28 January 2009

The Grand Garden Plan

I have been staying pretty close to home, watching the goats for signs of labor. I don't want to be away when they kid, with such cold temperatures this month. And although most have probably already got the garden planned out by now, January always feels a bit early up this far north, we don't see bare ground until May some years. But it was a good time to tackle the garden plan this week. And it is a good follow-up blog to the importance of keeping records, because I sure did use them.

Our garden in 2009 will be a grand .85 acre, including grains, and a small market garden. We started in this spot in 2007 with a 1/4 acre, and as a new gardener myself, I didn't have much of an idea of how much to plant of what. In 2008 we expanded to about 1/3 acre, including some bread wheat. Last year, planning and planting the garden was much eased by the added knowledge I had gained, and recorded, about how much the garden yielded and how much we ate. So this coming season, the garden is bigger than ever, with more variety. Part of me is intimidated, part excited, and part of me is confident that I can do this.
I always start the planning with the pantry. I write out a wish list, of how much I want stored in the pantry. Up here, we eat out of the pantry for at least 8 months of the year. Our diet is based on storage crops and grains. The variety is provided by delicious condiments, fermented vegetables, and herbs and spices. Even eggs, dairy and meat are seasonal in our kitchen.

I am still much improving our winter diet, with more variety and nutrition. So I got out my garden book for 2008 and began my pantry wish list for 2009/10, making adjustments to past harvests, basing my decisions on our tastes, on nutrition, on storage ability, and ease of growing/harvesting.
Once I have my pantry list, I work back, using my records on row feet and yields to guide me. Crops are grouped in families, roots, brassicas, cucurbits, tomatoes, etc. For each crop, I work out the row feet that would fulfill my pantry list. For the grain crops, I work with the average yield per acre, in our soil conditions. For example, wheat in our soil, would be expected to yield 3,000 lbs/acre. We are aiming for 400 lbs in the kitchen and for seed. So that works out to 1/8 acre. Hulless oats are lighter, and would be expected to yield, on an average year in our average soil conditions, 2,000 lbs/acre. To harvest 250 lbs, we need to plant 1/8 acre as well. Dry beans, in my garden, have been yielding about 1 lb for 10ft, at 6 inch spacing. So to grow 25 lbs of baking beans, I need to plant 250 ft. Tomatoes in my garden have been producing about 10 lbs per plant, and so on...

With this list, I begin the spacial garden plan. We rotate our crops, so I already knew generally where they would go. The grain crops go in the newly turned ground, the root crops and onions are following the heavily composted tomato plot, the potatoes are following the somewhat rough ground where the cucurbits were, etc. The condition of the soil, and crop rotation dictates where each crop will be planted the following year. As I fit the crops into our garden plot, some of the staples were expanded where room allows, to compensate for crop loss due to disease/pest/weather, and less important or experimental crops were, in some places reduced.
With the garden plan worked out, I wrote out the planting dates, and number of transplants to start. So when March comes along and it is time to start planting out the flats of seeds, I have a list of what to start, when, and how many, of what variety. This especially comes in handy with my herb garden. I have to start many of them early, especially the seed crops, caraway, dill, fennel, etc. With such a variety, it goes a lot quicker when I have it all worked out before hand. I also looked back at my notes on last year's planting dates, and frost tolerance to work out this year's planting dates for new crops like amaranth, quinoa and millet. Up here, every day counts.

Then comes the seed inventory! I have to send out a snicker to El, over at Fast Grow the Weeds who has a seed envelop fetish as well. And I'm converted to her style of envelope making. Thanks! For the most part, I've got years worth of seeds here, but I've always got a few holes, and a few varieties I am not happy with.

I haven't put my seed order in yet, but it is the smallest it has ever been, with my success in biennial seed saving. I am still looking for a good source of Chickpeas and Lentils, and searching for some Sugar Beet seeds as well. We are going to try making sugar beet syrup this year.
Now I have my garden plan posted up on the cork-board, so that I can imagine it, dream about it, and see myself planting, weeding and harvesting all of these crops!

21 January 2009

A new dawn of hope

We woke up to a gorgeous morning. Perfect snowflakes fell gently all night and dusted everything with a delicate blanket of ice crystals. We ourselves, awoke with a bright feeling of hope, after hearing Obama's inaugural speech. It is a new feeling for me to hear my president speak, with eloquence and complexity, about issues that deeply concern me. Obama, and the movement that his candidacy has inspired, has awoken in me the first genuine feelings of pride in America, and in being an American. And especially, hope in the realization of the truly revolutionary ideals of the Constitution.

Penelope has started showing signs of kidding soon. Her udder has bagged up a bit, she is producing milk, but it is not firm, as udders usually get when birthing is imminent. Also, the muscles of her pelvis have opened up a bit. You can see where I feel her spine, just behind her hip bones. When she is in early labor, the muscles here will dish out noticeably.

Late night check. The girls are quietly chewing their cud.

The importance of keeping records

Why keep records:
I began keeping milking records in the summer of 2005, when we bought our first Jersey cow. A few home dairying books had recommended keeping milk yield records, along with heat cycles and breeding dates, as an important aspect of keeping a cow. So I started to note twice-daily milking records on a calendar, and within a few months I began to see the lactation curve of my own cow, and could compare it with the yields of other Jersey cows, making it obvious to me that we had a good milker. That is an evaluation I would not have been able to conclude without having kept records.

Mr. Fritillary, with his own farming experience, encouraged me to continue keeping records, especially around feeding and health in the barnyard, and diseases or pests in the garden, as a way to apply myself to the study of animal husbandry and gardening. As I began to take more responsibility for our own health, along with the health of our flocks and soils, I began to treat my daily activities as a Masters course in homesteading. I began to apply myself to my own education, and kept records as an objective way to evaluate my own progress, and correct my mistakes. These records have also become a valuable tool for planning and setting goals.

Not knowing what information would be valuable, I began a habit of recording all kinds of information: daily temperature highs and lows, precipitation, sun, wind. Along with these daily records, I also kept close records on single events, like my first experience diagnosing and treating mastitis, writing down details about the symptoms as well as our homeopathic treatments, so that I could look back and evaluate what worked well, and what could have been done better or sooner.

Keeping records is like planting a tree, the best time to begin is always ten years ago. The value of keeping records grows with time, because they begin to reveal patterns within the circular events of revolving seasons of weather and birth/death. And by going over the data, looking for these patterns, I have been able to hone and develop important homesteading skills like observation, attention to detail, organization, and the ability to see a few steps ahead. Paying attention to our micro-climate, and the way our plants and animals respond to these conditions, will be a valuable tool in preparing for an otherwise unpredictable changing climate.

I now keep records in these categories: climate, ecology, garden, husbandry, and home economy. At the end of a month or a year I can evaluate how well we have done, and make adjustments to where we focus our efforts, and even adjust our long-term goals. Our "big plan" has changed dramatically over the three years that we have truly been homesteading. When we set out, we thought we needed 100 acres, including woods, to live by our own means, but we now know that we can do quite well on 10. The kind of intensive record keeping may sound a bit over-kill for urban gardens, or small homesteads, but I believe it is the opposite. The more limited your space, the more attention to detail you need, in order to make good use of everything you've got.

What to record, and how to use the data:
CLIMATE: I record the daily high and low temperature, precipitation, and weather events like hurricanes, hail, damaging wind. I also record the amount of sun we see each day, and days when the wind blows consistently over 15mph. This is valuable if you are looking at investing in solar or wind power. It was easy for us to discover that we do not have a reliable source of wind power here, and that solar power is only moderate, and is the kind of investment that would only just pay for itself, if at all. By comparison, every book and website on alternative energy said that our area is one of the best for wind, and over-estimates the amount of solar energy, but these numbers are based on averages over a large area, and cannot reveal the variety of micro-climates. These general observations also do not take into account climate change and airplane flight paths *link*. In recording our own data, I don't worry about exact numbers, I just mark whether we have full sun, half sun or part sun/cloud, days with less than 2 hours of sunlight I consider to be no sun. The way that I interpret the data at the end of the month is to add it up: 1 for full sun, 1/2 for half sun, 1/4 for part sun/cloud, usually adding up to between 8-14 cumulative days of sun in a month. For the solar panel, I would then calculate the number of hours of sunlight by looking in an almanac for the length of daylight, i.e. if there are 12 hours of daylight in April, and 10 cumulative days of sun, then we got 120 hours of sunlight. You can then multiply that number by the power output of a solar panel (using 50% of the continuous amperage output has been the most accurate number), and calculate how much power you would actually get out of a solar panel. With these kinds of specific numbers, you would be able to make an informed decision about whether it is a worthwhile investment, or whether you should look into other sources of power, including purchasing green power. I still keep records on the length of sunshine because it has proved valuable data for the garden and egg production.

I also work out the weekly and monthly averages for temperature, and monthly and yearly precipitation data. In this way I have been able to see our own weather patterns, I know to expect a melt in the first week of January, and to expect a deep-freeze in the third week of January. I can look back at March temperatures when planning a greenhouse for starting seeds, or building kidding pens. I also start to learn the extreme ends of the temperature and precipitation scale, which helps us select seed varieties or breeds.

ECOLOGY: I keep records of frost dates, the day the leaves bud, and the week they turn color, the day all the dandelions bloom, the day all the red clover blooms (these bloom dates would prove valuable for beekeeping), I record bird migrations, and the day the mosquitoes come out in clouds, the night the peepers start singing, and the day I see the first wild bees. Some of these records help me to keep an eye on how climate change is affecting our local area. But the migrating birds and bats also play a role in our gardens and fields, as predators for our main insect pests. Mosquitoes, blackflies and horseflies can be a major hindrance to outside work, and grazing animals. By keeping these records, we can be sure to have certain outside jobs done, avoiding the few weeks of intensive breeding and feeding for each insect species. For two years straight, the blackflies have come out in full force on a Wednesday, in the third week of May, not the same date, but exactly the same day of the year. The mosquitoes as well, are fully out on a Friday, either the last of May or the first one of June. I did not expect that kind of precision in the insect world, but now that I know, I try to get the garden planted before the blackflies come out, and we finish fencing and spring firewood before the mosquitoes come out. I also keep track of wild crops that I like to harvest, fiddleheads, red clover, hops, pin cherries, apples, blueberries so that I know when and where to look for them.

GARDEN: I keep close records of planting dates for each crop, as well as the date of emergence so that I can evaluate the germination vigor of my seed. Fruiting dates, meaning the first mature peas or beans, etc, or the first green tomatoes, cross referenced with the temperature averages can reveal whether we are starting our tomatoes early or late. Crop harvests cross referenced with planted row feet, will give you an indication of yield, in order to be efficient with garden space and compost, and be more precise in meeting your needs. Generic yield numbers can be found in gardening books, but they can vary widely, it is more valuable to know specifically how a certain variety produces in your soil and climate. In this way, from year to year, you can evaluate gardening techniques, soil amendments and varieties, whether they improve your crops or invite pests and disease. I record not only the frost date, but the exact temperature, and how each type of crop was affected, so that I know the frost hardiness of each crop. Pests and diseases also arrive with clockwork regularity, I know when to expect potato beetles and cucumber beetles, and that larvae begin hatching 21 days from the day I see the first adult beetle, this gives me time to prepare, and to watch for beneficials. I am also getting to know when soil diseases like potato blight appear, and when root maggots begin to damage carrots, in this way, I can adjust planting dates, and I know when to harvest the crop for root cellaring, instead of just leaving it in the ground as long as possible. I also record the appearance of any beneficials in the garden: toads, insect-eating snakes, bats, birds, insect-eating voles, and predatory insects. In this way I am becoming familiar with my garden ecology and how to encourage the beneficials. I also keep close records on seed saving. Cross-referencing the garden data with the climate data gives me a lot of important information on how to use the local climate as an advantage in the garden, for example, if I know the hottest week of the year, and the days to maturity of each crop, I can plant the cold crops like peas and lettuce to finish by that week, and I can start the peppers and tomatoes to take the best advantage of that heat. The most valuable tool I am building with this garden data is a planning calendar, organizing each job in the season, and allowing me to see at a glance what needs to be done each week.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY: Records on yields, whether milk, eggs, or meat, helps us choose breeds for our specific conditions, and evaluate the performance of individual animals, which is necessary for making decisions about which animals to breed or cull. Notes describing the growth, health and condition of our animals, in different seasons or stages in pregnancy and lactation, are especially important in selecting animals for breeding. And keeping records on the amount, variety, and protein of feeds, cross referenced with production and health records, reveals performance, along with helping us plan the amount and type of grain and fodder crops to plant. I also make note of the first day our animals are on pasture, and likewise in the fall, the first day we begin supplementing fading pastures with hay. Recording as well, how much hay we feed out in a year, for each type of animal. Illness and disease, especially in breeding or dairy animals, must be closely attended and recorded. We use homeopathics and herbal remedies, with much success, but these methods are dependent on close observation and catching symptoms early, which is aided by records on appetite and production yields during a state of health. Any deviation from the norm alerts me to the possibility of illness.

HOME ECONOMY: This category includes basic budgeting information, income and expenses. I have found it to be valuable to categorize our expenses, so that I can see where we are spending our money, and therefore, where and how to focus our efforts to reduce our expenses. But it also includes a close account of our pantry. When we get the final harvest numbers, I write out a food budget. I work out how long we need a certain food to last, and then I can see how much we can use in a month. That way I can plan my meals in a way that takes best advantage of the seasonal food, and make sure that we do not run out of an important food group like green vegetables or tomatoes (a good source of Vitamin C in the winter). In this way, I have also learned how much food of each type of food we need to put away each year, so that we can plan the next garden in a way that nourishes us well. Likewise I record storage qualities of varieties in the root cellar.

Homesteading is, in part, an art of living well, within limits, and finding a balance of scale that does not put too much stress on any one part, at the cost of other aspects. Recording this kind of data I've described is a simple chore, one that becomes routine by habit. But the true value of this data has to be brought out, like polishing it to a shine. By intelligently interpreting the simple data, any gardener or homesteader can create their own "how to" book that applies specifically to their own conditions. As you begin to keep records, you will be able to see for yourself what kinds of records are useful for your home, barn and garden. It removes the guess work, under-estimations, and costly surpluses that can discourage, or even defeat, the good intention of growing your own food.

16 January 2009

Sweet Curry Kabocha Type Winter Squash

For the third winter in a row, I have noted in my records that the third week of January brings a cold-snap, and the coldest nights of the year. This morning we woke up to -30C or -22F (-40C/-40F with the wind chill). And it looks to be the same for the next two nights. It gets hard on the animals when it gets this cold, but it's only for a week. Our average winter nights are in the -10 to -15C range (5-15F).
We had some light freezing rain that is still clinging to the branches of the trees, and catches the light beautifully.

Our goats are due to kid anytime, and I have been hoping that they will wait out the cold snap. So far so good, they have not made udders yet, but they could spring just before going into labor. They look to be about as wide as they can get. Every morning I check them over, feeling the right side where the kids are, for movement, or any changes. Feel the udder for any changes, and to get them used to being milked by me. Look into their eyes and noses to catch any symptoms of illness, runny eyes or noses, etc. I feel down the spine, a few inches past the hip bones, to feel for any sign of early labor, the muscles of the pelvis will shift, and there will be a hollow along either side of the spine during early labor. And I look under the tail, both for any sign of loose stools, as well as any changes to the vulva, the earliest sign of labor is often clear discharge, and a swollen and red vulva.

They are in excellent health and good condition, and the weather is going to turn early next week, so if all goes well the kids will be born on a warm winter day, with mild nights to follow.

Our storage crops are keeping well in the cold room, potatoes, onions, carrots and squash. Along with some beets, turnips, mangles, and carrots that will be replanted in spring for seed saving. The sweet potatoes didn't make it past New Year, but they never had a chance to properly cure. I am rethinking my desire to grow more sweet potatoes, because keeping qualities are so important for us. While perusing the seed catalogues, I came across the Bush Delicata squash which is said to taste like sweet potatoes. We can grow squash easily here, and the right varieties will keep all the way through May.

Two summers ago, a friend gave us a winter squash seed variety that she called Curry. It is a Kabocha type, with dry, deep orange flesh, and excellent keeping qualities. They are 3-4 lb squash, which is good in our climate, because they have a chance to fully ripen. The plants have shown wonderful resistance to powdery mildew, and they each produce 5-6 squash.

There were a few late ripeners with a thin rind, and I have been using those up first, as they will be the first to rot. So we are just getting into the good keepers now, and not a single one has signs of rotting. But when you open one of these up, you understand why, they have a rind like a gourd on them 1/8" thick. Pretty hard to slice open, but they can easily be roasted whole.

The flesh is a gorgeous orange, and very sweet, especially roasted, it smells like caramelized sugar, so I like to call them Sweet Curry squash. And it has a delicate dry texture, like mashed potatoes. My favorite way to prepare the flesh is roasted, and whipped with 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup applesauce. Salt to your liking, and sprinkle with a touch of thyme or sweet marjoram if desired.

12 January 2009

Hand-Maiden Brassiere

A few years ago I was in town shopping, and stopped at the discount clothing store to replace my worn sports-type bras that I wore for working in the garden, fields or barns. They ware out pretty quickly, and like everything else I purchase new, I am conflicted between keeping within my modest budget, and purchasing socially-responsible goods, which are often, for good reason, more expensive. The simple cotton bras and underwear I was eyeing, and deliberating over, were made in Bangladesh. Immediately I could imagine the young girls and older women, working long days in poor conditions for little pay to make these articles. And then, I could see the fields of Monsanto cotton, being grown all over the Indian countryside as they hit the peak, and subsequent collapse, of their own "green revolution" in chemical farming. These fields not only poison the ground, and destroy the ecology, but also make the poorly-paid cotton pickers ill with skin diseases and cancer. I put the neatly wrapped and innocent-looking packet down.

Having a sewing machine, and knitting needles at my use, I often make certain articles of our clothing, and buy most everything else second-hand. Bras and underwear were pretty much the only things I bought new, but had never thought of making at home. I could see no reason why I shouldn't be able to make these simple articles, and I could easily see that by making them at home, it would help to resolve the issue of purchasing socially and environmentally responsible goods within a limited budget. Everything that we can produce from home, leaves more in the budget to shop responsibly for what we cannot produce, or have not yet challenged ourselves to produce. There are of course "foods" like coffee, black tea, chocolate, cinnamon that will not grow in our latitude without a heated greenhouse, but which can be easily purchased, for a slight premium, fairly-traded, organic, shade-grown and slave-free. Then there are purchases like the pressure canner, grain mill, generator, etc which we cannot easily produce from home, without something like a community workshop, but with enough room in the budget we can at least purchase a high-quality product that will last a life-time (or at least a long-time). This is my motivation to make as many things at home as I possibly can, adding more and more each year as I get comfortable with newly acquired skills. Even if making it myself will only save us $30 a year, something like vinegar or herbal teas, this $30 here and there will make the difference between buying a year's supply of discount brand cocoa powder, which was likely produced with slave labor in the Ivory Coast, or buying slave-free organic cocoa powder. And that makes a real difference.

Besides, the bras and underwear I have made are incomparably more comfortable, more durable, and more beautiful than those I would have bought. The plain cotton ones, overlooking social and environmental issues, make me feel poor when I wear them. My hand-made bras and underwear are luxurious by comparison, and like the good food on our table, adds a richness and quality to our lives.

I have experimented with a few prototypes and designs, I was drawn to knitting the undergarments, and found a few patterns on-line, that I have since modified and adapted to my own design. This last week or two I have finally made two bras, based on a simple design, that I am thrilled with, and will share. I am going to tackle the underwear next, I have knit a few using a cotton yarn, and am almost happy with the result. But I am also trying a few simply made on the sewing machine. I will post those results when I am happy with the design.

These bras are knitted without seams, on straight needles size 4.5cm, US size 7, for the purple one, and 3.5cm, US size 4, for the blue one, as the blue yarn is much thinner. For best results you will need access to a sewing machine, the backing band could be sewn by hand, but it would be more difficult. With a sewing machine you can hold a consistent tension between the stretchable knitted fabric and the woven backing. The most useful way to describe the design, is to give measurements, and allow you to work out the number of stitches based upon the gauge of the yarn and needles you choose. Any basic knitting instructions in a book or on a website would tell you how to find the gauge (stitches per inch), if you are a beginning knitter. Do not be intimidated, it is very simple. Once you have your gauge, multiply the number of stitches per inch by the given measurement. If your gauge is 6 stitches per inch, and the measurement is 6", then knit 36 stitches in a row.

I made the purple one first, with the buttons in front it opens enough to put on over my head, but I recommend the design of the blue one, with button closures in the back. The purple one is knitted in garter stitch, to save the trouble of blocking the finished piece, and because the yarn I chose was lumpy and thick, this is more of a cold-weather bra. It is warmer, and beneath thick tops and sweaters, the lumpy texture is invisible. The blue bra is knitted in stockinette stitch, with a soft thin yarn, and can be worn beneath clingy summer tops.

First measure your ribcage, just below your breasts. If you measure between 28-32 inches, you will be able to follow these directions closely, if you are outside of this range you will have to adjust the measurements accordingly. The final length of the knitted piece will be a few inches short of your ribcage measurement because when you sew on the backing band, you will lightly stretch the knitted fabric to match.

Cast on a number of stitches, in your gauge, that will give you 1 inch. I will give the instructions in stockinette stitch, but you can work it in any stitch you choose, adding a lace pattern or decorative edging. I slip the first stitch of every row to make a neat edge. The measurements given below are when the piece is held loosely, not stretched out. Knit until the piece reaches 4" long (for 28-30 ribcage), 4 1/4" (for 30-32 ribcage). Begin increasing one stitch, every row. Increase only on one edge of the piece so that the other edge remains straight. I increase with a yarn-over between the last two stitches on the RS of the work, and between the first two stitches on the WS of the work, knitting (or purling) into the back of the yarn-over so that it does not leave a hole in the piece. Increase until the piece reaches 5 1/2" wide (calculate the number of stitches in your gauge) for A-cup, 6" for B-cup, 6 1/2" for C-cup and so on. Continue to knit straight for 3". Begin deceasing one stitch every row, again on the same edge as the increases, until the piece reaches 3 1/2" wide (according to your gauge). Knit straight for 1 1/2" (28-30 ribcage), 2" (30-32 ribcage). Begin increase, and work in reverse order for the other cup. When you get back to your original number of stitches for 1", knit straight for 3 1/2" (28-30 ribcage) 3 3/4" (30-32 ribcage), then make two button-holes in a single row, one near the beginning and one near the end of the row. For example, knit 3 stitches, yarn over, knit two together. Knit until 5 stitches remain, knit two together, yarn over, knit 3 stitches. Finish final 1/2", and bind-off. Your finished piece should measure about 3" less than your ribcage measurement.

For the straps, knit I-cord, using 2mm, US size 1, double-pointed needles. You will need only two needles. Leaving a 6" tail, cast on three stitches, do not turn, simply slide the stitches (now on the left end of your right-hand needle) over to the right end of the same needle. Without turning, switch needles so that the stitches are in your left hand. Bring the yarn behind the work and knit into the first stitch, working across the row as usual. Slide and switch needles. Keep working until the cord reaches about 16" when stretched to full length, and bind off. Leave a 6" tail on the end. Make two straps. Attach to the middle of the cup in the front, and 3" from either end in the back. This cord will stretch a bit when it is first worn, and you will want it to be well fitted to your own shoulders since it is not adjustable. So when you attach the straps to the bra, keep track of your bound-off edge, attaching it to the back of the bra loosely, so that you will be able to make a final adjustment.

If you have knitted in stockinette, your piece will need to be blocked. When it is dry, sew on the backing band. For the backing band, take your ribcage measurement, and add 1/2" to make room for the button closure. Use any type of non-stretch material, woven fabric is best, a wide ribbon will work as well. If you need to hem the piece, do so now, so that it measures 1" wide, and the length of your ribcage + 1/2". Make wide hems at the ends to allow for the button-holes. I probably did a clumsy button-hole, there are more professional ways to make them I am sure, but I simply cut two small button-sized slits, matching the placement of the button-holes in the knitted piece, sewed around the edge of the holes, and trimmed the loose fringes inside the holes to make it neat. When your backing is ready, start by pinning the two ends in place, careful to match the button-holes. Then take the two ends in one hand, and stretch the knitted bra to meet the backing, and pin it in place in the middle. Then work around, pinning in between until there is one pin placed every 2", and the backing and bra match up. Now begin to sew, using a sewing needle specifically for knits if you have one. You should still have the loose tails of the straps hanging out, make sure not to sew these into the backing. Hold tension along the length of the bra as you sew, turn and sew along the other edge. Fix the buttons in place.

Now try the bra on, and test whether the straps are the right length. Do not leave them too loose, or the straps will slip off your shoulders. Test it by putting your finger under the strap at the top of your shoulder, and if you can easily lift the strap away, then detach the cord from the back, and work back as many rows as will give you the right fit. Make it just a little tighter than you think, and wear the bra for a few hours before you make any final adjustment. When you are satisfied with the fit, tie off your straps with a knot and work all ends in. Take note of any areas you would adjust to create your own custom pattern, for future use. Hand wash in warm water with mild detergent, dry flat.

09 January 2009

Tally up for 2008

It is almost impossible to equate the products from our homestead to the purchased "equivalent", especially when it comes to food. Likewise, it is nearly impossible to compare the quality of life and health we experience at home, on our homestead, to the "quality of life" as measured by income and assets. But still, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to calculate the market equivalent of what we produced at home, for our own use. I did not include anything that we produced for income or barter.

The categories are similar to the harvest notes on the right-hand sidebar of this blog. I did my best not to double up, for instance, I priced out the green beans as fresh, and did not count them again in the pantry as canned beans. But for things like wild pin-cherry fruit leather, I priced out the fruit leather, not the fresh fruit. I used organic market prices for 2008, wherever I could find price lists on the net.

I'm pretty impressed with the total, especially with the knowledge that it will be a higher number next year, if all goes well in the garden and fields. Of course, producing this much at home, keeps us close to home, and with such a variety of crops, each requiring time out of the season, it limits our ability to grow "cash crops." But at the same time it decreases the amount of cash we need to earn. For those who are curious, we keep our basic cost of living at around $2000 a year, including utilities, food, transportation, household purchases, and farm purchases: we live simply, but not without comfort. This does not include investments in equipment or one time purchases like the solar panel, etc. This is a sum we are quite capable of producing out of the garden and selling locally, without restricting our ability to produce high-quality products for ourselves. It also makes us pretty invulnerable to changes in the economic and employment climate.

Vegetables Harvested 2008 (Including fresh fruit)
TOTAL $4752.60

Staples 2008 (Dairy, eggs, meat and grains for the kitchen)
TOTAL $7898

In the Pantry 2008 (Including dried or preserved fruit, soap, vinegar etc. But preserved veg and pickles are not counted twice, they are priced as fresh vegetables)
TOTAL $1050.50

Saved Seed 2008 (Including grains and potatoes)
TOTAL $823

Herbs and Teas 2008 (dried only, fresh herbs included in vegetables)
TOTAL $296.65

Animal Feed 2008 (Grains, hay, mangles)
TOTAL $2675

Wood (firewood and chainsawn lumber)
TOTAL $2000

Grand Total

05 January 2009

Rest Well Tea

We have a favorite Sleepy Tea recipe, it works best on an over-active or worried mind that will not let a tired body rest. Some herbs that claim to promote sleep, Valerian for example, work on the body, and not on the mind. For us, it is usually the mind that will not go to sleep, when we are awake at all hours discussing various social, ecological, economic problems, from the macro to the micro. It is on these nights, especially during the winter when we do not get as much physical exercise to activate the body's natural sleep hormones, that we nightly drink this tea. Within a half-hour it begins to calm the mind, also promoting digestion, allowing the body and mind to rest well.

Here's the ingredients: alfalfa, catnip, hops, mint, red clover, skullcap. Alfalfa is a tonic, and helps us stay healthy through the winter. Catnip is a mild stimulant for some, and a sleep inducer for others, so try a cup of Catnip tea first to see how it interacts with your own body. Hops promotes digestion and sleep. Mint also is a mild stimulant, but in small amounts has a calming effect, and promotes digestion, as well as adding flavor and aroma to the tea. Red clover, like alfalfa is a health tonic, and is a mild sweetener (it will also help clear up hay fever). Skullcap is the main sleep inducing herb in the mix.

This is the ratio that we like, but you can customize it to your own liking. 4 parts Skullcap, 4 parts Alfalfa, 3 parts Hops, 3 parts Red clover, 1 part Mint, 1 part Catnip. Measure it out by spoonful, or use a small scale and measure by weight. 1 part Lemon Balm could be added to the mix. I don't have any dried this winter, but it is a wonderfully calming herb.

We use one teaspoon per cup of not-quite-boiling water, and cover while steeping. (Pouring boiling water over herbs can destroy or evaporate volatile oils, essentially the active ingredients in herbal teas. Likewise, allowing the steam to vent-off uncovered can dissipate the volatile oils.) Drink when warm. REST WELL!

Disclaimer: For those who are familiar with their herbs, the ones listed above are obviously benign, but for those looking for miracles or are unfamiliar with herbal teas... Seek the advice of your own doctor or herbalist before using this tea.

02 January 2009

Goals for 2009

2009 is going to be a rough year for most, I hope that it draws together communities and families, to take care of each other. I hope it clears our collective eyes of all the clutter, and reminds us of what is really important: a possible future for the children on this planet, and food, shelter, dignity and peace for every human.

The end of December and the beginning of January are always the slow weeks for us. It is dark and cold, and we are recovering from the busy growing season. This time is necessary for us to regenerate and reinvigorate.
The fierce feline hunters cuddle up to Blackie in his box, some mornings the little grey one is actually sleeping on Blackie's back.

The rest of the winter gives us some time to focus on interests outside of gardening and homesteading, as well as time to plan for the upcoming season. I love to plan out the garden and make plans for the livestock we keep. Mr. Fritillary takes on the larger homesteading "systems" like our power system, or growing/harvesting/threshing grains.

Our goals in the garden are to continue expanding our small grain and pulse production. For cereals, along with wheat, we are also going to grow a crop of hulless oats and spelt. And our pulse crops will include a larger crop of baking beans and dry peas, as well as chickpeas and lentils. I want to try quinoa again, our crop in 2008 failed to produce seed in time for the frost, but we had an early severe frost this fall. After seeing how frost tolerant it is, I will plant at least a week earlier in the spring as well.

The additions in the vegetable garden are minimal, a new variety of pole bean, and paprika peppers. The rest will be just about the same, but I would like to grow more cabbage, sweet potatoes, beets and parsnips. I hope to improve the yield in my onion crop by amending the soil with potassium (from wood ashes). I lost my ground cherry crop to the frost last fall, not a single ripe one, but they struggled to germinate in the spring and I knew they were a bit late. I may have to begin again with purchasing seed since the germination rate of my saved seed was so low.

In the herb garden I'll be adding a few new medicinals, as well as allocating more space for culinary herbs. I am determined to get some fennel seed, I started some indoors last spring, but not early enough I suppose.

And I will be doing more seed saving, especially with the biennials. I have some turnips, beets, carrots, mangles, and onions in storage to be planted for seed in the spring. I also have one cabbage in storage, pulled with the root ball and all, to replant in spring for seed. I left some parsley in the ground to go to seed in the spring, and I mulched over a row of chard and kale hoping it will make it through winter to produce seed in the spring. I am also going to start a lettuce seed bed as early in the spring as possible. Lettuce and radish are long season seed producers, and this fall I lost my radish and the larger part of my lettuce seed crops to the frost.

We are also expanding our variety of grain and fodder crops for the livestock in 2009. Along with wheat and oats, we are planning to grow peas for grain and hay, for both the chickens and goats. Millet, amaranth and sunflower for the chickens. And more mangles for the goats and rabbits.

Our plans for livestock are to keep our two does, and possibly get two ewes, and 2 or 3 doe rabbits in the fall. We will be looking for some ducks in the spring, hopefully some duck eggs to incubate ourselves, somewhere between 12-20. We will also be breeding our young flock of hens and either incubating the eggs or letting a clucky hen hatch them out herself. Going into winter next year we will keep the flock down to 6 hens and a rooster and 6 ducks and a drake.

Our other major project for 2009, Mr. Fritillary's terrain, is to design/build a bicycle generator and/or a horse-powered treadmill (literally a treadmill for the horse), to replace our gas-powered generator. We spent $400 on gas in 2008 (at an average of $1.15 per Liter), $300 in 2007, and we could make one or both of these generators for about that much. The horse treadmill is a bit more complex to build, but it would truly replace the gas generator, producing an equivalent amount of power, and it would give Pilgrim, our standard bred workhorse, something to do in the winter. He actually gets bored and cramped in by the deep snow, and would be a happier, healthier horse for the exercise.

It seems to me that Pilgrim remembers being cramped up by the barn due to the 4-5 feet of snow on the ground through most of last winter, so every time it snows it is as if he is out getting one last romp around the fields.

I have really enjoyed starting this blog, and beginning to build an online community, and will continue to write about our experiences and experiments with homesteading in a brave new world.

01 January 2009

Wiping the slate clean

So 2008's harvest is now removed from the sidebar, and I've posted it here for posterity. May the new growing season be more bountiful than the last.

Vegetables Harvested 2008
Beets 36.5 lb
Broad Beans 6.5 lb
Broccoli heads 1.5lb
Brussels Sprouts 2.5 lb
Cabbage 9 lb
Carrots 400 lb
Cauliflower 5 lb
Cucumber (slicing) 42 lb
Cucumber (pickling) 70.25 lb
Fennel bulbs 3 lb
Fresh Greens: unlimited (mesculun salad, spinach, chard, kale, fresh herbs). Roughly 4 lbs/ wk for 4 months
Green Beans 103.75 lb
Leek 3 lb
Onion 133.5 lb
Peas (shelled) 34 lb
Potatoes 661 lb
Pumpkin 154 lb
Squash 193 lb
Sweet Potato 52.5 lb
Tomatoes 183.5 lb
Turnip 43.5 lb
Watermelon just one 3 lb
Zucchini 35 lb

Staples 2008
Eggs 12 a day average
Butter 2 lb a week average
Whole milk 2 liters a day
Fresh cheese 3 lb a week average (plus whey for chickens)
Beef 100 lb
Chicken 44 lb
Bread wheat 300 lb
Rye for kitchen 30 lb
Split Peas 6 lb
Baking Beans 6.5 lb
Popcorn 3.75 lb
Pumpkin Seed 2 lb
Poppy Seed .5 lb
Rye 450 lb for feed
Oats 2000 lb for feed
Wheat 1000 lb for feed
Hay 250 bales clover and timothy
Mangles 200 lb
6 Cords Firewood

Wild Fruit 2008
Apples 650 lb
Blueberries 22 lb
Chokecherries 8 lb
Pin Cherries 6 lb

Herbs and Teas 2008
Alfalfa 200 g dried
Catnip 130 g dried
Comfrey 32 g dried
Mint 45 g dried
Mullein 20 g dried
Oregano 125 g dried
Red Clover 160 g dried
Sage 40 g dried
Scullcap 85 g dried
Thyme 40 g dried

Saved Seed 2008
Andover Parsnip: 55g
Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry: packet
Batchelor's Buttons: packet
Bloomsdale Spinach: 10g
Calendula: 20g
Carmen Sweet Pepper: packet
Cherry Fox Tomato: packet
Corriander: 20g
Dill: packet
Garden Sweet Cucumber: 10g
Giant Russian Sunflower: 60g
Green Windsor Broad Bean: 70g
Hulless Oats: 175g
Hungarian Hot Wax Pepper: packet
Jacob's Cattle Baking Bean: 600g
Latah Tomato: packet
Mauve Flowering Poppy Seed: 20g
Mesculun Lettuce Mix: packet
Naked Seeded Pumpkin: 90g
Pickles Cucumber: 10g
Popcorn: 275g
Potatoes (5 varities): 100 lbs
Proso Millet: 130g
Provider Green Bean: 500g
Roma Tomato: packet
Sage: packet of tiny seeds
Scarlet Nantes Carrot: 20g
St. Hubert Dry Peas: 150g
Sugar Baby Watermelon: 5g
Thompson Shelling Peas: 540g
Thyme: packet of tiny seeds
Toma Verde Tomatillo: packet
Wild Carraway: 10g
Yellow Plumb Tomato: packet

In the Pantry 2008
Applesauce 32 Quarts
Garden Tomato Sauce 12 Pints
Spicy Tomato Sauce 3 Quarts, 14 Half pints
Garlic and Pepper Tomato Sauce 15 Pints
Just Tomato Sauce 10 Half Pints
Tomato Apple Chutney 14 Pints
Apple Mint Butter 9 Pints
Beef Stock 15 Quarts
Beef 31 Quarts, 30 Pints
Chicken Stock 22 Quarts
Chicken 28 Pints, 5 Half pints
Bread and Butter Pickles 8 Quarts
Shelled Peas 3 Quarts, 25 Pints
Green Beans 41 Quarts, 10 Pints
Dried Apple Rings 2.5 lb
Dried Fruit Leather 3.75 lb
Dried Blueberries 2.5 lb
Dried Tomatoes .5 lb