Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Getting out the cave...

Consumption Rebellion

I was reviewing some of my older posts in my personal blog tonight and came across this one that I thought I'd share.

I published this article quite early in my journey to live a greener life. It was at a time when I was questioning whether my little changes were really making any impact. At the time, I had posted my feelings of discouragement in a discussion forum I occasionally go to. A person wrote this to me in response. I do not know this person's real name but I did gain her permission to publish her reply.

To my regret, I have not "seen" that person again in that discussion forum or anywhere else on the Internet after she agreed to let me publish it. However, I am forever thankful to that person for giving me something that I can gain strength from when I start thinking of giving up...

The arguments for doing nothing will always be with us:

In politics ("All politicians lie."),
in economics ("There will always be poor people."),
in law ("Sure the judicial system is imperfect, just like everything else."),
in business ("The market forces will correct it."),
in society ("What are you, a Johnny Do-Gooder?"),
in the military ("War is Hell. That's what happens."),
in environmentalism ("The Earth is constantly changing."),
the list goes on and on.

We now have elected representatives instead of Kings.
We now have capitalism instead of slavery and feudalism.
We now have a jury of our peers with due process instead of an Inquisition.
We now have the SEC and the BBB instead of Robber Barons.
We now have charities and social services instead of debtor's prisons.
We now have battlefield Corpsmen instead of a reading of the Last Rights and a splash of Holy Water.
We now have anti-pollution regulations instead of the Dickensian London smog.

We got out of the caves because we refused to listen to these arguments.

There will come a time when Mankind looks back upon our time as if we had lived in caves. And they will have progressed to where they are because of a long line of people who refused to do nothing.

There is always a better way.

SFG's Fast and Loose I

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

This post is a repost of something that I put up at the request of one of readers on my personal blog. I thought that, with us being in the middle of winter here in the Northern hemishpere, some of us may be planning our new gardens for next year and may appreciate the ideas, and in the Southern Hemisphere they're in the middle of Summer and may be able to put some things into practice. It has been slightly modified to relate to this blog, but generally remains as it was originally posted.

In the past, I've used the famous "square foot gardening" (SFG) method, at least it is certainly where I started. (This is not meant to supercede Mel Bartholomew's ideas but rather to put word to my own opinions with regard to them as I have used them.) I have found that there are many pieces of it that I just don't use on a regular basis and others that I have modified to suit my own needs and abilities. I've also found through my readings of other blogs out there that there seems to be a number of people getting stuck with some of the things Mr Bartholomew outlines in his method. It's not so much that the stuff he suggests isn't practical, but I guess for a lot of us it's just not economical or necessary, so I decided to share my view of the way I've come to regard SFG's.

In the beginning I was a fairly firm SFGer. I built my 6" deep boxes, and composed a batch of "Mel's Mix" (1/3 each: compost, vermiculite, peat moss) and laid out my grid. There was my first variance. While I did make a grid, I didn't use the thick 3/4 to 1" sticks that Mel suggested because I didn't have the extra income to buy wood for it. Instead I used a roll of white nylon mason line to lay a grid out. I did this by placing nails around the boxes and tapping them over to make "hooks" and them running the string around them until I had a grid. It worked well, took up less space, and I could see the grid very well. As far as the Mels Mix, I still use it. I don't now, nor did I then, sweat the details over how much vermiculite I add compared to my compost and peat, I just split it up evenly and called it good, By and large however I hold that it is a very effective mix over all. One thing I would like to change, and would if I were to do it again, is that I would not make my boxes out of 6" boards. First of all, a standard 2x6 is not truly 6" deep, it's more like 51/2". Plus, I would like to have a little deeper soil, as well as having a little bit of lip at the top so that every time I work the bed I don't lose part of it over the side.

In the SFG book, Mel is a great advocate for making due, and reusing scrap materials to build the boxes. I totally agree with this approach, and would in fact extend it to the entire system as well. Trellising for instance. In the SFG book, Mel makes mention of using metal electrical conduit for his trellis frames. Now while I agree that these would make very nice frames, and I did test out a few this year, I was able to use some reclaimed 2x4's ripped in two and built a frame out of those for my tomatoes. For the trellising material itself I again went to the white nylon string. For tomatoes I stuck a stake in the ground and ran a string up to the top of the frame, as the tomato grew, I moved the plant around the string. I still do this today, it is the best way I have ever seen to grow perfect tomatoes. For cucumbers I made myself a sort of spider web strung between two tomato frames made out of... you guessed it... white nylon string. (seeing a pattern here, go get some!) This worked awesome and was completely removable and very inexpensive. (I'll be following this post up with a second one next week that will have a bunch of photos of some of the things I'm talking about.) Remember, every time you buy an item for your garden that you could otherwise make yourself, you are adding to your over all cost of production, and allowing yourself to become dependant on the garden center rather than the supermarket.

I have more to say on this, so stay tuned, but for now... time for sleep.
Till next time.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Living small

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

It never occurred to me when I was a spender that I was actually giving away my independence. I thought the opposite. I believed I was the queen of my realm and the more I had and the more dollars I spent, the more power, strength and independence I had. When I stopped spending I realised how pathetically wrong that was.

What I was doing was working in a job I didn't like so I had enough money to pay for a lifestyle I didn't want to live. I was shopping for clothes and shoes to make me look like everyone else, I was buying things for my home to make me feel comfortable in a place I didn't take the time to feel comfortable in, and I was buying foods to comfort and nurture because I didn't feel at ease in my life and I didn't have the time or energy to cook the foods I liked. And the strangest thing is that when I was doing that, I didn't think about the sadness I was feeling, I didn't realise I was unsatisfied and I didn't see the need for change.

I only realised that need when I took myself out of the shopping frenzy and sat alone on my verandah and thought about what I was doing and how far from my ideal life I really was. When I stopped shopping, I saw it in a brighter light and when I saw its ugly side, I didn't want to go back there.

I realised that I could do all those things I used to spend my money on. I could make clothes, I could cook well, I could do my own housework, but when I started doing those things I found that I'd lost many of the skills I grew up with. I'd forgotten how to sew and knit because I paid someone else to make my clothes, I'd forgotten how to cook well because I'd been buying all sorts of foods that didn't require me to exercise my mind and spend my energy on making my truly favourite dishes. When it came to housework, all I knew was to get the Chux and Mr Sheen from the cupboard and wipe. I was really pathetic - a grown woman who didn't know how to look after myself or my family properly; I'd forgotten the skills that all my great grandmothers had passed on to me - I, my friends, was a modern woman - I was dependent on others to help me live.

You don't have to be a genius to shop, you need limited skills to be good at it - all you need is money, or credit, and time. All that time to spend walking through shopping malls searching for something made (usually) in a foreign land by people who are probably underpaid, producing millions of products exactly the same as the previous million, and the million that will follow.

On the other hand, not shopping requires a multifaceted strategy. You need to know how to create, cook, clean and sew, you need to make do with what you have, to reuse, recycle and repair, you need to barter, grow food, preserve, and it helps if you love doing it. You have to discover for yourself the true beauty of being able to look after yourself, your family and your home with a minimum of outside help. The beauty of it is there if you look.

I am much richer now than I've ever been in my life. I know how to live now. I have the skills to survive a crisis, I have the strength and knowledge to produce my own food and to store it. I can clothe myself and others. All these are real life-engaging and self-empowering skills. But the real skill here is to do it and love doing it. Relearning those lost skills, and then loving the doing of them, is an act of subversion because you're not doing what women and men in our times are supposed to be doing. Nurturing your family and yourself with cooking, gardening, housekeeping, dress making, knitting, making soap, baskets, shawls and jam, and all the other things you learn to do in your post-consumerist life, not only enriches your spirit but it makes you an independent force.

Ladies and gentlemen, may the force be with you.

Graphic from Allposters

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Organizing Recipes

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm

When you start cooking from scratch, you start collecting recipes. Disclaimer: my recipes are not organized, by any stretch of the imagination. There are recipes and cookbooks in every room of my house (if you count the Old Farmer's Almanac hanging in the bathroom). I can usually, but not always, find something I'm looking for, with a minimum of searching. Organizing them is one of those things on the "I really should do this someday" list in the back of my mind.

The computer has made finding some favorites a bit easier. Some are online - my browser favorites toolbar has a recipes folder full of folders full of bookmarked recipes. Others are saved on my hard drive - another folder full of folders. Some are scanned, some typed out, some even formatted to print on 3x5 cards (which my printer doesn't do very well). But the computer is in the spare room - to use any recipes from there means either printing them out or running back and forth, kitchen to computer. Maybe someday, I'll get a laptop and wireless router, and get everything scanned to a hard drive. Maybe. Someday.

I have a couple of inherited boxes of recipe cards - I add to them occasionally. I have a small shelf-ful of favored cookbooks in the kitchen, most sprouting a forest of post-its along the tops, the pages scribbled with changes and notes. On the kitchen table is a stack of magazines, also sporting a rainbow of post-its marking recipes I'd like to try. On the side of my refrigerator, magnet clips hold clippings cut from newspapers. And then there's the Grey Notebook.

A half-size looseleaf binder, it was a bridal shower present. The giver had labeled some of the dividers and written in a couple of her recipes, but most of the pages were blank. What a wonderful present! This book lives on a shelf above the kitchen counter, next to the microwave. The recipes in the Grey Book are my tried and tested, used all the time, favorites. The One-Hour French Bread, one of my first posts on this blog, is in the Grey Book. Most of the recipes I've put on my own blog are the ones from this book.

The Grey Book is my own personal reference book. One tab I've labeled "Feeding a Crowd". In that section are my traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes. I know most of them without looking, but having them listed helps me make out my shopping list. The front page is a little timetable I've made, that helps me get everything on the table at the same time. The book usually stays open on my counter from Wednesday morning until Thanksgiving dinner is served on Thursday. Since everybody has their own family traditions and favorites, I didn't think something like this would be of use to anyone else, but my sister asked me to put it on line, so here it is. If you think you might find it useful, clicking on the picture should bring it up large enough to read.

Another section in the Grey Book is "Harvest Time". Not only are my canning recipes here (many are also on my blog), but also a page for each year, listing what I harvested, what didn't do very well, how much put away, and how much was still left from the year before. By looking at the progression on these pages, I know I need to do at least 2-3 canner loads of whole tomatoes each year, but make plum jelly only every fifth or sixth year. It's also helped me figure out how many jars, of what size, I need. In a small house, with limited storage space, having just enough is the ideal. The front page of this section is my quick canning reference, listing headspace, processing type, times and pressures adjusted for my altitude, and other little notes to myself. Maybe you will find it useful as well. Maybe you'll start your own reference book. Or maybe you'll share your own recipe organizing ideas here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The gift of food.

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

And really good food too. Really good and really versatile food. Sourdough. Yummy, tasty, sticky and stinky (in a really good way of course...) sourdough starter. After Heather did me so proud with her post about what she wanted to give, I thought I just had to chime in too. The wife and I...well, OK, let's not exaggerate, the WIFE started a sourdough start for our family about a year and a half ago and it has very quickly become one of our absolute favorite things. She takes care of it, feeds and extends it and makes the very best fluffy, tangy and tasty pancakes and waffles with it as well as very good sourdough bread. It's not a wild sourdough, in case you're a connoisseur, but rather was started from a simple recipe that contained flour, water, and a small bit of yeast as a starter. (You can find a similar recipe here.) We did originally start with a wild yeast, but found that it only got "funky" not "beery" the way it should. After a couple of tries, we went this way and have loved it. Also, after a year and a half of regular feedings where the starter is exposed to the air in our home, I have no doubt it has been hybridized with our local wild strains. It has certainly matured in flavor over the months.

But this isn't really meant to be all about sourdough, as much as I'd love to pine on about it, there are much more qualified people to do that. (That's your cue to chime in sourdough experts...) But instead it's about one of the best things in the world that we can do with sourdough to spread the love.
Share the start! I mean how better could we let someone really get a good idea of how much we enjoy our own sourdough starter than to send them home with some of it. And that's exactly what we did this weekend when A~'s dad left our house after Thanksgiving. We extended and fed the start during the week he was here, then packed up and sent him home to West Virginia with some of his own.
If you haven't had a chance, or have been afraid to try, making sourdough of your own give this simple little starter a try. It's pretty simple, easy to use, and only tastes better with age. Then, when you feel pretty stable with it, pass it on. It takes a bit of work to learn to work with, but will provide you and your friends with the security that you will always be able to produce tasty leavened foods at home no matter what.
Good luck.