Monday, December 21, 2015

20 Weeks of Food Storage - Week 2

Week 2 - 20 Pounds of Pinto Beans (plus a bucket) - $22.41
Running Total - $38.02

One thing you will find missing from my 20 weeks of food storage list is wheat.  One reason for this is that the list is intended to be easy to follow, without requiring expensive, specialized equipment.  The second is simply because I have bought whole wheat and ground our flour for quite a while.  Wheat is one of the most well-known disaster preparation foods and there are some very good reasons for this.  Even at $36 per 50 pound bag, wheat packs a huge nutritional punch for your money.  Wheat is incredibly easy to store, requiring just good airtight containers placed somewhere with reasonable temperatures.  It can be stored for very long periods of time with little loss of nutritional value.  Wheat can be made into many dishes from hot crusty bread to luscious egg noodles.  It seems like wheat’s the perfect way to go.  But there is an issue.....

While wheat berries can be cooked and eaten in unprocessed form as a sort of cereal, almost anything else requires that it be ground to various consistencies.  You can make cracked wheat or farina (Cream of Wheat) in a food processor, but for bread, tortillas, and noodles you must have a grinder specifically designed for flour.  Also, for it to be useful in a disaster situation where electricity may not be available, it must be able to be used as a hand grinder.  

I have owned two different hand grinders.  My first grinder was the “Cadillac” of hand grinders, the Country Living mill.  This is a quite expensive mill that starts at $429 with no options.  It is very sturdy, all metal with a powder coated finish.  It comes standard with the pulley wheel so you can motorize it and uses steel burrs.  It can only be used for dry grains, no oily seeds.  It grinds fairly easily by hand, but you know you’ve earned your bread by the time you have enough flour for it.  It produces up to very fine flour.  I found it rather difficult to take apart and clean with a strong spring that had to go back in just right.  Personal circumstances forced the sale of this mill a couple of years ago.

My second mill is the Wonder Junior Deluxe mill.  It is a little less than half the price of the Country Living mill at $219.  This price does not include the pulley for motorizing, but you can obtain that for an additional $49.  The Junior Deluxe is also all metal and has a powder coated finish.  It comes with a set of stone burrs for flour and steel burrs for grinding oily seeds such as nuts for nut butters.  It grinds very fine flower with the stone burrs and takes similar effort to do the grinding as my first mill.  It is smaller than the Country Living Mill and has the most ingenious clamp that allows you to move it easily.  It is also very easy to clean. Either one of these mills is an excellent choice.

Once you have your mill, start using it!  Storing wheat does you no good if you don’t know how to cook with it.  By grinding your own flour, you are learning how much time and energy it takes to supply yourself with what you need for regular cooking.  Be sure only to grind enough for the day, or at most the next few days.  Freshly ground flour is a whole food and the oils will go rancid in a short time.  It does not keep forever like store bought flour that has had all the oil (and nearly all of the nutrients) removed so it will store indefinitely.  Your favorite recipes may need to be adjusted a bit when using fresh whole wheat flour and you will notice foods baked with fresh ground flour have a distinctly different flavor, much richer than store-bought.   

The best food storage plan is one where you use all of the things you are storing as part of your regular routine.  An emergency is not a good time to drastically change the way you cook or eat.  Of course you want to replace things as you use them, but this ensures that nothing in your store gets outdated or old.  It will also allow you to see what you are storing, but don’t use.  Get rid of those things (maybe a local food bank would like them) so you have more space to store what you do use.  This way, if the need arises, you won’t have to worry about “What’s for Dinner

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Living Fence....Again

One of the most important tasks in Micro/Urban homesteading is learning to see everything has multiple uses.  There simply isn't space here for anything that just has one purpose.  You may remember that I attempted a willow "fedge" or living fence several summers ago.  While the essential idea was sound, my choice of plants wasn't appropriate for WeeHavyn. It is dry up here and willow likes wet feet. 

Yet I am determined to have my living fence.  I adore the idea of a woven row of trees, intertwined in an intricate network of branches.  It is a fence that does not require the digging of post holes, an arduous task in our rocky soil, and repairs itself with proper care.  A fedge is, by its very nature, multipurpose.  Not only will it serve as a property boundary, but provides habitat for insects and birds.  Depending on the type of tree planted, it may also produce fruit and fodder for livestock.  I had chosen willow with the idea of feeding the nutritious prunings to the goats and rabbits.  My new choice provides even more....

Today I ordered 100 seedlings of native red mulberry for my new fence, to be delivered in February.  I chose mulberry for several reasons.  Mulberry leaves are extremely high in protein and very palatable to livestock.  After all, it doesn't matter how nutritious the food is if the animals won't eat it.  I coppiced one of the wild mulberries in our hedgerow last Spring and the goats ate the resulting sprouts like candy all Summer.  While some of these seedlings will  be male and won't produce any berries, mulberries can be quite tasty and each tree will be a little different.  The downside... mulberry bird droppings stain!

Since I have not been able to find an example of anyone actually using mulberry to do this, I do have some concerns.... 
  • How will a tree that wants to grow up to 50 feet react to being kept at around 4 feet high?
    • Judging from the trees in the median, they should be fine.  These trees are mowed several times a year and seem to just put out new shoots and take it all in stride.
  •  Will I be able to graft the branches together to make a strong, integrated fedge?  
    • I would like my fedge to be tight enough to keep the dog in.  I know if you scrape the bark of a willow branch and tie the wounded parts together, the branches will graft into one tree.  I'm not sure mulberry will do this, but I guess we'll find out!
  • Will the severe pruning keep the trees from fruiting?  
    • While this isn't a deal-breaker, I would like fruit from the fedge.  Mulberries are highly variable in fruit taste and quality.  We have one volunteer mulberry tree that has tiny fruit with an amazing sweet-wild flavor and one with huge, almost tasteless fruit.  I'm curious to see what fruit variations would come of the fedge.
 Despite any misgivings, I am going to take the plunge and just try it for myself.  The only way to know for sure is to do it.  I'm brushing up on espaliering techniques and grafting so I'll have some idea of what to do once the seedlings get large enough to do anything with.  Mulberry is very fast growing (some consider it a weed and you know how I love those!), so there should be some semblance of a fedge by this Autumn.  After all....nothing ventured, nothing gained! 

What do you think, would you do this?

Monday, December 14, 2015

20 Weeks of Food Storage - Week 1

Week 1 - 20 pounds of rice (plus a bucket to keep it dry and free of pests) -$15.61

I have always had good intentions of developing an organized food storage plan. just never seemed to happen.  Even though we are working on producing a lot of our own food, there will always be many things that we lack the room or climate to grow.  WeeHavyn is more suitable for livestock products such as eggs, meat, and dairy.  We are working on a perennial garden and have the Garden Barrels and GunniGardens for annual vegetables and potatoes, but there is simply no room for bulk crops such as grain or beans.

I consider myself an optimist.  While I definitely see changes happening in the next few years, I think they will ultimately be changes for the better.  Yet I know that some of these things may be painful for the unprepared.  I'm not "prepping" for the end of the world.  I dislike that word as it tends to have an "every man for himself" connotation, a sure recipe for disaster. Rather, I am cushioning us from shocks or sudden changes. I have great faith that we posses the good sense and skills to overcome most any trouble, but it would be nice not to have to shop amid the panic of an ice storm threatening or something else unexpected.

With this in mind, I've decided to become systematic about our food storage.  I've created a checklist based on this article: 20 Items to Kick Start Your Food Storage Plan.  I found the article sensible and easy to follow.  I believe I will end up spending an average of $20 per week on this plan, for a total of about $400.  Each week I will highlight what I purchased for the plan and how much I spent.  By the end of 20 weeks I should have a respectable food storage program and a grand total of what it costs.

Do you have a food storage plan?  Why or why not?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

According to His Nature...

The photo of Hank with his nose on the chicken on last week's blog post has inspired questions about how I taught him to get along with something he might instead consider to be dinner.  I'd have to say that it's about half nature and half nurture.  Hank has a calm, gentle disposition.  He is obedient, eager to please, and has always been easy to train. I can take no credit for this.

The nurture part I can take some credit for.  Because pitbulls have a vicious reputation at the present moment, I decided when I rescued Hank that he would be a good representative for his breed.  I began his training the first day I got him, and have carefully established and maintained my dominance in our "pack".  We went to obedience class when he was a puppy.  However; I think the most important part of his training is that he was NEVER allowed to roughhouse with anyone or chase anything.  I know it's fun to wrestle and "mock fight" with a puppy.   But, they soon grow up and this "game" gets much less fun.  If Hank has something in his mouth I want, he's to give it to me and tug games would teach him the opposite. 

All that being said, while Hank is a very good dog, I never leave him unattended with the livestock.  He is still a predator and they are all prey animals.  He did not grow up with livestock (he was two before we got the goats and the chickens came later than that).  When I am out there, he looks to me as pack leader for direction.  He mimics how I behave with the livestock.  But I have no doubt that if he was left alone with only his deepest instincts to guide him, he would soon be having chicken dinner.  Even when I am there, there are moments that a sudden move or loud cackle will pique his interest.  His demeanor will change and I can see the hunter there, right beneath the surface. 

That is his nature....

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Making the Most of It

We had a really pretty weekend, sunny temps in the upper 50's.  It feels more like late October than the first week of December.  I'm not complaining though, as it certainly makes outside projects much more pleasant to work on.  We have a LOT of outside projects right now.

The livestock part of WeeHavyn is always changing.  Animals come and go, pens are built and moved in an attempt to make the most efficient use of space.  I find that you can plan and plan, but until you start using your setup, you just don't really know how it's going to work out.  Rosey did not go back into heat last week, so we said goodbye to Pepe.  I had never intended to have a buck goat at WeeHavyn, but when it became obvious that it was going to be necessary, we knew it would be for as short an amount of time as possible.  Once his job was done, Pepe found a new home.

We've decided that having the chicken pen under the deck isn't working well.  True, it's very secure, and was easy to build, but it is dark and cold and the hens infinitely prefer running in the sunshine out in the goat yard.  Besides, I need somewhere to store a year's worth of hay.  The chicken house will be moved into the goat pen, behind the new cedar fence that is currently under construction.  We've also decided to try having a rooster.  Our Salmon Faverolles are incredibly quiet and docile.  Not even our dog, Hank, seems to ruffle them much.  We're hoping that the rooster will be similarly quiet and we can have sweet baby chicks this spring.

We are trying to do a great deal in very little space.  This means everything must have multiple uses.  The deck serves and emergency exit, warm weather hangout, framework for the chicken pen, cooking area, and clothes line.  The new fence will also serve several purposes.  It will act as a windbreak for the chicken/goat enclosure, the east wall and support of the milking shed, the right side of the milking stand, and the back wall of the rabbitry.  Our goal is to have our set up as robust, easy, and low maintenance as possible.

I'm so excited!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tucked in for the Winter

There was a hard frost this morning and I had to scrape the glittering crust from my windshield before heading off for my run at the gym.  The breeze is icy.  Even the sunlight has taken on a cold silver hue.  Winter has come at last. In this season of quiet sleep, I often chafe at what seems to be a complete stasis of all our projects, even though I know there is quiet growth deep within....the results of which will burst forth with a vigor impossible without this time of dormancy.  This is a yearly battle for me, to be patient and accept this rest and refreshment as the blessing it is rather than simply an impediment to my plans.

The plants are also tucked away for a quiet winter's nap.  I have pruned the hardy kiwi's all the way back to a single 3" stem in each pot, knowing they will shoot eagerly from a strong, mature root system next Spring.  I may have delayed fruiting by a year, but I have changed my mind about the way I wanted them twined on the trellis.  So next summer, the kiwis will be carefully trained to my new plan.  The pots are filled with crisp, fluffy maple leaves to hold moisture and protect the plants from drying winds.

The strawberry barrels also received an unusual bit of pampering this year.  I replaced the Ozark Beauty plants this spring with the more hardy Jewel and Ft. Laramie varieties and promptly left them to fend for themselves during a very dry summer.  The third that survived are obviously the hardiest of the bunch and I used runners from these plants to fill in the empty pockets.  Thus far I have not had the best of luck keeping the plants alive during the winter.  I do not believe it is simply the cold, strawberries are very shallow rooted plants and freeze solid in most climates, but rather that the plants dry out in the well drained barrels.  So this year I've tried tucking partially decomposed straw (the remnants of my failed straw bale beds)  in each pocket to protect the exposed crowns from drying out.  Hopefully that works, but there's only one way to find out.

Perhaps I'll even remember to water them during a few winter thaws...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Waiting Game

The sun has finally peeked out from behind the clouds this morning after 4 days of gloom and rain.  The air smells delightfully of damp soil and a gentle breeze amuses itself by teasing the last few leaves from the tree branches.  The grass seed I planted in October now grows thick and glows brilliantly green through the drab colors of the fallen leaves.  Life is good.

Waiting seems to be an inevitable part of living close to Nature.  Everything has its own time and cannot be hurried.  Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter come and go in an unending spiral of frenzied growth, quiet maturity, and rest.  Plants grow, bear fruit, and die.  It may be possible to force a change in these patterns, one can indeed, grow strawberries in December.  But the cost is so very high.  What Mother Nature provides freely in her own time, light, warmth, and moisture, must be supplied with a great deal of work and energy.  Is it worth it?  Perhaps we should thoroughly enjoy the dew-kissed ruby fruit in Summer and learn the joy of anticipation the rest of the year.  Each season has its flavor, sweet asparagus, crisp greens, and tart rhubarb in Spring, the dizzying abundance of flavor and texture in Summer and Autumn, and hearty squash, sweet carrots, and savory potatoes in Winter.

Today is an important day for Rosey, although I doubt she is at all concerned.  So maybe I should say it is an important day for me.  Today is the day she should go back into heat if she wasn't bred three weeks ago.  Of course she had to tease me last night, crying loudly and asking for more food.  My heart sank with the thought that perhaps she wasn't just asking for food.  But this morning she showed no more interest in Pepe than usual.  Of course, she may change her mind tomorrow, but I'm very hopeful. 

After all... baby goats and fresh creamy cheese are worth the wait!