Saturday, November 23

I have been thinking a lot about planting some new trees here on the property. We don't have that many spaces where a fruit tree would thrive due to existing trees, buildings and general layout, but I want to try and put in as many as I can.

Apples, pears, peaches and cherries are at the top of the list but I am also thinking about some types of nuts as well. English walnuts are the obvious choice but I was also thinking of putting in a black walnut tree.

There are two schools of thought that emerged when I talked to friends and family about this option. One side was definitely against it. I got comments such as "they are messy", which was the most popular reason to avoid the black walnut tree. Picking up the fallen nuts was a time consuming job and I can remember when Roy and I were first married we lived in the house that had a metal garage roof. And what was growing over the garage? Well, a huge black walnut tree. And every time we had a windy night all we could hear from our bedroom was the banging and clanging of those black walnuts leaving small dents on the metal roof when they fell.

I have known property owners to cut down every black walnut tree on the property to avoid the mess and possible diseases, even if it leaves the property entirely void of foliage.

Juglone sensitivity in other plants is another concern. Black walnuts contain a chemical in the buds and husks of the nuts called juglone. It effects other plants growing in the same area as the black walnut tree by depriving plants of oxygen and energy. Other factors can come into play and where one plant will wither and die when growing near a black walnut tree, the same plant in a different yard, while also growing near a black walnut, will be fine. Some people just don't want the risk.

The other side was pro-black walnut, mostly due to the great canopy of shade-giving foliage that the tree provides. They are productive in two ways - high value lumber and an eatable nut. The husks can be used to make a dark colored dye for fabric or home made yarn. The black walnut would make a great addition to a food forest, as long as it is not grown in the same area as an apple tree, since apple trees are sensitive to the juglone chemical.

After taking all these factors into consideration, it is probably best that I do not include a black walnut tree in my landscaping/food forest plans. Given the size of a full grown black walnut tree in relation to the area available to us for planning, the shade canopy would put more low light areas into our landscaping, limiting what we can plan in the future.

We do know quite a few people with these trees on their property and, from some of there not-so-good opinions on picking up all those fallen nuts, I don't think I will have much trouble getting permission to collect them for myself.

Friday, November 22

What Happened to the Horse Farm?

On one of the back roads near my home there used to be horse farm - a beautiful white house with an impressive display of barns and outbuildings. I say "used to" because it's gone now. I am sure there is a long story about what happened to it and I have read little snippets about tax problems and general disagreements, but the point is that it was sold, and all hints point to it being purchased by a developer.
This property was beautiful, at least from the road. A map search online shows that it borders protected wild lands which makes it even more wonderful. However, I have no doubt that sometime in the near future, there will be a road put in and construction will begin on overpriced, poorly constructed homes made with the cheapest of materials.
In fact, it has already started. Below are some photos, courtesy of google, of what the farm looked like prior to sale:

And here are the pictures I took this past summer from my car:
The house was burned to the ground. All the landscaping ripped out or burned.

The chimney survived and well as some of the stone foundation.

The stone walls are still standing from one of the barns.

They tried to burn all the barns but, well, metal just melts.
Since I took these pictures, most of the remaining parts have been knocked down and removed. All that is left of the house are some very large slabs of concrete and a few large old trees that once shaded the home.
What I do not understand is why someone would do this. Wait, yes I do understand. Money. If, in fact, this property was bought by a developer, then they are going to be making some money. They will make a paved, winding road and line it with short, paved driveways. They will put up houses with the cheapest materials, using the lowest construction bidder. They will put in lawns and soak them with chemical fertilizer and put up a pretty sign and call the whole thing "Peaceful Acres" or "Rolling Meadows". And they will make a ton of money.
This place was beautiful. It had a history and it had potential as any type of farm or an amazing homestead. And it was just burned with no concern for that history, and seemingly no concern for environmental damage caused by lighting fire to anything in sight. At the very least, all the metal could have been recycled. Fittings and house parts like hardwoods and hinges could have been saved for reuse. Field stone reused. Barn beams reclaimed.
Now there will be houses, at the very least, with no history.
Call me crazy, but am I the only one who thinks that this whole thing is absurdly unsustainable?

Thursday, November 21

Dehydrating Potatoes

Since I seem to be missing the gene that tells me how to accomplish the simple task of storing potatoes, I had to come up with another way to keep our harvest from turning soft and sprouting.
I remembered that while attending the Plan B workshop at Cold Antler Farm Kathy Harrison brought with her a jar of dehydrated potatoes. She rehydrated them for us and - surprise - they tasted like potatoes.
So I broke out my food dehydrator and stated peeling our harvest.
According to the internet, I had to peel the potatoes, cut them into manageable slices and boil them until they were tender. Then I had to drain them and put them in the refrigerator overnight. They turned out like this:

A little 'spotted' so I ended up tossing about a third of the potatoes that I had cooked. I sliced the rest into potato chip thick slices and placed them on the dehydrating racks. Most of them sliced fairly well except the ones that had cooked a little too long and were too soft to cut cleanly.

I ended up with some mushy slice pieces that the chickens were very happy to receive, along with the overly 'spotted' potatoes.

I turned on the dehydrator and let it run for about 6 hours. The result was pretty good, for a first attempt. I managed to save some of our potato harvest, and some self space in the pantry - a two gallon bucket of spuds condensed into a 4 cup Tupperware of dehydrated chips.

Wednesday, November 13

My Own Produce Bags

Since I last posted about making my own produce bags, they have become much more mainstream and I feel like I am playing catchup. I have had the materials and the idea but just not the time. When I try to get the sewing machine out, I have two kids and a cat trying to "help."
Since they are so much more popular now, I happened to find white mesh produce bags at Target for really cheap so I picked up a few of them.
After using them, I discovered a few flaws and decided to make some improvements along with using my existing materials to make a few more.
As for the store bought bags, they were not sewn together very well and some of the seems were coming undone after one use. I turned them inside out and put a good straight stitch right to the inside of the existing straight stitch, on all three sides. I also put a strong zig zag stitch over the straight stitches on all three sides to give it extra support. The other problem I found with them was that the mesh material was slippery so the weight/price labels printed out in the produce department did not stick to the bags. I folded the label around the drawstring cord but I am looking for a better way since this makes the cord sticky. Other than that, these bags work great. They hold three to four large apples a big bunch of asparagus, or four or five tomatoes.
 a strong zig zag stitch over the straight stitches on all three sides
I also made a few of my own bags with the materials I already had here at the house. I had a mesh laundry bag that I cut into four sections. I trimmed them up so they were the right shape and size, and sewed them into bags, leaving the top open.

I had some leftover fabric from a curtain project that I used to make the drawstring fold-over and I used some lightweight cotton cord for the drawstring. They turned out pretty well and they work great.

And, since bringing your own produce bags to the store is now just about as popular as bringing the canvas checkout bags, I don't get any strange looks from the cashier.

Tuesday, November 12

The Fair

Last year we went to the Mother Earth News Fair in PA and we loved it. The weather was great and even though we had the kids with us, we were still able to learn a great deal and participate.
This year, this past September, we went again. And we don't think we will be going again for a few years. This is entirely because of the kids. Plain and simple. I love them, but when it comes to staying with us, sitting quietly, listening, and not having temper tantrum meltdowns, they just don't have it in them.
We took in as much as possible and spent most of our time at the outside displays and the vendors. There were a lot more vendors this year than last year which was great since that is where we spent most of our time learning. I gathered a big collection of business cards and literature to read later since the kids didn't want to stand still for too long. I found myself quickly asking of the vendor had a website as I was being dragged away by an impatient 4 year old.
We enjoyed the poultry tent very much - they had such a wonderful variety on display and the owners were there to answer questions and take the bird, or bunny, out of the cage for the kids to pet. I thought that tent was very well set up and easy to navigate.   
We spent a lot of time at the outdoor animal exhibits and everyone was very nice about the kids wanting to pet the goats, alpacas, lamas, sheep and pigs. They all had their products on display and the whole tent was very informative. The little man was especially interested in the wool spinning demonstration and the life cycles of goats chart.
Despite the fantastic array of lectures and workshops, we were not able to take in more than one or two. We did get to see Darrell Frey of Three Sisters Farm talk about their wonderful permaculture set up. We set up camp in the back of the lecture hall which was unofficially zoned 'the people with kids and strollers' section. We got a lot out of his talk and his slide shows were great. Janet McKee was speaking with Darrell Frey and their presentations were great together.
This is where I started to notice a difference between the 2012 fair and the 2013 fair.
The 2012 fair was fantastic. We learned so much, enjoyed as much as we could, and the energy of so many like-minded people in the same place as electrifying. I felt that I was really part of something special and that I wasn't just some strange person doing strange homesteading things. There were other people like me. Lots of people. For the most part, people were considerate, understanding and very tolerant of the kids making some fuss, and there were a lot of other people there with kids. And not just with the kids - people in general were considerate of each other. I came away with a great feeling of fellowship and encouragement.
The 2013 fair was different. We still learned a lot and had a great time. But the energy was missing. I didn't feel very connected to my fellow fair-attendees this year. I can't put my finger on exactly why but this year it seems that people were a lot less tolerant of kids and of other people in general. People were pushy and a little rude. This was most apparent when it came to the lectures. People with kids tried to keep them quiet, as we did last year, but the problem I saw was not with kids making noise during speaker presentations. The problem was that people would constantly be getting up and moving around during the talks. They would come in right in the middle, sit down, listen for a few minutes, and then disrupt the talk again to get up and leave. This happened during the entire presentation from Darrell Frey. When Janet McKee was speaking, some of the younger guys in the audience started yelling that 'this talk was supposed to be about permaculture!' People were disruptive and rude.
Granted, we did not see more than one or two presentations, but while talking with other fair goers, this was pretty much the way of it in a lot of lectures.
Also, this year there were what I call chair warmers. A person would show up at 10am to a certain lecture hall and get a seat right up front. They would then 'sit through the 10am presentation, stay seated for the 11:30 presentation and then the 1pm presentation, which is the one they wanted to see in the first place. The 1pm presentation was usually a very popular one and seating was at a premium. I am not sure if this is rude or just good planning, but the people with the 10am and 11:30am presentations must not have appreciated it.
I came away from this years fair with a lot of knowledge, a lot of literature, a lot of vendor crafts, but not a great sense of belonging. This year the fair was a much more diverse group of people, which is great in that more people are getting into sustainability, but the vibe was different because of it.
I am not discouraged - we are not going to give up on things because of some bad apples. We got some great ideas for our property and we are looking forward to putting some of the permaculture ideas we picked up from Darrell Frey into practice.
Things will work out.

Roy and the little girl checking out the honey bee display

The little man in the kids butterfly tent

One of many great outdoor exhibits

Monday, November 11

Bees and Snow. In the Same Day.

Only I could manage to get stung by a bee on the bottom of my foot while walking out to the coop in the middle of a sudden snow storm in November.

Let me back up a bit.

A few weeks ago I discovered that we had a substantial bee problem in our attic. Large ones that were prone to dive bombing anyone coming into the attic and the whole place smelled like honey. This past weekend it was cold and I wanted to get into the attic. There were lots of dead bees all over the floor and a few that were walking around on bits of furniture acting very lethargic. I was able to get a great deal of the attic cleaned out and organized and the whole time I was looking for a hive or honey combs or anything resembling a home-for-bees. Nothing, until I started cleaning up the area dedicated to gift wrapping supplies. I started getting harassed by a few bees who were having no trouble getting around despite the lethargy of their siblings. At this point, it was dark outside and the few attic lights were not giving me enough to poke around in the dark corner with the Christmas gift bags.

As of today, the attic is mostly cleaned up and on the next bright and sunny weekend day we will be up there to find where they were living, how they were getting in and making sure it doesn't happen again.

There have been a few wayward bees that have made there way down into the house and one apparently decided to take a nap in my work boot. I returned from martial arts class tonight, after driving through the first snow squall of the season, only to put my boots on and get stung on the bottom of my foot while I was half way to the coop.

The chickens didn't really care that I was limping around - they just wanted their kitchen scraps.

Tuesday, November 5

Chickens (they don't listen)

Chickens are not only the 'gateway livestock animal', they also seem to be preparing me for raising teenagers.
A few of my new girls have decided that they are rebels at heart and escape the fencing every chance they get.
I was doing really well with them staying put for most of the summer, even to the point where I became a little lax in my net covering with the portable fencing. I was happy to have a nice, calm flock of proper ladies.
I knew it was too good to be true, and just like with every other instance here I must be jolted back into 'over-doing-it-just-in-case' mode. I moved the portable fencing the other day to give them access to fresh grass and to let the over-grazed areas recover. It is fall and the leaves are coming down and the green growing things are about to call it quits for the winter, so I wanted them to have as much space as I could. Given that I have become trusting of my girls, I made a big area for them with no netting on top. It took me about a half hour and they were thrilled.
I then moved on to clearing the rest of the dead materials from parts of the garden. Imagine my surprise when three hens walked past me as if out for an afternoon stroll. Which, in fact, they were.
At least they are still giving me eggs.
I spent the next 15 minutes chasing, cornering and catching three unruly hens and depositing them back in the pen. I told them, in my best parental voice "don't do that again."
This is where I saw my future. I saw my little girl as a defiant teenager climbing out of her bedroom window to meet her delinquent boyfriend (that she only likes because I don't like him) and terrorize the local townsfolk with loud cars and rock music. "Don't do that again" I say to her as I find her climbing back into her bedroom window at 4am.
I envision her listening about as well as my chickens do.
A few minutes later more hens strolled past so I gave up, got the all in the coop, drastically shrunk the size of the portable fence area, slapped some netting over the top, let the girls back out to the substantially smaller accommodations and called it a day.
Tough love.

Monday, November 4

There are two ways to look at this.

One: Being absolutely, completely and uncontrollably livid.
Two: To see it as a clutter purge.

My husband decided that I needed Windows 8 installed on my laptop. I told him that I was fine with what I had, I was having no problems and that I did not want to upgrade. He kept insisting and after about a week of pestering me, I finally gave in and said he could update Windows.

I backed up my documents, just in case, and he ran the upgrade. It did not work. There was some sort of problem. I said 'no big deal, I don't need it'. This did not sit well with Roy, given that he is a computer perfectionist and could not stand the thought of there being a computer in the house that was not running at peak performance with the most current, fancy-schmancy stuff. He then proceeded, over the course of an entire Sunday and against my wishes, to deconstruct my laptop.

I told him, on my way out the door with the little man for a play date, to be sure to back up my family tree program and the 'bookmarked favorites' on internet explorer in that I had not backed them up originally (since it was SUPPOSED to be a simple upgrade).

I now have Windows 8, which I am not crazy about and didn't want in the first place. I thankfully have my family history files which amount to years of research and thousands of names. I am livid about the fact that all of my bookmarks are gone.

I know you are saying 'they are just some bookmarks, no big deal'. But I use the bookmark feature for EVERYTHING. All the interesting and informative websites I have found concerning everything from gardening to sustainability to family history research to travel destination to kid craft ideas. All my patterns for knitting and crochet. All the blogs I read. Podcasts I listen to. All the neat tidbits I found in magazines and books. Countless links to EVERYTHING. All organized and representative of my day, my life, my world. Hours and hours of searching and discovering and compiling.


I have spent the better part of the evening yelling and I really must tell you that I do not feel bad about it. It is a rare day when I am 100% justified in yelling at my spouse for something that he did for which he has no excuse other than that he messed up. He did not listen to me when I asked him not to touch my computer. He was so obsessed with computer perfection that he was careless. He tried to backtrack and create excuses, but on this one, I have him dead to rights. And let me also tell you that it felt damn good to finally be able to win an argument and be justified in doing so by the facts.

So being very angry has lead me through the gambit of emotions from anger to disbelief to holding my head in my hands and back to anger. And, yes, I did feel a little bit good about being right. If there is one thing that does not happen around here very often it is me being right and being able to back it up with the facts.

Now, as it sit here still shaking my head and slowly starting to rebuild with the basics, I am starting to look at this as a kind of clutter purge. Simple is better. Less distraction. Less mental clutter. Granted, there were so many things that I have lost for good, but I do admit that I was thinking about cleaning out that bookmark folder. I am still sulking and bitter about losing all of those great ideas, articles, projects, inspirations, references and recipes (I am getting mad again just thinking about it) but I have decided to take this fresh start and use it to unclutter my online life.

Just don't tell Roy. He still thinks I am justifiably mad at him and it is wrong of me, but I am going to let him think that just a while longer.

PS - he is banned from touching any of my computers, cameras, my phone, external drives and my car keys. I really need my car keys.

Pictures the Grandma Took

A few photos that I found in Grandma's albums....
Taken on one of her trips, most likely at Jekyll Island

One of the thousands of evergreens on the tree farm

The door to the lower barn. Original to the 1870's. That door knob is one of my favorite things in this world.

Friday, November 1

Hanging On

We had our first hard frost last night but some things are still holding on.

The sedums, along with the mums, are always the last to admit defeat in my yard every fall.

Some of my roses making a surprise end-of-season showing.

This is my first year growing eggplant. It has outlasted everything else in the garden, even the peppers.
I really like growing eggplant. But I really do not like eating eggplant.