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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’


Two days in the life last week, by the numbers:

48 hours.

13 sleeping.

10.5 at work. More time from home reading, writing, and answering emails.

4 hours on my bike (28 miles).

7 or more hours shoveling wood chip mulch after work (a truckload or two at least? The pile has sort of mushed together so I’m not sure how many loads there are…).

2 dog walks.

2 pots of coffee.

9 eggs from the hens.

in the kitchen: raspberry custard pies, blanched tomatoes for salsa, dehydrated 10 trays of eggplant and other veggies, sauteed and froze two gallon bags of eggplant, sliced cukes for pickles, and of course dishes, cleaning…

Whew! Now back to the kitchen- need to make those tomatoes into salsa and can it up, check the stock that’s in the crock pot, fill the dehydrator with more onions or potatoes, check the bees, take the salsa scraps out to the chickens, do a load of laundry, feed the worm bins, make something for dinner and the fellow’s lunch tomorrow, maybe surprise him by stapling up some insulation in the ceiling before he gets home, and if there’s any daylight left, work on stripping the front door trim for a bit.

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studio redux

The first Open Studio was a success, and we’ll definitely be doing it again next month! We somehow forgot that it was a holiday weekend until we’d scheduled, but plenty of folks came out anyway. We sold and exchanged some goods and goodies, made some new friends, and perhaps most importantly, made huge headway in creating order from chaos at both the studio and the cabin. We’ll be bringing more treasures from the house to the studio and doubling down next month… so stay tuned! And let us know if you’d like to stop by before then for a sneak-peak or pre-sale options. :-)

Otherwise, we spent our Labor Day labors focusing on the house project with renewed vigor- the fellow made massive inroads on the organization and stuff-purging fronts in preparation for rehanging the insulation in the first floor ceiling, and I got 3/4’s of the front door trim stripped of 110 years worth of paint layers. The Silent Paint Remover is my new favorite toy- that, plus a good coating of citrus stripper gel, has revealed that we have decent looking wood trim with detailing that was hidden under a centimeter or so of paint-crud. Win! Wrapped that up in time for nightfall and the arrival of a couple friends to grill some dogs and sausages, chitchat, entertain the wee-one (our friend’s dino-obsessed 7 year old) and enjoy some birthday cake (now, with Zucchini!) and ice cream in our buddies honor. Good times.

It finally rained at about 4 this morning, after being oppressively muggy and overcast for two days (yesterday was gorgeous though, while still hot). Last weekend we filled up almost 800 gallons in the rain tanks off of one half of the roof during Sunday’s all day drizzle and downpour… haven’t checked the level in the big tank this morning but should be enough to get the garden through till the next fill. How’s your early fall garden doing? We’re finally getting tomatoes, and endless eggplant… time to start planting fall and winter greens and other goodies!

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If wishes were horses…


I just finished taking an online class with Sharon Astyk called “Adapting in Place”. I’d highly recommend it, or any of her classes! Lots of hard questions from Sharon and informative discussions with the other folks in the class. One of the wrap-up prompts was, “What is your dream? What would you want if there were no constraints?” At about the same time, Jenna from Cold Antler Farm posted again imploring readers to write down their dreams and carry them around with them, and not to be afraid to ask for the moon and take small steps to get there. So here we go…

City mouse, country mouse dreams- city mouse: First, finish our little cabin- with lots of insulation, LED lighting and energy efficient appliances, and reused materials wherever we can find or employ them so we can stay warmer in winter, cooler in summer while using as few resources as possible. The first floor is open and you enter into a broad space with the fellow’s wood barrister bookcases and the rolling library ladders surrounding the wood stove lined with all our favorite books, the big barn wood dining room table in the center and the kitchen in the back all open to each other… a small bathroom added and a big pantry where the old bathroom was so we can feed all our friends. Good music, good food, and a trickling stream of good company fill our days as our friends stop in to say hello. The front bay window is a captain’s bed nook where our friends who’d like to stay longer or who came from afar can crash out…

We somehow buy up a bunch of the vacant homes in our neighborhood (there are a LOT of them), do energy-efficient retrofits and rehabs on them, and rent them inexpensively to other urban homesteaders willing to commit to growing at least some of their own food, reducing their car usage, and interested in learning real life skills and building a resilient and vibrant local community of all colors, ages, and avocations. Actually start teaching the classes that I’ve been dreaming and debating about for years- cooking from scratch, canning, food storage, backyard farming, brewing, soap making, etc. etc… Organize a goat-herd co-op, where member-neighbors take turns tending a small flock of Nigerian Dwarf goats and grazing them on vacant lots with portable fencing. Start a store that sells actual food in our neighborhood- bulk staples and fresh produce, canning jars and tools, not bags of chips and ho-hos, white owls and mad dog. Reach out to the neighbors we already have, who we’re starting to get to know better, and bring them along on the crazy ride.

Country mouse? At least ten acres, mix of wooded and tillable land, preferably with a clean canoeable river either bordering it or within walking distance (or rather, portaging distance), and/or a large lake nearby. The fellow has had his canoe stored in his parents’ garage for years, and I’ve never been out on a small craft, though I grew up a short bike ride from a lake where we spent most of our summer nights. Nothing is more freeing or refreshing on a hot night than floating and splashing, working up a shark-like appetite, and then cooking a simple dinner on an open fire on the bank. Somewhere with more stars than you can count on two hands. Same goats, chickens, bees, gardens, and classes… plus I can have a large pony or a small horse and learn to ride, oh, bliss! We’d have room to grow veggies and staples- potatoes, onions, even a pancake patch (we’ve been joking down at the Plant about planting a pasta tree… but everyone knows that bread comes from grass. I think Whitman told us that… bread is life, and all flesh is grass).

We park a shipping container or two for storage if the property doesn’t come with outbuildings, and put up a yurt while we build a strawbale or earth-sheltered house if there isn’t already an old farmhouse to restore… or if it’s near the Catskills, our cousin can build us an Earthship… if we have an invisible zoning/building inspector forcefield, that is. Hey, we’re dreaming here, we make the rules! For that matter, we could have 100 acres, divide it up, and recreate the family farm where I grew up (now mostly sold except for my dad’s parcel), hopefully somewhere with a better climate and bring everyone I love together. Reaaal hot down in the southern Ozarks now… and I’d get to see my family more than once or twice a year, work with them, and watch my baby nieces and nephew grow up in real life and not just in facebook photos, to really be a part of their lives and not someone they see at holidays.

This land would be within ten miles of a liberally-minded small to medium sized town with a good coffee shop, a cafe or three, and two small grocery stores. A theater would be nice, and a small college with a big library. It snows enough for snowshoes (and sleds! and sleigh rides!) but not all the time. The spinach and kale are sweet and fine in the shelter of the hoophouse, and it gets hot enough in the summer to grow good tomatoes and a tan. There are other farmers nearby using “real” horsepower who will teach us to farm with drafts… my grandpa (“Poppy”) had a mule but it was long before my time. My dad remembers it, but he was barely old enough to walk behind the plow and search for arrowheads, and it was retired for a tractor while he was a small boy- I have a few of these hand-hewn sharp points of flint and lime, and I treasure them- a link to the past even older than the hundred or more years my family farmed that land… a reminder that others once lived off of and loved it too.

Ok, someone pinch me. What’s your dream? Your perfect place? What would you do if there were no one to tell you no, no budget woes, nothing between you and your ideal life? And what can you do to start making it real?

For us, starting small- we’re holding open studios, a space for exchange of goods, ideas, and good will, starting this Sunday, Sept. 2nd from 11-4. The next will be on the 16th. And we’ll continue every first and third Sunday assuming all goes well. Possible BBQ afterward at the farmhouse… let me know if you don’t know where we are and want to stop by!

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This is the sunrise I woke up to yesterday… I shuffled out to the coop with my coffee, to supervise the dog’s chicken surveillance, and was half tempted to get back in bed with a book for a bit… until I looked up. Whoa. Gorgeous! And, with the distant rumblings, a tad ominous. The top of the day’s to-do list was muck out the chicken coop bedding, spread the composted outside stuff on the garden, move the cleaner stuff from in the covered run to outside, and spread fresh straw all around… and if I was going to get that done before a possible downpour, that book would have to wait. This was the sky a few minutes after the first picture:

The dead tree behind the neighbor’s house makes this look like a January shot, not late August, eh? A good reminder to get to work, woman! Three hours later, the coop was fresh and I had a whole ‘barrow full of black magic for the garden, which is finally recovering from the rocky start this year:

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Why, no, I am NOT delicious sauteed with tomatoes, basil and zucchini.

He totally just grew that way. Grin and all.

Oh hey, Mr. SunFlower Face. Hang here often?

Ok. Ok, I fess up (lest I sprout a Cyranno-like schnoz-protuberance of my own). I carved the face. The nose was all nature’s work though. Got any garden oddities of your own to share?

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Look Sharp

Thursday evening, and as the last day’s light was waning I was towing a red kiddie trailer home (aka, The Crap Wagon as it hauls recycling, groceries, farm stuff, and soaps and sundries to market with admirable aplomb for its $20 Maxwell St. lineage). I was huffing into a headwind, heavily loaded for the seven-mile haul (no hills) with groceries for Memorial Day grilling, a BIG bag of sawdust, and a bale of straw (as Alefellow was prepping the beef chuck and pork chops to feed into the grinder for his specialty burgers, he asked… “why are there bits of straw in the grocery bag?”… hehe).  The sawdust was for the chicken run, and the straw to be doled out to nest-box lining and should see us through the summer and into the fall crop of grain… unless the spent-grain/straw-culture mushroom bag technique I try out is successful, in which case I’ll be buying at least another bale from my chicken feed guy (I alternate buying stuff from Backyard Chicken Run and Belmont Feed and Seed… both family businesses that I want to have around in the future!)… this bale I’d bartered from the mycologist at work for egg-futures, and would be the last she could spare until we can source more… which right now, is like buying winter hay.

As I ride past our studio a couple blocks from our house (where I am headed to ditch the straw and sawdust, then double-back to work on projects and the endless cleaning and organizing) a lumpy middle-aged woman in a tight pink t-shirt steps out into the street towards me.  She’s holding a tall can of something in a paper bag.  “Excuse me!? Excuse me?!”… she calls out.  Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  Look friendly, but aloof… and there’s a storm coming… need to get the bedding into the dry shed before it and I get dumped on… Me: “Mmmhmm?”  She: “You stay around here?”  Me: “Mmhm.” 
She: “You need a machete?”  Me: Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  She: “I don’t got it ON me, but…” Me, over my shoulder: “Actually, I already GOT one.”  She: “Huh?”
Me, again:”I already GOT one…”

I’m sure she though I was being a smart-ass, but she did catch me a little off-guard… and I wasn’t lying… I DO have one.  I told the story later to the fellow, who said I should have asked her, “Cane or Straight?  Because you really only need one kind…”.  It was one of my Christmas presents… the fellow found it at Maxwell St. one Sunday morning while I slept in… a cane machete with a dark rust patina to its hooked blade, and a sharp and shiny silver line where he burnished the blade with a file before he gave it to me.  The handle is wrapped in soft salvaged bike grip tape… the tape that had covered the bars of my trailer-bike back when it had bullhorns and we’d just met.  The blade he engraved with a dremel-bit: “I love your work”.  Probably one of the weirdest romantic gifts ever… and one of a million reasons why I love him.  Now if only he’ll sharpen the blades on that wood-chipper he got me this fall… and show me again how to start the dang thing, I can REALLY get some work done.


I finally found some fresh-cut hardwood logs last week, and yesterday drilled and inoculated 10 maple logs with shitake and blue oyster spawn… and have more blue oyster and also golden oyster to do tonight. The logs were from a tree that was just felled behind a house a couple blocks away, that I picked up with the trusty red trailer after doubling-back from my work-commute, switching bikes, loading the logs, parking the trailer at the studio heavily laden, and hopping back on the commuter bike like nothing had happened. This rowhouse recently sold after being on the market for the better part of a year- we’d looked at it… one of many in the neighborhood that had been recently rehabbed with nice finishes, then was vandalized and gutted by scrappers and gang hoods and selling for a fraction of the money that someone put into it. I liked it because it was close, faced a park and an elementary school, and most importantly had two city-owned lots adjacent to the west (good garden potential).

Thousands of dollars of plumbing and electrical work destroyed for at best, a couple hundred bucks of scrap… and that’s a tall “at best” with a lot of dirty work involved- carelessly ripping out pipes and wires that had been carefully fitted and threaded through conduit… skilled labor that doesn’t come cheap. The skylight of this building had been broken out causing water damage to the hardwood floors. The new tasteful tilework was gang-tagged with angry black and red paint.. 20-22-12… alphabet code for TVL. Traveling Vice Lords.
You can meet some of these charming neighbors here… or see their initials or numeric code scratched into the sidewalk… like dogs pissing to mark their turf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2UY9sjyWHw

The drywall of this house was pockmarked with holes and burn marks (the holes let us see that the developer had rehabbed this rowhouse without adding even an inch of insulation, which ended our interest in the place- we’d have to rip everything out and start over for it to be a building we’d want to own or live in), and several of the kitchen cabinets had the faces broken out. I tried not to think about what was might be on the carpet (we’ve looked at a LOT of vacant buildings over the years… and junkie-scat has its own particular sweet-stench that is hard to forget). Theft is bad enough; the vandalism was senseless. An elderly couple’s garage down the street from us was tagged with their “code” around the same time we looked at that house… I was going to paint over it after seeing this house but luckily they or the city came out to sandblast their nice stone sills before I had to be spotted covering up someone’s tag. As the neighborhood watch sign in Mrs. Davis’s window down the street says, “We ain’t havin’ it! (We Call Police).”… which is why, when I watched a scrapper tearing the steel scissor-gate off a neighboring vacant building this morning as I left for work, I stopped to ring the buzzer of one of the owner’s tenants down the street to tell him about it, and called the fellow at work to see if he had the owner’s number in his phone… you can’t put up a chain-link fence around here without the risk of it getting clipped and rolled up and cashed in at the scrapyard down the street when you’re not looking.

But wearing colors is back… red, yellow, and blue bandannas dot the city streets this spring (which already feels like summer)… which is a bummer, as I wear my Folk/People-hued bandannas in an entirely different spirit (the dusty unwashed farmer with bike-helmet hair spirit)… Although I roll up my right-pants leg, which might make me reppin’ Folk Nation (or more importantly, keep it out of my bike chain), I live in People-Land (how can anyone actually take this seriously? It’s like a child’s game, but folks… and people, live and die for it). I’m sure that this colors fad will pass when the next thing comes along and I’ll be free to once again wear the red-polka dot osh-gosh rag without worry of who I’m “reppin”… although red is the predominant color through most of my commute; that one is probably fine. I especially like the one I’m sporting today, which alternates red, yellow, and white stripes… add in some blue and purple and maybe we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya someday.

Mmmhmm.

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Still working through that epic-ly optimistic to-do list from Wednesday… there are currently 18 jars (17 pints) of split pea soup with ham in the pressure canner building up steam, and a steaming bowl of goodness in front of me as I type… I think I’m coming down with something (fatigue?  grey sky blahs? or just a cold?) and the hot soup with a mug of milky coffee and honey is just the thing. The dishes are done, laundry washed and hanging, and what was hanging is put away.  The fresh shellac is drying on the Vicount’s bar tape and twine… still have to locate the original fork somewhere in this cavern of clutter (or perhaps it’s in the shop… shudder) and I’ve started packing up some of my soap and other things for tomorrow as well, and started soaking a batch of sprouts- Alefellow loves them, and we’ve been so spoiled by all the fresh greens from work that I haven’t made any sprouts this winter… until now. I’ve got an hour and a half to kill around here before heading down to work, and will finally make that body balm (the jars are washed and drying on the counter), maybe put a few seeds in some soil, then swing over to check on the chickens, make sure their feed and waterers are full and gather eggs.  Good times! 

Here’s the recipe I used (more or less) for the pea soup:

http://www.sbcanning.com/2011/10/canning-soup-split-pea-with-ham.html

Pictures later tonight when the canner cools down!

You can't see it, but the soup in those jars is still boiling! Let 'em cool down a bit before you jostle and unload them if you can.

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