Saturday, June 29, 2013

Drying Day

We have had a week of dog days in the Ozarks.  The air seemed to cling to my skin, heavy and damp and everything became slow and quiet in the oppressive heat.  True to my resolution of not using the clothes dryer, I've been hanging my laundry out even though it has taken much longer to dry.  Not even the night with its twinkling display of fireflies brought relief.

Then came a cold front in an unbridled display of lightning and wind.  Fierce rain beat leaf and branch, sparing only the supple and strong while leaving the weak scattered among gnarled roots.   Yet the storm left paradise in its violent wake.  Cotton clouds chased each other through today's sea blue sky.  A playful breeze stroked the leaves into a joyous dance.  It was a perfect drying day.

As I pinned a succession of socks, shirts, and sheets to the line, I reflected on how cut off from our surroundings we have become.  In the name of comfort and convenience we have shut ourselves away from the world outside.  We slip quickly from heated or cooled home to climate-controlled car.  Instead of enjoying the array of beauty each season displays, we try to create sameness.  We spare ourselves some discomfort in this pursuit, but what are we giving up?  Is comfort worth missing the glowing dance of fireflies on a hot summer night, the glittering lace of frost on buff winter grass, or the shy faces of new violets on a rainy spring morning?

In our search for comfort and sameness, do we also shut ourselves away from each other?  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Finally a Fence!!

A New Look for WeeHayvn
A very big piece of our Urban Homesteading puzzle was completed yesterday.  We finally have the fence that will be the foundation of our livestock keeping activities.  In very much the same way that WeeHavyn defines our indoor lifestyle, this fence will define how everything works outside.  It's shape will create "rooms" for various activities and it's size limits the number of animals we can keep.  While some people might resent a built-in limitation, I welcome it.  I have a tendency toward excess when it comes to critters and am glad for anything that will curb that even a little.

The Rabbit Shelter will run along the fence here.

One thing about a farm of any size.  As soon as one project is completed, another begins.  I still have to build a shed for the goats, a roof for the permanent rabbit cage site, and we need to finish extending the deck.  Sometimes it's so easy to get lost in what still needs to be done that I forget how much we've already accomplished at WeeHavyn.  I have to sternly tell myself we are making progress and, while no home is ever truly "done", there will come a day when I can spend more time in a hammock and less with a shovel.
Two of the goat shed walls are already done!
 Here's to that day!

In the meantime, I'm off to find the shovel.

This is where the goats will live.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Deliberating the Dryer

Three Loads!

We truly live in a time of wonders.  Many of the things we simply take for granted would have been unimaginable 100 years ago and would probably have been attributed to witchcraft 200 years ago.  So many tasks that would have to be done with hours of physical toil are delegated to a machine left to itself and forgotten. Yet we are so accustomed to relying on them, we never even question whether they are actually necessary.  Now I'm not saying modern appliances are all bad.  I'm very grateful for my refrigerator and my front-loading washer is wonderful.  Inevitably though, less than essential appliances insinuate themselves into our lives, perhaps saving time, but taking up space and energy. 

My clothes dryer is one appliance I question.  True, it is incredibly handy, allowing me to do laundry with no planning ahead, no matter what the weather outside is like.  Still, I can't help but doubt my true need of it.  After all, I think most of the days I do laundry are nice enough to hang clothes out in the clean air and healthy sunshine.  Using the dryer heats the house unpleasantly in the summer and although the heat is welcome in the winter, it isn't really efficient.  Finally, the dryer takes up space.  When you live in a 488 square foot house, space is at a premium.  Yet, I've made no effort to set anything up so I can hang my clothes outside.

Until now....

Once the Railing is up, I'll have to change my hanging method.
I purchased an umbrella style clothes line and it has been installed on the unfinished deck just 10 steps from the washing machine.  While I'm excited about having sweet air dried sheets, I know just having the line there won't be enough to get me to use it.  Habits are hard to break and I've simply thrown my clothes into the dryer without thinking about it for a long time.  So I've decided to give myself a year to see if it's feasible to send the dryer packing and use that space for more necessary things.  A strip of tape will seal the dryer door and a journal will hang on the wall next to it.  I'll note the date and reason (poor planning, emergency, bad weather, etc.) I'm using the dryer.  Having to break that seal and write down why will force me to THINK about what I'm doing.

Autopilot no longer allowed.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An Ending is a Beginning

The Garden Barrel has witnessed another ending.  The Golden Sweet Peas have traveled through their seasons from the sweet round leaves of  tender seedling, the wildly grasping tendrils and trembling bloom of adolescence, slowly plumping golden pods of middle age, and finally the glorious ripening of full maturity.  It is now time for them to give way, leaving dying roots behind to loosen and enrich the soil for the next crop and providing carefully saved seeds for later needs.

Like everything in nature, this ending is also the beginning.  When the peas began to bloom, I nestled a snap bean seed or two in each of their pockets to keep them company.  The beans are now leaving their own childhood, bearing flawless purple blooms like a proud badge of maidenhood.  Soon tiny green husks will push their way from blooms grown pale and ragged, growing into sweet snap beans.  Like the peas, their season will also end and seeds saved from the best and strongest plants.

Thus life spirals on....

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Precious Gems

It is strange to think that something we tend to value so highly is really only worth anything during times of surplus.  Gems are beautiful, but ask a starving person whether they'd rather have rubies or potatoes and I can guess their answer.  Especially if everyone around them is also starving.  The same comparison would work for diamonds and water.  Both are clear and sparkling, but only one actually fulfills any real need.

I have found some "gems" that are both beautiful and useful no matter how dire the circumstances.  They are an heirloom corn called "Glass Gem" and they really do sparkle like emeralds, sapphires, and rubies.  One can almost imagine a string of these lovely kernels gracing the slender neck of a young Indian maiden as she gives thanks for the year's crops.

Yet despite their resemblance to traditional jewels, which after all are mere rocks, these "gems" are far more valuable.  They can be ground into meal and flour for sweet nourishing food.  They can be buried in the earth and will bring forth abundance.  They store well and will feed the hungry during the lean times of early spring when the Earth has not yet woken from her winter sleep.  Perhaps most important, they hold the all genetic variation lost to our modern field corn.  This is not a corn that bends her will to uniformity and industrial cultivation.

As I look at the slender young stalks stretching eagerly toward the warm sun, I think about how these gems cannot to be hoarded, but must shared with all who wish to grow their own Jewels.  In this sharing, true wealth is created.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sack of Potatoes

I love potatoes.  I think a crispy baked potato smothered in real butter, shredded cheddar cheese, and hot wing sauce and liberally sprinkled with hot, crispy bacon pieces is a perfect meal.  My ultimate comfort food is potatoes sliced thin and fried with bacon and onions.  The heavenly aroma fills the house long before I get to dish up the crispy, brown potatoes making the wait an exquisite agony.

As much as I enjoy potatoes, WeeHavyn isn't the best place to grow them.  Our steep slopes, non-existent soil, and the unfriendly black walnut tree in the center of the yard make container growing essential for most garden crops, potatoes included.  After seeing several posts on growing potatoes in bags, I decided to create my own version.. the GunniGarden. 

So how many potatoes can you get from one plant?  I'm about to find out.  Since it was a little late when I finally got my GunniGardens finished, all the locally available potato sets were already gone.  In interests of time, I decided to purchase some small red potatoes for eating.  Now this is a risky proposition for growing as a lot of these potatoes have been treated to prevent sprouting.  Still, I planted several sets in the bottom of two different GunniGardens and one came up in each.  I've been filling the bag with soil as they shoot up to encourage the plants to make potatoes all along the 33" stem. 

I think the GunniGarden will be an ideal environment for potatoes.  The soil drains well, yet doesn't dry out and I can cover it easily when the potatoes get to the point where I don't want them watered.  The bags are inexpensive and easy to replace so I can just slit the side and let soil and potatoes fall onto a tarp where the soil can be amended for next season and the potatoes will be recovered unblemished by any ill placed shovel.

I look forward to crisp Autumn days with a plate of crisp fried potatoes, sweet caramelized onions, and savory bacon.....

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Getting Ready For Rabbits

It was a lovely day in the Ozarks.  A cool breeze wafted gently through the open windows of WeeHavyn this morning, bringing the joyful song of birds as my only alarm clock.  I lay under my quilt and took in deep breaths of sweet summer air, quietly contemplating how best to accomplish the tasks I had set for myself.  The Glass Gem corn I had planted in our community garden plots needed tending, the milk stand for my Kinder goats is in progress, and, most important of all, I need to build one more rabbit cage.

The rabbits are coming!!  After six months of anticipation, it is finally time to go and pick up my Silver Fox rabbits.  I'm getting two young bucks and two young does.  I may even be lucky enough to come home with a blue one!

The Finished Doe Cage with Under Floor Nest Boxes
These four rabbits, which we have named Romeo, Oberon, Titania, and Juliet, are going to be the foundation of our meat production plans.  In my opinion, rabbits have some very notable advantages over chickens for small scale and urban meat production.  They are practically silent, very efficient, and produce a manageable number of offspring so we won't need a huge freezer.  They are also cleaner to process (no feathers to blow everywhere) and produce lovely furs that can be used for clothing, crafts and blankets. 

Perhaps now is a good time to talk a little about Silver Fox rabbits and why I chose them.  They are a fairly rare, but recovering, heritage dual purpose breed.  They are a large meaty rabbit, but also have beautiful fur reminiscent of the silver fox.  They are born black (or blue) and their coat gradually gets silver hairs as they get older.  They are supposed to have a calm temperament, but any who has ever been around animals knows there is a lot of variation within any particular breed.  I think they are very beautiful and worth preserving.  Having animals requires a lot of work and time.  I make it a point to keep animals I enjoy.

The Buck Cage almost finished!
The corn got tended and a few more pieces of the milk stand are attached.  The second rabbit cage is almost finished.

Tomorrow, I'll be ready!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Strawberry Harvest

June has come to us clad in her rich green cloak trimmed with the frothy white of Queen Anne's Lace.  The humble yellow and white flowers of honeysuckle sweetly perfume the air while their vines scramble toward the sun.  Warm nights showcase the first tentative twinklings of amorous fireflies.

While early June may seem a time of plenty at first glance, garden produce can be rather scarce.  A few very hot days in May resulted in bolting lettuce and bitter radicchio, although the ruby stemmed Swiss chard stands resolute.  The filling pea pods hang heavy on the vine, but are not quite ready yet.  Tomato plants begin to put on spidery yellow blooms and round swellings on the bean plants hint at the harvest to come.

There is one very welcome early June crop, however.  Deep crimson strawberries hang heavy from their stems in my Garden Barrels.  These are first year plants, but are bearing quite heavily.  Every other day, I pick a pound or so of sweet living rubies and tuck what I don't eat still warm from the sun carefully into the freezer so I can enjoy the sweetness of June again in December.  It has been a joy to pick clean, perfectly formed berries that never touch the ground while still standing on my own two feet.  I have not had to pull a single weed, either.  My only chore for this harvest has been to turn the drip system on every other day, and clip the determined runners from the plants so they can put their energy into bearing.  I will only take daughter plants from the best producers, and I don't know which ones they are yet.

As the warm days of June meander into the heat of July, the garden's bounty will ebb and flow in an ever-changing tide.  The peas will come and go just as the beans are ready to harvest.  Tomatoes and peppers will bloom, swell, and ripen.  Herbs will put out their fragrant leaves to be harvested and dried for winter. 

How can anyone with a garden ever be bored??