Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Thinking About Winter Already

by: Chiot's Run
The gardens here at Chiot's Run are full of all kinds of herbs for use in cooking. At the moment, I'm really enjoying using fresh chives, lemon balm, mint, bergamot, oregano and other herbs in my food and beverages.

I'm also thinking about this winter when the garden will be sleeping under a blanket of snow and I'm stocking my pantry with dried herbs from the garden for both cooking and tea. Timing is important when you want to dry herbs for your pantry. If you pick herbs at the wrong time they're not as flavorful. You want to harvest herbs before they start blooming for optimum flavor. You also want to harvest them in the morning right after the dew has evaporated. If you want to harvest herb flowers, like chamomile, you want to pick them when they first open, don't wait until they're fading. I usually dry my herbs in our warm attic or I hang them in the kitchen. I find that they dry fairly quickly without having to use a dehydrator. This saves me on my electric bill.

Growing herbs for your kitchen is a great way to add extra nutrition to your food. Herbs often contain more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. Adding lots of herbs and spices to your foods layers in even more healthfulness. So add some herbs to your gardens and make sure you harvest them to stock you pantry.

Do you grow any herbs in your gardens? Do you dry them for the pantry?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Weather not cooperating

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

While most of the US is basking in warm, dry gardening weather, the Pacific Northwest has been receiving storms of winter-time intensity. Snow in the mountains, and rain on the valley floor. Nice to ward off drought, but it makes it a little hard for farmers and gardeners to work their soil and plant crops. I normally am planting my warm season crops by now, but rain almost daily since the first of April has made that nigh on impossible. But living by the calendar has it's drawbacks when it comes to gardening, the weather is too cold to plant many crops anyway - so I can only hope that when it is dry enough to plant, it will be warm enough and the plants will take off.

We had a dry March which allowed me to plant some early cabbages, and various greens, which are really enjoying the cool, drizzly weather, and they are rewarding us with a basket of greens each day for salads and stirfrys.

We have managed to get a few rows of carrots, onions and kohlrabi in, but it is springs like these that make me glad for a bountiful harvest the year before, and the foresight to preserve it. We still have frozen & canned veggies from last year's garden abundance. We used our last storage onion this week, but we still have a few potatoes and winter squash. So we will hang on - warmer times are bound to come...

How is gardening going in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Consuming media part 2

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

This post is a carry on from a post I made on this blog last year. In my journey, I have found that sustainability and living simply goes beyond our consumption and use of materials. I believe that consumption of media also needs to be done consciously and selectively. Media has such a huge influence in our lives that I think it needs to be part of the sustainability discussions.

Sometime ago, my daughter (then 5 years old), asked me if she was "hot". At the time, her question really surprised (and saddened) me. Apparently, a then six year old boy called my girl's other 5 year old friend "hot" at the playground. So she wanted to know if she was "hot" too.

We don't watch much commercial TV at home and I am always careful with the types of media we do consume. But at the time, I failed to realise that even if we did not come into direct contact with harmful advertising messages, we are still exposed to it through our contact with others, and through the billboards and ads in shopping centres and public areas. The language young children now use to describe themselves and each other can be highly sexualised.

At the moment, I truly believe that these children do not really understand what that word means. However, I'm concerned of the long term effects of introducing such concepts at such a young age. As their understanding grows, will it grow from that first perception that in order to be 'beautiful' that they would have to be 'hot'? Will they end up defining beauty in mostly sexual terms?

Last week, there has been some uproar in the US over 8 year old girls dressed and dancing provocatively as part of a dance competition. Here in Australia, my friends have told me of dance classes where it seems to be a requirement for girls as young as 6 years, to wear heavy make-up and sport fake tans.

Sometime ago, I watched an episode of "20 to 1". The theme was "Child Stars: Where are they now?". I couldn't help but notice how so many girls chose to take raunchy film roles or photos - essentially photos/roles that required them to take their clothes off - in order to show people that they've "grown up". Nikki Webster did it, Drew Barrymore did it, Britney Spears did it.... and the list goes on.

I find it incredibly sad that so many of these young women felt that in order to announce their transition into 'womanhood', they had to dress and act like tarts...

Is that what really defines a woman - that the day you leave your childhood behind is when you display yourself as nothing more than a sex object? It is depressing that people could demean childhood AND adulthood in this way.

I believe that one of the most important skills my children could develop are media and consumption literacy. I think its essential for their own sense of well being. But I have found it hard to find practical day to day tips and advice on how to go about doing this.

So here is what I do:
  • I have and will continue to ban most TV programs, certain toys and magazines at home.
  • I have and will continue to explain to my children why they are not allowed to watch those programs/have those toys/magazines whenever they ask.
  • I will continue to explore and deconstruct damaging messages *with* my kids. We do not live in a bubble and even with my precautions, my children are still being exposed to damaging messages. I want them to process those messages with my guidance.
I have to say, I *do* find it hard. Especially the third point. So many times the messages are complex, highly explicit but presented in such subtle ways. Trying to explain these messages in an age-appropriate way is difficult. So all I can do is keep trying and hope for the best.

I know this post has gone on for a bit, but before I sign off, I would like to share with you this slam poetry from Katie Makkai, called "Pretty". (Note that the "f word" is said once in this video). Please take the time to see this and to share:

Friday, 28 May 2010

Our House Cow Journey Continues

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I'm cross-posting from Home Grown this week, because my cows are the most interesting thing happening on the farm right now!

I began milking Lucy when Wags was a few weeks old. Until then, he and Poppy the foster calf shared all the milk. As they began to eat a little grain and some hay and grass, I decided to separate Lucy and Honey from them during the day, giving her several hours to graze the grass in the orchard and house paddock, and then I brought her in to be fed, checked over and milked before releasing her back into the small paddock with the babies and Honey for the night. I did this around four times each week, taking around 3 to 4 litres each milking. The other days they all grazed together. This routine went well for a little while, and then Lucy was only giving 2 litres at each milking, and then just a litre for the final couple of milkings last week. And then I gave up. Why go to all the bother of mixing feed, setting up, milking, cleaning the dairy, the buckets and everything for a mere litre of milk? As I led Lucy back to the small paddock, her udder would swell and teats fill with the rest of the milk she had withheld from me, ready to feed her babies she'd been apart from all day.

Last week we let them all into a larger paddock to allow us to do some maintenance on their small paddock and the areas we graze them inside electric fence tape. I'm not milking Lucy for awhile. We've slashed their paddocks and we'll harvest some manure and hay from near their pens to use in some of the raised garden beds I've emptied out recently. Do I still have a House Cow? Or a dairy breed with her calves let loose in the paddock? I'm trying to convince them they're still our dairy herd by encouraging them back to the water troughs daily for their minerals, perhaps some hay or another treat, and some checking over and brushing. Poppy and Honey especially love to be brushed, I think because they've had less affection from Lucy, being foster calves. I use a horse brush on them and they mostly love careful strokes around their face and ears.

When it's time to wean the calves, I'll bring Lucy back to the small paddock. I'm not sure on the exact management of the herd from there, but I'll try to get her into once-a-day milking again. I don't think I'll bother with another foster calf for a little while.

We have just castrated Wags using the banding method, which seems to us to have been a humane way to carry out the process. His job now is to eat grass and grow big!

The next thing we need to think about is getting Lucy artificially inseminated (AIed), which is usually done three months after a dairy cow calves.

So much to consider... And to think that once I just thought that cows ate grass, drank water, made manure and existed with little human intervention!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

It's a State of Mind, A Way of Doing Things

Working with the idea posted here earlier about family work weekends, I wanted to give a glimpse of our set up. We have our share of friends and family who are also homesteading on acreages, and then we also have some who live in town and urban homestead. Due to limited space/light/laws we end up sharing our space with them, so they can expand on what they do there. In exchange they help us keep up with what we do. Recently we added a new goat, already in milk to our herd, a sweet Toggenberg named Ginger. We weren't really planning on doing any milking until next spring, but Ginger came from a family who needed to find a good home for many in their herd, and we were itching to be able to supply our own dairy products. This lead to a scurry of gathering parts and pieces we were going to need, including (but certainly not limited to!) a milking stand. The home we adopted Ginger from had a wooden milking stand, which they had advised against, as they were having issues with mildew. After searching numerous pages of terribly-expensive-on-a-homesteader's-budget stands made of wood, pvc or metal, I decided that we would chance the wood. The cost of the stands available through catalogs and such were in the area of $175-$200 plus shipping which was generally around $65. The cost of materials for our homemade one: $30. No comparison.
This stand was also built by two terribly talented ladies, myself and one of my closest friends and partner in crime, er, homesteading (she's my urban counterpart, so to speak). It went together easily; we used the directions for a stand from Fias Co. Farm, which is also where we get our animal health products like the herbal wormer we use. I love Molly's site-she is very thorough in her explanations of how and why she does what she does with her goats. The stand works wonderfully, and has already served another purpose as I sheared our Border Cheviot sheep, Chrysanthemum yesterday. It is lightweight and sealed with oil. I wipe down with the same soapy solution I clean the milking dishes with each milking, and dry it to avoid any growth issues.
All of this is not to push Fias Co. farm's site (though I do love them!) or to brag or just chat about how I spend my weeknights, but rather to talk about how many resources (including this blog :)  ) are available to the simply, frugally, green minded individual out there that makes it easier for them to live the way they do. The internet has made it so easy to find others who have been through the same trenches we have been or are in. It is easy to order or follow the insight of the first site hits google brings up, but I find that there is great value in taking time to look at all your options and seek what fits you best. I respect the opinion of the fine farm family we bought Ginger from, and I agree they have an issue with the stand they use. I also know our situation and what we can make work. I took time (though I was on a deadline) and figured out what would fit our budget and time. That wouldn't have worked, though, without the help of our friends, either. I am not a craftsman when it comes to wood working, but by combining talents (every Thursday night, at that) we are able to achieve more, and work towards our goals for more self-sufficiency and frugality. And it was fun. I think too often we see work rather than opportunities for gathering. I actually enjoy working-I know it sounds crazy to some, but the feeling of accomplishing something is far more gratifying than the click of a button in ordering it from some distant company. All in the homesteader's day to day, and I wouldn't change any of it.