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Showing posts with label Self-Reliance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Self-Reliance. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Praise of Hoop Houses

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I sing the praises of our hoophouses a lot.  But I can't help it, having a covered growing space really makes the difference in our food choices, by extending our growing season and allowing us to bring some crops reliably to harvest.  It's common here to spend months growing tomatoes only to have them never even get close to ripening, or when the fall rains come early, you can lose your tomatoes to blight in a heartbeat.

For us the investment in a greenhouse for what some people spend on a family vacation each year was well worth it.  We like to stay home and we like to grow our own food.

Besides growing food crops in the hoophouse itself, we also use the space for starting plants for the outside garden, and for sale.



Ripe peppers are a possibility now with the hoophouse. 


Even though we live in a great berry growing area, I have moved our strawberries inside to keep them safe from the deer.  

 Indigo Rose tomato.

Ripe tomatoes are now a given in quantities large enough to supply us with all the canned tomato products our family consumes in a year.

Greens of all types are a staple - inside or out, but the hoophouse allows us to start cold hardy greens earlier than if we waited to plant outside.



 Greens, greens, greens.  It's pretty easy to eat your greens when they are so beautiful!



To keep costs down we don't the heat the space, but try to fit in crops that just need a little boost in heat or drier space to get started.
 

A frost nipped the zucchini a little last week, but the plants have bounced back fast with our recent warm spell.

All in all, I really can't say enough in favor of having a hoophouse for a go-along gardening space if you live in a somewhat marginal or short growing season area.  We love ours!



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Our Personal Food Security

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Personal food security can come in many shapes. It may be a pantry of stored goods if you don't have land, or it may be a relationship with a farmer in the form of a CSA or local farmers market. Because we do have land, our personal form of food security takes shape in our livestock and our gardens. For this post though, I'm just going to talk about our vegetable gardening and specifically what season extension means to us.


We have several lines of defense that we employ in our garden, mainly an unheated greenhouse and variety selection for cold hardiness. Although our last three springs have been very cool and wet, that is still really the norm for our rain forest area. Our ground is rarely dry enough to work until late April at best, and sometimes into May. Our maritime climate is mild, but damp and cool, making it hard to even bring some common warm weather crops to ripeness in a normal summer. That's just the way it is. Instead of bemoaning the fact about the weather or wet soil conditions it's much more uplifting to just adapt and get on with gardening.


No, a greenhouse and row covers are not natural, but they are really a pretty passive way to make an end run around weather and pest conditions, and they allow me to stay home and grow food for most of the year, instead of driving 15 miles to the nearest store to buy "fresh" from California food. Or even sillier in my case, driving 25 miles to buy fresh from Oregon vegetables that have traveled 85 miles and been grown in the pretty much the same conditions that I can duplicate right here with a hoophouse and some row cover. I prefer to stay home and grow my food.

Hakurei turnips under row cover.

Inexpensive row cover can help you avoid using pesticides and really make a difference on the success of many crops. If you're careful, the row cover can be re-used many times.

Five Color Silverbeet.

Our experiment last winter was to take the cover off the greenhouse to avoid any snow events, and to expose the soil to the vagaries of the winter weather. To that end we planted cold hardy (in our area) crops that we hoped would take us through the winter and into spring. The stalwarts turned out to be Swiss Chard, various Kales, and Bok Choy. When it was time to plant for spring though, we had to make the decision of what to keep on and what to kill out. We harvested 10 pounds of kale greens and fed the rest of the kale to the laying hens, and decided to dig up the chard plants and replant them after working the soil, we did that with our strawberry bed as well. The chard plants have been providing us with some greens while we wait for our new plantings to grow to harvest stage.

Red Long of Tropea onion.

When I look at our greenhouse, I see a garden, not long rows of any one thing, but a climate I can manage while I wait for our outside gardens to be ready for planting. One half is devoted to beds of many different things, and the other half is reserved for our warm weather crops that will be planted when the weather moderates a little.


Tristar everbearing strawberries.


Mustard bed.

Soon our greens will be ready to harvest and will make a welcome addition to the nettles and dandelions we have been able to gather.


That's just a peek into our part of our food security, what type of methods to you use to bring food to your pantry and table?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stalwart Kale

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Kale is the new black it seems in the vegetable gardening world. Not just for garnishing the salad bar anymore, kale has found its way into many dishes and can be a stand alone side dish.


I like it for its hardiness in the garden too; in our climate kale survives throughout the winter, and can become perennialized if you have the space to leave it be. From tender leaves for salad, to hardy braising greens, and finally raab in the spring for a broccoli-like treat. A vegetable that produces many meals from one tiny seed is pretty amazing!

Urban gardeners take heart, the beautiful colors and shapes of the various types of kale make it a great decorative plant for fitting in beds amongst non-edibles too.

Easier to grow and more productive than spinach, the recipe possibilities are endless from lasagna florentine to kale chips, you choose.

For a good selection of kale seeds of all shapes and colors my go-to seed company is Wild Garden Seeds. You can select specific types or the Wild Garden Kale mix for a grab bag effect in the garden.

Plant kale - you can't go wrong!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fencing in the Wild


by Linda from The Witches Kitchen


I've ticked off one of my New Year's Resolutions. We've just come home from a week in wild weather at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - one of the most beautiful wild places on earth. I went swimming in the surf every day, collected seaweed for my seaweed brew, and walked around North Gorge every morning.

North Gorge walk at Point Lookout is spectacular. I never ever walk it without seeing wildlife - pods of dolphins surfing in on waves, sea turtles, manta rays, humpbacks in whale season. When we were kids the walk was a goat track round the rocks, a narrow unfenced track with sheer drop-offs 40 metres down to ocean so blue you can see turtles swimming metres underwater.

I vividly remember going round the gorge once as a child - I must have been about nine or ten - in wild weather. Lashing rain, huge waves crashing against the rocks sending spray up even to the 40 metre height of the headland, sea turquoise mixed with gunmetal, the gorge full of mermaid foam.

Gradually, over the years, the walk has been tamed, first with steps in the rock, then fencing along parts, then broadwalks. This time, for the first time, most of the way is broadwalk. It is a beautifully built broadwalk, and I can see the point. I have walked it with my kids with my heart in my mouth. I have feared to take other people's kids, especially in wild weather. But there is a part of me that mourns the taming.

We humans have an appetite for thrill. On the way there we passed Dreamworld themepark at the Gold Coast,  advertising "The Tower of Terror" where "riders soar 100m into the atmosphere dangling for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before plummeting back to earth". Dreamworld says the Tower of Terror mark 1 had over 8 million "panicked passengers."

It's an odd idea. A hugely expensive, constructed mechanism designed to create the thrill of fear, the illusion of danger without real danger. Artificial. Unreal. A lie.

I don't think that kind of exploitation of the taste for terror is healthy, but I do think there is something valuable that is lost - maybe necessarily, but sadly - in the broadwalk around North Gorge. That walk taught me, as a child, some valuable lessons, like some risks are not make-believe but permanent. Wild nature is spectacularly beautiful and can take you to profound places, but it doesn't take care of you.  I can do things that are risky and keep myself safe.  Fear is not a reason to stop, or a reason to go, but a reason to take care.

North Gorge offered the opportunity to look at real danger, to experience the thrill, but to have total control over the risk. Fishermen have been washed off the lower rocks, but I can't find a record of anyone actually slipping off the track. It's a lot more relaxing and meditative a walk these days, and still spectacularly beautiful. But thrill that is both real and confrontable is rare, and it's a bit sad to lose it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Few Notes on Seed Saving

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

While everyone is poring over their seed catalogs and dreaming of warmer weather, (at least us here in the Northern Hemisphere) planning for seed saving needs to be part of the scheme too.


I always say the work of gardening and farming is half observation. And this is especially important if you're going to save seeds. Paying attention all year round from seed storage during the off season, how the plant behaves during the growing season, and finally at harvest time all have a bearing on the success or failure of your endeavor.


Good seedling vigor is important, and can be an indicator of your seed selection from the year before. Or a big one, seed storage. No matter how good your seed was, if you don't take care of it during the off-season you risk poor germination. Dark, cool, and dry are the best and easiest to pull off for the home gardener. If you have room in your freezer (I don't) that would be the ideal situation. I store my seeds in a cabinet in a cool room in our house, and I don't have any trouble with the viability of my seeds.


Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita pepo

While you're planning your garden layout, plan for seed saving too. Some plants freely cross, so you have to do your homework for isolation, and how plants are pollinated. Wind, insect, self? Do I need only one plant or do I need a large number to insure the plant variety doesn't run down? Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth are good books on the subject.

I save seeds from winter squash and naked seed pumpkins, who will not cross, so they can be planted near each other. Summer squash will cross with my naked seed pumpkins so I have to plant my zucchini in a different garden.

I have found that growing the Naked Seed pumpkins are a good fill-in in my food pantry for nuts. They are delicious in pesto, and take the place of more exotic and expensive nuts. There is no competition from squirrels for these seeds, and they are ready within one growing season. Planting nut trees is always a good idea, but these pumpkins can help you weather the gap between nut tree planting and bearing age.

They are easy to harvest, and will keep in storage for a few months while other pressing garden and preserving duties take place.

It's been nice to peck away at this job. I store these in the barn, so I can throw open the doors on a sunny day and get to work. My limitations on harvesting these seeds are getting it done before they rot, since C. pepo's aren't know for keeping, and being able to dry these properly for storage without any molding.

Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin.


My method is pretty simple, I just cut or break open the pumpkins, pull out the seeds with my fingers until I have a colander full of seeds. That is about the quantity that I can dry in my kitchen without taking up too much space. Mileage may vary. While I'm doing this, I am observing or asking questions. Do larger pumpkins have more seeds? Do I see any variation in seeds in correlation to size of pumpkins? Do some have less stringy flesh? Are some rotten and others not? Any evidence of cross pollination? Do they taste good or bitter? All these questions get answered and go along with any observations I have made during the growing season, and are important if I am to save the seeds best acclimated to my garden.

After harvesting the seeds, I wash the seeds in the colander and pick out the remaining bits of flesh. The water seems to break the bond between the two and makes it much easier to separate the seeds. After washing, spread the seeds on screens if you have them or baking sheets, no more than a layer deep. Air circulation is the key to proper drying. For seed saving I only air dry, but for the pantry, I may occasionally put a tray in the warming oven of the cookstove, or in the electric stove oven after baking something. Note to self: Check oven for seeds before turning on to bake again. Don't ask how I know that...

The flesh is pretty stringy compared to my winter squash, so I feed the pumpkin leftovers to our cattle or chickens. They get a treat, and I can get rid of the mess. And if you're cramped for space in your garden, I think these would be perfectly edible.

I like to think that observing the plant through all the stages, makes gardening that much more interesting. The joy of gardening is not just the eating.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We're Different And That's OK

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday, my email provider had a front page article about the biggest mistakes people make when giving Christmas gifts; totally out of my character, I clicked on the article and began to read it. Lo and behold, one of the biggest mistakes, according to the author, anyone can make is to give homemade gifts, particularly knitted items. Apparently such things are ghastly and embarrassing for the giver and receiver. Who knew?!

When I got over my initial one second check in (I had just, the hour before, finished putting together a few little handmade gifts) I enjoyed a little laughter at the hilarity of it all. Not only did the article suggest homemade things are totally inappropriate, but so is anything useful, including some items of clothing, giftcards etc. And I began to think of the hilarity of it all, one person, who came across as incredibly spoiled and pampered, a person who is probably quite young and used to having money spent on them, is dictating what is acceptable/normal/OK. Well, here's the truth, his/her norm is certainly not my norm.

And there in that little article was the theme of my life over the last few months. As I navigate motherhood and find what other parents view as normal is vastly different to our life and the norm I want for my children. As I chat with colleagues and hear their views on necessities (a family can not live in less than 2500 square feet, apparently, nor can they function without TVs in their van), I've come to really think about being different and being OK with being different.

We are all on a journey. In my teenage years I desperately wanted to fit in and truth be told, for most of those years didn't. Sometimes, when I compare "notes" with the lives others have, I fleetingly think how nice it would be to have what they have, because in the throws of it, we are all human beings with needs and emotions. But the truth is, I'd rather be different. I'd rather put thought into what comes into our home, than accept the toys a manufacturer tells me my children need. I'd rather give money to help causes, then fret over which new car/van/TV/laptop to buy. I'd rather spend a couple of hours making a dishcloth, then pick up 10 for $2 and I'd certainly rather have to shop at 4 or 5 local shops/farmers stalls, than go to one big conglomerate and feel proud of how much more I could get for the same money.

Sometimes being different is challenging. Sometimes I can feel too different. Sometimes it would be easier not to think critically about each choice, not to have to wonder where something came from, or how its production impacted others. Sometimes it would be lovely to simply roll up at a particular fast food joint and be done with dinner in 2 minutes flat. But the truth is, 99.9999% of the time, I am totally head over heals in love with this different life, bad gift giving (knitted items!) and all. My greatest hope, is that 20 years from now, my children are OK with being different too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Like money in the bank

Aurora at Island Dreaming


I have talked before about stockpiling food and my reasons before. But as we descend into winter, I realise I have been squirelling away other things, for many of the same reasons. 

These smaller stockpiles extend to a few balls of yarn, some fabric (mostly offcuts), seeds, compost, brewing chemicals, glass bottles and jars, cleaning ingredients, children's clothing, a savings account and, erm...toilet roll. None of these are stored to the extent that they are clutter, but are things I ensure that we always have a small stock of.  Sometimes we  take advantage of offers, sometimes we buy what we know we need at any price just for the security of having them. Many of these are the things that make life worth living, that should we take a financial hit, would allow us to continue the activities we do now - and probably save some money whilst we use them.

Physical goods are all well and good, but the most useful stockpile is the one you keep within yourself, from the knowledge you hold in your head, to the memory held in your muscles from practising a thing over and over. My most important possessions now are my ability to balance a budget and the know how to grow and cook some of my own food.

It is this latter stockpile that I think will serve me best in life. I don't believe that I will ever receive a a decent pension, state or otherwise. I am now 26 and currently eligible to retire at 68, which I suspect will rise much higher in my lifetime. Much of the social security safety net is being washed away as we speak. So we must continue to live the way that we do now and hone that most important of stockpiles - the ability to learn, retain and apply knowledge. I think all of us here are probably avid acquirers of new skills; to the extent that I am tempted to suggest we launch a Simple Green Frugal Co-op achievement badge program. Anyone for a fetching sash?

The stockpile I never really appreciated, being quite an introverted individual, is the esteem of a family, a community. The people that will help you out of a hole, as you will do them, when you undoubtedly fall into one. A community of people who care for you and who share useful skills and tools is as useful as the knowledge you yourself hold. I am now forced to be less introverted, to care more and to express my care to my neighbours and friends, where I previously would have shied away.

So these are the banks where I keep my money. Where do you keep yours?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Our common goal - self reliance

By Rhondajean @ Down to Earth

Around our neck of the woods a typical day goes something like this. I rise at 4 and write until the dogs want to go outside, I let them out, feed them and the cat, then go into the garden to let the chickens out to free range for the day. I count them all, check they have water, and encourage them to have a wonderful egg-filled day. "I will still love you if you don't give me an egg, but don't push your luck too far," I say.


Inside again, I finish off my writing and when Hanno gets up, I make breakfast. After we eat, I clean up the kitchen, put bread on to rise, make the bed, sweep the floor and get ready for whatever the day may hold. Hanno will work in the yard most of the day. He has his projects and the garden and he'll talk to the chooks, the dogs and our neighbours, and generally keep the place neat, tidy and in good working order. I will write, check the forum, and in between times, I'll do bits of housework, sewing, mending, knitting, baking or making soap or cleansers. It depends on what is needed in our home as to what I actually do.

Lunch comes along and usually it's fresh bread with salad from the garden or boiled eggs with soft golden yolks. After lunch we sometimes have a little nap and then I write again, or sew, or make household goods. Hanno will sometimes read the online newspaper or check out some of his German or political sites. It's an easy way to spend each day - our days are filled with our necessities but the pace is relaxed and gentle. Friends and family phone or call in, we have breaks when we want them. This is living how it should be - we are not stressed and we are productive. One thing is for sure, it is never boring. It just gets better with each passing day, we are more settled, more grateful and closer to each other because of the time spent working towards our common goal - self reliance.


We are fortunate in that we have no debt. Hanno is on an old age pension and I still get paid for my writing. We are both pleased that I am able to earn that money from home. Of course, no simple life can be truly simple without making the decision to dramatically reduce the amount of money spent. The less we spend, the less we have to work and the more time we have for real living. There is an incredible sense of freedom that comes with not having to work. I still do my volunteering, that feeds my soul and I'd be a lessor person without it. The pay off for me is in feeling useful, being able to use my brain in interesting and innovative ways and meeting the wonderful people who walk through the door. I am enriched by the work I do there and I can say with certainty that it is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I can do that work because I'm not tied down to a job.


Even though there are many things to be done in each day, the practical day to day things are not the whole story of simplicity. Practicality and the work that goes with it is just one piece of the puzzle. You have to look inside yourself for the other pieces. Ask yourself if you're really living the life that will make you happy and fulfilled. Everyone's idea of happiness is different but if you're not even close to what you hoped for yourself and your family, you should start thinking about changes. 

Most of us have made a real effort of get off the consumerism roller coaster, if you don't you're just playing at this. Spending is the one true gauge of authenticity. If you're still spending on non-essentials while you're paying off debt, you're not going to reach those simple life goals anytime soon.


You have to slow down too. This was the hardest thing for me. I was a chronic multi-tasker, I always had plenty of things on the go at the one time and often I felt overworked and unappreciated. Now that I've slowed myself, I can be busy without feeling like I'll never get it all done. I take my time with each part of what I'm doing and I concentrate on my job at hand and not on what will come later. It's made all the difference and eliminated those feelings of being rushed all the time.

One thing is for sure, simplifying will always give you more work to do, it is never the other way around. But this is a different kind of work. It's work that will fulfil you and make your life richer because what you're doing is building self-reliance into your life. Instead of relying on others to make what you need, instead of going to the store to buy your food, you will be able to do a lot of that yourself. That builds self-confidence which makes you believe you're capable of doing more and more.


You will never be in the ideal place to start living simply. Often the move towards it comes when things are really chaotic in your life, you might have lost your job, had a baby, become ill or maybe you're just fed up with life on the roller coaster. You don't have to move to another location, everyone can start simplifying right where they are now. All it requires is for you to stop spending, to re-evaluate your life and to clarify what it is you want from life. The only thing that will be handed to you on a silver platter will be the one size fits all notion that you can spend your way to success and that being is debt is "normal". Everything else requires thought and planning. I'm here to tell you it's confronting, difficult and challenging. But if you can change, if you decide to focus on quality of life rather than the quantity of stuff you own, if you can break out of the mould that mainstream society has encased you in, then you'll have the chance to live a life like no other. Is the time right for you?