Archive for the ‘Suburban Homesteading’ Category
It’s shocking to think that 50 million people, many of them children, go hungry every day. It’s even more shocking when you learn that almost ¼ of food produced in America goes to waste.
From the Directors of FOOD, Inc., Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine the food insecurity issue through the lens of three people who are struggling to feed their families—a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two kids; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford.
Woven together with the insights of experts, A Place at the Table will show how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and how it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides-as they have in the past-that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.
As farmers, gardeners, homesteaders and foodies of all kinds we know all too well how simple changes can improve a family’s food security and self-sufficiency.
I hope you will take time to watch this must see documentary…and then decide how you can be helpful in your community.
Our weather of late has been like a tumultuous roller coaster ride—rising and falling; twisting and turning with temperatures that ride high into the sky then plummeting down into the depths of a freeze. Winds that howl so strong the house seems to inhale and exhale, then so calm that the frost settles over everything it touches. In between there have been bouts of rain; gentle and soft so the ground can soak it up then torrential downpours that flood the streets.
For the last week or so I have only run out into the weather to quickly feed and water the chickens and goose, and make a cursory survey of the farm looking for damage or the potential for damage.
It wasn’t until tonight that I actually had a chance to really look the place over. Frost bitten leaves were evident everywhere, but thankfully the barn and the greenhouse (still unfinished) remained intact with no signs of wind damage. During my wandering I noticed what I thought was a large reddish golden leaf on the Fuji apple tree. I had seen it from my bedroom window several days before and thought how amazing that with all the wind we’ve had a leaf was still attached to the barren tree. But, when I looked closer I discovered it wasn’t a leaf at all, but a ripe apple, missed during our fall harvest; curious that I didn’t see something of that size earlier.
It made me reminisce of fall, and made me think of how good a small rustic apple pie would taste in the middle of winter so I plucked it from its stronghold and brought it inside.
Along my walk I also noticed bits of green in the long narrow vegetable planter I built for onions and garlic. The garlic I planted before the holidays is beginning to poke slender leaves through the dark rich soil. In contrast to the lone forgotten apple of a season gone these are the promise of spring, of readiness for planting early crops and the desire to eat fresh from the garden again. Bulbs of dried garlic will hang in the kitchen in a few weeks, seasoning everything from sauces to meats.
If the weather holds I may soon be outside plunging my hands deep into the soil, churning it and smoothing it, making it ready for greens and peas and broccoli and other early season cool weather seeds.
I ended my walk at the barn, filling up the water troughs and topping off the hanging chicken feeder. The hens have had a grand time scratching in the thick layer of straw laid to keep them cozy on cold winter nights. There are deep holes where they have fluffed and nestled themselves in their daily dust baths, and mounded up places where they scratched so fiercely that they’ve piled up the straw. One pile, though, looked particularly strange so I walked over to investigate. As I moved toward the mound Princess Sophia, our Sebastopol goose, became agitated. The closer I got the louder she protested. As I bent down to look at the straw more closely she was literally tugging at my pants in a frenzy. When I pulled a layer of straw aside I could see the reason for all her commotion. She must have begun laying in the last week or so because snug under that mound of straw was a small clutch of eggs. If we had a gander this would be the best ever promise of spring and the promise of a fluffy little brood of goslings. But, it isn’t to be. We have no gander.
Before I had finished my rounds the temperature fell and a frozen breeze was swirling around, the setting sun had painted the sky with streaks of pink and orange and yellow. Fall and spring were clashing in one afternoon; remnant memories of days gone and the promise those to come ran through my mind. As I walked back to the house, glowing with a roaring fire, I turned for one last glance at the tiny farm and thought life can’t get much better than this, especially for a Tuesday.
The sky turns grey.
The wind blows hard.
The rain comes down.
The ground is quenched.
Roots push deep.
Plants grow tall.
Crops grow fat.
Harvest is plenty.
I pluck from the ground that which seed and soil and rain and sun hath made grow, and place it on my table to nourish and sustain my life.
Who could ever frown at such a circle? Or, wish it would never happen? Only an ignorant man would wish the rain to never come, the seasons to never change, the wind to never blow, and the dark to never fall, for these are the elements that turn life from quiet and shriveled and thirsting to vibrant and alive.
Welcome the rain and pray for more.
September is here, folks! I can hardly believe it is just one month until my beloved October. The thought of it makes my heart swell.
This long Labor Day weekend started early with a steel gray glimmer of morning and a breeze that glided over me, soft and cool; the first gentle kiss of autumn. It was still in the 50’s when I ventured outside in my sweatshirt and muck boots, watering and feeding chickens and rabbits. There are no leaves falling yet, but the world is changing, moving ever so slightly from one season to another. You can feel it in the sunrise. You can feel it in the change from our blistering August heat wave. You see it in the evening as the sun sets farther to the south and the rising moon throws a golden cast over the farm.
We are picking tomatoes and zucchini almost daily, little shards of insurance for a small family. A pint-sized mason jar filled with fresh herbs sits on the windowsill sending a wave of fragrance through the house. My lone sunflower is beginning to bloom, tall and big and yellow; the last survivor from marauding birds and scavenging chickens, and a few apples hang on the tree growing fat and juice, until they are plucked off and put into a pie or cobbler or spice bread. Some of the older hens that were beyond being good layers and a rooster were taken to the feed store to be given away. I’ll hold on to the few good layers I have until spring then think about increasing the flock. Production is a big deal on our little farm and those who can’t pull their weight in stocking the kitchen don’t stay around to waste precious feed. Sounds harsh I know, but that’s the reality of farm life.
Winter preps are still at the forefront of my mind. I feel an urgency about getting this farm settled for a long winter, maybe even more so than in past years. The agricultural meteorologist, the one all the farmers listen to for weather forecasts, is calling for an El Nino winter; and that can mean only one thing — RAIN — and lots of it. Making sure the farm is set to handle such storms drives my actions.
The new batch of meat birds is slatted to arrive next week and now that the opossum family has been caught and relocated I am more excited than ever to get some meat in the freezer. I still have a few half chickens left. There are also packages of lamb, the ducks we raised in spring and containers of soup base and cooked down chicken carcasses that can be made into casseroles and potpies. The pantry is pretty well stocked with dry goods like beans, lentil, rice, barley and pasta; all the makings for a hearty and warm winter meal; and with Brianne off to college even the smallest amount of meat and veggies seem to go farther. Even with all this, I’ll make a stock up trip to fill in and take advantage of prices before we see increases caused by this summers’ drought.
The greenhouse now has a roof, a barrier from the wind and rain. The plan is to finish the walls this weekend. With any luck the whole thing will be done in a week or so and I can begin planting root veggies and salad greens in the fall garden. Maybe I’ll even try a few potted veggies that can stay in the greenhouse over winter. One of the nice things about living in an area where you can garden 365-days is that we do not have the pressure to “get seeds in the ground” like other areas of the country.
I still have firewood to bring in and the house to switch over from summer to winter. My list is made and it’s thrilling to cross things off. By the time wood smoke circles the farm we’ll be ready, mark my words. This will be a warm and comfy farm house, glowing and smelling of winter.
I am smiling, folks, for these are all small banks of insurance. Money may be nice, but it can’t beat a warm stew fresh from the farm. Now that’s simple wealth!
Daylight peers over the horizon on a breeze of hot August air as I lay in bed contemplating the coming fall. The plans I had for getting ready for fall have been put on hold, at least while the temps push towards triple digits. With Brianne moving to college and the loss of an extra pair of hands I’m nervous that all I need to accomplish won’t get done in time. Even though we often have Indian Summers that last into October I’m still scared. But, if I know one thing it is that you reap what you sow. If I concentrate on the negative instead of the positive only negativity will enter my world, so I stay upbeat about what I have done and what I can do to get ready for winter.
So, here’s where we are. The greenhouse has a floor and windows; a door and framed sides, but no roof, at least not yet. Every day, from the break of dawn until the temperature drives me inside I work on enclosing the greenhouse using clap board I found on Craigslist. Once finished I will have all my gardening supplies in one place and will start seeds for a fall garden.
A new batch of meat birds are scheduled for early September. A replacement for the ill fated early summer batch that went to the opossums or were put down for safety’s sake.
And, if all goes well this time I’ll have a freezer full of chicken before we celebrate Halloween and eating homemade pot pies when the weather changes.
On the firewood front—I have about ½ cord laid in, but need 3 more to keep my house warm and homey during the winter months. With Brianne taking her truck with her to school the process of getting firewood and transporting it will be slow, but like the tortoise, it will get done, eventually. Labor for heat, not a bad trade-off.
I am taking stock of my pantry and supplies laid by and plan to bring in more staples before prices increase. Staples are at the top of my list and I’m hoping to trade avocados and lemons for some pork raised by a friend.
Good news! looks like my hard fought for refi will go through, finally, decreasing my mortgage by several hundred dollars. I’m also reevaluating other expenses and crunching down where I can. We’re not hard up, never really have been, but I have future plans to move to a less populated place in the country (more on that as it unfolds). Anything I can save is money that stays in the bank, to pay off my house and work towards my own freedom. It may seem like dog paddling, but my head is above water and that’s success in its own right.
All these projects are slow to progress, but they do progress. It’s all figured out in my logical head in the bright light of day, but come the darkness of night emotions and uncertainty seep in, shaking my confidence. I try not to go there. As long as I put one foot in front of the other I feel in control. Everything will be done. I know it. I have family and friends to help with the big stuff and gladly they are willing to do so. I was feeling unsure last night, but I’m not going there tonight. I have me list, my plan and a nice cup of chamomile tea to carry me through.
I’m staying the course, folks. Nothing will slow me down.
As crops shrivel and die from lack of rainfall across the country food prices will undoubtedly go up in the months to come. First will be prices on short cycle commodities like eggs, poultry and milk; followed by spikes in meat and other products that utilize corn or corn by-products in their processing.
Now is the time to stock up on items that could be out of your reach in the future. It is also the time to get serious about growing your own food. In many parts of the country there is still time to plant short term crops like root veggies and salad greens. It is also a good time to plan your fall and winter garden, taking advantage of seeds that may be on sale now.
Take advantage of summer sales on meat and lay aside items that you don’t or can’t raise yourself. I’m keeping an eye on beef and pork sales, both commodities that will be hit hard by the current crop disasters. Even if I do decide to raise a pig this fall it will be months before I can enjoy the fruits of that labor. Filling in gaps now will keep me eating well until my own pig is in the freezer.
If possible, stock up on livestock feed you can use in the next few months, pushing out the sticker shock that’s bound to come. Non-molasses based feeds like lay mash, lay pellets, pig chow and the like will take a big jump in price as the corn and other grain crops wither in the fields. Be cautious with molasses feeds though as they can go rancid if not used in a timely manner.
Speaking of other grains, they too will likely follow suit, or food distributors will take full advantage of increasing prices on corn and jump on the price-hike bandwagon, pushing prices higher to make a bigger profit. Stocking up on wheat, flour, corn meal, rice, barley, millet, etc. could help keep your family eating well over the winter months.
Remember too, grains are long term crops, meaning they take months to go from just planted seeds to a harvestable crop. A decrease in price is not likely to be seen until mid- to late- 2013, if at all. I can still remember the huge jump local fruit prices took during a grocery store strike in the early 2000’s. Prices went from under a dollar a pound for most fruits to almost $2.00 a pound and prices have never come back down. Disaster situations, like the current drought, seem to be a way for food manufacturers to increase prices whether or not the products are directly affected by market conditions. What goes up does not always come down.
This is also a great time to reevaluate how you use the food you grow or buy. Americans throw away millions of dollars worth of food because they buy more than they can use, don’t store it properly or just don’t plan to use it before it goes bad. Buying less per trip could be a solution in managing your grocery budget. Getting creative about using up everything you buy is also another tactic to keep your food budget under control.
At our homestead we try to plan meals that use up bits of leftovers to serve filling and satisfying dishes. It’s amazing how small amounts of leftovers or fresh items can be transformed into an entire meal. Case in point…tonight we will be enjoying a skillet full of beef stroganoff made from a few mushrooms, half an onion, a small amount of chuck I bought in the clearance meat section, beef broth made and frozen last winter and a dab of sour cream. I always have noodles in the pantry and a small piece of French bread and a small salad of fresh greens will round out a perfect budget meal.
Stay tuned, folks. As times get tougher you’ll see a lot more tips on how we stretch our food dollars and make the most of what we buy.
It’s been awhile since I brought you all up to speed on our farm happenings and for that I apologize. It always amazes me how life can take over and you are doing good just to put one foot in front of the other. And — if anyone tells you getting a kid off to college is a fun bonding experience they are dead wrong.
So — here we go — the update.
The meat chicks are about 5-weeks old now and I have to say honestly I am not thrilled with their progress. I tacked on an order of 15 with my friend Angela who buys from a different hatchery than I usually use. In the first four days after their arrival I lost 3 for no apparent reason. They are slower growing than what I’m use to and I may need to keep them longer to get them to a decent butchering weight.
They are out in the barn now, which has had its own problems. First, I came home from running errands, walked in the barn to check on everyone and realized I was missing 4 chicks. As I looked around I noticed one in the nursery that borders my property. I was able to catch him and return him to his friends, but never did find the other 3. Then a few days later I found one dead on the floor of the barn and another one injured, which I put down this morning. In all my years of raising meat chickens I have NEVER had so many problems and lost so many chicks. It’s a sad commentary indeed to lose half your flock of birds to mostly dumb luck. I don’t like it at all!
On a brighter note…the greenhouse I have so desperately wanted for years is well on its way to completion. Normally I would have taken it upon myself and a few begged for hands and build it myself, but this time I wanted instant gratification and was happy to pay for it (for a reasonable price). Jordan set the foundation piers in just half a day. When the cement had hardened overnight he came back and built the floor; a deck type flooring with spaces in between the boards so the dirt could fall through. One week and a new baby later he returned with a friend to build the walls and install the antique windows and door I had collected. I will attach the siding myself over the next few weeks and when Brianne is firmly settled in her new college housing Jordan will come back to put the roof on. Hopefully, all will be finished by September, in time to start a few winter veggies and some flowers. Three cheers for a long growing season!
On the veggie front we are not faring very well this year. We have had a raft of damage from rabbits, birds, squirrels and rats. My beautiful pumpkin patch, which looked like it was going to produce a nice selection of field and pie pumpkins, was wiped out one foggy day a few weeks ago. I did plant new seeds hoping they will ripen in the 90 – 100 days stated on the package. We’ll see. The squirrels decimated my peach crop, again! Even with the protective netting and now something is going at my tomatoes. It is what it is folks, and with Brianne leaving in just 25 days I’m loathed to replant anything until I have time and will be home enough to tend the beds. So now I’m leaning towards a nice fall garden that, with luck, should take us into December before the weather gets too cold.
Last week we traveled to the state fair so Brianne could compete one last time in a competition she qualified for at last years county fair. It was strange to be there with no animals. But, even stranger was the energy and vibe of the livestock barns. There didn’t seem to be the camaraderie and friendly competition overtones we’ve seen in past years. All of her friends are gone (aged out of their respective programs) and the new comers are people we don’t know. The competition was on Sunday so Friday we drove over to Petaluma and visited the Baker Creek Seed Bank. It was great to see row after row of their heirloom veggies, made me want to buy a whole new garden right then and there, but I held off. I still have seeds from this year and I want to use what I can in a fall garden before buying new. I did satiate my urge and buy a few packets of hollyhocks to plant around the greenhouse and one pumpkin I just had to have. If you’ve read this blog for long you know my love (or obsession) for those orange globes no matter how big or small. On Saturday we visited four of the cheese factories/shops on the Sonoma Cheese Trail I wrote about before. It’s a long list and with the distance between them, shopping in the area and having lunch those four took us all day. But, it was wonderful to taste cheeses that are not available in any of my local shops. The whole area is very food oriented and we enjoyed seeing shops and restaurants proudly serve local grown and local made. One shop in particular caught our fancy…Petaluma Pies. All their pies (sweet and savory) are made fresh daily from ingredients grown in the county. We savored the sweet peach and plump berry right from the oven smothered with hand-churned vanilla ice-cream on their outdoor patio after a long day of driving and shopping. Perfect, and perfectly wonderful.
I did get one pleasant surprise though. The sunflower quilt I made for Brianne arrived from the quilters before we left for state fair. I’ll take a weekend and attach the binding and stitch it down, hopefully in time for her move to college.
The dog days of summer have hit the mid-point here and our weather has been all over the place; cool and foggy, stormy with a few light thunder showers, but now we’ve hit a typical So Cal heat wave (not unlike the rest of the country) with temps in the mid-90s. Not many farm chores get done in the heat. We wait until the cool of evening or scurry around in the early morning hours before the suns rays can beat down on our little place. Most of our time is spent filling water troughs and watering plants, it’s a circular dance that seems to go on forever.
This whole summer scenario has gotten me thinking about how much I wish fall was here. I like summer don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something about a crisp fall morning or the way the evening sunset throws a golden glow over the whole farm that makes me want to hunker down in front of a warm fire with a hearty stew and a chunk of home baked bread smothered in butter. Those days are months away, I know, but a girl can dream can’t she.
When I woke today it smelled of a fading storm, remnants of some far off monsoon, made myself a glass of tea, turned on the garden water, killed a chicken, cooked breakfast, readied myself for work, wrote, cleaned, and did laundry. Just an average day on a small farm at the edge of town. Gotta love it. Right?
Fall is on its way, I can feel it.
California Bountiful is a monthly publication sent out by Farm Bureau to FB members or to people who have insurance through the FB providers. It’s a great snapshot of what is going on in California Agriculture and for the past few years they have been concentrating on the upsurge in smaller sustainable farms, unusual crops and niche industries that are building up in response to a generation of new farmers more interested in sustainability, non-commercial varieties of crops, pasture raising and smaller high quality production of value added products than their corporate farm counterparts.
So, when I opened my mail yesterday and found the magazine buried within a pile of junk I instantly knew what my night time reading was going to be. Even more exciting was the centerfold. Now, don’t get excited folks, this is not your traditional centerfold. This one was about dairy sheep and the making of cheese from sheep’s milk, something I’ve been interested in for a long time. The article spotlighted one particular farm—Bellwether Farms—from a coastal region north of San Francisco. But what was even more exciting than the article about how Bellwether came to be, the pasture grazing sheep or the tails about learning cheese making from the best cheese regions in Italy was a mention on their website about a cheese trail right here in California! This was exciting! Read the rest of the story »