Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolutions, old and new

Tis that time of year. I resolve to do something new, grow in some way, (or shrink :-D ).

The other side of that coin means it's time to review the resolutions from last year.

For some reason, (I was in the middle of a job hunt) I never got around to writing my resolutions down for this year. Usually that's a recipe for disaster with me. I'm a visual person, and if an idea doesn't get written down it usually gets lost in the ether. I must have been really motivated about these though, as not only do I remember them, but they all had pretty good success.

2010 Resolution wrap up:
1) Finish my purple quilt. Bind and tie it. -- This one did get done! It only took 5 years to get that quilt finished. But, that's to be expected with a first quilt, right? :-P I was really worried about the quality of the quilt, as the first couple dozen blocks didn't have a single point line up right and I was sure the whole thing would look stupid, but it was surprisingly forgiving and it really looks great.

2) Sew more clothing. -- I polished my sewing skills on baby gear. Before my pregnancy I would have put my sewing skills at the Confident Beginner stage. After the diapers and wetbags and diaper bag and blankets, I really felt like I had kicked it up a notch to Solid Intermediate. I knew a weak point was clothing though. I needed to move beyond baby gear into clothing for me, and Dave and a growing boy. This went well I think. The first set of pants for Dave had some hiccups, and the first set of pj's for Rowen had some hiccups, but both were salvageable in my opinion. I made a couple of really cute shirts for me, and those both turned out really great. I even made a dress for a summer wedding and that (with some last minute assistance from Mom) turned out really pretty. Rowen has a set of lounge wear in the Solstice present pile. No hiccups and they turned out really cute. I have material and patterns for some more work clothes for me, and material for lounge pants for all of us. :-) I'm really happy I pushed past my nervousness on this one.

3) Repair more clothing. -- This might have made it into a post at some point. I wanted to try my hand at mending. This can be tough with clothing that's factory made, as I don't own a heavy duty machine, or a serger. But, I repaired some shorts for Dave, and repaired a t-shirt for baby boy. There's more in the repair pile, expect to see another push in this area as I finish up winter sewing projects.

4) Learn to knit -- I'll be honest, this resolution was entirely based on a desire to buy lots of pretty yarn. I have heroically suppressed this desire, and I have only bought 3 balls of yarn, 1 to tie the purple quit, 1 for my first knitting project, (a scarf,) and 1 plain black wool that's waiting in the wings for my 2nd knitting project. So, I bought the yarn, I bought a little pamphlet-like book on Learn to Knit, and 1 set of needles. (size 10 bamboo) Hubby learned to knit from his mother at some point in his childhood, so between him and the book and the internet I figured out how to cast on and do the knit stitch. I'm about halfway done with the scarf I think. Not too shabby.

5) Try to save some new seeds. I've gotten pretty good at my annual veggie seed saving. With things like lettuce, basil and tomatoes, the saving seed is second nature. I wanted to try this year to save something a little different. At first I thought I would try potatoes, but I never got around to processing the seeds, so that one will have to wait. Then I decided to try my hands at turnips. They are biennial, which means they won't make seed until next year. I left 4 turnips in the row and mulched them well. I'm hoping at least one makes it through until spring and decides to make some seed.

It was a busy year, but I'm really happy with my personal growth. I think I accomplished a lot of what I was aiming for and I'll continue to build on that growth with this year's Resolutions.

Resolutions for 2011
1) Finish the scarf, learn a second stitch, Purl maybe, and use that in a second project. (Right now I'm leaning towards a hat using the black wool.)

1b) Do some darning, with the wool socks I love so much.

2) Sew more clothing, focusing on work clothing for me and play wear for Rowen.

3) $2000 in savings by Samhain. The date is arbitrary, I just do better with concrete time lines. 10 months means we need to put 200 away every month. This would be double what we have been putting away this year. I think it's doable though because we're no longer playing catch-up from our period of Jennie-unemployment. Attainable, but still a bit of stretch to push us.

4) Finish the Blue Quilt, (Quilt #2) by mid January. Do some actual quilting on this one! Nothing fancy, but something more than the cheater method of yarn knotting. The top is together, (picture above) and I think it's going to look great.

5) Start Quilt #3. At least Queen sized, 85x85" or bigger, so that it can replace the 15 year old quilt from my grandmother that needs to be honorably retired.

6) Make progress with getting a Community Garden started in my new town. I need to find a group of people, find a good spot, and find time to go to a city council meeting. It would be nice to get some of that done this winter. The first step here is to organize a seed swap I think.

7) Regain my pre-baby muscles. I miss my leg muscles and ab muscles. I never had much arm muscles, but maybe I could work on those while I'm at it. Bike riding all season, with some yoga/belly dance would do the trick. Setting and sticking to the schedule is the missing link here I think.

8) Finish seed saving attempt for turnips. Try again with potatoes maybe. Try parsnips too possibly.

9) Continue food storage, work on improving grain storage. That means we need a grain mill, and probably some whole wheat.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Parsnip thoughts

Ok, so I tried parsnips this year in my garden. In the interest of garden note-taking, I'm posting about my experience this year and my thoughts to do differently for next year.

First, my little 3 foot row was about right, at least for now. We don't eat a ton of parsnips, when they are big and sweet we'll roast them with other root veggies. Smaller tougher ones will be snuck into soups and such occasionally, but that's about it.

They looked like they were growing well. Which is good, because it's incredibly hard to find any other variety than the "All American" or whatever it's called. I don't know what I would have done if that one variety didn't do well here. :-D

Astute readers will have noticed my use of the word, "looked." I haven't actually managed to harvest one yet. :-D Yea, I'm special. My plan, such as it was, included a digging up a couple after the first of the frost. I totally missed my window though. I went out this weekend to take a stab at getting a few out of the ground and was totally defeated. The ground is frozen solid, I chipped my way down to the top of one of the parsnips, and it looked like a good sized top, but I couldn't dig down enough to get the root out. I reburied the top with dirt and snow and we're now working with plan B.

Plan B is me digging them up in early Spring. Early early spring, like as soon as the ground unfreezes I'm going to be out there. My gardening book says early spring is a valid harvest time for Parsnips. I'm hoping that holds true in Zone 4. The sad part of Plan B is that I can't munch on parsnips with all of the potatoes we're eating right now. The nice part is there will be even fewer fresh veggies in the early spring, so maybe they'll be a bit of a treat. I've even read that the extra cold time will make them sweeter. We'll see.

Next year, I need to space them out a bit more, I crowded them too close to my carrot row, and between the parsnips and the kale, (which was also too close) I lost my carrot crop. Next year it might be nice to dig at least half before the ground freezes shut.

If I'm feeling really adventurous I might try keeping one or two in the ground this spring and see if they'll re-sprout and put on some seed. We'll see how much space I have to play with.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hunkering Down for Winter

I was chatting with a friend on Facebook last week and I mentioned we were, "hunkering down for winter." He replied with amazement that people still hunkered. "Sounds like something people did in the 1900's," he said.
Well, we live in a big house in Iowa, where winter temps can get down to -30 without windchill, and since we're in the far NW, winds coming in out of the Dakotas is something that has to be taken into consideration. We hunker. Probably in a lot of the same ways they did it in the early 1900's.
We put quilts over windows. Not every window gets a quilt, it's decided based on direction, age and room use. This is a picture of our North facing living room window, it got a quilt on it because it faces North, it's old and it's in the living room which is heavily used. (Tangent, that is my very first quilt, recently completed, 5 years in the making.)

We put plastic on the exterior of windows. Again, not all of them, but the old windows in heavily used rooms get the treatment. I won't post a picture, it's just plastic. :-D Our view out of the plastic-ed windows gets a little blurry, but with the increased darkness and icky weather, there's not much to look at anyway.

We seal off doors that we won't be using during winter. We have 4 exterior doors, (stoopid house) and we have sealed off two of them, nothing too fancy, just filled cracks and put a blanket at the bottom to stop drafts.

We also pay attention to which heater vents are open, and which are closed. Right now we have most of the heat directed into the living room and kitchen, with a little bit going to the bedrooms upstairs. I like cold bedrooms for sleeping, so I constantly lobby for less heat upstairs. :-D

Finally we don't aim for summer temps. It's winter out, it's cold, faking our bodies into thinking it's 80 degrees is not going to do any favors to our immune system. So, we keep the heater at 67 during the day and 63 at night. I'm hoping we can whittle that down to 65/60 by the end of winter, but it will depend on how well the heat stays where we want it.

Other things we do, (or might do in the future) include leaving the door to the oven open after baking, I figure why vent that heat out, just crack the door and let the oven warm your kitchen while it cools. I want to look into venting the dryer into the house too. Not in the basement, it won't do us any good down there, but venting it into the heating ducts could be nice. (It's an electric dryer.)

And of course, the last layer of defense is layers. We all try to wear heavy socks, and layers of clothing and we keep blankets out in the living room for tv/reading time. Warm drinks work wonders, as does a bit of exercise.

Beyond the basics of heating, we keep enough food in the house to get us through any amount of snow. Historically speaking this part of Iowa would shut down after enough snow fell. With the budget shortfalls we have looming over most cities, I don't think it's too Doomer to keep a supply of food in the house in case clearing the roads gets too expensive for a week or two.

Thus do we hunker down like our ancestors before us did. It worked then, it works now. It may be a little unfashionable, but I feel like the trade-off in heating bill savings is worth it. I say feel, because there's no way I'm going to NOT do this stuff for a year just so I can have a comparison. :-D My need for concrete proof is not that great. We do consistently come in below average for electricity and gas use. That's all the proof I need.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fresh Tomatoes in December

I love love love the veggies provided by the garden. Even though we're in zone 4, I still managed to extend my tomato season through December this year. :-)

The plants were pulled months ago, but the bag full of green tomatoes I picked on Samhain ripened beautifully (with only a 10-15% loss) and we've been eating on them for the past month. The last half dozen of those are in the fridge and will be gone in another week I bet. It's amazing to look out at the snow and ice and then eat homegrown tomatoes for dinner. Slightly shriveled and not as tasty as the ripened on the vine, they are still delicious and free.

Other veggies trickling in this month include a couple of kohlrabis and the parsnips that I'm "storing" in the ground. :-D Storing in the ground is a valid storage technique for parsnips, but really I'm just being lazy. I should dig up at least a few to have on hand for cooking and evaluation.

My cabbages didn't do so great this fall. I blame the root-bound, sad looking seedlings that I got at the local plant sale. They didn't make good heads, and they all kicked the bucket at the first frost. Total fail. I will probably try to grow my own cabbage seedlings this year. While the timing is always tricky for me, (they take a long time to grow) the quality will be worth it. Starting seedlings early enough for cabbages means I might try again with onion seedlings. I only tried those once, and when it was time to plant out all I had was onion flavored grass. :-) We'll hope for better timing this go-round. Although, really, I shouldn't put all the blame on the sub-par seedlings. My garden was a little small this year and instead of expanding, or finding another place for them, I crammed the cabbage seedlings into small nooks and crannies, and that's not the best way to treat them. I also forgot to side dress them with compost. (If I'm remembering correctly they need some mid-season love.) So, next year I'll try again. Unless we move again I imagine I'll make the garden bigger next spring, and I'll add in enough room for the cabbages to have their own row so I won't neglect them.

The cold frame is in use again this year. I found myself 4 bricks short for some reason, and sadly unable to find 4 bricks at any of the local hardware stores. (Not even at the Lowes in the big city south of us!) So, the poor thing has gaps in the construction, but I have some lettuce bravely holding it's own in there, as well as a small cabbage that's mostly just hanging out. I'm not expecting a lot from the frame this year, it's the first year this far north, and once again it's mostly in try-and-see mode. Plus, I have plans for bigger and better ones, just waiting on time/money/wood. :-D Isn't that always the truth.

Don't give up on gardening, if you're someplace with snowy-death winters. Besides the season extending tricks that can lengthen your season, winter is a great time to plan for spring's busyness.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Handmade pretties

I'm in the middle of making a bunch of small handmade presents for my loved ones. This is contributing to a lack of posts recently so I thought I'd take a moment and share some of what I'm making and of course, some of what I'm thinking.

More and more I find myself turning away from the massive consumerism that marks this time of the year in the US. Whether it's a dinner that includes close to 3000 calories, or a pine tree buried in paper wrapped presents, the over consumption leaves me cold and decidedly not cheery. As is my habit, I have changed the way I celebrate, to more closely align with my personal beliefs and values. This change is influenced by the Pagan/Wiccan traditions that I'm fond of, the traditions that my husband brings from his mostly pagan upbringing and what I learn as I research and rethink old habits.

Celebrating the Solstice helps to keep the focus away from the typical Christmas-how-much-stuff-did-I-get. Doing things by hand creates other helpful limits. Our decorating also helps remind us of our focus. We lean towards natural decorations like pine wreathes and garlands, and then decorate them by hand. We do put up some lights, as the Winter Solstice celebrates the return of light after the longest night. But, we don't cover the house with them in a vain attempt to outshine that light. Stockings and paper snowflakes and a live poinsettia round out the decorations. I think it has a nice holiday vibe, without being offensive or out of place in our uber-Christian neighborhood.

I've learned a lot the past few years as I switched to handmade for the holidays. First off, making presents by hand requires a LOT more foresight than most store bought presents. What I give is not decided in the heat of battle during a Black-Friday or Cyber-Monday sale. I keep a list under 'P' (for presents) in my planner and throughout the year when I see something cute or something I know a person could use, I write it down on the list. As a bonus side effect it makes it easier to stand strong against the incessant marketing employed by savvy corporations. As the harvest winds down for the year I immediately switch my energy over to holiday prep and start making the presents and finalizing my gifting plans. This works well enough for now, as I mostly give small things at this stage in my life. If I ever get to the point where I want to give a quilt or a complicated piece of clothing I'll either need to start holiday preps in the middle of summer or train up Rowen to help. :-D

This year is a bit lighter for gift giving, simply because we are not traveling to any of the large gatherings. So I'm making little things for the Grandma's and little things for my immediate family and a bunch of cards and that's it.

I have heard people excuse their shopping splurges because they have too many gifts to give to make them all. Look at your gift list for a moment, how many of those people have you actually talked to since last December? Will a 10$ piece of plastic snatched from a bargain bin really add value to the relationship? Will you actually see that person this holiday season? If the answer to any of those is no, why bother to buy them something? Get more emotional bang for your time/money, and whittle your list down to immediate family and those who you feel close to. If you figure another 1 or 2 to include a couple of people who you feel could use an extra bit of love during the holidays you might find your list more manageable and that time to make something for all on the list is not unattainable.

I have a lot of fabric and thread, so that's what I lean towards for gifts. I get a lot of inspiration from quilt shows and sewing blogs on the internet. The internet abounds with free patterns, and I'm blessed with a talent for guessing space/dimensions and ending up with things that are pretty close even when I don't use a pattern. (or straight edge) My mother is envious. :-D

Some of the things I'm making this year include a couple of needle books, based off of some really cute ones I saw this summer, going to a couple of lucky grandmas. A couple of cute pin cushions for other crafty grandmas. Some home-made firestarters, made with wax and wood chips and (since I have more fabric than wood) fabric scraps. Rowen has a cute outfit about half done, and some mittens that I finished last night. Then a couple more specific things that I'll refrain from mentioning here, on the off chance that those people read this and it spoils the surprise. :-D

Little things to show my love, little things made by hand.

And of course, I can't stand to wrap such things in eco-not-friendly wrapping paper. I swore off of that stuff for good last year and started making fabric gift bags. I made a set out of holiday fabric from the firesale rack in January. I'm thinking I'll make a few more this year. I might make a couple to match the gift that's inside, just to be fancy. They'll last for years and years. No trashcan full of once-used paper will leave our house on the 26th.

You too can make a difference this holiday season. Think about your traditions, is there one that stands out as particularly wasteful or joyless? Choose that one to focus on this year and make baby steps towards something better. Whatever the reason for your celebration.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Alaska Won't Save Us

When this blog was still a baby blog, I mentioned a few of my beliefs.

"I don't think oil shale out West is going to save us and I don't think drilling in Alaska is going to save us. "

Last week I stumbled across this little tidbit in the Wall Street Journal..
U.S. Cuts Estimates of Untapped Alaska Reserves

The U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday that Alaska holds less oil and natural gas onshore at the National Petroleum Reserve and in nearby state waters than previously thought.

The agency now estimates that the area, on and near land in Alaska's North Slope owned by the U.S. government, holds 896 million barrels of conventional, undiscovered oil, about 10% of the amount the agency predicted was there in 2002.

The USGS also updated its estimate for natural gas in the area to 53 trillion cubic feet, about 13% less than the agency predicted eight years ago.

"These new findings underscore the challenge of predicting whether oil or gas will be found in frontier areas," USGS Director Marcia McNutt said in a statement.

New geological data from three-dimensional seismic surveys and more than 30 exploration wells that have been drilled in the area show more gas in the area than oil, the USGS said. Many of the new wells show "an abrupt transition from oil to gas just 15 to 20 miles west" of the northeastern boundary of the petroleum reserve, the agency said.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management has held five lease sales in the NPRA from 1999 through 2008. The agency currently administers more than 300 Federal oil and gas leases, according to the agency's Web site.

So, even if we could get every last drop of that oil out of Alaska, it would amount to 42 days worth of oil at our current consumption rate of 21 million barrels per day. That's it. Drill Baby Drill...?
Two and a half years after I made my predictions about Alaska, we have the BP spill illustrating how hard it is to get some of the oil that remains. We have multiple agencies reporting oil peaks in the next 5 years and even the US military forecasting massive shortfalls by 2015 and trying to make plans. That last link is the report that came out just a couple of months ago, and is well worth the time taken to skim the first few pages.
To ready America’s armed forces for tomorrow’s challenges, DOD should ensure that it can operate all of its systems on nonpetroleum fuels by 2040.

Costs of Petroleum Dependence
• Heavy dependence on large fuel supplies can
increase operational vulnerabilities and make
fuel supply infrastructure a more valuable
• Every dollar increase in the price of petroleum
costs DOD up to 130 million additional dollars.
• Rising global demand, for instance in China, is
increasing the strategic importance of petroleum
in ways that could be detrimental to U.S. interests.
• Countries such as Iran and Venezuela could
have the largest remaining reserves in a few
decades if current production rates hold – and
will gain leverage as a result.
• High levels of petroleum consumption are
contributing to the changing climate, which
can bring destabilizing effects and trigger new
security challenges.

Now, they are hedging their bets on the crunch happening 30+ years from now. Some reports show that they'll have that much time, but other reports show a crunch happening much sooner than that. Even if they are working off a 30 year time line, having our military starting the move away from petroleum will be a great market motivator for the developing technologies that will help all of us transition. There are few other organizations with the sheer amount of capitol that the DoD wields.

What does all this mean? In my opinion, it means if your future plans don't include plans to deal with peak oil, they should. If not future plans for yourself, future plans for your kids and grandkids. Does your current diet have you heavily dependent on oil to transport it? What about your leisure activities and hobbies? Does your job depend on cheap oil? Is your house comfortable without a lot of AC/Heat? These types of things don't need to be oil free tomorrow, but you should start considering strategies.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Samhain thoughts

A Graceful Death--------------------
Picking the last of the green tomatoes. Rowen in my arms, helping me hold the sack. We snuggle together to stay warm. Frost is definitely coming. Moonlight and streetlamp cast an eerie and dim glow into the garden. The tomatoes can be seen more by the gleam of smooth skin than by their color. Recent wind storms have turned the once well known garden path into a tricky vine covered maze, made even more impassable by the dark and cold. Occasionally a crunch underfoot lets me know when I've missed a fruit and tread on it. These tomatoes will never know a hot sun warming them into ripeness. If I leave them out the frost will turn them into black and brown mush. Perhaps I can offer them a more dignified death after a slow ripening on my counter. Seems the least I can do for these last babies of the beloved vines. Our bag is full. We brush by the vines on our way out, quietly saying goodbye, these vines contributed to our health; raised from seed with loving care, the vines have repayed the love with the gift of tomatoes. It's always a little sad to see them end. I tell them their death is not in vain. I have their seed being carefully preserved so their line will continue. Maybe it helps, I know it helps me. My way of giving back to the plants that nourish me. A graceful death. A Samhain tradition.

As those around me celebrate Halloween I try to quietly celebrate Samhain. I know some of you wonder why. What's the point? What am I hoping to achieve by calling it something different?
By calling it something different I hope to shift my family's focus. Like most of the holidays celebrated in America, I don't like the associated rituals that come with Halloween.
Spooky and scary afterlife images are trotted out, but with no mention of how those things apply to the loved ones that may have been lost this year. Death is treated like a joke, with nothing to offer those genuinely curious about that final act. That final act that's so disconnected from the way most American's live their lives, some don't even know what had to die to make their lunch today.
Sending children out begging for plastic wrapped sugar made by large corporations, while wearing costumes mass produced by other large corporations, can you guess who I think really gets the treat of Halloween? All that seems an empty waste of time and money, as there are no American children in need of candy. In fact the opposite could be argued without much trouble. Soaring obesity rates and early onset Diabetes would argue that more of us should be looking at this holiday ritual with a careful eye.

Samhain has traditions that focus more on actual death, as it occurs in the natural world, and specifically how it connects to the cycle of the year. Samhain offers rituals that celebrate the death of the crops that nourished all summer, rituals to remember loved ones who passed, decorations that are made from herbs and other natural local materials. These rituals encourage a healthy view of death, as something natural and and respectful. These rituals encourage a deeper understanding of the cycles of the seasons and how they affect the local flora and fauna. These rituals are very approachable. A bonfire serves double duty, to clean up the garden refuse and to illuminate the darkness that holds sway this time of year. The carving of faces into fall produce, (originally turnips, now pumpkins) to symbolize those that have departed this life, but linger in our thoughts. Ancestor worship as it's called by some anthropologists, is so common in other parts of the world. I sometimes wonder why it's so devoid in our society. Is it because we live longer? Is it because of our obsession with youth and beauty or the other way around, does our lack of connection with the departed lead to our obsession with youth and beauty? I don't know. I do think that if we're ever to live more honest lives, more local lives, we need to reconnect with death. We need to reclaim death as something natural and not to be feared, connected to how we get our food and how we live our lives; something as far removed from free candy as it's possible to be.

We need to reclaim death. Have you thought about your own? Crunchy is hosting a blogroll with the topic of Greening the Dead. Do you want to spend your hard earned money on chemicals to preserve your remains? How about a hermetically sealed box made of metal and plastic? That's what the average 12-15K that most Americans spend on funerals will get you. Then your body full of it's poisons, safely in it's super-fund box, gets crammed into a landfill full of other poison filled corpses. It's not cheap and it's not friendly to the environment.
There are other options of course, but most require a bit of pre-planning on your part as well as the willingness to convey your wishes to those you'll leave behind. Cremation is an option, coupled with a fabric shroud or unfinished wood box, it's not too damaging environmentally speaking. It's also an order of magnitude cheaper.
Green Burial is available in some locations. The body is buried in a manner to encourage decomposition instead of hinder. Costs are closer to those of a traditional burial but the money goes towards conservation of the land instead of fancy funeral trappings.
And then there's the old standby shovel + hole = burial. You might not think it, but 44 out of 50 states preserve families’ rights to bury their own dead, including Iowa.
Or the Tibetan Sky Burial. (Google only if you are serious, as it's not for the faint of heart.)

We're told we can't handle death. We're told we can't handle the death of our food or the death of our loved ones. We're told to let the friendly neighborhood corporation handle messy stuff like that, for the low low price of... :-\
Resist. Trust in yourself and the millions of years of instincts bred into you to successfully navigate death. And yes, I understand that the rules regarding butchering and burial have evolved to protect us. Done incorrectly these practices can result in illness to those around you. The flip side of the coin however shows that, done correctly, these practices can enrich a life. By being more honest about life and death and engaging in those things that the corporations try to claim as their own. After all, a life well lived deserves an end that matches.

As the darkness now draws near
See the cycle of the year.
As the light now goes within
Let the hallows dance begin.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Stuff Done

I always have a lot of irons in the fire. Projects that get started, but then have to be put on hold for one reason or another. I'll work on different ones as time and conditions allow and the order in which they get finished is pretty random. I've been told that this trait is most common among women, while men prefer to start a project and do nothing else until that one is done. This is certainly true in my house. :-D

This weekend was really busy, even after a big thing had to be canceled. (My boys always come first, and when things have to give for them, that's just the way it has to be.) Lots going on and I had a couple of successes that I wanted to share. :-D

My potato harvest is huge! I dug up the last of the red potatoes this weekend. I haven't even tried to count them, if I do anything I'll weigh them, because there's too many to count. I had 2 10 foot long rows of potatoes. The first row had about 5' of Yukon Golds, and those got harvested a couple of months ago, with a good amount that sadly didn't store well. The reds took longer to finish, but really made good use of their time. With the last of the potatoes out, I'm that much closer to having my garden wrapped up for winter. Now, I just need to watch the weather because any day now we'll have a frost that will kill the tomato vines and the last of the basil. I'll need to snatch the green tomatoes and basil bits worth saving. (With a bit of luck I can ripen those green tomatoes on my counter and extend the fresh tomato season into November.) Only at that point will I rip out the vines (and their supports) and put that last bit of the gardens to bed.

Rowen and I went to O. City (the small town just north of us) and helped the community gardens there with their winter clean up. They clear the whole garden every year, filling the rather large compost bins to the top and then hauling away anything else. They pull out all the stakes and fences and put everything neatly in the shed for winter. Rowen and I helped out by rolling up endless lengths of chicken wire. Rowen was a big help. :-D We didn't stay long as Rowen got tired quickly, but I was able to chat with some folks and get a handle on how the garden started up and a bit about how they operate it. These are important things for me to know if I'm going to have any chance at all to start a garden in my new town. (Things work a bit differently out here than they did in Des Moines.) Plus, it was nice to just be outside for awhile, as the weather was wonderful. We did score some gleanings for our troubles. A whole bunch of lettuce, some thyme, a ton of carrots and some jalapenos.

The carrots went down to the basement to join the other food storage. I hadn't included carrots in my winter food storage experiment for a couple of reasons. 1) I'm not certain I have a high enough humidity place to store them properly, 2) my crop was a failure and 3) We don't eat a large amount of carrots. I'll keep loose tabs on these carrots and maybe I'll include them in my plans for next year, depending on how this winter goes.

The jalapenos went into the batch of salsa I made up on Sunday. Mmmm... salsa. Totally worth the effort of keeping the tomato vines alive this long. I thought I had finished canning a couple of weeks ago, but this weekend the pile of tomatoes was once again bordering on ridiculous. So, maybe this is my last batch of canning, we'll see. :-D

As I was elbow deep in salsa for dinner time Sunday, I got a little creative with our dinner.
Pumpkin Pancakes was what I whipped out of my magic hat.
(I had leftover pumpkin sitting in the fridge from the cookie making, and a wheat pancake recipe)

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes:
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 eggs well beaten
3 Tbsp pumpkin (cooked puree)

Mix dry ingredients, add wet and mix thoroughly. Cook on a greased griddle.
It's whole wheat, plus some pumpkin to count as veggies. That means it's a healthy dinner right? :-D

Last but not least, I got all the blocks finished for the dining room window quilt. The picture above is a sampling of 4 of the different blocks, I made close to a dozen different blocks to keep things interesting. I calculated that 128 blocks were needed to frame the two fabric panels and fill the whole window. I'm hoping that this weekend I can clear a space big enough (and out of toddler reach) to lay out everything and sew all the pieces together. My sewing time for the next few days is dedicated to finishing Rowen's Samhain costume. So, even though I'm itching to see what my quilt looks like together, it'll have to wait until Saturday.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Winter plans

The last farmers market for our small town was Weds.
I picked up one last pumpkin, a small pie-pumpkin as they are called locally. (To distinguish them from the large tough pumpkins sold for carving and decorating.) I got it cooked down Thursday evening and made it into pumpkin choc. chip cookies.
I also got some more sweet potatoes. That puts us close to what I wanted for the Winter Food Storage Challenge. Which, although technically starting in a couple of weeks, really it's already started because we're eating the food and storing the food and as of now, I'm done buying. (I think)
Hopefully this weekend I can get a final count on everything, and inventory my canned goods to see where we stand on all of it. Then with those numbers I need to create an easy to use spreadsheet to post in the kitchen to make meal planning easier.

Progress is being made on the window quilts. I have 95 out of the 125 blocks needed to cover the dining room windows. Soooo close. I can't decide if I want to try and finish those this weekend or start Rowen's Samhain costume. Or both? :-D I'm hoping I convince myself to make a simpler quilt for the living room window. Just in the name of time savings, but we'll see how this dining room one ends up before I make any decisions.

His costume isn't going to be too crazy, as it's just for a small trick-or-treat thing my office is having. So I really don't need to be spending crazy amounts of time on something that's going to get worn for an hour. Although, I do want it to be cute since my co-workers will see it. :-D And, I am thinking that if I do it right I can immediately recycle it into a window quilt for his bedroom. I wasn't originally going to make one for his room, but there's something amiss with his window, and we can't figure out if it's fixable or whether it's going to just leak all winter. Anyway, no I'm not saying what his costume is, you'll just have to check back and see! :-D

The cold frame is in use. It has a small cabbage in it and some lettuce. I need to add a layer to the brick sides this weekend so it's tall enough for the window to go on it and not smash the greens.

I have about half the garden put to bed for winter. I'm still getting the last stragglers off the tomato vines and from the potato row. Hopefully next week I'll finish with the potato harvest, pop some garlic into the vacated space and get another 1/4 of the garden put to bed.

Busy busy, lots to do. I don't even have time to take pictures of everything. Hopefully I'll get some pictures taken soon so y'all can see some of the craziness. I think my potato harvest is going to have to be seen to be believed. :-D

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Garden Buddies Oct

Hello again garden buddies.
The joy of fall gardening is upon us, harvesting winter squashes, pumpkins and potatoes.
We had record high temps this last weekend and my tomato plants were obliging enough to ripen a whole box of tomatoes for me. Dave and I cooked up one last batch of tomato sauce, we were a little lazy though and just tossed the jars in the fridge instead of canning them. They'll last a couple of weeks, which is good enough. We had a frost scare a couple of weekends ago, and I took the time to cover my tomato babies before going to bed for 2 nights. Now, I'm glad I did. This is one of those judgment calls that gardeners have to make. Yes, you can cover your tomatoes and save them from light frosts for a couple of days, but if you find yourself out for a week or 2 doing nothing but covering and uncovering tomatoes, it might be time to let them die gracefully. Grab the nice looking green tomatoes if you have decided to let them give up the ghost. Those greens will ripen on your counter in most cases and be almost as tasty as the vine ripened ones. (almost)

Fall gardening is often a lot of prep work for spring. It's a great time to pull out or hoe under the old, dead and spent. Cover everything in a nice thick layer of compost to protect the soil from harsh winter conditions. I have 4 or 5 cabbages heading up in the random corners where I squeezed them in this summer. They spent most of the summer really cramped with their neighbors, but now that we've got a bit of frost, their neighbors are declining and the cabbages are just hitting full stride. The Kale is still going strong. I'm hoping the parsnips are sweetening a bit in their little row. (The one I dug a month ago was a little tough.)

Garlic planting time is here as well. Plant them one clove at a time, pointy side up and cover with a think layer of mulch/compost to keep them from heaving up in the spring freeze/thaw cycle. At least 4 inches, and you can't go wrong with 6. I've got about half of mine planted, and hopefully I'll get the other half planted next weekend.

If you're overwintering biennials for seed production, make sure you give them a nice warm bed of straw too. I have some turnips I'm attempting this with. They have 4inches of straw on them.

I'm also checking out my cold frame and making the little last minute adjustments to it so it can perform it's function this winter. I have a couple of little cabbages in there, and some lettuce. It won't be anything extravagant, but it'll keep me entertained. :-D I'll probably need to start putting the cover on it at night this next week.

The last farmers market day is Weds. I need to wrap up my preparations for the Winter Storage Experiment. :-D

Friday, October 15, 2010

Quilting Weekend With Mom

I spent a wonderful weekend with my mother in Des Moines this past weekend.
The American Quilters Society - Quilt Show was taking place from Weds-Saturday. We got a hotel room, and both brought our sewing machines and had a weekend full of quilts and sewing.
I saw so much, and learned a lot I think. I don't want to forget any of it, so I'm going to recap some of my favorite bits here.

There were so many beautiful quilts on display. Hundreds, in multiple categories, hung on display, some with ribbons declaring their prowess. I was allowed to take pictures, but I was told the pictures could not be posted online. Which is too bad, because some were quite breathtaking. Mother and I walked through many aisles examining and enjoying the fabric artists' work. Sometimes we could figure out how certain quilts were executed, sometimes they were so complicated neither of us could figure out how they were done.

The second half of the quilt show is the vendors. Everything needed to produce blue ribbon quilts was available for sale in the vendor aisles. :-D If they were selling something new to the fabric art community they usually had demos set up for them to show or for people to try. The thing to remember about quilts is there's 3 layers to a beautiful quilt. The first part, is the piecing of the fabric. (This is the part I'm most comfortable with right now) Cutting and sewing fabric to get a front and a back for the quilt. Good quilters can use fabric colors and piece shapes to suggest pictures or make intricate patterns. The next layer is the quilting. Using thread and sewing the front, back and middle batting together, a good quilter can add depth and a bit of 3-D to the quilt design. Depending on the pattern of the stitching, the eye can be drawn to certain areas of the quilt, in some instances the quilting stitches can be the entire pattern.
The final layer that makes a blue ribbon quilt is the embellishment. As one gal put it, "If it's not embellished, it's not finished." Over the years, quilters who enjoy other fiber arts have found ways to incorporate those into quilting. Now embellishing quilts with beads, crystals, fibers, wool rovings and sparkles are just as common as the more traditional appliques. This is the layer I'm least familiar with. My sewing has tended towards sturdy and utilitarian, leaving the fabrics to speak for themselves. I've never appliqued or embellished anything. So, as I wandered through the vendor village I mostly ignored the thread shops, I bought less than a yard of fabric, but I did buy a few new embellishing items. I bought a small pattern for a wall hanging with a butterfly/flower applique picture on it. I got some Angelina fibers to try out, in shades of blue of course, and a small pack of yarn fibers to round out my initial exploration into embellishment. I'll probably try out the Angelina fibers on the small butterfly wall hanging just to get two new things into one project. The fibers are melted with an iron to form a flat sheet of shiny fiber that can then be cut and sewn onto fabric. They can be ironed with leaves/flowers/etc to give them interesting shapes, clumping or spreading the fibers before ironing can create different opacity. Sounds crazy right? Here are some videos that explain it all much better than I can.

All in all a productive weekend. Besides everything that I learned, I also got some projects done. Rowen's wall hanging that I started when he was born; :-D finally got it finished, with buttons for embellishment. I also made him a cute pillow for his new big boy bed. (Dave switched the crib to it's toddler bed configurations while I was in Des Moines.) Awww.. :-)
Last but not least, I got a good start to the window quilt I'm making for the dining room. I got it designed and 20 of the little blocks sewn together. (I think I need 120 to make the whole thing.)

Mom got a cute cushion made for a bench she gave Rowen a few months ago. She found really cute fabric that looks like the book "The Hungry Caterpillar." That's one of his favorites, and he really likes the new cushion.

My sewing list for this fall is already too much to get done. :-D So I'll be doing quite a bit of sewing as we wind our way towards Samhain.
Hope everyone is enjoying the last of the nice weather.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Women's Wilderness Weekend

I love State Parks. (National Parks are cool too, I just don't get to as many of those.) The quiet and natural spaces, full of hiking trails and fishing ponds and camping spots. Dave and I were handfasted in a State park, and returned to privately renew our vows a year later.
When a local conservationist arranged a Women's Weekend at a local park I jumped at the chance to see a new park and meet a new group of ladies in my area.
We started the chilly morning at Hillview by trying out a backpacking stove to heat water for some hot beverages. These things are tiny, run off of white gas and heat a pot of water really well. It was explained to me that heating water is the extent of cooking while one is backpacking. Hot water + oatmeal and hot water + coffee/tea/cocoa for breakfast and hot water + Dehydrated meal pack for dinner.
We also did a bit of "near country" cooking, as in not the "back-country" backpacking type cooking, with some pie irons and a tasty breakfast pastry from scratch cooked quick in a fire. Pie irons, in case you don't know are the little square/round cooking gadgets common in camping supply stores. Care for them is similar to cast iron, in that you have to coat them with oil and heat them up before use. They are great for campfire cooking, and Dave and I have a couple of them. We've been using them mostly to make grilled cheese sandwiches, so it was awesome to get a new recipe.

After breakfast, as it was still pretty chilly we voted to do some backpacking. Victoria, (the county conservationist) got us all geared up to make it as realistic and informative as possible. We all had internal frame backpacks, with a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat and our water and snacks in it. We all grabbed a GPS unit and hiked around, maybe a mile or so, stopping to geocache a few times and at one point making an intentional detour up a large hill. We talked about how to properly fit a backpack for ease of wear and walking, we talked about where to spend the money on gear and where to go cheap, and we talked about all of those things as they specifically relate to women. It was wonderful!

The park we were in was beautiful, and we saw a lot of it on the hike, there's a small lake, a sledding hill, a lot of woodland, and even an enclosure with elk. Apparently elk used to live in Iowa, who knew? The bull was in rut and put on quite the show for us. :-D Well, ok probably more for his ladies than for us, but we enjoyed the bugling anyway.

The backpacking got us all warmed up. So, we took a break to make some lunch. We cooked lunch over a third source of camping heat, charcoal. We were using a dutch oven and we made some Bubble-up-pizza. It was cut up biscuit dough, coated in pizza sauce and covered in a cheese topping, but after the hike it tasted like the best pizza ever. I did learn that when you are trying to estimate a bake temp in your dutch oven, every charcoal nugget is about 10-12 degrees worth of heat. So, if you need to bake something at 350, put 15 charcoals on top and 18 on bottom for about 350 degrees. Good stuff to know.

After lunch we took 3 kayaks and a canoe down to the small lake and tried them out. As I'd done canoeing before I was able to snag a kayak to try. I really liked it, much easier than a canoe to control and steer. Less space in it for coolers, but I'm not a 6-pack drinker anyway. :-D

We ended the day with some shooting practice. (My personal favorite :-D) First Victoria set us up with a rifle, just a little .22 and some paper targets 30(ish) feet away. She had us all pick a target and we all got to take 4-5 shots. Then we walked to the targets to evaluate. It took a couple of rounds for some, but we all eventually hit paper. I only shot one round of four, I had a decent grouping, but I was right of the bullseye. (That's my paper in the picture above. the shots are a little hard to see, but there are 2 in the 8 circle.) After we put the rifle away we set up for the bows. Victoria had some (youth I think) compound bows, and we set up 18-20 feet from a big target and took some shots. I love bows; I love the feel of the stance. You can't slouch, you can't be weak through the shoulders, you have to be confident enough to keep your shoulders back and your head up and your left arm straight and strong. I've often thought that women are pressured to adopt postures and stances that minimize them. Postures of crossed legs, crossed arms, leaving the open, stronger postures to men. It's more subtle in countries with strong women's rights, but it's still there if you know to look for it. It hampers women in so many small ways, but is very noticeable when someone holds a bow for the first time. I digress though. As I had some bow training in a college class, I scooted back a bit to try and challenge myself. (It was still too close to really test me, but I enjoyed it anyway.)

The ladies were going to end the day with some shot gun and clay pigeon action. As I had been to the range a couple of weeks prior and shot a 19/25 I decided to take my leave and get home to my boys.

It was a great Saturday; good weather, nice ladies and a lot of fun. The eventual goal is to get a group of us ladies leveled up a bit in our backpacking and camping skills so we can plan some women only backpacking trips to places like the Badlands. There's another Saturday planned in January with topics including dog sledding and cross country skiing. If you're interested, come and join us. :-)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Maize Maze!

So, I've lived in Iowa now for over 13 years and I have to admit that before yesterday I'd never been to a corn maze. (A maize maze, get it?) hahaha
Yesterday was a particularly pretty fall day and my little family took a break from our routine and went to visit one.
The farm we visited has 2 mazes, one small (free) and a bigger one that's 6$ to go through and requires at least 1 hour, sometimes 2. Needless to say, we stuck with the smaller one, and even then we only saw the first 3rd of it.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the maze part is usually secondary to the cool picture that the maze forms when viewed from above. Even so, they are pretty easy to get turned around in, as the corn is well over 7 feet high.

To make things more fun, there are scavenger hunts inside the maze, and you can arrange to go through after dark.
This particular farm sold tons of pumpkins and squash to visitors and offered a petting zoo for kids, with goats and kittens and chickens and such. We got a pumpkin to carve and a pie pumpkin to eat and a giant Hubbard squash. I've never eaten a Hubbard, but some of my online buddies say it's pretty good. I'll report back.
Rowen ran around and had a great time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Winter Food Storage Experiment

Hmm... I need a catchier name than, "Winter Food Storage Experiment." Something like "Root Cellar Survival" or "The Art of Winter Storage." lol I'm open to reader submissions. :-D

So, I want to try an experiment. As such, the dates I choose are mostly arbitrary. In the past Americans would store from the end of their growing season to the beginning of the next. Most didn't choose to live in zone 4 Iowa though. :-D :-D If i was to use those dates for my experiment I'd need to go from Oct 11-April 20th. Waaay too long for my first trial run. (While searching for those growing season dates I stumbled across this tidbit: "Your frost-free growing season is around 148 days." Wow, so short. I've seen it though, the squash I planted didn't even have time to set fruit and it's already dieing back from the cold nights we had last week.)
So, since I'm going with arbitrary dates anyway, I've decided to run this experiment from Nov 1st through the end of March. 5 months, roughly 20 weeks.

I'm going to pick 5 items to stock in the root cellar and try to store enough of those things to last us through the winter. I will be trying to get storage conditions right so they'll last through March and amounts right so we don't run out too soon.

What's my goal here, some of you may be asking, what's the point? Well, as I hinted above, Americans used to do this as a matter of course. (Let's not be ethnocentric here, many peoples back to the dawn of time have done this; NOT storing winter food is the oddity, historically speaking.) Unless they lived in one of the more prosperous cities on the east coast, supplies came when the weather was good and very little moved during the winter. A family that didn't store enough or store it properly went hungry in the spring. Fast forward a hundred years and during WWII, victory gardens and canning/storing pushes were seen as a way to feed families back home and thus allow as much as possible to be sent to the troops fighting overseas. The prosperity following WWII saw much of that get pushed to the back burner. Cheap oil, the green revolution and just-in-time delivery networks encouraged Americans to trust their local grocer to have every possible fruit and veggie, fresh dairy and baked goods all year round. The danger is that grocers don't store food anymore either. It's now estimated that grocery stores carry an average of 3 days worth of food. If anything shuts down the JIT delivery network, lots of shelves will be bare, rather quickly. You've probably already seen this, ever tried to find milk and bread on the 2nd day of what's forecasted to be a 3 day blizzard? That's a localized example of the distribution network shutting down. Massive earthquake, flooding, blizzards, ice storms, etc, any of these could happen and cause trucks to halt delivery and then the clock starts ticking. On a national scale, it would take something like a flu pandemic or a massive spike in oil prices or some sort of attack either nuclear or biological. None of these are likely options, but at the same time, they are all possibilities.
My purpose with this experiment is to explore the food needs of my family over a winter. I realize that our needs will never be stable, kids grow and need more food, an empty nest will need less, but a rough idea will be more valuable than the complete question mark I have now. Knowing those food needs will allow me to store food every winter to cover any emergencies that halt the JIT delivery network. (In the summer my garden serves that role) Knowing our food needs will help me more accurately plan the crops that I grow, and help me invest in bulk food purchases with more precision and confidence. Practicing the storing, and approaching it in an intentional way means I can record successes and failures and learn more quickly from them, lessening the losses in subsequent years.

Here are my calculated-guesses for amounts I'd like to store. As this is my first year, I can only guess at our usage of these. Some guesses will be more accurate than others, but that's what this is about.

Apples --5/week x 20 weeks = 100

Onions -- 4/week x 20 weeks = 80

Garlic -- 1 head/week x 20 weeks = 20 heads

Potatoes -- 4/week x 20 weeks = 80

Sweet Potatoes -- 2/week x 20 weeks = 40

What I have stored as of today:
Apples: 51
Onions: 58
Garlic: 30 heads
Potatoes: 65 + 10 pounds of Reds + whatever I get from my red potato harvest
Sweet Potatoes: 8

So, I need another 50 apples, (wow) and another 20 onions and 30 more sweet potatoes. Apples I think are very doable, there are still good deals on new crops, onions are probably doable, we'll see. Sweet potatoes might be short, it's hard to find them, and we can certainly survive without them if we run out halfway through the experiment.

You can see the setup I'm working with in the picture above. (not bad if I do say so myself)
There's a little thermometer on the top shelf that still reads 60 degrees, and I need to work this weekend on getting some cool air flow down to that little room. Ideally the apples and potatoes need temperatures in the 30's. Ideally I need to seperate my apples and potatoes too, as the potatoes will give off a gas that will quicken the spoilage of my apples.

I also need to get all my jars of food counted and a list hung up in the kitchen for reference.

More on all of that as it progresses. Lots to do, but I'm please with the progress so far.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Updates on the Summer To-Do list

I thought I'd take a moment to update y'all on my projects. Progress has been made on some, with all the snags and setbacks that come with the territory.
Here's the original post, in case you missed it and get confused about what I'm talking about.

GOAL: Cool storage, away from sunlight, for my canning jars full of food
A lot of progress has been made on this one. Dave and I canned a lot of great stuff this summer. There was no way all the goodness could fit in our kitchen or pantry, plus those places weren't cool enough or dark enough for ideal storage. I needed space set up in the basement. Dave came to the rescue and set up the last of the scavenged shelving, plastic but pretty heavy duty.
We got all the jars off the kitchen counter :-D and down onto shelves, organized and looking good. It was hovering around 70°, so we've been trying to blow cold air down the stairs at night. This has brought things down to 60°, but I need to work on getting it below 50°. I think the problem is that I don't have an exhaust hole for the warm air to escape out of, so the cool air isn't making it down to where I need it. Not sure how I can make a hole without destroying my rented house.

GOAL: Cold storage of veggies, like onions/turnips/carrots/garlic/apples/potatoes
The bottom shelf of the can shelving is where I'm putting my boxes of veggies right now. I don't have cool wooden crates yet, what I do have is small cardboard boxes. :-D I've been stocking up on cheap root-cellar items as I see them at farmer's markets and grocery store. Much easier than canning, the surplus items are simply placed in my chilly basement to await their tasty dinner fate.
What I have so far:
Apples: 2 dozen of little green ones, 1 dozen of assorted reds.
Squash: 4 butternut and 2 acorn
Onions: 40-50
Potatoes: roughly 10 pounds
Sweet Potatoes: roughly 3 pounds

This still isn't enough to really do my winter experiment. I still need a lot more apples and potatoes. More on that another day though. (I'm still calculating how many weeks I want to experiment for)

GOAL: Rain barrel in place and downspout adjusted accordingly.
The Rain barrel is in place, with downspout trimmed properly and it has filled with water a couple of times now! Sadly, poor construction of the tube-connection-thing has led to all the water leaking out over the course of a few days. :-( I'm hoping this winter I can fix that problem, and I'm glad I set it up this fall and found the problem. Dave thinks a clamp around the hose might fix the problem. If not, I might cut out the whole thing and install a nice new spigot with rubber rings and a proper seal. It'll be great to have 55 gallons of stored water next summer.

GOAL: organize and pile neatly the fire wood I've collected.
I'm a couple of steps closer on this goal. I bought an axe, and I took it to a neighbor's house to sharpen on his bench grinder. I'm not a stranger to fast moving equipment, but the bench grinder was a new one for me. It showered me with white-hot sparks and made a really loud noise. :-D I did find it fun though. He says I can come back to sharpen it as often as I need to. Hopefully the sunny weather this week will allow me to tame the pile and get it stored properly before winter hits.

Of course, as I make progress on this round of To-Do's a whole new round is cropping up, related to weatherizing the house for our first winter here. We're a zone colder and in a bigger house than we're used to. It's going to take a lot of work to make sure we don't spend a fortune keeping things warm enough for baby boy. I'll do a post in a few days outlining what I'm planning to do. Dave and I ordered some of the things we'll need last night, but there's a lot to do before the end of Oct.

What's on your to-do list? Did you get everything done this summer? :-D

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Winter Storage

I've thought of a few fun experiments I'd like to try this winter.

I've mentioned the cold frames before. I have one, but I'd like to build another 1 or 2 and try growing more variety than just greens. Sadly I think time and finances might not allow this one to happen this year, but I'll cross my fingers.

Another one I've thought of that involves less buying of wood: storing everything I'll need for my family for winter. Now, first addendum, not EVERYTHING. :-D I know, that immediately makes it less impressive, but lets be realistic here, I'd never convince hubby to do that. What I'm thinking is trying to store everything I'll need of cold cellar stuff. Apples/squash/potatoes/garlic/onions, those sorts of things. They are cheap right now and it makes sense to stock up and store properly to enjoy after the prices go back up. I'd like to try to get amounts needed right, so we don't run out halfway through winter. I'd like to try to get storage right so things last all winter. This experiment could be expanded to strategically include dry goods and canned goods, strategically meaning those that aren't financially burdensome. I will evaluate on a case by case basis. Expect to see at least a couple more planning posts on this one, :-) that's my favorite phase anyway, then a couple posts over Winter detailing progress and pitfalls, then a post or two with lessons learned in Spring. I want to define start and stop dates so I have a discrete number of weeks to plan for, list the specific things I'm storing and tracking and do some rough calculations on current consumptions.

Finally, I want to try and push hubby into drying some of our clothes on racks indoors this winter. We are just now buying a dryer after a nice summer of line drying everything. It would be tempting to use the dryer all winter for everything, but I think judicious use of our nice drying racks could cut our utility bill and maybe ease the dry air issue that plagues us when the heaters come on.

More on all of these later. I'll flesh them out some more and set some goals.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Child Left Inside

A break in temperatures has increased our outside time this past week. (yay!)
We have a flurry of camping trips to round out the year, one last weekend to celebrate my birthday and my Dad's birthday. Much fun was had by all. Bubbles and camping! That's his cousin Izzy helping out in the bubble department.Another camping trip planned for this long weekend to see Dave's family. Then for 4 days next week to hang out in our old stomping grounds with friends for a big hippy wedding.
Needless to say, I'm desperately trying to get the last of the tomatoes safely canned, and do something productive with the apples that are pouring in. As I know anything we leave behind on Friday is just going to rot over the week we'll be out and about camping.
Rowen loves helping with the tomatoes, he is quite serious about tomato transportation from garden to kitchen door and only drops a few. :-D This was our BIG tomato for the year, turned on it's side so you can't see where it split when it got dropped a little bit. :-D
Then, of course, if Mommy is stirring stuff in a big pot, he *has* to have a big pot to stir himself. Right in the middle of the kitchen. Complete with Quart jar and lid rings. He knows what to do! lol

The end of summer rush is definitely on though, with cooler nights hinting at the frost that's sure to come. Tomatoes and basil and peppers begging to be put up safely.
Cucumbers and squashes getting in one last push of goodness.
Apples everywhere.
Seed that is quite dry now, but still uncleaned. (Let's be honest, it's not getting done until winter.) :-D

Inadvertent Farmer asks how we've promoted children in the garden. Besides encouraging the local kids to help themselves to the cherry tomatoes, (planted right up against the sidewalk where they zoom past on their bikes.) I helped over the summer with a school garden, for some 3rd graders. I didn't do much, but it was nice to know I helped even a little. The No Child Left Inside campaign is really encouraging. Of course, out here in rural Iowa, it's not too hard to find a nice bit of dirt to plant some lettuce and beans for a group of school kids. And that's not a bad thing.

Not too shabby

In spite of the challenges, I've been pretty happy with garden harvests this year. Here's a recap of some of the bounty.
Kale, scrawny softneck garlic that was planted in the wrong season, but was still garlicky and tasty, and the first of the green beans and tomatoes and potatoes.

The first of the potato harvest, all Yukon Gold tastiness. Canned green beans and tomatoes with homemade prunes on the far right.

Tomatoes really produced this August, I had yellow beauties from the Moonglow vines, small red from the Stupice, dark red/purple from the Cherokee Purples and large meaty Amish Pastes. My bell peppers did ok, and I got multiple waves from my purple green beans.

More tomato glut, with the first parsnip, dug up to check development. The rest I'll leave in the ground for awhile to size up some more. Basil did great, I dried 3 rounds for tastiness this winter. Carrots in the background, not actually from my garden, they are local grown from the farmers market. :-D
Peaches!! Colorado peaches, made into tasty quarts of peach halves and divine jelly jars full of Vanilla Peach Jam. I finally got a jam to set up!!!! *doin my jam dance* I used a different pot, that has firmly established itself as my new jam making pot, it's got a thicker bottom than the others and is really wide, which helps evaporate more of the water out of the jam. (at least that's my theory) I used real vanilla, right out of the pod and WOW is this jam tasty. I tried to can 7 Quarts of the peach halves, and sadly, one of the jars broke during canning, (my first ever) leaving me with only 6 Quarts of the halves, and 4 pints of jelly. Dave absconded with some of the remaining peach halves to make a hopefully tasty fruit/cream cheese dessert pastry.
Since he was a rockstar and cleaned and pitted A WHOLE LUG of peaches for his adoring wife, I was fine with him taking part of the fruit for his own culinary experiments. 6 Quarts is not enough for peach halves though, and I think I might scour our little town for some good peaches to augment this batch. And finally, the best harvest of all, time at the lake with family. :-) Here's us, eating burgers and looking dorky, but happy to be hanging with my parents and brother and sister.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Successes and Mistakes!

As it is every year, this year's garden is a mash up of wild successes and failures I'd rather not talk about. :-D But, since I like pain, lets talk about it.

It's starting to look like I harvested my Yukon Golds a little too early. I've lost over 10% of them in storage to rot. While hot humid weather might be at fault too, my garden support team thinks I might not have been patient enough in my harvesting. So, my Reds are still in the ground and will remain so for at least a week AFTER the vines die back. On the positive side, harvest was really good from the Yukons, and we've really been enjoying them. Size was good, flavor was excellent, I really can't complain, as once again I found them to be an easy crop to grow. I'm excited for my True Potato Seed experiment as well.

Kale and Turnips did great, maybe too great. We are not eating anywhere near enough kale, and I only planted a 3 foot row! Turnips are still overflowing my crisper drawer, and I don't know if we'll get them all eaten. So, perhaps I'll grow less of those two next year.

Related to the Kale, I planted my spring carrots too close to the Kale, and they got shaded out and really aren't doing too great. I'm not sure if I'll harvest anything from that row. Still holding out hope, but it might be a no-go.

Green (purple) beans did great, are still doing great, and the only complaint I have is that I didn't plant enough of them. :-) Might have to dig up more lawn next spring just so I can put in more green beans. I desperately need to get out and gather the seed pods that I've left on the bushes, as they are very done and about to be lost to rot.

My tomatoes are really coming into their glory. The vines are taller than me, literally 6.5" tall, the cages are starting to strain and it's a bit of a race to keep up with the harvest. I have made 3 batches of my roasted tomato sauce this past week. We ate one, and I canned the other 2, giving me 3 pints of summer goodness. As usual I didn't have enough of my stout cages to handle all the vines I planted. As usual, I made do. Every other vine got a stout cage. Those without cages got stakes, and permission to climb their neighbor's cage. One lucky Stupice vine got my old potato cage, that never got used for the vertical potato experiment. While it is admirably holding in the Stupice vine, I realized that the holes in the chicken wire are not big enough for my hands to get through, and not even close to large enough for ripe tomatoes to come through. So, I had to dive in from the top and reach all the way down to the ripe tomatoes. A bit undignified. Perhaps I won't use it for this purpose next year. Eventually I'd like to invest in some hog panels and steel posts to contain everything neatly. That's at least a 100$ investment though, maybe twice that. I imagine I'll just buy a few more sturdy cages and make do for awhile.
The Blossom End Rot has eased. I haven't seen any in the past 2 dozen tomatoes I've harvested.
6 Moonglow
4 Cherokee purple
6 "Amish Paste"
6 Stupice
I think my Amish Paste tomato seedling is a cross with something, the fruits this year are massive, close to twice the size of what I remember them being last year. Still tasty enough, and I don't think I'm going to complain about bigger tomatoes. Interesting though.

Onions were small this year, but everyone in my zone is saying that, so I'm convinced it was nothing I did wrong, just a rough year for onions. Garlic did great again, and the best heads will be replanted this fall.

Peppers were store bought plants, but have put out a half dozen or so bells already, recouping their price 3 times over. (Why are peppers so gosh darned expensive at the grocery store?) Wish I could figure out why I'm incapable of sprouting seedlings. Maybe someday I'll get it right. At least it gives me something to strive for. :-D

Greens and Herbs have done well as usual. I've done 2 full batches of basil in the dryer and lots of dried greens for pot-herbs. My basil is a little funny looking as I routinely grow both green and purple varieties, it appears as though they've crossed a bit and I had green basil with purple stripes on a couple of my basil plants. :-D

The zucchini is doing well enough in the flower bed, sitting peacefully next to some sage and the rhubarb. Only putting out male flowers right now, this seems to be the way of it every year and I don't know why. Hopefully it get's it's act together and puts on some female flowers in time for them to ripen before first frost. We'll just have to wait and see. I'll probably do it this way again next year, it's a convenient enough place for it.

I'll definitely need to increase the garden size next year, as the garlic that was grown in DSM this year will need space and I really would like more beans. Might try to put some winter squash in the south bed.

Anyway, I'm not done yet, I have at least one more month of prime tomatoes and I'm eagerly awaiting the sprouting of my fall crops. :-) Always learning though.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

End of summer rush

We are definitely neck deep in the summer rush here. I know those of you in the sweltering southern climes are past this, but for my Garden Buddies in zones 4 and 5 we're just now getting to the point of overwhelming produce.
I've got tomatoes filling a quarter of my fridge, cucumbers were coming out of my ears and I really needed to figure out my fall crops. All of this in addition to my project list that never seems to end. :-D So, in spite of our little plague bearer being sick last week and passing it to me this weekend and now Dave, stuff actually had to get done.

Birthday money to the rescue!! A big thanks out to Grandma DeeDee and Papa, I took a bit of my birthday money and went to our local hardware store and got a hacksaw and a hatchet. My writing out of the project list really helped focus my hardware trip I think. Definitely an organizing tool I'll use again.

Hacksaw in hand, I quick measured the height of my rain barrel (it was about even with my belt) eyeballed how much height I would get from my flexible elbow end and started sawing the downspout off. This was surprisingly loud, which I can only attribute to the acoustics of the aluminum downspout. Not a big deal, but I almost expected my neighbors to poke their heads out and ask what all that noise was about. :-D Hacksaw did it's job and I was quickly looking at my shortened downspout. I slipped the flexible elbow on the end, and scooted the rainbarrel up to the wall. I did spend a few minutes trying to get the barrel stable and mostly level. I put the the screen on the top of the barrel, made sure the spout/hose connection was solid and called it good! One rain barrel, done. Now I just have to wait for the next rain to see how I did.

Cucumbers needed dealing with this weekend and Dave was kind enough to lend a hand to help his poor ill wife get them done. We got 6 pints of my mother's Bread and Butter pickles canned, and 5 pints of a garlic dill. I'm not real experienced with pickles, my only other experience is the zucchini relish I did last year, that turned out really great, so I have high hopes. :-D

Lastly, I got my fall garden replanted. I think my last planting was washed away by all the rain we had the past couple of weeks. Gardening reality I guess, things fail. So, take two. :-) From South to North, I've planted Carrots, Beets, Spinach, and Lettuce. We'll see if they have time to get enough growth before the sunlight disappears and the cold sets in.

Hopefully I'll get some tomatoes canned this week, or I'll start to lose them. I'm thinking maybe a couple more quarts of whole tomatoes and as many pints as I can get of my roasted veggie tomato sauce.

Friday, August 13, 2010

KinderGARDENS week 18

Inadvertant Farmer asks what I've been doing with my youngster in the garden this week.

The truth is not much. We've been having heat advisories above 100 alternating with vicious thunderstorms that are spawning legions of mosquitoes. None of this is conducive to Baby in the Garden.

We did get out last night briefly right before another storm, which was cooling the temp a little bit. Rowen helped pick 2 bell peppers, 13 more Stupice tomatoes, 1 big Black from Tula and 1 Moonglow, the first of that vine to not have Blossom End Rot. His contribution was a helpful sort of whacking with 'his' spade at anything that looked like it needed a good whack. lol He's also very helpful with watering, he's figured out that Mommy likes to get water from the wading pool to water the pots with, and he dutifully dips 'his' watering can into the pool and sometimes even gets that water on a plant. :-D

We have of course been doing lots of canning, and he is very serious about his duties as collector and keeper of the rings. :-) (canning rings that is) He helped his Daddy and I set up some shelving in the basement to keep all our canned goodies in the cool dark. He was especially intrigued by the dead bugs of course, but c'est la vie. All of the filled jars are now out of the hot sunny kitchen and down where they belong. Just in time to make room for the pickles that have to be made this weekend. :-D

I can tell when he's missing the outdoors, but sometimes that's better than a baby covered in mosquito bites and heat rash. Hopefully things will cool a bit this weekend and we can all get outdoors some. I have a rain barrel that he can help install. :-D

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Newt, and Why I Heart Judge Walker

Newt G has put forward his view on the Judge Walker decision in CA about gay marriage.
Calling Judge Walker's decision:
"an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution and for the majority of people of the United States who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife. ...marriage is the union of one man and one woman. ... judges who oppose the American people are a growing threat to our society.”
One man and one woman, surely he jests, he's been married 3 times. Maybe he meant one woman at a time? Oh, wait, he cheated on his first two wives, so that can't be what he meant either... Hypocrites like this, trying to discriminate against Americans because of their sexual orientation make me sick. "ooooh the sanctity of marriage!!!" Give me a break, which of his 3 marriages and numerous liaisons was the sacred one? The man is slimy and gives a bad name to real newts.

Constitutional disrespect? Has he even read the 14th Amendment? Passed, per the law of the land with ratification by 3/4ths of the states back in 1868 when debates about a person's rights included the same arguments except the bigots were trying to deny personhood based on skin color. Its Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to ALL people.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Marriage is, at it's core, all about protection. Protection of wealth, protection of children and protection against the ravages of age/illness/hard times. A marriage, in spite of the modern religious trappings is a contract between adults. The 14th Amendment says States cannot deprive a citizen of that right, no matter how a particular faith views the arrangement that person wants to enter into. And to borrow a line from one of my 1 year old's books, a person's a person, no matter how small. (or gay)

Some points from Judge Walker's ruling that I particularly like:

9. Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter.
Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize
marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil
marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently
whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that
recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship
under state law.
Recap: You know that line that preachers use at the end of the ceremony, "by the power vested in me by the state of Blah, I now pronounce you.." Their power to solemnize a contract signing between two adults is granted to them by the State, not the other way around. And, because we're such a great country, we don't even require that they do ceremonies they don't agree with, they can respectfully decline to marry a couple, but that couple CAN STILL MARRY, because the power to recognize that marriage, thankfully, does not rest with one faith or church.

21. California, like every other state, has never required that
individuals entering a marriage be willing or able to
Self explanatory, but I hate the, "oooh they can't have kids, so they shouldn't be allowed to marry" trash. Nice to see a judge slap that one on it's butt. It's offensive to anyone who's ever tried and failed to have children, it's offensive to the thousands of gays/lesbians happily raising children and, quite frankly, it's offensive to me and I'm a happily married hetero with a kid.

33. Eliminating gender and race restrictions in marriage has not
deprived the institution of marriage of its vitality.
Used to be a woman was property and not legally allowed to leave a marriage or hold her own wealth as both her and her property were owned by her husband. That particular notion thankfully no longer resides in the law books, and yet marriage survived the blow. At one point 41 states had laws restricting the marriage between different colored people. Again, that quaint bit of nonsense was overturned and yet marriage survived. There's absolutely no reason that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will in any way harm the institution of marriage.

36. States and the federal government channel benefits, rights and
responsibilities through marital status. Marital status
affects immigration and citizenship, tax policy, property and
inheritance rules and social benefit programs.
"Why don't they just get civil unions?" What on earth are people thinking when they ask that? Did the thought of a civil union go through their head when their lover got down on a knee and asked to spend the rest of their lives with them? No. Civil Unions are not the same as marriage, and that separate but equal bullsh*t doesn't fly anymore. It's never equal. Civil Unions do not grant the same benefits, nor do they adequately express the love and commitment that same sex couples wish to express.

58. Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against
gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have
intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays
and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and
lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of
f. Tr 972:14-17 (Meyer: “Laws are perhaps the strongest of social structures that uphold and enforce stigma.”);
g. Tr 2053:8-18 (Herek: Structural stigma provides the context and identifies which members of society are devalued. It also gives a level of permission to denigrate or attack particular groups, or those who are perceived to be members of certain groups in society.);
h. Tr 2054:7-11 (Herek: Proposition 8 is an instance of structural stigma.).

59. Proposition 8 requires California to treat same-sex couples
differently from opposite-sex couples.
There it is, in not so plain English. Prop 8 REQUIRES the state to treat a set of citizens differently than the majority and is thus not only morally repugnant but illegal. It places a government stamp of approval on inequality and that is NOT what this nation was founded on. Say what you will about the rights of states and the rights of citizens to vote, but they do NOT get to vote for discriminatory treatment of other citizens and every state in the union has agreed to that.

Read the rest of his ruling, it's great. He rips apart Prop 8 piece by piece, touching on the stereotypes against gays/lesbians and enumerating the studies that find those stereotypes to be wrong, stereotypes like children raised by gay parents are less well adjusted, or that gays and lesbians recruit children to be gay. He points out the entrenched religious views on the "sinfulness" of homosexuality and how intrinsic those religious views were throughout the Prop 8 proponents. He highlights the campaign propaganda that swings between misleading and outright falsehoods, playing on people fears with phrases like,"Save our children" and "falling to Satan."

I'm sure we'll see more about this issue. It will probably be argued all the way to the Supreme Court. I firmly believe that this issue is my generation's civil rights battle. If you're one of the 52% that voted for Prop 8, or might have voted for it were you living in CA, I'm asking you to look at that view rationally. Get beyond the hatred propaganda, have a conversation with a gay couple about how the discrimination affects their lives, compare some of what's being said and done with some of the things said and done during the desegregation era or women's suffrage. This is not a nuanced issue with more than one right answer, as so many issues in politics are. This is an issue about equal rights, rights guaranteed to EVERY American.

Happily I'll be back to the regularly scheduled garden goodness for my next post. Expect to hear more about my tomato vines. :-D