August 31, 2009

A Few Extra Tomatoes

Basket of freshly picked garden tomatoesOne of the challenges of gardening (to me anyway) was the question of "how much?" How much seed do I need, how long do my rows need to be, or how many plants will it take to provide me with what I want from my garden? Books and charts provide a stating point, but my gardens have never behaved in a predicted fashion: weather, soil conditions, disease, bugs, birds, and wildlife all take their toll and have to be factored in. The obvious adjustment is to plant extra, work hard to keep things under control, and hope for the best.

Since we just moved on to the place at the end of May, this year's garden was a small one. Maybe it would have been wiser to wait until we could test and build the soil, but I hadn't had a garden in four years (unless last summer's balcony garden counts), and just had to have one! I finally got it into the ground in June, mostly with 20 cent seeds from WalMart. For tomatoes however, I needed to buy plants.

We love tomatoes fresh, and as sauce for pizza, spaghetti, etc, but I never used canned tomatoes in my cooking. We just don't care for them that way. Consequently, I like to plant two or three plants for eating right off the vine in salads and sandwiches, then plant a lot of paste tomatoes. I remember when we were a family of four, I would plant 18 paste tomato plants and about four "regular" plants.

Well, this year I couldn't find any paste tomato plants, I suppose because it was so late in the season. In fact, I couldn't find any heirloom varieties either, much to my great disappointment. I ended up purchasing eight Celebrity tomato plants. I chose them because they are determinate. They've produced pretty well, over 17 pounds so far, and they have an excellent flavor. However, I have not found them to be crack-free (though they're getting better), nor blight resistant as they are advertised to be. Oh well. At least we have plenty of fresh tomatoes!

So we've had plenty of fresh tomatoes to eat, and to give away. And I even sold a few. Well, DH did anyway. When I got home from last Saturday's weavers' guild meeting (of which I have the honor of being president), he handed me a $5 bill. In response to my puzzled look, he said an elderly lady stopped by and told him that our tomatoes looked so good that she wondered if she could buy some. She said they were just too expensive in the grocery stores, and she was so hungry for fresh tomatoes.... He told she could help herself. When she asked how much, he told her she could just have them. She said she couldn't possibly do that so he told her to just pay whatever she thought they were worth. I don't know how many she took, but she gave him $5.

Even so, I still have more than we can eat, so I decided to try making tomato sauce with the extras. I also decided to cook it down in my crock pot, because I knew it would take awhile. So I first quartered or halved them into a regular cooking pot...

Tomatoes in the pot... cooked them down till soft, and then ran them through my Foley food mill to remove the skins and seeds....

Processing them with my Foley food mill.I added a handful of dried oregano and a handful of dried rosemary, a little garlic, plus a chopped onion and chopped green pepper. It took about two days to cook it down by half.

Crock pot tomato sauceAt this point I though it looked pretty good, so I added salt to taste and declared it done.

But here's the real test -- how well it lays down as pizza sauce. My homemade sauces usually look thick, but somehow they are still always a bit watery. Will this one be the same? Will the water separate out when I spoon it onto the rolled out pizza dough? Observe....

Oops.  Didn't pass the pizza test.Sadly, yes. The sauce forms a ring; you can see it seeping up the edge of pizza dough. Ah well.

Readers, what's the answer? Cook it down longer? Add a can of tomato paste? Use a thickener? Let me know your sauce making secrets!

Taste test-wise, it passed with flying colors. It was a yummy pizza and I was pleased to be using our own sauce. That batch made about 5 and a half cups, and I'm starting a second batch today. If I end up with enough, I'd like to can it in pint jars. It's very handy to have around.

A Few Extra Tomatoes is copyright August 2009 

August 29, 2009


Ripe figs on the tree.August has been the month for harvesting our figs. I discovered that they were ripe after we got home from Pennsylvania.

It's funny, because I never would have considered planting fig trees, but I am so happy that they are already here and well established. The only thing with this, of course, is not knowing what variety they are. Not that it matters, I'm just curious is all. I read several descriptions of figs, online and in books. In some ways they fit the description of Celeste figs, but these are supposed to ripen in July. A variety with a similar description and an August ripening date is Magnolia. But who knows. No matter, that doesn't change how delighted we are to have them.

A closer look inside & out.DH and DD think they are delicious fresh, but I find them disappointingly bland pretty mild. I think I was hoping they'd have more of a flavor zing, but they don't.

So what am I doing with them? Well, besides eating them fresh ....

Home canned figs....I have canned five pints. I followed these directions, except that I used the cooking water as the base for the syrup (light recipe.) Then, I couldn't bear to throw away the cooking water and canning syrup. They totaled about a gallon, so I popped some Celestial Seasonings Sugar Plum Spice tea bags into a jar...

Fig tea.... YUM!.... and sun brewed up a delicious batch of fig tea.

I've also dehydrated some ....

Quart jar of dried figs.... made fig jam .....

Fig jam ready to be canned.And last but not least....

Fresh fig cake ... even yummier.... fresh fig cake!

And what good is a yummy looking photo without a recipe. Here is an adaptation which was a fortunate success...

Fresh Fig Cake

1 heaping cup fresh figs - halved or quartered
1/2 C butter, shortening, or margarine - softened
1 & 1/2 C sugar
1/4 C honey
2 eggs
2 C flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter & sugar. Beat in eggs. Mix together dry ingredients and gradually beat into batter. Add vanilla. Fold in figs. Pour into prepared bundt or tube pan. Bake about 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes before turning out of pan.

I thought it was a little too sweet but DH says don't change a thing. Well, we aim to please so the recipe stands as is.

Fig links:
About Figs - facts and benefits
Figs - specific nutritional information
Fig Fruit Facts
Fig Facts & Picking Tips
Homemade Fig Jam
How to can figs

Figs! is copyright August 2009 by

August 26, 2009

Kitchen Contemplations

Those Amish cabinets really inspired me to begin to organize my thoughts about my kitchen. As I've been living with it, I've been contemplating what I like and what I'd like to change. Because of my summer kitchen, I haven't done a lot of cooking in it so far, but I am getting a feel for the needed work and traffic flows.

Here's what I like:
  • current set-up is pretty good - (click on floorplan to enlarge)

  • This is how my kitchen is set up currently.

  • having the sink by a window

  • having lots of storage space in the cabinets
  • the peninsula
  • the little shelf unit on the wall between the stove & peninsula (needs to be bigger)
  • the high ceilings
  • the beadboard
  • the beam on the ceiling

  • The entire kitchen is paneled with beadboard.
  • having a breakfast nook

  • the back door leading out to the laundry/mud room/ summer kitchen area
  • the jelly cabinet near the breakfast area to store cereal, crackers, chips, kitty treats, & vitamins
  • the herb cabinets next to the back door

  • the pantry
Here's what I don't like:
(You can refer to the above photos for most of this)
  • odd, L-shape of the room. (see floor plan) With 3 doors & 2 windows it's a challenge to figure out where to place appliances & cabinetry and keep work & traffic flow logical.
  • the large single basin sink - it may be okay if one uses the dishwasher, but for those of us who don't, washing dishes is a drag. Either it takes too much water to fill the sink, or there's no place to keep the dishpan (under sink area already full with trash can & compost bucket)
  • the dishwasher - takes up valuable storage space
  • the window by the sink is too high - I can't see the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, & cats on the ground as well as I'd like
  • the wall cabinets (above the stove and peninsula) are too high off the floor - I can only reach most of the bottom shelf and part of the 2nd without a ladder. The upper shelves are a great place to store empty canning jars however
  • having to leave that unaesthetic ladder in plain view, just to be able to get to those shelves. Well, I don't have to leave it there. I could put it someplace else!
  • the cabinet doors above the stove & peninsula are difficult to get to
  • the location of the breaker box (on the wall behind the stove)
  • no hood/vent for cooking
  • the ceramic tile floor - partly because the grout is grody looking, loose, & coming out in little pieces. Also because I'm a klutz and I drop things frequently. It was already cracked in several places before we moved here and I think I made it worse. Plus, it never seems to feel clean on bare feet.
  • the refrigerator is too small (would make a good 2ndary one for extra stuff)
  • that 6x6 post in the middle of the above photo. It interferes with the entrance from the back porch
  • having white walls and white cabinets (too much whiteness)
Workstations I need:
  • Bread making
  • baking - room to mix & roll out dough
  • canning
  • Clean-up
  • Coffee making
  • cooking
  • dehydrating
  • Food prep: washing, chopping, peeling, etc
  • Tincturing
  • juicing
  • Planning center
  • Serving center
  • Yogurt making
Equipment & small appliances which need easy access homes
  • bread machine
  • coffee maker
  • coffee grinder
  • meat grinder
  • slow cookers (I have 2, different sizes & shapes for different uses)
  • juicer
  • blender
  • tincture press
  • grain mill (currently still packed away)
  • mixer
  • electric skillet
  • waffle maker
  • toaster/convection oven
  • food dehydrator
  • canners - 2 pressure (1 lg, 1 sm) & water bath
Ideas (random, still in contemplation mode):
  • the tall ceilings are ideal for racks to hang pots, pans, herbs, onions, etc.
  • need to hang cooking utensils & tools too. Where?
  • get a larger frig and move current one for extra produce & dairy
  • move circuit breaker box to pantry, behind the door (if possible)
  • eliminate dishwasher for increased storage space
  • double sink, a deep one
  • hardwood floor?
  • lantern looking sconces for kitchen sink lighting
  • put those too-tall cabinets somewhere else
  • wall cabinets need to be easier to reach. Could still have cabinet units to the ceiling, and use the upper ones to store empty canning jars to get them out of the pantry.
  • wall cabinets by the sink
  • new cabinetry stained to match the kitchen table & stools
  • replace little white shelf unit with taller, wider shelves against the wall between peninsula & stove
  • move new frig to left of sink, where dishwasher is now
  • move kitchen table & stools to where frig currently is. Need wall cabinet or bookshelf above these, for cookbooks & to do meal planning at the kitchen table
  • put trash can at end of peninsula, hidden in bottom hinged pull down door
  • pick up theme and color scheme from Amish cabinets for curtains, rugs, placemats, napkins, kitchen linens, & countertops, tile backsplash, etc
  • put stove in summer kitchen for canning and get a wood cookstove for the kitchen (my dream cookstove is a Waterford Stanley, not that I could afford one.) Still considering where to put it - perhaps move the herb cabinets and put it by the back door???
As you can probably see, I still have a long way to go before I figure all this out. One of these days though, it will be crystal clear in my mind. When that finally happens, progress will begin.

Kitchen Contemplations copyright August 2009 

August 24, 2009

Garden Progress Reports

I mentioned that would show you how we're doing on next year's big garden.

Here's how it looks at the moment (before shot here). The white building is the back of the carport, (see vegetable garden on the master plan). At the moment I'm still raking roots from it. There was a lot of blackberries and poison ivy there, as well as quite a few saplings, morning glories, grass, etc. I'm trying to get as much of that out as I can.

I have also started sowing buckwheat as a green manure cover crop. I've never planted buckwheat before and learned that it needs to be buried a half to an inch to do well. All I'm able to do at the moment is rake it in, so I'm dubious as to how well it will do. Still, it only cost a buck for the seed and I figure something is better than nothing.

We will till it again after I get the rest of the roots out. We will add lime then and it needs to be worked into the soil. My soil test came back and the soil in this spot is more acidic than in our current garden (more on that below.) I'm including copies of my report for anyone who's interested.

As you can see, we also need to add phosphorus. For that we need to add something like bonemeal or rock phosphate. Which one I add will depend on which one costs less! Our cooperative extension recommends dolomitic limestone to raise the soil pH. This will also add the needed calcium to the soil as well.

When DH first turned the soil, he unearthed a bunch of bulbs...

Don't they look like daffodil bulbs? We weren't here in the spring when they would have been blooming, so I can be sure. I'm going to plant them somewhere else to see what comes up.

And this year's garden?

This year's garden
It's doing pretty well.
  • I started off with a diligent spraying schedule for the powdery mildew, but that went by the wayside with so many other projects and now it's winning.
  • I discovered squash and bean beetles too, but Pyola spray seems to really have taken care of that problem.
  • One of my tomatoes is suffering from early blight and I'm trying a copper spray for that.
  • The cucumber leaves have spots too, but I haven't identified that yet.
  • Green beans are losing leaves but producing!
  • Finally getting enough okra for a meal
  • Winter squashes doing great! If all continues to go well, I hope to have a dozen or so to store.
  • Pumpkins - still aren't producing much except flowers.
  • Fall broccoli is coming up.
  • As are fall carrots. Not a lot, but some.
  • Need to finish fall planting.
  • We're enjoying tomato & cucumber sandwiches on homemade whole wheat bread every day for lunch. :)

As I mentioned here, I'm not getting a lot of extra produce, but we're enjoying good garden eating. And I'm just enjoying having a garden again.

August 22, 2009

Dried Squash (and other goodies)

Quart canning jar full of dried summer squashFlower asked about my dried summer squash. I have to confess that I've never dehydrated squash before. I've dried blueberries, tomatoes, bananas, mushrooms, apples, peaches, watermelon, and herbs, but never squash. I probably wouldn't have this year either, if I had a larger freezer. But I don't, so the ever-present problem of what to do with extra produce made the decision for me.

Preparing squash in 1/4 inch slices for drying.There are different approaches to drying foods. Some call for some sort of pretreatment, some don't. The booklet that came with my Excalibur gives complete instructions for drying every fruit, vegetable, and meat (as jerky) imaginable. It discusses pretreatments such as dips and blanching, but points out that these aren't strictly necessary. I always like the simplest approach to things, so I have never done any pretreating of the foods I've dried.

Anyway, in answer to the question about what I plan to do with my dried squash, my answer is -- experiment! Some folks dry squash and eat like chips. I plan to reconstitute mine and try either as a cooked vegetable or as an ingredient in soup. I've had success in reconstituting by soaking in boiling water until softened. This can take 5 to 20 minutes and works very well.

For soup, dried veggies could simply be added to the pot to reconstitute during cooking. Soaking for a couple of hours works too, as does a steamer.

I store all my dried foods in canning jars. The only time I had a problem was early on, when I didn't get some watermelon dried enough. It developed mold and the whole batch had to be thrown away. Now I probably tend to err on the side of too dry, but I don't want to chance that happening again.

The other new item to try drying this year is green beans...

Dried green beans, ready to store.My first garden at this house is small, so I've not been able to collect enough green beans for a canner load. Dehydrating shrivels them up quite a bit; I've discovered that two quarts of fresh green beans will make three cups dried. I plan to experiment with these too. I'll be curious as to how well they do in my favorite green bean recipe.

I've also been drying blueberries...

Drying rabbiteye blueberries... and figs (more on that soon.)

The biggest advantage to dehydrated foods is that they take up less storage space. The biggest disadvantage is that they need to be reconstituted and so are not as handy as canned foods. Another advantage is that it takes less energy to dry foods than to can or freeze them. I confess that I wouldn't consider the lowest energy option - sun or solar drying - because of our humidity. Still, the Excalibur folks claim that it only takes pennies to operate their dehydrators.

If you are interested in more info, here are a couple of websites with good information on drying foods: - How to dry your own fruits, vegetables, and other foods - Drying/Dehydrating Foods. Includes dried food recipes.

Dried Squash (and other goodies) is copyright August 2009 

August 20, 2009

"The New Roof..." Q & A

I had some good comments on my The New Roof... post, plus some interesting questions, one of which really needed pictures to answer, so here they are.

That question would be Dorothy's, and it reminded me of one of the things I love about blogging. The blogosphere is one place where folks from all over the world can meet and converse about every topic under the sun. Since I started blogging about our house, I've had several interesting conversations about homes and how they're built in different parts of the world. I love it.

She asked about OSB board, which I assume is also used in the UK under a different name. I'll be curious as to what that is!

This is what OSB board looks like.OSB = "oriented strand board." It is an engineered wood product, made of strands of wood glued together. It comes in 4 by 8 foot sheets in a variety of thicknesses (1/2 inch was used for our roof) and is usually used as sheathing for walls, floors, and roofs. It is currently more common in the US than plywood.

Usually it is nailed directly to the roof rafters but in our case, it was nailed to the wood strips that I showed in you this photo. Felt paper was put on top of the OSB board, and the shingles were nailed on top of that.

Our shingles were the common 3-tab asphalt kind. Below is a photo of a scrap I saved that the roofers cut off. Full size ones are 36 by 12 inches, the three lengthwise "tabs" being the exposed, colored part of the shingle.

A scrap of asphalt shingleOurs is the most economical type, the base being is fiberglass. This is coated with an asphalt mixture, and then ceramic-coated mineral granules are applied on top of that.

Close-up of asphalt shingle surfaceThese not only add the color to the roof, but also protect it from the sun's ultraviolet rays and increases its fire resistance.

That is a super-oversimplified description! For a more details about the history of asphalt shingles and the process of making them, click here.

Sharon wondered if we had friends put the roof on. I have to confess that no we didn't. We went with an area, professional roofing and siding company. We still wish we could have done it ourselves.

And for those of you who prefer metal roofs and are you are willing to do it yourself, or can find a contractor who would be willing to let you buy the materials, try Metal Roofing Source. The have suppliers all over the US. Their online estimator quoted us approximately $3600 for the materials to do our roof in metal. If we could have done it ourselves, this would have been about half the price of having professional roofers put on an asphalt shingle roof. They are very DIY friendly, numbering every part to coordinate with the included diagram and complete instructions. I don't usually do a commercial pitch, but if we had had the time, this is what we would have done.

Finally, Flower asked about how I plan to use my dehydrated summer squash. I will answer that next time!

"The New Roof..." Q & A is copyright August 2009 

August 18, 2009

The New Roof...

.... is on!

New white roofYou may recall that this was one of the biggies on our insurance company's "or else" list. Not that it didn't need one...

We definitely needed a new roofMy dream roof was a metal one. I realized that metal roofs are much more expensive than conventional ones and so out of the question. Still, when I found this DIY metal roof website, I had hope. That was before the insurance company got involved and we were trying to figure out if we could do the roof ourselves. The price was excellent but time was a problem. In the end, we decided to hire a roofing contractor and settle for common asphalt composition shingles.

What is interesting is what was underneath the old shingles. They took off three layers, the old gray one on top, some old green asphalt shingles, and the original wood shingles.

Original wood shingle, weathered with age.I managed to salvage a couple of the originals. They vary in size somewhat but are approximately 7 - 8 by 16 inches. The thickness is tapered, being 1/4 inch at the thickest end. They are amazingly lightweight and brittle (of course, they're about 80 years old.) It doesn't seem as though they could possibly have made a sturdy roof. These were nailed to wood slats to create a 1/2 inch thick roof. You can see those slats running the length of the house in the photo below.

Removing the old roofA zoomed in shot...

A little closer look at what was under the shingles.Here's how it looked from inside the house after they got the old roof off. We're in the living room looking up through the old fireplace chimney opening...

A peek from the underneath side. The wood shingles were nailed directly to those slats. In later years , the green asphalt asphalt shingles were simply nailed the wood ones. The roof that was on the house when we bought it was installed on top of that. We had all three layers of shingles removed, and had OSB board nailed to the slats for sheathing. The end result is a sturdier, better roof.

Now all I have to do is send a photo to the insurance company. Then we can get to work on the new hearth. (Yay!)

The New Roof is copyright August 2009 by 

August 15, 2009

A Master Plan

Recently, blogger Molly at CrossRoads shared the plan for their place with her readers. Since we've been working on a master plan for our own place, I was very interested in hers. Even though we've only been here three months, we realize that if we don't have a vision and goals for our little homestead, then the end result will be haphazard, random, and ultimately inconvenient. We also realize that we haven't lived here long enough to have fully observed the sun and weather patterns throughout the seasons. Still, we've lived in the area a number of years and can put that experience to good use.

If you are new to this blog, then I'll start by telling you that our five acres is pie shaped. You can get the gist of it from this old areal photograph -

The part we're working on is the front portion of the triangle where the land has already been cleared. At the moment, our master plan looks roughly like this (click to biggify):

Copies of our master plan plus revisions are available in  my
book, 5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of
Establishing a Self-Sufficient Homestead
.  For information,
click here.

Some of it is either already in place or in progress. Some of it is yet to be. Some of it we haven't figured out yet, like where to put a greenhouse and some bee hives. It's a rough sketch at any rate and not to scale. Still, it gives you an idea of what we are thinking about for now.

~ The house will be an ongoing project for quite awhile. Considering that it's 80 years old, it needs some repair and quite a few updates.

~ The barn is yet to be and will replace the two small sheds that we currently have.

Dan wants to put the root cellar under it, as there is an excellent slope to the back of the property there. It will be home to goats, possibly sheep, and chickens. That is also where the workshop will be.

~ A chicken yard will be attached to the barn, though they will get to free range some too.

~ Vegetable garden is underway. Update on that soon.

There is a hedge of Beauty Bush separating it visually from the house.

A hedge of old fashioned Beauty Bush.Bees love these. They are ornamental, but also act as a privacy hedge from traffic coming from that direction.

~ We'll put in some fruit trees between the road and the garden, two apple and two peach I think.

~ The front yard will become an herb garden and will include culinary, medicinal, and dye plants. I plan to start on that this spring, gradually adding a section at a time until eventually there is no more lawn.

One other thing I need to plant in front is something to shade the western windows of my studio. On sunny summer afternoons it gets quite warm in there. At the moment I'm thinking about a dwarf or semi-dwarf honeysweet pear tree.

~ The meditation garden is something we'd like to do eventually. It's a quite, shady, private spot that would be perfect for a bench to sit on.

~ The shade garden will be where this year's garden is.

Again, I need a deciduous tree to shade the front porch and bedroom from the hot summer sun in the late afternoon. For this, I would like a Ginkgo, "Autumn Gold". I plan to plant the two shade trees this fall. As the ginko grows, I will plant more shade lovers.

~ The hedgerow already has it's start with the Leyland Cypresses. I was thinking today though, about other things to plant with them, to add color and interest. I have loads of hardy hibiscus around the place and am thinking about transplanting some this fall to the hedgerow. They wouldn't get sun until the afternoon, but most of them are already growing in the shade so they couldn't do any worse.

~ We have two areas we plan to fence in, field #1 and #2. #1 is badly overgrown.

This is the one we're talking about fencing first and putting goats in. We'll fence in #2 later, so that we can rotate grazing. I'm not sure if we can alternate growing hay in them, but that would be something to look in to.

~ Field #2 is where my rabbiteye blueberry currently lives. There is also a circular sort of berm in the middle of it, perhaps a good place for a pond(?) Someday(?)

~ The pecan and fig trees are already well established, and I've already shown you my old oaks.

~ The back portion of the property is wooded. We've wandered around back there and discovered it is a mix of hardwoods and pine. It has some pretty spots, and I'd like to clear a walking trail. Maybe this winter when we can see the lay of the land. We've also talked about eventually fencing this in too, but that's a ways down the road.

~ Greenhouse and beehive locations to be determined, as I mentioned.

And of course the rest of it may change somewhat as well. But at least we have a plan, which gives us direction and helps us set our priorities. Dan is anxious for it all to be done, but I'm just happy to be working on it. This blog is all about that journey.

August 13, 2009

HINT: They All Have Pennsylvania in Common

What do a wedding, Amish made cabinets, and a food outlet have in common? Well, it's not the kind of riddle one can answer without knowing the background. Why? Because they were all part of a recent whirlwind trip we took to Pennsylvania.

The wedding was our son's .....

Brand new newlyweds
I like the natural colors in the inset.The Amish made cabinets? Well, the morning of the wedding we were invited to join the bride's family at an area restaurant, Shady Maple Smorgasbord. I have to tell you, if you are ever in Lancaster County, PA, this place is an absolute must. It's pricey, but we went for breakfast (the most reasonable meal) and wow was I ever impressed: made-to-order omelets, chocolate chip pancakes, fresh blueberry pancakes, baked French toast, baked oatmeal, Dutch fried potatoes, out of this world fresh fruit, cream filled pastries with real ingredients (butter, cream), etc. You get the idea.

I think my Blue Willow will go well with these.They also have a farm market, which we didn't visit, and a gift shop, which we did. It was huge! And filled with every conceivable souvenir, collectible, gift, card, hand crafted and home decor item you can possibly imagine. I never thought I could spend several hours in a gift shop, but we did, easily. After pondering stained glass, music boxes, cookbooks, postcards, music boxes, stuffed toys (I love bunnies, DH likes opossums), quilts, and baskets, we finally found our way to the furniture section and settled on the two cabinets pictured here. You can click on either photo to "biggify."

These are not "regular" kitchen cabinets, but they are just the inspiration I need for planning my dream kitchen (current kitchen here.) They are unfinished pine, and so can be stained or painted if we choose. All that to be determined once the kitchen plants begin to take shape.

The food outlet was a Golden Barrel retail outlet. This was one of those impulsive stops (oddly, I was the only one with the impulse, the sign said bulk molasses and oils, so I had to go see! Fortunately the groom, best man, and my husband were happy tag along.) The store wasn't very big, but the prices for the things I wanted were excellent.

I love buying in bulk! $8 for a gallon of blackstrap molasses (I use it in bread and gingerbread), $7 for a gallon of canola oil (also for bread), and $11.50 for a half gallon of extra virgin olive oil (for everything else which requires oil except frying, which I don't do much of anyway.).

Now wish I'd gotten a pint of sorghum too. I did get a brochure and they do mail order, but I find that shipping and handling usually knock an item out of the bargain box. :( I may just send DS and DDIL on a shopping trip next time they go visit her parents!

August 11, 2009

Mistletoe Infestation

After our two old oak trees were trimmed, I discovered that they were infested with mistletoe. I always knew that mistletoe was a parasite. What I didn't realize is that it doesn't simply attach itself to a tree and grew on it. It infests the host and grows it's own branches from within. You can see this on the lefthand side of the photo below. (Click to enlarge.)

Mistletoe infestation on my oak trees.
There is a lot of legend and cultural tradition surrounding mistletoe. My concerns however, are what can be done about it and will it harm my trees. It is spread by birds and so is difficult to eliminate altogether. Manual removal from individual trees is the recommended method of control. Well, fat chance of that considering how tall my trees are. Information on how much damage it can do varies with the source one reads. Some articles say it doesn't kill the host, others say it does.

Considering how old my trees are, there's no telling whether they will die of that or old age. They've taken their toll recently, but one tree specialist told me that was because of the severe drought we're just coming out of. At any rate, I'm glad a lot of it was taken down with the tree trimming. Hopefully that will help.

Mistletoe Infestation copyright August 2009 

August 8, 2009

P.S. to "The Big Trees"

When we hired the tree service to trim our big trees, we got a cheaper rate because we didn't need them to haul off what they took down. Of course we wanted the firewood from those trees, but we also ended up with another huge mound of branches, twigs, and leaves. I groaned to myself over this because we had just recently gotten rid of the last pile of this stuff.

Another huge pile of yard waste in the pre-mulch stage.However, we were able to find that little red machine on Craigslist.

My new garden tool.It's a Yard Machine chipper/shredder. Considering that yard "waste" will be an ongoing problem, as will our need for mulch, it is a necessity.

This little one isn't as powerful as the one we rented, but it's 5HP engine is just as noisy! And as much of a blessing as it is to have it, to me, it also represents a dilemma.

The dilemma is this: that if our goal is to become increasingly self-sustaining, how does buying a gasoline powered machine like this help us achieve that goal? To put it in classic terms, does the end justify the means? In this case, the "end" is not having to buy much needed mulch, as well as not having huge piles of branches, twigs, and leaves all over the place.

One thing we figured out a long time ago, is that to not need money requires a lot of money. In other words, the land, structures, systems, etc. which would enable us to become independent of the work/consume economic cycle, are very expensive to obtain and set in place. This has become strikingly clear as we prepare to obtain a few animals. The very goats, sheep, and chickens which would provide us with our own milk, eggs, fiber, and manure, will require fence and housing which will be outrageously expensive to put up.

But back to the shredder. What's interesting is that DH and I have different solutions to this energy problem. For my part, I tend to think of alternatives that are hand or animal powered. For example, the old edition of The Rodale Guide to Composting has directions to make a shredder from an old reel lawn mower. DH on the other hand, researches how to make methane, with the idea of converting our power equipment to run on that.

Realistically, we realize that all big goals require a series of smaller steps to achieve. The key to success is not losing sight of those goals, while having the patience to work one's way toward them. For now, we need to keep nature from reclaiming the land while we make much needed repairs and upgrades to the house, and get our food source gardens in. It will be from that base that we can begin to build our dream.

P.S. to "The Big Trees" copyright August 2009