Thursday, September 30, 2010

Last Weekend...Part 2...The Fair...

The reason we went camping was so we wouldn't have to drive as far to go to The Mother Earth News Fair the next morning.  We thought we'd wake early with the sun and after a quick breakfast, go to the fair.  Instead...we got up late due to the overcast leftovers from the night as well as the late bedtime the night before.  We had a slow breakfast due to the bees and the water taking forever to boil (and nothing gets done until coffee is ready.)  and a slow pack up due to the mud and water from the night before.

Seven Springs in the Fall
By 10:00 we were all ready to go to the fair.  The advertisements made it look like it was going to be like the Commonground Fair Country Sister and I had grown up going to.  Let me tell you, it was not.  It was at a ski resort's conference center.  Inside there was a book fair as well as some lectures and different products being sold (composting toilets, goat milk soap, composting bags...that type of stuff.)  We could have spent some time looking at the different items, but with a stroller, a toddler without a nap, and  a bored 5 year old, we got to pick up brochures on things we found interesting.  We bought some insect repellent bags to ward off the stink bugs (for those living in the Pittsburgh area...they work!!!)  as well as some seeds for the fall planting (forgot to think ahead and buy them before the feed store put them away for the winter.)

In order to cheer the kiddos, we took them outside to see the animals.  W.  saw turkeys and started talking about the turkey we used to have (aptly named "Thanksgiving Dinner.")  He also saw some horses (sloppy eaters we noted)  and some Alpacas.  W. and the hubby looked at the chicken tractors to get some ideas as well as some rabbit hutches. 


We knew that bees would be there as there were several apiary companies represented.  Before going, we told W. that only well trained bees were allowed to go.  Also, all bees were going to be in glass cages so they could not sting.   This seemed to suit him for he spend about 20 minutes looking at them walking around in their combs.   He pointed out the honey and other parts that we'd talked about before.

I got to look at some more seeds, Jane Goodall's roots and shoots programs, and the Eat Fresh, Eat Local PA booth.  We saw the wood boilers and the chairlift rides (the kiddos were too little to go on.)  and then turned around to go back in.  We saw the book fair and the hubby bought a book about compact cabins. 

Someday, we will have a place to build one of our own. 


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lifework...

A really big topic that probably exceeds the scope of this blog...that for so many of us dominates late night conversations with partners or morning conversations with friends.  

I wear several hats (or as I say "costumes") during the week--not unusual amongst my fellow Mainers.  Most of us piece together our lives in creative crazy quilt sorts of ways.  Every morning I don my mom costume, take care of chores and start my family off with a healthy meal.  Meals are our bookends and a much needed grounding force.  So we start our days together over a bowl or plate of something (and a nice press of coffee for the grownups).  And we end our days the same.

Then I get in my telephone booth and in a spin convert from farmer/mama to lawyer lady.  Its true and sometimes strange for even me.  But, having carved out a little niche for myself, I lovingly drop my kids at their school and hit the computer, books, papers and people's troubles for a few hours.  By nothing short of a miracle, I have been able to craft my schedule so I am done when my kids are done with school.  And I work only three days a week in the office.  I am very lucky!  Hit the phone booth again and I am back to dinner making and barn chores and bandaging wounds and laundry and processing food. 

A couple days a week I exchange the lawyer costume for the pianist costume and enjoy the great pleasure of teaching piano to my wonderful group of students.  A thing that has always been a part of my life.  No matter what else I have taken on, I have always considered this to be my vocation.  To bring along pianists.  To get them off on a good start. 

We can raise our own meat and dairy.  And store veggies for winter.  And beat grain with a stick.  And eat eggs when we run out of everything else. And cut our wood.  But we still choose to drive a car which takes gas.  We still choose to use laptops and have internet service.  We still choose lessons for our kids and smartwool socks and chocolate and all those luxuries that smooth the corners of our life.  We still need dollars.  And so we make dollars to spend.  And this too takes time.

One day I was talking to a friend and she was lamenting her journey...trying to figure out what her "life's work" is.  She is not alone.  In my "professional" life we go to these all day conferences and there are always well-attended seminars offered on the "work-life balance".  People crammed into a conference room thirsty for one drop of wisdom as to how to grasp their life that is (from their view) passing them by while they are stuck in the office working away.  There was also a similar segment at a recent Farmer's conference--since we all "suffer" the same question--regardless of whether your office is a box or a field.  But as far as I can tell, for me, the question has already been answered.

LIFE is my work.  And this is IT.  It is inherently balanced because it is all one big thing, not two.  Everything.  The coming and going.  The doing and the resting.  The mudane and the thrilling.  It is all my life, happening in real time.  So quick, if I blink, I have missed something very important.  It is vibrant and dynamic.  It is work.  And it is life. All at the same time. Sometimes it teeters on the edge of chaos.  But when it does, I am thankful to have so much I can lean on to stabilize. Breakfast and Dinner.  Or just lingering an extra moment in the barn to scratch a furry face.  Or looking at our cover crops coming up thick and green or the pigs lying in the sun without a care in the world.


This Lifework...it's what I do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Last Weekend Part 1...Camping...With Children

Back in our carefree, childless, days we'd go camping.  It was fun and often a spontaneous trip to the wilderness (no campground for us...just the Allegheny National Forest)...we were just starting out and low on funds, camping was an excellent "vacation" choice for us.  After our son was born, camping trips became less frequent...the other change is we started going to campgrounds since they seemed safer.  We'd go with some frequency before W. became mobile, and then just as he was gaining some sense of responsibility as he neared three, his sister came along.  She is now two...she's a wild woman...she's never been camping...until now. 


We left Friday afternoon.  The children were excited.  C. could only talk about sleeping in a tent and "no touch fire...hot."  W. had a vague memory of going camping and was excited about s'mores, hot dogs, hiking, and what he may see in the woods (binoculars and a bird book made the trip with us.) 

So we set up camp.  It took a bit of wrangling, but we managed to put up a tent and keep the kids (and their leaves and dirt/mud) out in the process.
Since it was a state run park we were not allowed to bring wood in (due to diseased wood and non-indigenous bug problems.)  The hubby got forestry service wood, while I started a small fire with twigs and wood left by the previous campers.  Hubby returned and made the fire roar enough for me to make...


...(all hot dogs were consumed while waiting for the beans and cornbread.)


After dinner, the children played in the woods behind our site.  While pretending the trees were evil giants (that must be destroyed with his stick sword) W. got stung by a ground bee.  He was eventually able to be calmed by a story about Sir W. and the bee.  (I bet the promise of s'mores also helped a bit.)


After the s'mores, we attempted to get the children to bed...bad idea...sugar and excitement tend to keep kiddos awake. 

Eventually, we all fell asleep in an exhausted heap.  That night it poured cats and dogs (and perhaps a few elephants were involved as well.)  We were snug and dry cuddled up in our tent and sleeping bags.

The next morning, hubby got a roaring fire going.  There was a chill in the air and the earth was wet from the night's rain.  We boiled water to warm and dilute our cold brew coffee.  Then I made...bacon...then french toast cooked in the bacon fat...is there anything better than bacon? (cardiologists opinion excluded.) The cast iron frying pan is wonderful.  It distributes heat so perfectly.


While eating breakfast, a maple leaf slowly floated down to the table.  It was too perfect.  I needed to preserve the moment.  Fall is truly here.


The moment was short lived as Sir W. decided to go back to fighting the tree giant and this time got stung five times. Hubby ran for the forest and carried him to the table where he slapped the bees and stripped the boy to check for stingers.  We got the stingers out and put him in the tent.  I told him a story about my great-grandfather's farm and the ground bees that his uncle and I stomped one hot summer to the anger of our great-grandfather. 

We then talked to him about the bees that we'd be seeing the next day.   But that is a tale for another day...

To bee continued...

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Common Ground Country Fair

In recent years we've left on Friday afternoons.  "Vanny" makes the two hour trip up to Unity filled with our kids and friends and a pizza from our favorite country store.  Just after dark, they open the special gate for vendor vehichles and we manuver around Caldwell's organic beef tent, past the Tuva bakery stand and park right behind the Beans, Cider and Switchel booth.  We take in the run down, the low down and the sleepingbag down (that's what the kiddos are huddled in) and begin our routine of making Baked beans for Saturday's Fair goers.  It is fun and rewarding, not to mention nice smelling, but selfishly we like it most because it allows us to make our own coffee (which in the past was contraband) and avoid the epic traffic jam that is the Common Ground Fair.

This year we had a Saturday wedding in the family (Beautiful!) so we couldn't make it up until Sunday.  For details on the fair, you should check out some of the blogosphere's Maine bloggers' post from this year and year's past.  For us it is a true ritual...one that has grown from my own childhood days vending food at this fair.  A ritual that has grown into including my college boyfriend, now husband.  That has grown into a touchstone of my first daughter's birthday celebration to the extent that she was devestated that we could not sleep over this year.  And.... for now, has converted from us taking in homesteading lectures and political action talks and meeting up with friends to us spending hours in the Children's Area watching sweet puppet shows and jumping in hay. 

How one thing, that remains mostly the same, can be experienced in so many different and increasingly wonderful ways over 30 years.  Thank you MOFGA. 


The forest walk from Parking has hundreds of signs to practice reading
 


Whomever invented Cardboard sleds should be Knighted!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

French and Indian Wars...

Every year we go to Penn's Colony...a French and Indian war reenactment and craft fair about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh.  City Hubby can get anyone interested in history, and over the course of a few days, he got W. up to date on the French and Indian war...(W: "But why is it the French and Indian war if the French and American Indians were battling the British?")
(He actually started with Mesopotamia to explain the migration of people and ended up at the French and Indian war in such a manner that you'd think he'd been a history teacher or something...)
The reenactors were very into the whole thing...one year they had W. upset because the British saw him talking to the French...they called him a traitor and a spy...
With all the excitement...

...all C. worried about was collecting acorns.  By the end of the day she had nine packed away in her tiny pocket...

Maybe she feels a need to squirrel away food too for the winter...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Math and Science all in one!

We use mason jars for everything around here.  Our math program encourages children to understand volume and measurement.  It is only natural for us to then teach how to measure in regards to our mason jars. (When else does a child need to know about a quart?)  We also decided to use colored water in order to help C. know about colors and color mixing (afterall, it is her school time too.) 

First we made a jar of red water and a jar of blue water.  We also had an empty quart jar so that W. would have something to fill up.  Since pouring is difficult for him, a funnel came in handy as well.


Then W. poured back and fourth until he had measured 1 cup.


At this point, he poured each cup into the quart jar.
Lo and behold it made...
Purple!
We talked about how the quart was empty...when it had 2 cups of water in it (one red and one blue) it was half full.  We then made speculations about how many cups it would take to make it full.

We also saw how many cups in a pint and how many...
cups in a pint (2)
pints in a quart (2)
cups in a quart (4)

Overall it was a fun experiment...now if I could only get the dye out of my fingers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wood, it warms ya four times...

So goes the saying here in Maine.  Once when you cut it, Once when you split it, Once when you stack it and Once when you burn it.  No need to worry about cold Maine winters when you have all that work to do!

We're pretty serious about wood here.  And thankfully we have plenty of it.  We burn about 6 cord a year of firewood, maybe a little more, depending on the year.  With that wood we heat our entire home and all of our domestic hot water (showers, sinks, etc.) all year 'round.  To pull that off we use this baby, right here:

The day we said goodbye to #2 heating oil
There it is, in all its glory.  The EKO Wood Gasifying Boiler.  Load it with wood once a day (or less) and you have all of the heat and hot water you could want.  It is plumbed into our heat system just like the oil boiler (burner, furnace...whatever you want to call it).  So the fire heats water in a big pipe...that goes into a coil in our hot water tank.  That hot water then gets circulated to our heating system which ends in flat panel radiators in each of our rooms in our house.  Pretty slick.  The same burn also heats the water that comes out of our taps. These gasifying wood boilers are a lot more efficient and cleaner burning than their "outdoor" cousins that have gotten a fair bit of flack.  

Most of our property is wooded--a mix of hard and soft woods with a decent variety in the size/age of trees.  When we bought our property we tried to assess what small portions we would clear back into pasture and what portions we would carefully manage as woodlot.  It seems to be working so far.  Supposedly, a properly managed 10 acres will provide heat for a modest family dwelling, continuously. 

Clearly, no consumption of fuel is totally clean.  We burn gas and oil in a chainsaw to cut down trees.  Then we use a PTO driven splitter and saw rig to finish our wood for stacking.  (We used to split by hand but the tractor sure does make quick work of it) Those implements drive off a tractor that burns diesel.  Then we burn the wood and even with a clean burn we emit particles into the atmosphere.  Clearly there is an impact.  That being said, we do love having that level of independence.  Knowing that we can keep ourselves warm (and showered...and with clean dishes)without having the oil truck come down the driveway, pump our tank full and leave us with a whopping bill.  It's all right in our back yard.  We just have to get out there and work for it. 

Step #2: Cut to length (this is before we had the tractor implement)

There is really nothing as satisfying as taking a nice long wood-fired hot shower without the guilt and cost of burning oil.  And who doesn't love a guy in logging chaps and a safety helmet??  Seriously! 

Also contributing to the coziness of our home is "the Queen" which will be featured later this week as she deserves her own full post--so stay tuned--.

As the temps start to drop around here, thoughts turn to wood almost intuitively. We're all set for this year.  Stocked up.  But each year we have to cut and stack the backlog of drying wood so that we have seasoned wood to burn the following.  So, just as we finish the harvest and put the gardens to bed, we turn to the woods and carefully plan our harvest there...assuring that there will be continuous and healthy growth of the tree stands for years to come.  And we revisit the sweaty backs, the hollow sounds of thrown logs, the thwack of the splitting maul, the beauty and security in a stack of wood and a warm home and hot shower at the end of the day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

City Homestead Tour #2...Our big rotting heap.

We cook a lot in this household.  It is rather unusual for our suburban surroundings to cook everything from scratch (including our daily bread) but we do because:
1)It tastes better.
2) It is better for you.
3) It is cheaper. 

Since we cook a lot, we frequently have scraps, leftovers, and other little bits of food.

A day's worth of  compost scraps

We compost in multiple ways around here.  You have already met our #1 composters- the chickens.  They will eat anything (most don't know they are omnivores) but we choose not to give them meat (salmonella risk), egg shells (risk of them attacking the eggs for food), potato skins and apple cores (they contain items that are toxic to chickens.), or onion and garlic (off taste in the eggs...who wants garlic essence banana bread?)  We also don't give them a few other items that are common in our household such as coffee grinds/tea bags etc. 

So what do you do with the biodegradable items that the chickens do not compost for you?  You get a big ole rotting heap also known as THE COMPOST HEAP!!!!  We also add a healthy dose of chicken guano (poo) and clippings such as grass or weeds before they blossom (and let them sit a few days to dry out so they do not take root in the heap.) In the fall we do not bag leaves, but rather put them in the heap and the chicken run (they love playing in the leaves, which breaks them down quickly and enriches the soil around them, which encourages worms for them to eat...they love worms.)



a scraps layer
At this moment, since we are expanding our garden beds, we are putting the compost directly into the garden beds.  We then top the scraps with finished compost.  Over the winter, everything will break down and become beautiful nutritious soil.

The finished product (it's fall some leaves blew in)
 It is in the far corner of the yard, behind the shed.  It is protected from the neighbors by a wall of Rose of Sharon bushes.  It takes a lot to keep the bushes trimmed back so the sun can warm it and encourage all the microbes to chow down on our leftovers.  I have learned to love the sawzall's ability to cut down trees with ease. 

On a related note, I was reading an article about composting and compost tea.  Basically, compost tea is compost soaked in water and then strained.  The liquid is then diluted and used as liquid fertilizer.  I then came to the conclusion that since we frequently make sure the heap is wet, many healthy nutrients are most likely washed down into the soil below the heap.  I dug about a foot below the bottom of the heap.  The soil there was much richer and fluffier (thanks worms) than the surrounding soil.  It also seemed as though every root in the neighborhood had found its way to this level.  I ended up excavating about a foot below the ground level.  About a third of the heap has been used to make two large garden beds so I should be able to get about six good sized beds out of the beautiful compost.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Little Red Hens: Part 2

So after we planted and harvested and threshed and winnowed...

We ground the grain...

(buying a grain mill was a big deal for us as it is a fairly spendy deal and we wanted to make sure we got one that would last but didn't go overboard.  after months of product comparison and interviewing all of my grain grinding friends we settled on the Bosch powered "Family Grain Mill".  We bought (Combo #M4) the power base and the flaker (for rolling grains like whole oats and spelt into flakes) and grinder attachements and they "throw in" the handcrank base..for..yknow...when the world comes to an end and we are all sitting around grinding grain into flour??? hmmmm.  Actually the kids really love to flake oats with the flaker hooked up to the hand crank!  I've been using it for a couple years now--and I am really happy with it.

and we made the bread...well, in this case, muffins.


and with the hard work of so many helping hands...from field to table...we mindfully ate our breakfast this morning, with great thankfulness for our little patch of grain.  And appreciation for all of those grain farmers out there that make those big bags of grain that we rely on everyday.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Just Peachy

To borrow W.'s new favorite phrase (he starts all conversations with it.)
"Can I tell you one thing about (peaches.)"
It is not a question, for he will automatically go into a long story.
Here is mine.
One thing about living in Pennsylvania...we have peaches. Yes, everyone talks about Georgia Peaches, but you haven't lived until you have had a peach that was just picked. Mind you, I have always hated peaches; the fuzz and dripping juices are too much for me. The ones I grew up with were hard and mushy (somehow at the same time) and mealy, or came from a can. When I moved here, I slowly warmed up to peaches, especially ones that were tree ripened and warmed up by the sun. When I went to the farmer's market this week, I picked some up since the farmer said that it was the last of the season.


And I turned it into...


Meanwhile back at the homestead, we have been learning about numbers.  What is each one?  What is their meaning?  What are the practical applications of knowing your numbers (W. could care less about numbers until we started talking about money.)  When we were making the jam, he started in on peach pit math...it goes something like this:
W: If you have 8 peach pits, how many peaches did you make into jam?
Me: How many do you think?
W: 8 am I right or what...How many peaches go into each jar (we made 4 jars)
Me: Lets find out...
W: Lets pretend the peach pits want their peaches back...I'm putting the peach pits with their mommy jars.

He placed one pit in front of each jar, noticed there were still left over, and then began passing pits out again to the "mommy" peaches. 

W: The jars ate 2 peaches and then said "we don't want any hard rocks" then they spit the pits out.

I didn't think we'd be doing division already.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Country Homestead Tour #3: Dairy Goats

Ginny and Minnie
 Dairy Goats.  Alpines to be specific.  Love them.

These two lovely ladies came to us three springs ago at two days old as culls from a local goat dairy.  They were the first mammal that we brought home that was going to really be a long term resident (i.e. we're not going to eat it).  It was an exciting undertaking, riding in the back of our Volvo 240 Wagon with three little goat kids climbing all over me and snuggling in my lap.  (stay tuned for tale of #3).  Our first animal shed that we built from scrap lumber (originally for hens) would become their new home and we would bottle feed them every few hours for several weeks.  The girls (then 1 and 4) were great at holding one bottle each and I the third.  We bonded well and the three of them became more "cat" like than goat like, following us and snuggling in for chin scratches. 

bottle time
We took heed of everyone's warning about goat craftiness and strung galvinized wire fence 5...yes 5 wires high and put a nice strong charge on it.  Knock on wood, we haven't had any trouble with goats getting out, into our garden, or climbing on our cars...or any other number of goat horror stories.  I swear by a really hot charge on your fence..and making sure the fence line is clear of debris so it doesn't short. 
And so they grew all summer long and did an amazing job clearing the underbrush of what is to become a new pasture.  This was purpose #1 for getting the goats.  Low cost bush-hogging.  And it really does work.  They eat every last leaf and twig and pine needle and strip of bark that they can reach while standing on their back legs.  It makes it tons easier to go in with a chainsaw and cut firewood without all of the dense underbrush that crops up in old-pasture-now-badly-managed-woodland.  So, developing pasture has provided goats with food for 2 years and us with heat and hot water for a few winters.  How great is that.  These guys are so useful....and cute. 
So arrived the first fall and the first heat cycle of our two female goats.  And here is where #3 comes in, the buck.  OH the buck.  The buck we intended to castrate and just never got around to it.   The buck that, thankfully, bred our ladies....and bred, and bred.  Oh dear.  And well, that is truly what bucks do.  It is their one mission in life.  It also results in them being 'buck-like' which you could also call 'jerky', 'annoying' 'smelly', 'rude', 'dangerous around small children' and any other number of unpleasant things.  We were those people.  The one's that don't really prepare for owning a buck.  And, after I forgave myself for being a bad farmer, I called our friend who gave us the kids and she gladly took the buck back to her beautiful large meat goat farm.  His future was probably somewhat limited, but since we had named him and become rather attached, we chose not to contemplate that too much, at least around the kids.  They deal with enough animal processing, this was one hard lesson that we would shelter them from a little.

Purpose #2 came along that next February when I fulfilled one of my life fantasies and became a midwife...well a goat midwife.  It was an amazing birth and we all participated.  My oldest was amazing, giving mama Minnie her energy drink and comforting her post-delivery, helping to blow-dry and name little Liza who shivered against the 20 degree February chill.  And my husband out stapling up typar and grain bags around the outside of the house to keep out the drafts. 

Home dairying that year was insanely satisfying.  I, being a bit of a lactivist, left Liza with mom and just milked once a day, sharing the milk.  We had pounds of chevre and felt so extravagant eating it on everything and in everything.  We had more milk than we could use for baking and drinking.  It was an easy chore that I never dreaded, even on the coldest or buggiest of days.  The peaceful satisfying rhythm of the milk stream hitting the pail and the steam rising from our breath.
Liza:  The next generation

Well, Liza, at 1.5 years old, is still sneaking 'nursies' now and then...crouched under her very patient mother.  And fall is coming again.  In the next couple weeks the girls will be taking a little vacation at a farm down the road.  We're hoping they'll like the male company there.  Looking forward to some more midwifery and piles of chevre next spring.  It'll probably be our last freshening before we switch over to cow dairy.  But the girls have made a permanant home here and their contributions and companionship we are grateful for.

Rule and Order

There are as many different homeschooling styles as there are homeschooling families.  We follow a very eclectic methodology currently...who knows that may change with time, but for now, it works for us. 

our schedule
We have a schedule (choose at least 5 of the above subjects each day) that we follow to some extent.  With little ones, things always change and we need to maintain a certain level of flexibility.  It goes something like this:

Wake up
Plan for the day-what lessons, what activities, what chores
Breakfast and getting the City Man out the door for work.
Recently, we have been putting 1-2 hours in the yard.  I got addicted to early morning yard work when it was 103 degrees every day.  The cool mornings are a nice calming time to get energy out before school begins.
Lessons- we are semi-Charlotte Mason in that we use short sessions and lots of real life experiences and outdoor wanderings and many discoveries.
Clean up- if you make the mess, you are responsible for cleaning it up.
Cooking- Lots of math and reading
Lunch
Rest time-Charlotte Mason believed this was very important
PLAY- we try to be outside if at all possible...when it was 103 degrees, we tended to have restful indoor play.
Clean up
Sometimes during the day, we go out and about to shop (and learn about budgeting) or have play date.  When you home school, mindful socialization is important.

By then, it is time for daddy to come home and play, teach, and enjoy their company while dinner is being finished...if they choose, they can help.

Currently, evenings currently are filled with putting food by, and if they choose, they can help again at this point. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homesteading: Defined.

When you hear the word "homesteading" you draw up some picture in your mind.  Maybe a tidy little farm or a dilapitated old house and outbuildings.  You think of farming activities.  A family working outside all day, doing things your grandparents did.  Making all of their own food.  Big strange jars of stuff lining a pantry and a cellar filled with bags and boxes of harvested food.  And the hours of work it all takes...
Maybe you've thought about it and really love the idea of all the above and anything else you consider to be part of that picture.  Maybe you read blogs and books and whatnot.  Maybe you've taken that path, made the homestead.  Or maybe you, like so many, think--WOW....there is no way I have the time or know how or whatever it takes to do all of that.  I would love to---but its just....just.....

I am a "word" person.  Really, a word junkie.  I big word geek!  I love how words define things, set people's expectations, create context and have different meaning to different folks. I think the best and most interesting thing about this word is that it is so elastic.  So able to bend to whatever your mind can conjure up. 
I mean really, look at what the dictionary has to provide here:

homestead
n.
4. The place where one's home is.
v. home·stead·ed, home·stead·ing, home·steads
v.tr.
To claim and settle (land) as a homestead.

And so, my premise, if you want to "homestead", do it.  In fact, you probably are already.  Claim your space and fill it with all that is important to you.  Live, fully.
How we interpret it, and do it, is really well summed up here in the following video from the Good Life Center.  Although the whole documentary is enjoyable to watch, it really hit the nail on the head for me somewhere between 4:21 to 7:10.  If you've ever contemplated what it all means-this homesteading thing-watch this::
http://vimeo.com/925276

GoodLife Center Documentary from Renee Johnson on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

City Homestead Tour #1...The Burb Chickens

You have seen the country version of chicken husbandry...now...the city chickens.
Being in "the burbs"  we have quite a few neighbors (and their guests, professional gardener for hire, or third cousin twice removed) that come and look at the chickens and then ask questions.  We don't have fences between us, and that also attracts backyard conversations.  Often I hear the same questions time and time again. 

The Girls

My favorite questions:
Are they legal? (yes, no fighting cocks or rhinos though in our township)
Where do you get them? (in the mail from My Pet Chicken or from Country Sister)
Don't you need a rooster? (no, they lay without a rooster)
Do all of them lay every day? (no, maybe 2 out of 3 days each although the three oldest are starting to slow down)
Can I have some eggs (sure...$3.00/dozen or maybe free...it depends)


Salt is Laying
For housing we use a 6x10 foot dog kennel covered partly by a tarp (we can get away with tarps here too.)  For roosts, we use dog crates tied up with wire.  And for laying boxes, we use old cat litter boxes.  The kids named all the girls.  We currently have: Salt and Pepper who are Barred Plymouth Rocks, Cotton Tail (Flopsy and Mopsy went to the great Rooster Pot Pie in the Sky), who may be a Delaware, and Henrietta, Cockle-doodle-do, and Big Red, Red Comets that used to belong to Country Sister (yes, they spent 700 miles in the back of a pickup truck and still managed to lay on the trip.)  Six more are on their way in a few weeks who will be Red Stars.

A great resource for other chicken questions is the city chicken.  Katy has a lot of experience with chickens and the urban/suburban setting (she even had a chicken on a balcony in the city once.)

Chickens are a great choice for us.  They eat our scraps, fertilize our gardens and lawn, keep down bugs and pests, and best of all, give us beautiful yummy healthy eggs.

Country Sister did a great annalysis of the cost of keeping chickens, I will only reiterate that it costs less to grow your own eggs, and the taste, texture, and baking abilities are much better.

Country Sister/ Country Brother-in-Law will continue to get calls when one gets hen pecked to a pulp...or when I want confirmation on rooster status...or slaughter...
Lets see what the next frantic and insane call is about.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Princess and the Grease Gun


This moment I stumbled upon this past weekend sums up a whole bunch.  Why I love our place here, our home and our community.  Why I love how we spend our time and the way it is shaping our kid's view of the world.

A short list of things I am grateful for:

Fall
His grandfather's harrow
The third generation of greasing the same wooden bushings the same way
Her desire to help all day long
In a pink velvet and tulle princess dress
His gentle willingness to teach a 4 year old to use a grease gun
Friends who let us use their tractor whenever we need it
Neighbors who hand down pink princess dresses
A cool sunny day spent outside
New England Pie Pumpkins harvested for winter eating
A field turned under, a blank slate, anxious to be fed and get back to work
Starting the week knowing we have done good work
Together





Saturday, September 11, 2010

Building on the city homestead.

Our city homestead is 1/4th of an acre.  In the past we have had a garden...
A chicken coop...

The Coop with Roosters
A fire pit...

The Fire Pit or Beginnings of the Rock Garden
A small berry plot...

Raspberries!
And one monster of a two story play house...
Climbing

In order to expand our self sufficiency and decrease our food expenditures, we have decided to tackle some major changes in our backyard. 

When we returned from vacation, our compost heap had sprouted squash.  The first change was having do destroy the squash plants since they would never be able to mature in time.  I chopped the vines up and placed them at the bottom of one of the rock gardens to decompose.

Squash Blossom

The next task is to build some raised beds.  Our current garden leaves little room for anything but tomatoes and peppers.  It makes it difficult to rotate crops for garden health and vitality.  We have some blight issues and also some nutritional deficiencies that not even the best of compost can help (we try to keep it simple and avoid fertilizers.)
Compost Filled Rock Gardens

In the blazing summer heat, I used the little red wagon (much better for my purposes than a wheelbarrow) to haul rocks.  Our home's previous owners left massive amounts of rock, brick, and brush around the parameter of the yard.  The main use of the rocks and bricks will be creating new raised beds.  We are going to fill the rock beds, once finished, with compost, chicken guano, and composted manure (must get delivered eek.) It will then support the expanded garden needs that our growing family has.

Little Red Wagon

Once this project is done, the old garden will turn into a perennial garden of herbs and flowers.  The hill below the current garden will turn into the new berry patch, and the old berry patch will turn into one of the dwarf tree orchards.
Herbs

The End of the Rhubarb

Friday, September 10, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato

Late post today...

Every year our veggie garden has ups and downs, success and failure.  Every year I narrow down what we plant and try to be more efficient in balancing fresh eats, storage crops, flavors and calories.  One of our staples has always been, of course, the potato.  This is Maine.  Big success is typical each year on the potatoes, carrots and butternut squash which all go into the root cellar (our crazy crawl space under our house where the veggies think they are still underground).  Squash actually goes in another part that is more like a cool dry closet.  Works great. 
Until this year when we missed the potato planting window.  Drat!  The squirrel in me was fretting a bit over the status of our starch storage. 
Enter my dear fellow farmer friend who casually mentioned one day that they "over planted" potatoes for their family of 5. 
It didn't take us long to concoct a barter of harvest work for food.  So today I spent the morning and early afternoon helping her with her potato harvest and she loaded up the back of my car with enough potatoes to get our family through the winter. 
I have dirt under my nails and am ready for bed. 
We have fields to turn under tomorrow and a hoophouse to plant. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Waste not...

Well...to update on the doom of the roosters.
Before We Knew the Truth

We have decided never again to name chickens until they are grown (and not roosters.) Another version of the adage "Never count your chickens until they are hatched."

I also turned the roosters into...
A rooster pot pie...with the help of my little ones.
C. and W. Cutting and Counting

Lots of yummy broth for soups, rice, and mashed potatoes.

Every time I serve up a bit of rooster, I thank them. 
For providing for the family. 
For making the children strong and healthy.
For giving us adults the strength to go out another day to help the family.

Rooster Pot Pie
Thank you Flopsy and Mopsy! (Cotton Tail is now the only one left.)

Also since the culling of the flock, we have ordered six new chicks.  Due to the trauma of the rooster incident, we bought Red Stars.  They are a sex-linked breed so the chick roosters are one color and the chick hens are another...no accidental roosters!
Hopefully?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Washing of the Woolies

Its a ritual that lots of folks in these parts engage in.  The first 40 something degree night starts the itch. And then you find yourself in the midst of a 90 degree 4 day heat wave, going through the yearly process.
First, empty large storage bench which was last opened in April...or maybe sometime during the summer when the littlest was looking for ski goggles to wear as part of a dress up character.  Next, make a large pile on the floor of wool, fleece and miscelaneous stuff that was contained in the storage bench. 

Now, here is where I had the real stroke of genius.  Its really not a stroke of genius at all.  Its the thing that we all try to do every year but somehow it never quite holds up the way we planned.  Y'know...have everyone's hats and mitts and scarves neatly tucked away in their own containment unit that EVERYONE will ALWAYS neatly put their things in after they have properly dried them on the drying rack next to the woodstove.  (Insert loud fits of laughter masking unending frustration here).  Back to the washing...
The really enjoyable part of this process is revisiting all of our winter gear.  The hand knit hats and the memories of making each one. The techie stuff left over from days when we really used it for its intended purpose.  The sadness of passing on a much loved hat and the joy of the littlest in getting to wear big sister's prized chapeau.  Plus, I get all giddy thinking about snow.  It really takes the edge off a 94 degree day.

Woolies sweating it out...

And so I went for it.  My 2010 effort to advocate for all of the wayward singleton mittens out there.  Hopefully this one will stick.  Many factors in my favor.  Pruned out old, ill fitting items.  Kids are older.  New take on old bench that my dad made for me years ago.  And since its still super hot, no one will be messing with this picture of tidiness for at least a few weeks.

awaiting autumn chilliness