Monday, June 30, 2008

Fuzzy Little Doelings

Latte, our Nigerian Dwarf goat, finally gave birth today to two little doelings. Yay! We are very, very excited. We'll be keeping them both. Both Emily and Julia are thrilled, but Sam's a bit put out that we have so many girls around the farm.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Simple Living the Easy Way, Part II*

Someone brought up an interesting point about guilt in a comment: "I for one would have no guilt from having machines to help me conserve time, especially if I was able to get off the national electrical grid.... With enough solar panels, a wind machine, and a couple good banks of batteries, you could get off the grid and rid yourself of any guilt you might be feeling."

I think this is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, that one might identify what I'm talking about as "guilt" as well as the psychology of that interpretation, and second, it nicely illustrates the paradox I was getting at in the first part of this series: that we are dependent in our very independence.

And really, those two points of interest are intertwined, for it's that sense of guilt, I think, that perpetuates the insistent denial of our own dependence, that willful erasure of our dependence in romanticized notions of self-reliance.

Sure, it goes back to that whole "no man is an island" kind of thing, but I think there's a complexity here that's worth exploring a bit to see why Donne's words resonate even today. What does it mean to be self-reliant? Is there such thing as an independent self or is that a myth, a story we tell ourselves? And if it's a story, then why is it such an important story?

And to come back around to the guilt for a minute, why is it that we associate using one kind of machine with guilt, but then turn around and believe that our guilt would be expiated if the same thing were powered by something made by different machines? I'm not trying to pick on Tim here; rather, I think he reveals a sticking point of trying to think through these tough issues: that is, the moral attachment to a particular kind of machine use.

Why is one machine better than another? I think, too, this is what folks are getting at when they try to get us to think more critically about embedded energy costs of things like solar and wind and even buying local. Solar is far from zero carbon, so why should a machine powered by solar be inherently better than one powered by connection to the grid?

In large part, it's the moral value we attach to solar, which I would argue has an awful lot to do with the difficulty of calculating the embedded energy of photovoltaics. Some figures place the embedded energy payback for solar at 4 years: in other words, it takes 4 years for a solar panel to produce as much energy as it cost to produce the panel itself. So 1/5th of the energy produced during the solar panel warranty period (generally 20 years, some are 25) comes from fossil fuels. One can't even make the argument that this is a one-time energy input for a lifetime of energy independence, what with the batteries and inverters required for an on-demand system, most of which have a lifespan of 5-10 years. In fact, the embedded energy costs of those aren't even factored into the 4 year recovery period for the silicon cell panels themselves, best I can tell.

See how this all becomes very complex very quickly? Once we factor in the embedded costs of batteries and inverters, not to mention the waste issue once they're done and the ecological impact of that, the equation becomes far more difficult. Solar, wind, hydro, coal, nuclear, natural gas—they all have their advantages and pitfalls. And it all depends on how we use them and to what extent. None is a free ride.

This kind of complexity is the problem with all those online carbon footprint calculators or with the kinds of calculations out there about what a meat-based meal, for instance, costs in terms of carbon. All burgers are not created equal, just as all lifestyles are not created equal. Is my use of a bread machine more or less justifiable than some urban socialite's use of one? If so, why?

Because of the whole lifestyle picture or not at all. But how does one calculate an entire lifestyle?

By the same token, however, that urban socialite could still have a lower carbon impact than I, depending upon how one wanted to calculate it. Living in a small apartment, not being home much of the day due to work and running in fashionable circles, being able to walk to all the great restaurants where cooking is being done on a mass scale, which arguably conserves resources, she might have an ostensibly lower carbon footprint than my meat-raising, meat-eating, rural, homeschooling, homesteading household. So, how does one account for that? Is it more eco-friendly to be a single urban dweller?

Maybe I need to just keep planting a boat-load of trees every year to offset my household's usage? Do I get carbon credits for farming organically and sustainably, for having carbon-sequestering pastures, for having self-sustaining garden inputs? Do I get carbon credits for feeding more families than just mine? Do I get carbon credits for all those institutions we avoid like school and doctors and pharmaceuticals? Is my electrical usage even comparable to a childless urban apartment dwelling couple, and how do they calculate the embedded energy costs that make their low-impact lifestyle possible?

So the Luddites in the crowd are probably nodding along at this point, as all this seems to reinforce the argument for moving away from energy intensive living altogether. And I think this really is a large part of the answer—going low-tech as much as possible.

But again, I'd argue that even this line of thinking operates under a certain kind of disillusionment that there is such a thing as moving away from energy intensive living. As I claimed in my earlier post, low tech is really just another form of alternative energy: exchanging human energy for electrical energy. Energy has to come from somewhere: it's the basic law of conservation of energy—you can't get more energy out than you put in. (Though we're awfully fond of inventing stories about such magic. And why not? That would really be independent living with impunity.)

Even the tools required for manual labor need to be mined, manufactured, and moved, so they have embedded energy costs as well. There's a treadmill effect of certain kinds of manual labor, too, that often gets ignored. Things like plowing or hauling that require the work of large draft animals necessitate the feeding of those animals, generating more plowing and planting and harvesting that need to be done just to support those animals. Unless of course one relies on off-farm feed inputs, in which case we're right back where we started: dependence on others to support our chosen lifestyle.

So what am I getting at? What am I advocating here? Am I really suggesting that we should just throw up our hands and use electricity no matter what the source?

No. What I'm really trying to do is to problematize the idea of self-reliance altogether because I think it's a notion that serves a kind of holier-than-thou perspective when really we are all complicit, all making trading offs and setting priorities no matter what our chosen path. And I believe that most often, these trade offs are what enable us to support our continued belief in the illusion of self-reliance in the first place.

Which brings me back around to the ideas of guilt and why the self-reliance story is such an important one to tell ourselves, which I'll try to explore more fully in my next post in this series.

*Just for the record, Jim really wanted me to title this post "Complex Living the Hard Way." Silly man.

Independence Days Week 9

Things are slowing down a bit... well, not really slowing down, but I felt like I could relax this week without losing the gardens in a sea of weeds thanks to all the help I received last week. We've gotten some good rain this week, though, so there will be a whole new crop of weeds waiting for me in the coming days.


Got all my winter squash and dry beans in this week: Cinderella pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, Seminole pumpkins, sweet meat squash, winter luxury pie pumpkins, marina di chioggia pumpkins; sulfur baking bean, Taylor's dwarf horticultural bean, black valentine bean, and flagrano bean. Planted calendula, and replanted the gourdseed corn, which didn't germinate worth a darn. Hopefully all the rain we've gotten this week will give them a good start. The gourdseed corn and dry beans are already popping.


Lettuce, kale, chard, onions, kohlrabi, hakurei turnips, carrots, broccoli, citrus thyme, dill, oregano, rosemary, basil, raspberries, eggs, milk.


Almost 5 lbs butter, froze 24 oz blueberries.


Olive oil, snack crackers, pine nuts, 5 gallons drinking water.


Saved seed from chives and green onions. Put up our pool, which also doubles as a 4,000 gallon cistern. The plan is to leave it up, covered, year round.


Organized larder and pantry again, as I have a tendency to just dump bags and boxes in the room when they come in if I don't have time to unload and put away. I still need to get some kind of storage system going for the grains.

Weeded in the market garden: found the peppers again; tomatoes are an ongoing battle. Tied tomatoes into trellises. Pulled the remainder of the turnips to get ready for more mini onions, and pulled the peas where pole beans are already popping.

Checked on bees again. Hive #1 is so strong—plenty of honey, still mostly uncapped, both capped and uncapped brood, eggs. Hive #2 is still struggling to draw out the frames I moved into the center last week. Some eggs, some uncapped brood in center frame, but not much. I pulled one of the still mostly undrawn frames and switched it for a frame of brood in Hive #1. Hopefully that will give Hive #2 a bit of a boost.


Nothing new this week.


CSA delivery to 10 families: lettuces, kale, chard, mini onions, kohlrabi, hakurei turnips, citrus thyme, rosemary, oregano, dill, raspberries.


I've used up all my yogurt containers for seedlings (they've now all been bleached and put away for use again for next year) and have just used up all my sour cream/ ricotta type containers for storing butter. So, I'm now soliciting containers from CSA members, family and friends, helping to keep their plastic out of the waste stream as well. Most of these containers are not recyclable where we live, so keeping them out of the trash is important.


Still learning about grains in my test plot. The naked oats are doing well, but now I'm trying to figure out how the heck to harvest them, so if anyone has any experience with that, please share. In the plot here from left to right are naked oats, quinoa, gourdseed corn, burgandy amaranth, popcorn, huazontle, dry beans and winter squash.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 4

This week is a transition week here at the farm as we move into the very beginnings of summer's bounty.

This meal features pesto-chevre fettuccine (no the pasta's still not mine—I'm lame, I know) with pesto from the freezer, but sprinkled with the season's very first fresh basil trimmings. Yummm!

The chevre in both the pasta and the salad is homemade with our own milk. The grilled pork tenderloin is from one of our Tamworths, and the salad combines our salad greens, mini bulb onions, and hardboiled eggs from our hens, topped with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. The bread is a homemade flat bread topped with garlic and olive oil.

Zero mile but for: garlic (coming soon though!), bulk pine nuts, flour, pasta, and vinaigrette ingredients.

Oh, and ummmm.... I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but yes, that is my plate full of all that food featured in all these photos, not my husband's or some other reasonably large individual's. And sometimes it's so tasty I even have seconds. Hey, growing all that food works up a serious appetite!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Simple Living the Easy Way

Yeah, I know some of you who have commented on how much work we've been doing around here lately might be thinking, "Huh? What's easy?" Well, I've been thinking on this subject for quite some time with all the blog memes about what one would be willing or not willing to give up, and I'll tell you exactly what's "easy" about how I do things: my tools. And not all of those tools are manual. Many of them are electric, for which I am very grateful.

I work hard every single day, often from dawn to dusk it seems and even into the night as I try to catch up on the indoor work that needs to be done. As hard as I try to conserve water, electricity, gasoline, etc. and reduce our impact on this earth, there are lots of areas where I'm just not willing to cut back further at this point in time. Not, that is, until I have a few more pairs of hands other than my own helping me out with what needs doing in a day.

What folks often forget or simply don't know when they wax nostalgic about life before electricity and cheap oil is that even the lower classes had domestic help. All but the poorest of families often had some kind of labor, either day labor or live in, for help with all the work that needed to get done. Indentured servants, apprentices, extended family, itinerant workers, and, unfortunately, slaves all served the purpose of providing extra hands for the household. Those families that didn't have one of the above had their children, and those children weren't given the choice whether to help out.

I know, too, that there are people who feel rather nostalgic about children's responsibility as well, thinking that kids these days ought to be made to feel that same kind of responsibility—often packaged with a "sense of pride in helping out"—that kids did prior to the child-centered culture of today. This is not a sentiment that I share.

I don't think it's possible in the midst of our current culture to recapture that sense of pride in contribution because it's plainly arbitrary and enforced. No matter how noble our intentions of going back, to borrow Kunstler's title, to a world made by hand, the truth of the matter is that just next door the world is still made of electricity and oil, and little Johnny or Jenny knows that. There is no real or tangible sense that their forced manual labor contributes either to the family's survival or to the earth's health. The first is bogus and the second is far too abstract for any of us to really know for sure, even those of us choosing to power down.

But I digress....

... and in an effort to wrench this post away from rant and back towards my point, let me just quickly say that I don't require my kids to pitch in any more than they're comfortable and happy to because the principles I live by are just that: my principles. My kids are free to choose their own, just as Jim is free to choose his own principles, and honestly, they don't always include living as if it's the 17th century. This homesteading path we're on is one that I've lead them down, so I try to be mindful of that fact and not foist my choices on them any more than necessary. Luckily, they're a pretty amenable bunch.

All of this is, let's face it, a long-winded way of justifying my own continued reliance on certain tools. I'm the first to admit that I'm no purist.

Sure, I could make bread by hand, but that would require time, taking me away from other tasks that also need (knead?) my attention. Having a bread machine lets me take 5 minutes, tops, to make dough each day, after which I can simply turn on the oven and bake delicious bread at home. Having a stand mixer means I can make baked goods in a fraction of the time it would take to complete the same task with only a wire whisk and my own two hands. I'd be lost without my stand mixer and my oven, and at the moment, I'm no where close to willing to give those up.

Could I live without them? Sure I could, but that doesn't mean I should. There are plenty of things that I've foregone for the sake of conservation, but there are certain economies that come into play that don't simply involve energy—they also involve health, quality of life, and time. Being able to cut certain corners frees me to do other things like read and play with my kids, arguably important activities for a homeschooling mom.

More than that, there are some things, like my milk machine, that save my body. This machine means the difference between waking up multiple times at night with significant pain versus a good night's sleep that keeps me healthy, happy, and relatively pleasant to be around. That's worth running the machine for about 15 minutes a day to me. There are other tasks that don't have the same impact, so I choose to reduce on those terms.

Doing everything by hand takes a significant physical toll. I know because I do most things by hand, including my gardening, carrying feed bags and hauling water to my animals. I'd venture to guess that most Americans don't know what it's like to do a day's worth of manual labor. We're so used to using machines or paying others to do such tasks that we've lost touch with the bodily impact of hard work. (Heck, half the time Americans aren't even willing to take on this kind of work, so we turn to immigrants, legal or otherwise, to do it for us.) That's one reason life expectancies were so much lower—people simply worked themselves into the ground. There's a fine line between physical work that keeps one healthy and strong and so much work that it grinds a body down.

Machines replace human labor, and the two big questions when moving away from machines are how many people it will take to perform the same amount of work and how much time.

Too often in discussions of the energy crisis I notice a kind of draconian split between the Luddites, who want to return to a pastoral age blissfully free of noisy machines, on the one hand, and the "alternative technologies will save us" folks on the other. I have to admit that I'm kinda on the fence of that little dichotomy. My ears certainly long for the peace and quiet of the first, but my practical side remains firmly rooted in the reality that I like a little help now and then, and I'm not too keen on moving back to the slave economy that supported Western life before the cotton gin, steam engine, and the decades it took for American culture to let go of the direct exploitation and ownership of human beings.

Folks need to start considering what it would take to move away from industrial agriculture. Those big ol' tractors and machines perform the work of 100 people in a fraction of the time. In large part, the steam engine and the Industrial Revolution enabled the move away from a culture of slavery, though that certainly didn't happen instantly or cleanly or even quickly, as opportunists double-dipped into both systems for greatest profit, increasing slave trade during the transition.

Ultimately, however, by transferring our work load from human bodies to machines, Americans stepped into the modern age with the noble delusion of freedom firmly rooted in industrialism and capitalism. The question becomes then, in my mind, not so much whether we're either slaveholders of people or slaves to our machines, which so many modern critics have claimed, but rather what is the balance point between manual and machine labor?

Or maybe not even a balance point at all, but a completely different way of relating to the world and labor, a different kind of lifestyle that is more self-reliant, thus eliminating the blind dependence on either the labor of others or the labor of machines. Is there a space where we can move outside of a capitalist or industrial paradigm that looks outside ourselves for subsistence and, instead, turns inward, looking towards the self as responsible for its own subsistence? Isn't this a more honest definition of freedom and liberty? Self-Reliance, or preferable to Emerson's privileged self, perhaps Thoreau's vision of deliberate living in the woods but with certain well-chosen tools. (Though let's face it, even he was dependent on Emerson's money and privilege, which doesn't always come through when reading his idealistic treatise.)

Or does this hope entail yet another privileged, Romantic version of life that seeks to erase or at least hide our messy dependence upon the exploitation of machine, people, animals, land, etc. Is it even possible for humans to live on this earth in a way that doesn't depend upon exploitation? Can we come to a place of symbiosis and what would that look like? Can we even begin to imagine it from this place where we now stand?

Those are some pretty tough questions, and I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. I have some thoughts, the beginnings of some ponderings though. I think the path forward is one that looks a bit like Thoreau's Walden but with a full and humbled acknowledgment of our privileged dependence. Perhaps it is through recognizing and taking responsibility for the paradoxical dependence on others to enable our own self-reliance that we achieve freedom without delusion, that we enter into autonomous rather than exploitative relations. Maybe.

Me? I'm going out to milk my cow with a machine, both of which I'm damn grateful to have.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Independence Days Week 8

Two whole months of the challenge, and I'm in the space where there are times when I feel more overwhelmed than independent. Still, things are coming together, and I'm staying on top of the weeding for the most part. I still have planting to get done, and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for summer things to mature. The tomatoes have flowers but no fruit yet; the bush beans have flowers; some of the squash are just starting to flower.

I've been so lucky this week to have a farm "intern" here helping, plus I've also gotten 5 hours over the past two weeks of CSA work share hours. I'm not quite going to know what to do next week when it's just me again. Hmmmm, WWOOFers are looking more attractive every day. If only I could guarantee they'd all be as wonderful as Brenna....


This week I transplanted several seedlings: rhubarb, sage, paprika and Thai chilis, pennyroyal, peppermint, lovage, flax, feverfew, and some others I can't quite remember off the top of my head.


Various lettuces, purplette onions, green onions, kohlrabi, carrots, turnips, beets, spinach, rosemary, dill, tarragon, chives, garlic scapes, raspberries, milk, eggs, pork.


Chicken stock.


Baking powder, peanut butter, pasta, canning lids.


Began laying irrigation lines. Picked up Silver Fox rabbit breeding stock, which also meant touring another farm and seeing their set up. Made a contact for defunct freezer chests, which make good rodent-proof feed storage containers and root cellars.


Managed one of my freezers this week completely unintentionally as it quit on me. Ugh. This was a Maytag chest freezer that we just purchased in November for our turkey and poultry sales; obviously, it was still under warranty. Thankfully, we're in that freezer often enough that I noticed pretty quickly. The ice cream was liquid, but the meats hadn't begun to thaw yet. We transferred most of them down to our basement chest freezer and lost just some soup bones, which will go to the dogs. I made beef stock from some of them in order to preserve them, only to realize after the fact that I had no freezer space to store it. Bummer. Yet another argument for learning to pressure can, I guess.

Checked on my bees again to see how they're doing with the second hive bodies. Hive #1 is doing fabulously—already some capped brood in center of second hive body, lots of uncapped brood, eggs, and honey stores. It's looking like I may need to add another hive body in the next couple of weeks. Hive #2 is not nearly as strong. Still working on drawing out the foundation in the upper hive body, so I shifted some of the outer frames toward the center to encourage continued drawing out. Some honey stores beginning in the upper body, very few eggs seen in the center frame. I didn't see the queen in either hive, but I know she's been there in the past 3 days because of the presence of eggs.

Clearly this is my most intensive category and where much of my time is spent each week. This week I also finished side dressing all my tomatoes with compost, which will serve as both fertilizer and mulch. Jim finished installing the rebar trellis system for me, which should work well, and it's almost time to start tying them into the wires. I also, as I said, had help weeding this week, so the beds are looking really nice. We opened the agribon rows to weed and lay drip tape, and man, that's some fabulous stuff! My eggplants look fabulous this year. Contrast that with last year when the flea beetles took them out completely. Definitely worth the purchase, and I'll probably get another roll next year just to have on hand. Jim tilled and hilled the potatoes and patrolled for potato beetles.


Artichokes, which turned out to be incredibly woody, unfortunately, as I blogged about under my One Local Summer post below.


CSA deliveries to 10 families: lettuces, onions, beets, turnips, chives, rosemary, dill, garlic scapes.


Participated in a local kids' stuff yard sale where the proceeds benefit the children's hospital. Emily, Julia, and Sam went through all their toys and pulled out lots to sell. All together, we made about $200 and donated the rest to Good Will on the way out.


Learned how to sex rabbits.

Friday, June 20, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 3

Can you tell couscous is my go-to grain for busy days? It's really just the most excellent fast food, and I'm coming to rely on it for CSA nights when we have pick-ups between 6 and 8 pm, which can make it tough to pull together a family dinner at the same time. If only I could locally source it, I'd be a happy girl.

This evening we enjoyed pork tenderloin medallions from Tamworth pigs, a heritage breed raised here at Touch the Earth Farm that were tender and delicious. These were accompanied by a just picked salad with fresh, tender young lettuces, spinach, green onions, hakurei turnip and home-made chevre. The couscous is flavored with chevre, garlic, and green onions. Of course, there's the requisite ciabatta bread on the side.

Everything was zero mile but for the flour, couscous, garlic, and vinaigrette ingredients.

And since I'm talking about food, I had to include this photo of our first artichokes. We cooked these up for a lovely local meal for father's day, and they looked absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately, they sucked.


Seriously, while they smelled delicious and produced a very tasty sauce, the chokes themselves were woody. I grew them from seed, which is a rather tricky thing apparently, as only 60% or so of artichokes grown from seed are tasty and edible. Ahhh well, it was a good experiment and the plants themselves are so striking that it may be worth growing them as ornamentals.

After a bit of reading on the subject, planting offsets of a known plant is apparently the way to go. I guess I could just keep trying until I get a good plant, but thank goodness I didn't try to foist these onto my CSA members.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A while back on one of the (too) many email lists I'm on, there was a thread about what kinds of reference books we had on our shelves. Bookhound that I am, mine were too numerous to even consider listing off the top of my head, but I promised to pull together a blog post with a comprehensive list. I think this pretty much covers it, but considering that I have books stashed in multiple corners of my home, there may be some left out. I'll add them as I find them.

Animal Husbandry:

Raising Chickens
Raising Dairy Goats
Raising Pigs
Raising Sheep
Raising Turkeys
Your Goats
Pastured Poultry Profits
Raising Poultry Successfully
Raising Milk Goats Successfully
Keeping a Family Cow
The Family Cow
Small Scale Livestock Farming
All Flesh is Grass
The Backyard Beekeeper
Natural Beekeeping


The Four Season Garden
The New Organic Grower
Seed to Seed
The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control
Gardening with Heirloom Seeds
Great Garden Companions
How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits


The Encyclopedia of Country Living
Country Wisdom and Know-How
Handy Devices and How to Make Them
You Can Farm
Making Your Small Farm Profitable


A Handbook of Native American Herbs
Making Plant Medicine
Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook
Herbal Remedies
The Backyard Medicine Chest
Holistic Herbal
Peterson's Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable
Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs


Basic Butchering
Putting Food By
Ball Blue Book of Preserving
Preserving the Harvest
Preserving Summer's Bounty
Root Cellaring
The River Cottage Meat Book
Nourishing Traditions
Wild Fermentation
Home Cheese Making


Spinning in the Old Way
Foxfire v.1-3
Home Brewing
Modern Reloading

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Independence Days Week 7

With the crazy heat last week, it was hard to get much of anything done. We lost three broilers to the heat, but everyone else seemed to fare okay. Lots of water all around. Latte still hasn't had her baby.


Several lettuce varieties, carrots, bunching onions, chard, beets, watermelon, muskmelon, corn, amaranth, popcorn.

I practice succession planting, which means that I plant smaller amounts in staggered plantings so that we'll continue to have fresh plants coming into harvest. I also try to sneak lettuces in where ever I can get them, so last week's lettuce planting went alongside the tomatoes that are still growing. This week's went into the high tunnel where I pulled all the old head lettuces. Eventually, the tomatoes will provide some shade to the greens, and the greens will help prevent soil splash on the tomatoes.


milk, eggs, strawberries, mixed lettuces, spinach, kale, radishes, turnips, beets, green onions, thyme, citrus thyme, cilantro, dill, rosemary.


10 half pints strawberry jam, 3.5 lbs butter, 1/2 gallon milk into queso blanco.


6 gallons maple syrup


Jim and Jules continue to work on the bunny hutch, which is very nearly done now. Ordered irrigation materials. Jim got a new rifle for father's day.


Took up the soaker hoses that I laid down last week—yup, I have a tendency to do stuff like that. After some hemming and hawing over the price tag, I sucked it up this week and ordered the drip tape set up that I've been wanting for the market garden. After last year's drought and drastic loss of potato crop, not to mention the low yields on other crops as well, I really wanted to get some drip tape in place for emergency irrigation. We're also working on a large gravity fed rainwater irrigation system that will operate without power, but for efficiency, it's hard to beat drip tape. I went with a small company in the next state over, so somewhat local. Joe, the owner, was very patient and kind on the phone as he helped me navigate the different options and choose one that would work for our needs.

I also weeded the market garden, laid polymulch between the tomatoes and peppers, Jim and I got about half of the trellises up, and I cleaned out the older lettuces in the high tunnel and brought some hens in to help with critter control before replanting.


I made queso blanco for the first time, and it came out pretty well, though I think I hung it for too long, as it was a bit dry. The cool thing about queso blanco is that it won't melt, so you can even deep fry it, which I did. Its properties are very similar to tofu, so it will work well in any recipe that calls for tofu in addition to Mexican cuisine. We had ours on homemade flour tortillas that I deep fried as well and made beef quesadillas. Not the healthiest of meals, but tasty and local.


CSA harvest for 10 families. Had my first work share person offer hours yesterday, so I put him to work in the new berry bed for about 2.5 hours, trying to find the berries.


Continued with all of our composting, reusable bags, etc. But something I thought of that I haven't talked about was my shift away from using the vacuum cleaner whenever possible. I do a lot more sweeping than I used to, and we're moving away from carpeted surfaces in the house that can't be swept or taken outside to clean. I don't know how much this saves electricity-wise, but considering that with 3 kids and 2 dogs in the house I'd reach for the vacuum at least 2-3 times a week, it must save a considerable bit. Now, I use a broom every day—well, erm... almost every day—and vacuum once every couple of weeks for a deep clean. Moving the dogs outside into the barn really helped to cut down on dust and dirt as well. Man, farm dogs are just plain filthy!


I continue learning about cheesemaking, and yes folks, I'll post those recipes soon. But in the meantime, let me declare that I'm working exclusively out of Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making for those interested in purchasing it. It's a really great resource with loads of info and tips. I also buy my cultures through Ricki's business The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Just a fabulous resource for the beginning cheesemaker.

Also this week, I've been delving back into seed saving info, trying to cement in my sieve of a brain which things cross pollinate with which. I ended up yanking the michihli that I'd been saving because both the tatsoi and the turnips in the high tunnel bolted quickly, and I wasn't able to stay on top of those flower heads. So, my michihli was likely compromised. My radishes, spinach and lettuces should be good though, so I left some of those in place. I'm hopeful for my sorrel as well.

Friday, June 13, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 2

This week, one meal really stood out from the others for local and zero mile flavor.

Rotisserie chicken; couscous with sundried tomatoes, basil, and ricotta cheese; mixed green salad with chevre, radishes, and green onions; homemade ciabatta bread.

Wine: White Linen by Deep Creek Cellars.

Everything in the meal was grown and made at home except the couscous, flour, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and cayenne pepper. The cheeses I made fresh this week from our raw Jersey milk. Mmmmmm! The tomatoes and basil are from last year's garden.

The ricotta was tasty, but the chevre was dynamite, and we've been enjoying it in everything from eggs to burritos. It lends a creaminess to everything that's just out of this world. Speaking of which, I need to make some more!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

This week's CSA Share

Since the new CSA season started at the beginning of this month, I figured it was time for another share photo. This week's large share, minus the dozen eggs:

The share includes bull's blood beets, green onions, hakurei turnips, d'avignon radishes, vates kale, mixed greens (bloomsdale spinach, green salad bowl lettuce and buttercrunch lettuce), the last of the red salad bowl head lettuce, thyme, citrus thyme, rosemary, dill and cilantro.

The incredible heat we've had for the past week has shot the head lettuces in the high tunnel, and I'm doing what I can to keep the younger lettuces going in the market garden. This past weekend I cut up a bunch of shade cloth for cover to give them a fighting chance. The spinach is already bolting, the radishes are turning pithy, the endive is long gone, and the hot summer stuff is still growin'. Next week should be interesting. I need to nurse these greens along until I have tomatoes, peppers, and squash!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Review of World Made By Hand

I finished James Kunstler's latest novel, World Made by Hand, a few weeks ago and have been meaning to post about it for some time now. (By the way, Jenny, it's headed your way soon because I'm sure you have about as much time on your hands to read it as I did.)

It wasn't a fabulous book. It wasn't a very well-written book. It wasn't a very compelling book either character or plot wise. What it was ... was a kind of neurosis feeding train wreck, like I can't stop reading because I have some bizarre fascination with how this person imagines the end of the world as we know it. That morbid fascination, combined with a kind of residual school-assignment compulsion to read it because of what it represents for this historical moment got me through the entire novel in about a month. Kunstler should be praised for his short chapters, though, because it made it nice and easy to pick up and put down with short snippets of time... in large part because reading more than one chapter at a time was downright torturous.

One of the first things students are taught in literature classes is not to equate the narrator with the author of a story. Unless of course, the novel is a roman a clef, or story with a key to its autobiographical nature. Is World Made by Hand autobiographical? Of course not, but the aging protagonist who turns out to be Jewish in almost an after-thought kind of way in the novel's bizarre religious twist ending and who seems to be the most fuckable guy in town does tend to lead one to the conclusion that Kunstler enjoys fantasizing about himself in different apocalyptic scenarios. The unfortunate part of all this is that he lets us in on those fantasies.

World Made by Hand is a pedantic novel, a kind of Pilgrim's Progress of the peak oil era. And like many novels whose primary purpose is to teach a lesson, the prose is stilted, the characters cardboard, and the conclusion is downright ludicrous. Kunstler takes pains to paint his protagonist, Robert Earle, as a kind of moral golden boy, a reluctant messiah aided by the newly arrived Brother Jobe and his New Faith congregation. Kunstler's world made by hand moves in mysterious ways, and the supernatural twist the New Faithers represent reads as a cheap theatrical ending. Kunstler plunks down his deus ex machina in the middle of a small town New York high school turned cult compound in the form of a "queen bee," an immense woman fond of tea cakes, prone to seizures, and with a penchant for yellow satin mu-mus. Queen bee dribbles spit up food and pours forth a prophecy, declaring Robert "the chosen one":
I'm annointing you, son, on behalf of you know who. Don't be thick. Take the responsibility, or be goddamned.

Indeed, Robert is chosen by nearly every female character in the novel, not just queen bee, including his best friend's wife, a newly widowed mother young enough to be his daughter, and a New Faith floozy who tries to seduce him at a hoe down at Brother Jobe's suggestion.

Although Robert, unlike his best friend, is able to consummate his relationships, he remains oddly impotent throughout the book. He is curiously unable to act in any of the crucial moments of the book, passively allowing events to play out around him and push him into reaction. Indeed, the New Faithers and the plantation owner, Stephen Bullock, are the primary movers of the novel, and it's only through their energy and input that Robert accomplishes anything at all. Ultimately, queen bee's vengeful justice enacted through Brother Jobe is what provides closure for the novel's overarching plot line.

The novel fails, too, on the level of either a how-to book for surviving in a post-peak world or as a chronicle of the peak collapse. The details for either are left so vague as to offer little useful information though one definite take-away message is to save your marijuana seeds if you have any. I imagine there are some folks out there who might find that comforting....

*Editing to add that Sharon Astyk over at Casaubon's Book is hosting a post-apocalyptic book club if that's your cup of tea: reading list. Me, I'll stick on the bright and shiny side of life.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Independence Days Week 6

This week I was flirting with overwhelm. Not necessarily because I got so much done, but because it's getting to the point in the season where it feels like there's so much still to be done and not enough time in the day to do it! It's been hard getting things in the ground because we've been pretty wet, and I have these panicky moments when I feel like the season's already almost over and it'll soon be time to get the winter stuff into the ground. Of course, it's barely June, and there's plenty of time for succession planting. But these 90° days we're having don't help the feeling that time just keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping....


3.5 rows of lettuce, 50 lbs Yukon gold potatoes. I got the potatoes cut up this week, and Jim got them in the ground yesterday in the crazy heat we're having.


red salad bowl lettuce, romaine, d'avignon radishes, snap peas, swiss chard, spinach, cilantro, thyme, citrus thyme, oregano, tarragon, chives, strawberries, milk, eggs.


Made and froze 3.5 lbs butter. Jim made ground pork from the piglet he butchered using his grandma's Sunbeam with grinder attachments that we inherited.


Purchased several dairy cultures that now reside in my freezer for use in preserving some of the milk we're getting.


Prepped a stall in the barn for our Nigerian Dwarf goat, Latte, who's due to kid any day now. She's the one with the brown markings; the white one is her little boy from last year, who will likely be in our freezer soon.

Set up milking stand and area for her in the barn, so my daughter Julia can milk her, starting 2 weeks after kidding.

Found a silver fox bunny doe for Julia's rabbit breeding, and she and Jim began building the hutch. Jules is definitely the one most into the farm, and the one most likely to actually take care of said bunnies. She wants to be a vet when she grows up, so she's very interested in learning all about animals. More power to her!


Cleaned and organized the refrigerator to accommodate all of our new dairy products. Weeded the market garden and put up a row of agribon over the beans that were being crushed by bean beetles. Patrolled the potatoes for Colorado potato beetles, larva and eggs. Bees: installed foundation in 20 frames, 10 for each deep hive body, and added them to our two hives, which are filling out really nicely. Laid soaker hoses in the market garden. Sprayed Serenade to try to control botrytis in the strawberries, courtesy of the wet weather we've been having.


Made neufchatel cream cheese for the first time, also chevre, which I've made before, and sour cream.

(Gratuitous barn cat photo.)


Seasonal CSA started last week, so I harvested produce shares for 10 families.


Compost, reusable bags, etc.


I continue to learn all about cheese making.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Cow by Any Other Name...

Well, we've finally settled on a name for our cow: Bella. I had been thinking of Lilly, but she really isn't a Lilly. I needed to live with her for a while, get to know her and her personality a bit more before I could put a name to her. Lavish just didn't cut it.

While brushing her I'd find myself murmuring how beautiful she is, so Bella just seems fitting. Plus, I can now sing her one of my favorite Ella Fitzgerald songs, a live rendition in Berlin of Mack the Knife where she improvised the lyrics: "Now Ella Bella and her fellas are makin' a wreck of Mack the Knife..." That song has a wonderful history of improvisation, as it became an overnight sensation and even Louis Armstrong, who recorded it in 1956, and his band ended up feeding nickels to a jukebox to relearn it while on tour in Europe.

But I digress....

Folks have asked how the milking is going and what our routine looks like, and now that we've had Bella for a week and a half, I feel like we've actually developed some kind of routine to talk about. Warning: lots of boring details ahead!

I've set up our mudroom as a milking room of sorts. This is where the utility sink is, which makes washing and storing the machine pretty convenient. I'd love to replace the plastic sink with a stainless one, but it'll send Jim into a tizzy to even mention it, so pretend I said nothing.

I use a DeLaval milker (sorry Tim, not sure which model but it's definitely an older one), and I'm pretty pleased with it so far, though it definitely takes some getting used to. Figuring out how to attach the inflations (the thing that attaches to the teat) while holding the whole claw up (the thing that joins all 4 inflations) was a rather steep learning curve. I have plugs, which helps tremendously—I can't imagine trying to pinch off each one manually.

I milk in the barn twice a day, between about 7:45 and 8:15 am/ pm. She was on a 7:30/ 7:30 schedule, and this seemed quite sane to me, so we worked it a bit into our schedule with CSA pick-ups and such. I still have time to wake up a bit, have a relaxing cup of coffee and check my email before heading out to the barn.

This is my basic set up here to the right: a clean towel to lay stuff on, her brushes, a dip cup, and a five gallon bucket. Missing from the photo are also my small milking pail, which I use as a strip cup, and a container with the udder wash and cloths. When I head out to the barn, I fill up the five gallon bucket with about 4 gallons of water and 1/4 cup of Clorox bleach. I use the pump to run this through the milk machine to sanitize it before milking, then I pour the mixture back into the bucket for use after milking. I insert the plugs into the inflations and get Bella's feed and hay ready before going out to fetch her from the pasture. She stays much cleaner out there! I'm thinking that morning milk in the winter may go to the animals.

This is a photo from the second day we had her, so she's a whole lot cleaner now on a regular basis, but this gives you some idea of what I'm talking about. We have her tethered on both sides with a feed bucket in front of her, and she's looking out the dutch door of the barn. We bring her in through her stall, which is on the other side of the wall to her right side, and then walk her out through the door in front of her so she never has to turn around.

After cleaning her teats and udder, I take the first few squirts of milk from each teat by hand to check for signs of mastitis and to clean the orifice—those first squirts have the highest bacteria count. I then turn on the pump and attach each inflation one by one. I've found the best way for me is to extend my legs under Bella to support the claw as I attach. My hands just aren't large enough to keep it up off the ground otherwise.

Once she's done milking out, I massage each quarter gently to get the last of the cream. Milking out thoroughly is really important to help prevent mastitis, something you definitely don't want to deal with. I have a California Mastitis Test kit on hand in case I need it, which is a good investment for anyone with dairy animals. I then turn off the pump and remove the inflations, strip her by hand just to be sure, and dip her teats to help prevent infection. At this point, she's done her grain/ alfalfa mix, and I brush her a bit just to keep her standing while her teat orifices close before turning her back out onto pasture. I get just under 2 gallons at each milking.

The milk bucket then heads back into the house with me where I decant it into two sterilized one gallon glass jars. The jars go into plastic storage containers that I fill with ice water and set into the fridge for rapid chilling.

The system that I've developed is that the freshest milk is in the front, and the previous milking is behind. That gives each jar a full 24 hours for the cream to separate. I did some refrigerator rearranging to accommodate all the jars of milk and cream. Crazy huh?

After pouring off the milk, I take the milker back out to the barn where I can use the pump to cycle through that 4 gallons of bleach water again to clean the machine, dumping it back into the 5 gallon bucket when I'm done. Then I bring the milker back in to the utility sink where I wash it out with hot soapy water inside and out and set it dry before the next cycle begins. I let the bleach dissipate from the 5 gallon bucket before pouring it out and giving it a quick cleaning. Once every 2 weeks or so, I'll probably run a dairy acid wash through the machine to prevent milk stone build up.

Back to the kitchen.... Once the jars have sat for 24 hours, I skim the cream into a quart mason jars and date the lid. We've been using the cream for making fresh ice cream and butter as well as a neufchatel cream cheese, which is pressing out now and should be ready for bagels this morning if all went well.

Once the milk is skimmed, I pour some of it off into 1/2 gallon milk jars for drinking and date the bottle cap. We're not huge milk drinkers—in fact I don't drink milk at all—so we go through a 1/2 gallon in just over a day. The kids and Jim are now drinking amazing raw milk that's no more than 2 days old. It just doesn't get any better than that! Even skimmed, the milk has a cream line similar to that from a commercial dairy. Unskimmed, the Jersey milk is so high in butterfat that the cream line goes half way down the milk jug! Plus, my kiddos don't much like getting the big chunks of heavy cream in the cereal, so skimming works out great, and unless something happens during the milking routine to compromise the milk, I skim all the milk that goes out to the animals as well, getting all the tasty cream for us. I get about a quart of cream for each 2 gallons of milk.

We purchased a Donvier ice cream maker after much research on my part. It's received excellent reviews, unlike the old fashioned wooden bucket makers, and though it doesn't make as much ice cream, we figure that's probably a good thing in the long run because it's so darned good that we'd eat more of it if there were more! It makes a quart of soft ice cream in about 20 minutes with very little cranking and no ice/ salt mess to deal with. It's really simple and convenient. Just store the cylinder in the freezer overnight and it's ready to go.

I've also been making butter with the cream in my stand mixer, not quite as fabulous as the ice cream, but pretty darn tasty. I've put up about 3.5 lbs in the freezer now as we use up the last of our store-bought butter.

I'd guess that the butter also takes about 20 minutes to make with the mixer set on medium speed. I use the splash guard and drape a lightweight dish towel over it to catch the splashes. Once it separates, I pour off the buttermilk to use for cooking or cheesemaking and thoroughly rinse the butter in cool water before packing into sour cream tubs for freezing. Each tub holds just over a pound of butter. Yesterday I made about 2.5 lbs of butter while I was making pancakes and waffles for the kids—pretty easy.

The trick has just been to find ways to integrate all these new steps into the existing rhythm of my day, figuring out how best to make things work for our set up. We're going to be milking a goat as well in the next 3 weeks or so, which should add another interesting twist. Jules is determined to do it herself at this point in time. We'll see how long that determination holds out. The nice thing with that, though, is that we'll have the kid(s), so I can always let them do the job if it gets to be too much for us.

The big thing now is determining whether Bella is, indeed, pregnant again. She was AI-ed when we went to look at her, and the dairy kept her through another heat cycle for me upon my request. Good thing, too, because she came back into heat. The gal AI-ed her again, twice, 12 hours apart, and the vet check showed no signs of cysts that might prevent pregnancy. So, I'm hopeful but still anxious.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Independence Days Week 5

Wow! It's already week five of the Independence Days challenge, and it's been both motivating and satisfying to look back on what we've managed to accomplish.


I transplanted about 300 tomato plants and around 150 pepper plants. For those who don't know, we have a small CSA, which accounts for the crazy numbers. Though I admit to being nearly incapable of killing anything green. Deliberately anyway, though I sure did my best with these guys. We have a hodge-podge of plants in the market garden that only time will tell what they are. I tried to plant them based on similarity, so we may have some semblance of organization down there.


Harvested variety of lettuces, kale, chard, radishes, strawberries, green onions, snap peas, thyme, cilantro, sorrel, chives, milk and eggs.


Picked 6 quarts of strawberries and made jam out of 4 quarts to yield 16 half pints. Froze 2 quarts for use in smoothies and ice cream.

Skimmed 9 quarts of cream! This will go towards making butter and ice cream. Yummmmmm!


Put up 3 bottles of "cheap ass" vodka, according to Jim, for use in making tinctures; 3 bottles lamp oil; matches; organic lemon juice; 50# hard red winter wheat berries; 25# arborio rice; 25# brown basmati rice; 50# organic sugar; vanilla; Em's favorite graham sticks.


Picked up 25 buckeye chicks to round out our breeding program. Purchased a book called Spinning in the Old Way, which talks about spinning obviously, but also about wool prep. Jim picked up 10 cattle panels.


Weeded in the market garden, laid tarp to keep down weeds in the staging area, covered spinach with shade cloth, continued to slug-hunt, pulled out soaker hoses.


I made ricotta cheese for the first time this week, and it was pretty tasty, though the curds were quite firm—almost mozzerella like. The first batch didn't come out at all, but the piggies and the chickens didn't mind one little bit; they thought it was just marvelous.

We also made our first ice cream, and boy was it just amazing! We made vanilla for everyone to fix up the way they like. Jules and Em had chocolate syrup, Jim and I had sugared strawberry topping I quickly whipped up from our garden, Sam had both! Em kept saying, "It's like heaven in cream form!"


CSA delivery to three local families. Natural foods co-op, volunteered for unloading and check in.


Used my chico bags again while shopping. I love having them right in my purse for those times I forget to grab my canvas market bags.


Learning all about cheese making.