Sunday, April 28, 2019

Homestead Happenings on a Stay-at-home Sunday

It happens to the best of us.  We go to the Winter Farm Store and buy a bunch of onions, and then, a couple of months later, we realize the onions have started to sprout.  Despair not!  This can actually be a good thing.

A while back I read this book.  It was doomer fiction.  The protagonists in the story, knowing how fragile our lifestyles and infrastructure are, took steps to insulate themselves against the exact event they always knew would happen.  

But they also lived in a suburb (which begs the question, if they KNEW the shiznit was going to hit the fan, and that being in the suburbs would be very, very bad, why did they stay in the suburbs?  Shh ... it's fiction), where their neighbors were not quite so prepared.  

Immediately, they discount their neighbors as useless in this emergency, grab their bug-out paraphernalia, and get the heck out of Dodge.

I say, they were missing a valuable opportunity.

See, I have these onions.  They sprouted. 

I trimmed off the green sprouts and cut them into 1/4" pieces.  These will be used as a garnish for tacos or something.  Then, I peeled the brittle skins and pulled off the layers until I got to the heart of the onion.  Each one had a couple of root starts.  I planted those.  

What you see in the picture above is what I can use in meals now.  The root parts are in one of my container gardens.  Worst case, I've wasted garden space ... but since I could companion plant the container with lettuce, there'd be no wasted space, actually.  What's most likely to happen is that I have onion tops that I can trim for a few months, and then, I have some bulbs that I can store for use this winter.

That's what bothered me about that novel.  The neighbor, who was deemed useless, might have something that would be useful.  I realize it was a plot device, and very necessary to the overall theme - which is to show how we are woefully unprepared to such an event - as a society, in general.

But I tend to think, in real life, we would be surprised by what our neighbors can offer in an emergency situation, and with some reimagining, we could probably figure out how to find useful something that seems like it is past its prime.

Like these seeds.

If I direct sow them, I may or may not end up with a plant.  It's always a gamble, really.  There's very rarely 100% germination rate with seeds, but when one has such a small space in which needs to be grown so much, it's difficult to consider using old seeds in the garden, and chancing getting nothing.

But I'm not going to throw them away, either.

I decided to try sprouting them.

I have this fancy-smancy seed sprouting apparatus, but I've seen people use canning jars, too.  The goal is to get the seeds wet, but not submerged in water.  With my sprouter, I fill the top bowl with water.  Each of the clear bowls and the top bowl has a hole in one side.  I stack them all together.  Fill the top bowl with water, and then, when all of the water has drained through the four top bowls, I dump the bottom bowl.  Repeat daily until the seeds start to sprout.  The sprouts are ready to enjoy in about a week.  

Worst case, none of the seeds germinate.  I'm out nothing, except the time it took to fill up the water. 

Innovation and creativity are key to survival, and those things are what make us adaptable, successful, and ... well, human, right?  

Little Fire Faery was invited to her friend's senior prom.  She didn't ask us to go dress shopping.  She asked if I would take her fabric shopping, because she found a tutorial for a dress that she wanted to make.  That's what she's doing, as I type this.  She making a prom dress.  

Deus Ex Machina and Precious joke that they are practicing for the 2020 Homestead Olympics.  They're planning to compete in the log toss.  

I think she's exceptionally brave, and to me, it takes a great deal of talent and self-control to be on the receiving end of that log.  As much as I trust Deus Ex Machina, I would not be able to stand there while he threw a log at my face.  

My children humble me, and they continually inspire me to do better, to be better.  

Planting stuff, splitting and stacking firewood, sewing a prom dress ... not too bad a way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It's a good life.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

New is Silver ... Old is Gold

I made my way out to the garden this morning.  It's cloudy, but warm. 

Oh, so warm! 

I'm still, mostly, in winter mode here.  We still have wood in the house for a fire, because the house still gets chilly enough that we need one - or want one.  Either way, the cold still seeps in, and I am surprised, on days like today, when I walk outside and my sweater is too much.

Tomorrow, I may need that sweater to be comfortable. 

That's life in the Spring, in Maine.

The perennials are sprouting all over the yard.  In the herb garden next to the driveway, I found the savory.  Bright green, highly aromatic leaves, pushing - tenaciously - against the leaf mulch I blanketed the bed with last fall.  The sweet, little herb rested under that blanket all winter, and now, it's throwing off the covers and stretching up to greet the sun.

Bee balm was poking its little head up, too, mostly in the crevices along the edges of the rock border. 

Deus Ex Machina is thrilled to note that the garlic we planted just a few weeks ago, is already poking up through the soil. 

Last year, I missed the fall planting of garlic.  I just waited too long - not as long as the year before, when I just barely got the garlic in the ground before winter - but last fall, I missed whatever sweet spot there might have been before the snow started to fly - in earnest - and the ground froze too solid for planting. 

The garlic I had harvested in mid-summer spent the winter in the cooler back room, but it had started going soft and sprouting.  So, we did what we do ... we planted it. 

We also planted the potatoes that had started to sprout, and I'll be planting the sprouting onions later today.

Very little goes to waste here at Chez Brown.

For breakfast, we made use of the abundance of eggs. 

Unlike their humans, the chickens here at Chez Brown are fully aware that it's spring, and they're celebrating with an abundance of egg-laying revelry.

The thing is, I feel like I'm still in winter mode.  Like being surprised by the warm weather, I'm still overwhelmed by the bounty in our backyard. 

Like most animals, chickens don't reproduce in the winter.  It's not the cold that keeps them from laying as much as it is lack of light.  So, when we're in the midst of the dark winter, they don't lay.  Some farmers give their chickens an artificial light source.  We never have.  We just know that, during the winter, we don't eat eggs.  Sometimes it's a drag to want something that requires eggs and to have to make a different plan.  But that's part of having a mostly local, mostly seasonal diet. 

We don't give our chickens artificial heat or light during the winter.  It's their down-time.  I don't know if it's better for them or not, but come spring, when the light returns and it starts to warm up a little, they become star providers.  Twelve chickens, all between the ages of one and seven years old, give us an average of seven eggs - per day.  That's a lot of eggs, especially when I'm still used to not having eggs at all.

Now that the chickens are in egg-mode, we can enjoy egg-heavy dishes, like German pancakes.  For those who've never had German pancakes, they're not like American pancakes, which are more like a French crepe.  German pancakes are like muffins, only not sweet, and they puff up and have a hollow center.

German pancakes are served with a filling or topping.

For the topping today, I decided to make applesauce, because we had a bunch of apples that were going soft.

It's that time of year, here.  Our long-storage foods are at the very end of their storage life, and they need to be used.  This morning, with our German pancakes, we had applesauce made from the last of the stored apples. 

Very little goes to waste here at Chez Brown.  Soft roots get planted for next years' crop.  Soft apples get baked or sauced. The apple peels go to the rabbits.  The cores will become vinegar or jelly, or they'll end up in the compost pile.

We've tried to adopt a lifestyle that produces less waste, and while we still put out a bag of garbage every couple of weeks, and our recycle bin always has something in it (we are, after all, still very much suburbanites), many things find a second life here.  Old clothes become rugs or skirts or underwear.  Old pallets become a floor.  Shoes are repaired.  Jars are reused. 

The octagonal fish tank stand that someone gave us becomes an end table with storage for our ski boots in the bottom.

We - as individuals and, especially, as a culture - can't afford to just keep throwing things away - there is no "away."  But the flip-side, the very selfish and ego-centric side, is that figuring out how to reuse a thing is incredibly empowering and fuels my creativity in ways that buying something new will never do.  

I'm planning my *new* garden, for this year, but I'm also welcoming back to the garden some old friends - those hardy perennials that have become part of our landscape here - herbs, flowers, bushes, and trees, that nourish us and our landscape.  

Welcome Spring!

And, if you have a favorite egg-based recipe, please feel free to share it in the comments ;)!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Turning rags to ... rugs

A few years ago, I asked Deus Ex Machina to purchase this book for me.  It was written by a friend of ours from the homeschool community.  She and her husband moved from their urban rental into a big farmhouse on a nice piece of acreage in more rural Maine.  I was a little envious, but very happy for them.

My friend had a blog on which she shared her family's adventures - both before and after the move - and among other things, she talked a lot about making a home.  Homemade stuff - everything from delicious, drool-worthy food to incredibly functional and adorable home decor.

One of the projects in her book, and the reason I wanted it, was a rag rug. 

The instructions for her rug were really well-written, but the process was a much larger commitment and a lot more complicated than I was able to do.  I'm too much a product of my generation of sitcom watchers, plus I'm a Gemini.  The combination means that, while I love doing things, if it takes too long, I get distracted.  Her rag rug required collecting, cutting, sewing, and ironing of material scraps that would be wrapped into ball.  When one had three of the properly sized balls of fabric, one could begin.  I have a couple of balls of fabric strips ... somewhere. 

Anyway, I started the rag rug based on my friend's instructions, but like too many things in my life, it ended up on a back shelf.  I also have a dozen or more knitted squares that will, someday, become an afghan ... probably.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a much easier and less time consuming set of instructions for a braided rag rug, and I decided to give it a whirl.

We had several old tee shirts with stains or small rips.  Deus Ex Machina cut them into strips for me, and using the instructions from the above link, I made not one, but two small rugs (about 27" across).  The plan is to use a fusible backing for them to make them a bit more sturdy, but mostly, they're pretty decent rugs.  

We're using one of them in the bathroom as a mat in front of the shower.  I haven't decided what to do with the other one, yet. 

I'm a fan of the Tightwad Gazette ... well, most things frugal, actually, and what I've found is that a prepping mind-set and frugality (and "green" living, too, actually) go hand-in-hand.  Much of the advice that the three camps offer is similar.  I save money by making my own rugs (frugality).  I'm learning to be more self sufficient by making use of something I already have (prepping and frugality).  I'm saving the environment by not spending money and by not throwing away something that can still be used (frugality and "green" living). 

I actually quite enjoyed making my rag rugs.  I don't know how many more I'll make.  I have more of he strips (ones that were shorter and so I didn't use them in the rugs), and I'm thinking the same design, only smaller, would make a nice pot holder or a, kind of pretty, cloth trivet kind of thing for the table. 

I love repurposing and reusing, and I love saving money by not purchasing things I can make, and I love making pretty and useful things for my home. 

What's your favorite frugal, prepper, "green" living cross-over?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House: Pulling Double Duty

As part of my ongoing series about living large in a small house, today's topic is about having storage with furniture that also serves another function.

My living room is tiny.  It's very long and narrow, and the space is actually two rooms.  It's 9' wide, and the two rooms combined are around 30' long with the wood stove right in the middle and a door on either end.  I love the space, but putting furniture into it required some real thought, a lot of trial and too much error.

But we have finally found a combination of furniture that appeals to our aesthetic, is comfortable, and gives us that much-coveted storage space.

I went through a lot of different choices for furniture in the room, and we finally found a good fit.  We have one, over-sized couch and a wing-backed chair.  We can comfortably seat four people, if one person sits in the middle section of the couch, but when we have guests, depending on who the guests are, conversation is not terribly comfortable for more than three.  

We needed another seating option, but the room can not handle any more chairs.  

I decided that an ottoman would be the best option, and we found one on Craig's list for $40.  

It's exactly what we needed in that room.  It's perfect for a coffee table, but it also has storage for blankets and pillows.  When we have extra guests, we push it against the wall and use it for seating.  

We also have a couple of non-traditional end tables in the room.  On the side of the couch nearest the woodstove is an old wooden filing cabinet (not pictured).  We store DVDs in the drawers.  The fact that it is wooden makes it look less like a filing cabinet, which appeals to the overall aesthetic of the room.

The other "end table" is this cabinet.  

In it's former life, it was a fish tank stand.  The tank broke, and we just had this stand hanging around.  After a few years of moving it from one room to another with no clear idea what I was going to do with it, but knowing that it might be useful (so I couldn't get rid of it!), I finally took a good hard look, and thought, it would make a good end table.  Only problem is that fish tank stands don't have tops.  I had a left over piece of plywood, and I asked Deus Ex Machina to cut it to size for me.  I painted it black and secured it to the top of the stand with finishing nails.  Et voila!  An end table that cost me around $4 - for the spray paint. 

We store our ski boots and climbing shoes in the bottom. 

When we had the back room redone, the one thing we were really looking for was to add storage space.  What we imagined was not at all what we ended up with, but in the end, mission accomplished!  We had more storage under our raised bed. 

When one lives in small house with no traditional kinds of storage options available, one must get creative.

What are your double-duty storage options?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Liquid Gold

Many years ago, I was interviewed by a young man for a film he was doing for a school project. At the end of the interview, as he was preparing to leave, we gave him a half pint of our maple syrup - just boiled that day, during our interview.  He was thrilled by the gift, stating, that as a Texan, maple syrup was better than gold.

I'd never, much, thought about the dollar value of some of the things Deus Ex Machina and I do here at Chez Brown.  I mean, I did - because we're saving money - but I never, really, think about how much someone ELSE might be willing to pay us for that product or service.

Part of it is that I know how much time and energy goes into the process, and I know that with our small scale, highly labor intensive technique, if we worked a dollar-per-hour fee into the price of our maple syrup (or strawberry jam or hard cider), no one would be willing to pay the true value of that product.  It's a lot of work to tap the trees, collect the sap, and boil the sap over an open fire in the front yard until it's just about syrup.  Then, bring it in to finish it off, put the finished syrup into jars, and boil-water bath them to seal the jars (to ensure that they are shelf-stable for long-term storage).

Most people have no idea what it takes to get a gallon of maple syrup.

I also think that most people haven't had REAL maple syrup, because it does take a lot of work, and when there's the option of paying $8 for a half gallon of Mrs. Butterworth's (corn syrup with fake maple flavoring) or $35 for the same amount of real maple syrup, it's hard to justify the cost for the real stuff.  I mean, syrup is syrup, right?

Actually, no.  There are dozens of studies about the health properties of real maple syrup.  Like honey, maple syrup - in its pure, unadulterated form - is a whole food.  Our maple syrup is very simple - sap from maple trees, boiled until most of the water is gone, and put into jars.  That's it.  We don't use any fertilizers or pesticides on our property, and so, I guess we could say that our maple syrup is also "organic", which means its worth even more.

Deus Ex Machina and I have been tapping maple trees for a few years now.  Even before climate change started making mainstream news, we knew something was happening with the weather, because the maple sugaring season - especially the last three or four years - has been really short.

At the height of our maple syrup production, we bottled 3 gallons of syrup.  That's roughly 120 gallons of maple sap collected.  This year, we put out 15 of our 20 buckets.  We boiled around 20 gallons of sap this weekend.  We'll be lucky to get another 20 gallons.  That works out to about a gallon of syrup.

For the sap to flow conditions have to be just right (below freezing nights and above freezing days).  The sugaring season, here in Maine, used to be five to eight weeks long.  This year, it was, maybe, two weeks.  With only 15 buckets, there's not a lot of sap.  I can't imagine how commercial sugarers can even make a living.  I worry about them, but I also worry about the future of maple trees, especially if the sugarers get desperate to turn a profit and over tap their maples.  It can happen.  Too often, it does.

Deus Ex Machina and I are planning some property upgrades for this summer, and included in those plans are the planting of a few more maple trees on our property.

A wise man plants trees under which he will never sit.

And real maple syrup may, actually, become more valuable than gold in our not-too-distant future.