedure done that kills off nerve bundles, a last ditch effort for at least a minimal amount of relief.. and not an option for anyone with even a remote chance at survival.

 While we didn't exactly consent to her staying at my sister's longer than a week.. you find yourself unable to say No. Family dynamics alone make the whole interaction thing among us.. strained. 

 Meanwhile.. we (my husband, my daughter, and I) are only getting updates 2nd hand. Before that we would get updates from our daughter, as my brother-in-law also rarely contacted any of us. I sent vegetables to her just picked from the garden, but she was too busy to ever find the time to schedule me in for a visit or even return a call. That would be the whole family dynamic thing kicking in.

 I just find it very sad but there is nothing I can do about it even though I still try. In the next few days I will be going with my Mom to go see my sister. My car is not currently trustworthy enough to venture out very far, especially without a cell phone.

 My BIL's ex-wife has managed to add a heaping load of Jerry Springer like insanity ever since she popped in.. uninvited.. to their wedding. Oh.. she's a piece of work. 

 Steve Jobs had the same cancer as my sister. Even with all of his resources he couldn't deny it's progression. When he passed, my sister was devastated.. because to her, he represented hope.

 I don't think my sister will make it to Halloween, but still we try to hope and admittedly cling to denial.


Juglone.. leaf me alone! and Black walnut harvest

 Fall clean up and the endless bounty of leaves is making for nonstop raking. Two of the properties seem to be in the leaf collecting vortex burying the houses in a 3 foot drift. The small house in town we are able to shred and compost those leaves as they are mainly elm, maple, mulberry and oak. 

 The larger farm is more of a challenge as those are black walnut. The juglone in the black walnut materials does break down with proper composting. It has to be completely broken down.. so the smaller the particles, the faster it can compost. Leaves break down the most quickly. Several weeks (2 months roughly) for hot composting, roughly 6 months+ if buried to give a rough timeline. The smaller the bits, the faster. You can test the compost on a tomato seedling.. if it isn't finished the seedling will die.

 The nuts have mostly all dropped. Not as big of a year as previous, but still a lot to clean up. Every few years the bigger farm has a particularly bountiful black walnut crop that buries almost the whole driveway in several inches. The husks have sort of a lemon smell and shortly they oxidize, turn black and start decomposing releasing the walnut inside. Critters galore just love the driveway as the tires dehusk the walnuts revealing a favorite wildlife food. Rain coming down mixes with the husks and creates a coffee colored deluge with an amazing ability to stain what it splashes.

 I have about 3 garbage bags full of black walnuts I have to husk today. Black clothes and rubber gloves needed to tackle these. After removing the husks, the nuts will get a quick wash, the on to racks and in mesh bags to cure for a couple of weeks. Black walnuts, unlike English walnuts, have 4 chambers and an extremely hard shell. They take a lot of work to process but offer a prized flavor in return. Longer storage of the shelled nuts is best in the freezer.

 Black walnuts are one of those prime foraging finds. The tree offers not only a nut crop in the fall, but can be tapped for sap to make syrup in the spring. 

 Black walnuts nutritional data if you are interested in what these treats have to offer.

 I would have collected more if I could, but this pile alone is a lot of work in what limited time I have. The bigger farm had to be rented out again for hunting season.. which means I can't do anything on it until next summer.  If you listen carefully... you can hear the sound of me banging my head against the wall.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

getting back to the land.. part 1

 For whatever reason, and there are many, some people are feeling drawn to get land and do what they can to live from it. Good fortune would be the timing of the purchase and the finances to do so in this current economic environment. While large farms are being snapped up.. there are deals to be had on other land holdings. 

 Many towns are catching up on collecting back taxes by way of auctions. Around here.. that would be silent auctions set by the town, some decent sized lots of a few acres starting at $1000.. and have quite the lovely luxury vacation home to boot. Even though there was parcels of 10 acres, I wouldn't have touched them with a 10 foot pole.. and that would be because of local restrictions. Wile a gorgeous home, and ample land on very fertile soil.. you can't do a darn thing with it beyond mowing grass. There are other offerings in different locales that are not so restrictive. It pays to know if you can do what you want to do ahead of time.

 When you are looking for land, and moving on to land.. you need to have some things set in order. First thing is making sure it is the right property for your needs. It is easy to dream, and in that dream the acreage expands ever further.. the list of things to accomplish gets incredibly long. If finances are no option, then there is no issues with accomplishing that dream. If money is tight, a reality check is in order if you truly want to do this.

 Building a farm, or living off the land is a work in progress. Before you can even build that imaginary barn.. you need to know what to look for, or look out for in a site. 

 Location, so important that realtors can't seem to say it once, and your intended uses. Check services in the area and their distance. How far is it from a town with stores, doctors, grain mills, hospitals, lumberyards, emergency services, Department of Human Services, grocery stores, etc. What is next to the property.. undeveloped land, farms, forest preserve? Are there any industries that effect the location?  How is it zoned? Is there electric, gas, cell phone reception, internet, propane? If you are considering alternate housing styles.. make sure you check ordinances. Check for animal restrictions, water rights, mineral rights. You get the idea. While getting away from it all seems like a wonderful thing, there is something to be said for not having to drive 40 miles one way to get Immodium.. especially when you are the one needing it!

 Then look at the territory.. what grow zone is it in? What is the annual rainfall? What water sources are there? Is flooding an issue? Fires? Land erosion? What kind of grading/ sloping? 

 Observations of what is growing on the land also gives input. Original homesteaders would use trees as a guide to selecting sites. Out here.. black walnuts were a sign of fertile land. Great it is fertile, but that's another thing to look for is toxicity. If you intend on keeping livestock, make note of the kinds of trees around and the types of vegetation.  Example would be my in-laws.. they have 2 pastures for the horses. They can't use the back pasture because of all the red maples. Red maple leaves can be toxic to horses. Keep an eye out for natural resources of the area.

 If you intent to keep livestock, you may want to look here at a list of toxic plants.

 Size matters. The more arid the location, the more land needed to support you. As well if the area has a short growing season, you need to take that into account. Old homesteads employed cisterns frequently, as well wind powered pumps to bring up water from underground. 

 If you are gardening an area under an acre, you can do it by hand. It'll be a lot of very hard work. A decent rear tine rototiller will be able to handle the job, you can even do it with hand tools and a lot of sweat. Cultivating bigger plots up to a few acres is then moving on into larger tractors or animal power. Animal power (horses/ oxen) is not for everyone. It was a nearly lost art that is slowly making an unusual comeback of sorts. While you don't feed a tractor, or have to take care of it everyday.. animal teams don't compact the soil like tractors do. That's a whole separate tangent..

 The placement of livestock and gardens in regards to the water source is another key component. 

Find the local USDA office.. and use it. You can find out about pests and diseases in the area, what strains of plants work well, planting times, harvesting times, general soil information of the surroundings.

 Another thing to consider is getting soil and water tested before purchasing. Some geographical areas can have naturally occurring heavy metal deposits. Some water in these rural locations.. are not suitable for consumption and filtration becomes a concern.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I refuse to call you Legolas

 My husband got a compound bow... a TSS Quadraflex in perfect condition.. for $20.

 The arrows went through 2 bales of straw and sunk very very deeply into a log. Archery session over.. lol.. until he can get the arrows free.

 I stomped his foot on accident when he called me Frodo.



 While there are many food preservation techniques, nutritional values change according to method, storage time, storage location, etc. This has not really been an issue since the incorporation of fortified foods, iodized salts, etc. It used to be a big problem in generations past where not enough key nutrients lead to diseases, birth defects, etc.

 Well amended gardens just steps away from the kitchen offer some of the best nutritional additions to your diet right from your vegetables. Even that knobby green bean which would never make any food prep picture.. it holds within it superior nutritional content than the canned counterparts in your cupboards, or the frozen ones behind the ice cream.

 Why does this matter? Well.. everyday we are bombarded by an assortment of influences that attack our health. One of the things that helps us ward off this onslaught.. vitamins. I'm not talking about the store bought supplements, although they can be helpful. Vitamins C and E in particular are quite the avid free radical fighters.

 If you have any awareness on conventional agriculture, you realize that nitrate-nitrogen are a big problem. It is the basic fertilizer, made from natural gas, that they dump across the fields. The green factor as they push the boundaries of farming. It is volatile and leaching is constant. It is moving into groundwater, created a huge dead zone in many water bodies.. from there it seems to not be though of much more.

 Nitrates, when eaten get converted into nitrites in the body, which are carcinogens. Hence the self restraint while munching cured meats from the deli or the ever blessed bacon.  It is check in some areas as levels above 10mg/L are known to lead to issues like.. blue baby syndrome. The body is unable to carry enough oxygen to body cells, infants in particular are sensitive.

 Odd then that I would suggest well amended soils? Not really. Compost has a way of slowly breaking down and releasing it's elements in a plant useable form. Compost is essentially rotted matter.. primarily plant and manure origins, that have gone through a microbial alteration. The microbes have converted these materials back into simple components.. building blocks for the plants in the garden to utilize. 

 The quality of the soil directly impacts the nutritional content of the crop. You can taste the difference... literally. Compost is more than just N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium).. it brings trace minerals that were as well contained in the materials. The more varied the matter going into the compost pile, the better. 

 While I have almost always had a garden, my drive for many years was the glee I would have at picking what I grew. Never quite as big as I wished it could be, often an uphill battle.. I'd try to sneak in as much as I could into our meals. The health aspect got rather slammed into our faces repeatedly. Yet another sibling of mine will not live to the age of 50. It makes you stop and take a serious look.

 It takes time to build up the soil. The reward is food that honestly feeds you. The growing seasons vary depending on where on the planet you dwell and often wanting to savor those bits of summer means looking towards food preservation.

 Oh hell... here I go being fluffy again. Frankly.. things are getting wacky. The food industry keeps suffering from lapses of safety, the chemical companies seem to be able to tell the government what is safe and what is not.. they even pad the "scientific studies" in their favor with multimillion dollar "donations" (which get yanked should the study results not be favorable.) The agriculture system is failing us as they slather genetically f-d up crops with a battery of chemicals. The system is based on oil. I flat out don't know how much longer they can keep up the "status quo" which already seems to be faltering. The rants are on about how large everyone has become, the next generation not expected to live as long as us. 

 Know what you can compost, start a garden now. Know what bugs, pests, diseases you have to contend with.. and really the way you do that is by some good old hard work.. and DIG IN! You can try to buy an instant garden, but without knowing how to maintain it.. the expenses can get insane.

 Learn how to save your food. 

Food preservation methods
Method Advantages Disadvantages
Drying (e.g. freeze-drying, spray-drying, sun-drying) Produces concentrated form of food. Inhibits microbial growth & autolytic enzymes.
Retains most nutrients.
Can cause loss of some nutrients, particularly thiamin & vitamin C. Sulphur dioxide is sometimes added to dried fruits to retain vitamin C, but some individuals are sensitive to this substance.
Smoking Preserve partly by drying, partly by incorporation of substances from smoke. Eating a lot of smoked foods has been linked with some cancers in some parts of the world.
Refrigeration Slows microbial multiplication. Slows autolysis by enzymes Slow loss of some nutrients with time
Freezing Prevents microbial growth by low temperature & unavailability of water. Generally good retention of nutrients. Blanching of vegetables prior to freezing causes loss of some B-Group vitamins and vitamin C. Unintended thawing can reduce product quality.
Adding salt or sugar Makes water unavailable for microbial growth. Process does not destroy nutrients. Increases salt and sugar content of food.
High heat processing (e.g. pasteurisation) Inactivates autolytic enzymes Destroys microorganisms. Loss of heat-sensitive nutrients.
Canning (involves high heat processing) Destroys microorganisms & autolytic enzymes. Water-soluble nutrients can be lost into liquid in can.
Chemical preservatives Prevent microbial growth No loss of nutrient. Some people are sensitive to some chemical preservatives.
Ionizing radiation Sterilizes foods (such as spices) whose flavour would change with heating. Inhibits sprouting potatoes
Extends shelf life of strawberries and mushrooms
Longer shelf life of fresh foods can lead to greater nutrient losses than if eaten sooner after harvesting.

Stability of nutrients in food.

Nutrient Stability Characteristics
Vitamin A Quite stable during processing and cooking
Vitamin D Very stable to heat but sensitive to exposure to air and light.
Vitamin E Relatively stable except at deep frying temperatures
Vitamin K Stable in cooking but sensitive to light.
Thiamin Quite unstable to heat and alkaline conditions. Lost during refining of cereals. Dissolves in cooking water.
Riboflavin Very sensitive to light: 50% lost from milk left in sun for 2 hours.
Relatively stable to most home cooking methods (unless bicarbonate of soda added).
Niacin Stable to most processing but leaches into cooking water.
Vitamin B-6 Moderate retention during most processing.
Vitamin B-12 Moderate retention, but losses occur when heated under acid and alkaline conditions.
Folic acid Large losses can occur during cooking. Presence of copper aids
Pantothenic acid Relatively stable during most home processing.
Biotin Good retention during most home processing.
Vitamin C Unstable. Losses occur from exposure to air, light, heat and copper.
Also dissolves in cooking water.

Saving the nutrients in food.
Do not store fresh foods for long periods - purchase just enough to last a week or less, and
eat soon after buying.
Store foods in a cool, dark place.
If slicing or chopping, keep the pieces as large as possible.
When boiling, add the raw food once the water is already boiling.
Use the smallest amount of cooking water possible.
Cook all foods for the shortest possible time. (Especially in the case of  vegetables, lengthy cooking causes large losses of nutrients).
Do not use copper pots or utensils.
Do not use baking soda to preserve the colour of vegetables, as this increases vitamin losses.
Use cooking water and liquid from canned foods for gravies, sauces and soups.
Microwave cooking, because it is quick and avoids the use of cooking water in most instances, is a good way to save nutrients.
Above is from

Gardens are popping up everywhere for a reason.. the need to eat has taken more interest in our free time and finances than vacationing or luxury toys. 

 I see the alterations in environment.. and I don't mean global warming. Human movements have created a situation where ever new invasives are introduced.. this alters regional ecology, even to the point where how an area can handle weather gets screwed. Water is already contaminated. We still have another few decades of the slow runoff yet to deal with even if they clean up now. 

  I am a big supporter of gardens, orchards, growing your own. The reduction in waste just by composting is huge. I find it odd to throw kitchen scraps out as they are a raw material in my eyes. 

 Maybe some perceive me as some sort of hippy. That makes me laugh, and in no way offended. I like to forage, I appreciate reusing materials, I like learning old skills... a lot. I spent several weeks in the Amazon staying in a village of indigenous people. There was no plumbing, no grocery store, no roads!! You gathered, hunted, fished your next meals. 

 Nature is balance. They taught us this at a young age.. the food chain. Too many predators and the prey population dwindles to where the predators starve out. The numbers balance.. they constantly fluctuate. Check and balance. Except with people.

 I see gardens as a need. A need because one should know what they are eating. The quality needs to improve and diets need to alter. If you don't have your health, you don't have anything. How beneficial is that food you are buying when you don't know how it was grown, you don't know how long it has been sitting, you don't even know where it came from. You most likely don't know how quickly it gets restocked either.

 In that chart above.. if you look, you'll notice something that seems to be the first vitamin to go.. Vitamin C. Scurvy hasn't been a problem for quite a few years.. but vitamin C is a major antioxidant. 

 If you are storing food, then you are watching calories and some are forward sighted enough to zero in on nutritional value as well. A garden can extend your stores dramatically. A garden can improve your health. By nature.. good food helps you have the ability to fight disease, recover from injury, fend of allergens, anti-inflammatory.. you get the idea.

The future is going to be challenging.

   Sorry if this isn't cohesive.. limited time and a lot to ponder. Your input is always welcome and I appreciate your point of view.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

time is fleeting

 A lot to contemplate, a lot to research.. and trying to find the time. I will get to it shortly. In particular about nutrient content in preserved foods has me curious.. and nutrients in soil.

 Rock dust, aka greensand.. and actually a few more names it goes by.. seems to be a huge trend. It is primarily a mineral source that is mined from ancient marine beds. Essentially ancient fossilized compost. It's touted attributes is remineralization of soil... which leads to higher nutrient content in what is grown.

 Biochar is yet another. Biochar is essentially charcoal produced in an oxygenless environment. It is a by product of many industrial processes, as well it can naturally occur when burning biomass is then smothered. 

 I will get into all of it later, right now we are busy with quite a few situations. The sale of our home is potentially up a creek as someone has broken in, stole yet more things, caused a lot of damage. *sigh* Pacific Heights.. I'm living it.

 My sister is as well sliding quickly as she continues to battle stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It has spread very far and very vigorously.. and now has progressed into her lungs. 

 Really hard to keep focus, or find the time to.. hence the fluffy previous post. I hope you all are holding out better. It is getting strange around here to boot.. as today horses were stolen from a local barn. Sadly one of the horses belongs to a child with Downs Syndrome.. and the horse is not just a pet, but therapy.

 Keep safe.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Isabel the virtuous and the pissed off percolator

 I have a rooster admirer. Growly. 

From the moment I let them out, he follows me everywhere. All day long he growls, stamps his feet at my husband in the "back off buddy" kinda way, cock-a-doodle-doo's 20 times in a row off the railing where we have our coffee, hops the fence to hang out with me in the garden, and on rare occasions is distracted by Izzy (Isabel)- who launches herself on to my head in an attempt to preserve her virtue.
Izzy the virtuous on a breezy day
  I've given up even bothering to brush my hair until after the chickens have been let out, watered, fed, and distracted by treats stashed around the yard. Izzy has no problems launching herself on top of my husband's head.. and he is 6'4"! She's fast, agile, and clever.. which is why she has all of her feathers.

  Growly is rather middle of the pecking order. He's a chunky boy, a bulldozer with feathers. I'm trying to figure out what the heck he is doing, as in what do these behaviors mean.. He's making nests in various locations near me prattling on like a pissed off percolator.. head down, bum up.
Zero clue what you are trying to tell me there buddy.
   Maybe he thinks I am a slow hen? Rather like Zippy the Pinhead?
"Zippy" the pinhead..
  Zippy was almost named Winnie.. as she is a bird of very little brain. Sorta sweet, just she still hasn't figured out freckles are not food after all of this time... and blood. My feet will forever have "croc dots" as she figures a few life basics out. 

 Behind Zippy you can see a bit of straw on the patio. The bale of straw we cleverly hid in the dog crate (which has no door) was discovered.. and they "sploderized" it everywhere.
  It is possible some of the hens could be laying. I keep looking, but so far no luck. I am hunting down objects to use in the nestboxes as I can't find wooden eggs, and tossed our Easter eggs when we moved. The upside with so many roosters sleeping in nesting boxes, is that they fight a LOT less when in their condos. 

 We got a frost the other night. It wasn't too heavy, so a few things are still clinging to life. I am however realizing that when we really get nailed by the cold, I will have less excuses for this many roosters. 

  Lately, they have really been packing on weight. They aren't eating the pellets, and still the same amount of scratch is sprinkled out.. but a lot of grass has gone to seed. They also are dining all day on alfalfa and clover in the fields when not stealing apples from the crate on the back porch. You can't find a slug, cricket, or grasshopper within a 200 foot radius of the coop.

 Still learning a lot, always researching.. still have yet to stumble upon something regarding odd birds. The farm neighbors across the street, a couple in their 80's, well... he's a bit of a joker. It is a gamble asking him for advice. It's like asking John Cleese and Robin Williams to write a Presidential address. For the record... if they did... that may be the only time I'd be wanting to listen!! I am open to any poultry advice..

 In case you ever wonder what that "look" is.. by a chicken.. right before they hop on to your head.. or peck you..
And a second later... I couldn't see a thing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Collapse movie..

 Why.. have I never encountered this before??!!! 

I watched it.. and yelled "EXACTLY!!!!!!!"

He gets it.. he got it...       YES!!!!!!

 Thank you Arsenius... this movie was, indeed amazing.

I'm still reeling..  

 My focus.. although myopic compared to his mind blowing scale.. was seeing a huge rift in agriculture... the decline.. the loss of common sense.. the huge expansive problem looming in the distance coming ever closer. Myopic in that politics are like nails on a chalkboard to me.. however the clear and present failings in environment, food, resources... It is right there, staring at us unblinking.. if you just look up.

 Just a few days ago I was battling the wind, trying to get something, anything done in spite of the weather.. and I paused in frustration.. wondering "Why I am doing this? Why am I drawn to it? Is there a point, a purpose for what I do? Why do I care?"

 It is wanting to provide my family with unadulterated food, it is seeing the potentially impending need tomorrow for what I do today.

 It is hard work. Realization of scale when you are trying to accomplish so much without, or with extremely little use of oil...   It is a learning experience. 

 While I do wish I could throw money at it all... buy the compost, buy the tiller, buy, buy, buy... a fast start, gardening's version of instant gratification...   I am appreciating having to push doing what I know and working around what is not available. I get a kick out of that... It's nice to realize it isn't in vain. 



Collapse (part 2) Video

Collapse (part 2) Video

Collapse (part 1) Video

Collapse (part 1) Video

Happy "Sun"day

Here's to hoping all of you have a relaxing and peaceful Sunday.