October 31, 2011

The Lost Art of Bartering, Part 1

This post is the second in a series:

I was wandering around an antique and junque shop. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just at everything in general, when I spotted a set of Blue Willow dessert plates. Now, this is my pattern, the one I love. The price was marked $8, not bad for 5 plates I thought. I looked over at the woman behind the desk and said,

"I'll give you $5 for them."

I stood there, absolutely shocked at what had just come out of my mouth, because I have always been the sort of person who pays the asking price. As she turned to look at me, her eyes lit up and with a hint of a smile, she said,


Nowadays we almost always expect to pay the asking price, yet if you've ever resold anything at a garage sale, you've likely had at least one person make a counteroffer, or ask if that was your rock bottom price. The first time this happened to me, it caught me off guard, because I assumed everyone else would simply pay the asking price as well. About the only times we expect counteroffers is in buying houses and cars; we expect some negotiation before agreeing on the final price. Yet at one time, negotiating or dickering, as it was called, was common practice.

     Each time he tossed something on the (saddle) he yelled, "Fifty!" And each time I tossed something better on the (other saddle) I went up fifty cents or a dollar on my offer.
     .... He came up where I was beside the double-rigger, examined everything I'd put on it, and said, "Sixty-five. Final!"....
     "Well," I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you $85 for both outfits together...." Half an hour later we made our deal.
     Ralph Moody, Shaking The Nickle Bush

     After he'd watched Father work for awhile, he said, "You seem a pretty handy sort of fellow... I wish I could get you to come and help me get fixed up. I'd give you three dollars a day for your time, or trade work with you, or trade something I might have that you wanted."
     Ralph Moody, Little Britches

     Ma and Laura and Mary ate bread and molasses in the wagon, and the horses ate corn from nose-bags, while inside the store Pa traded his furs for things they would need on the journey.
     Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie 

     Then one afternoon Pa came merrily whistling up the creek road... As soon as he saw them he shouted, "Good news!" They had a neighbor, only two miles away on the other side of the creek. Pa had met him in the woods. They were going to trade work and that would make it easier for everyone.
     Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie 

     "Here's a piece of luck!" Pa said to Ma. Those men were cowboys. They wanted Pa to help them keep the cattle out of the ravines among the the bluffs of the creek bottoms. Pa would not charge them any money, but he told them he would take a piece of beef.          
     Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie 

     For a long time they talked and argued. Shining tinware and piles of rags were all over the porch. For every pile of rags that Nick Brown added to the big pile, Mother asked for more tinware than he wanted to trade her. They were both having a good time, joking and laughing and trading. At last Mr. Brown said:
     "Well, Ma'am, I'll trade you the milk-pans and pails, the colander and the skimmer, and the three baking-pans, but not the dishpan and that's my final offer. "
     "Very well, Mr. Brown," Mother said, unexpectedly. She had got exactly what she wanted.
     Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

Even today there are, in some parts of the South, old timers who still refer to shopping as "trading." They will tell you they trade at such and such a store. Of course now they trade money for goods, but it points back to their own lives "back in the day." In other parts of the world, negotiating, more often called bartering, is still common practice. Many markets in other parts of the world still practice it, which American tourists often fail to understand, to their sad disadvantage.

As fiat money (money that only has value because the government says so, i.e paper currency) loses value and trades for less, many of us become concerned about meeting our families' needs. As we contemplate what to do, we likely consider bartering. My Houston Friend made a very thought provoking comment about it on my "Contemplations on Value & Money" post. She wrote:

     "We entered the barter world about 6 months ago. I needed some work on the farm and had friends with teenage boys. I agreed to pay 2 dozen eggs per hour for each teenage boy. It gave them a chance to work and they rec'd something tangible to provide for their families. I fell in love with barter.
     However, it is getting harder to barter as we go deeper. Primarily with friends. The production on my homestead is my work (versus a day job) and has value. At times I give things away b/c I want to, other times I want to barter instead of using money. When you start bartering, it is harder for each side to accept genuine gifts b/c you don't know if you should give something in return. What is barter and what is sharing with friends? Whereas at a merchant, give $ and you are done. I've tried to be clear about what is a gift and what is barter, but I feel I start sounding too business with friends. It is weird and I don't like it.
I prefer to be done when completing a transaction. When I barter with people we're not close to, then I feel the transaction is complete and much easier. When I barter with friends, I am so worried I've short-changed them or they have the same concerns about me. It is just not easy to be done.
     This is an area in our society that needs to be developed. It is not widely accepted b/c small farm items are not seen as commodities by many unless they have a sticker from another country.
     But our fruits do have value. After my friend comes home from outside work it would be considered rude of me to walk over and ask for $100 that he earned that day. It is really no different when someone asks me to share my farm production just b/c I have it, without offering anything in return.
   This is a delicate dance and relationships can be strained when you get serious about bartering on a routine basis." 
I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert, but I am willing to research and share what I learn. My starting point was those excerpts from books, written by folks for whom it was a part of everyday life. From the examples (and I only used a few), here are my observations:

  • Barter was a commonly accepted means of obtaining services and goods as recently as 100 years ago
  • Both parties agreed on the system, i.e. bartering
  • Each person had their own idea of what the trade was worth to themselves, not in terms of monetary value, but how badly they needed/wanted what was offered in exchange
  • Profit was not a motive, i.e. financial and/or material gain beyond the perceived value of the service or goods
  • Instant gratification was not a factor
  • Neither was entitlement
  • Nobody made a deal they didn't want
  • Both parties walked away satisfied

I mention the last two, because we had another experience with bartering, which had unexpected results. We were trying to buy a vehicle from a new acquaintance, and Dan made a ridiculously low offer. We were expecting a counteroffer, but instead there was a very long pause, and then his offer was accepted. We were both surprised but grateful. Unfortunately, the seller later regretted the outcome because he held a grudge against Dan for as long as we had contact with them. This was puzzling because with vehicles especially, negotiating is expected. On our end, we knew our limit based on how much money we had. If it didn't work out, that would have been okay too. While we don't know what the seller was thinking when he agreed, the lesson learned is that in a bartering system, there is no place for being noble or indecisive. The true success of the deal depends upon both parties being satisfied with the outcome from their personal perspectives. Each party must respect the other person enough to accept their decisions. If nothing satisfactory can be agreed upon, that's just as okay as if an acceptable deal is made. 

Many of us have a goal of self-sufficiency, but in reality, the true agrarian lifestyle requires a community of like-minded folks. (See my earlier post, "Mindset: Key To Successful Homesteading?" ) The problem throughout history however, is that there are always those who want to profit beyond their needs. Nowadays, our modern profit economics mindset makes us think this is supposed to be normal. From the examples we see this is not true. However, I mention it because it would seem to be one of the pitfalls in bartering a deal. Other pitfalls we need to be aware of is that not everyone is honest in their dealings and representation of what they have to offer. Others, just love to play mind games. They love to get "get one over" on somebody else for the sense of power it gives them. I don't have any answers for these, they are just things we need to be aware of.

I should also mention that the government wants a cut from these transactions as well. You'll have to research this for your own particular locations and situations, because like other tax laws, these are complicated, confusing, and continually changing. The bottom line seems to focus on "gain" and its monetary equivalent. What is interesting to me, is that the books I quoted from, were written about the time period of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is evident from them, that the money valuation mindset was not entrenched in society as it is today. Our modern mindset is just that, modern, and was not the way life was conducted until urban migration.

A long post, but hopefully one of interest? I called it "Part 1," but at this point, "Part 2" is up to you. Please share your own experiences, thoughts, and opinions in the comments. If there's enough of them, I will try to compile them later for a follow-up. This is something we may all have to learn together.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop #34.

Click on the icon or link for more, or to join in.

October 28, 2011

Um, Replacing the Kitchen Window Means We Have to Paint the House. Right?

This is one of those things that anyone who has done remodeling or home repair will understand. Our current project is straightforward enough, we're finally starting our kitchen remodel, and one of the things we need to do (while the weather is still nice), is replace a window with broken casing and a cracked pane.

So. The first step is to tear out some old built in cabinets next to the window. We knew the wall paint was hiding previous water damage under this window, likely from improper installation....

Rain water damaged kitchen wall. Notice you can
see outside through the hole under the window?

So. The wall must be torn down and and replaced. If we have to do that, we might as well put in a bigger window. Unfortunately it turns out the rim joist under the window is also rotted out ....

Rotted floor joist

So. We must repair the joist, rebuild the wall, and then we can install the new window. We get to work.

So. That done, we now need to protect the new exterior from possible rain damage. We choose a barn board look panel siding, figuring we'll at least get that rebuilt corner covered ....

Starting to put the new panels up

So. Since relocating the electric meter is the next project on the list, Dan points out that we might as well install the meter box on top of the new siding panels, rather than later cutting a panel to fit around it.

So. If we're going to do that, it only makes sense to continue siding from the new window, around to where the meter box will be installed. The old plank siding on the back isn't looking so good these days anyway.

And, while we're in at it, we might as well do the porch wall Dan had to rebuild (which also had a rotten rim joist), when we installed the new porch backdoor .

So. Once we get a few panels up, I start priming. The new siding needs to be protected and I figure primer should do for now. One of these days we'll finish the rest of the house and then I can paint the whole thing.

1st wall of new siding all primed

Oops. I learn that primer doesn't protect the wood and must be painted within thirty days. That means I have to paint both the siding and the trim. Sigh. And while I'm at it, I might as well paint the new back door as well. I go buy paint.

So you see, replacing that kitchen window meant we had to paint the house! Here's what we've gotten done so far...

Back door, siding, and trim all painted from both rebuilt walls.....

..... around to where the new electric meter is installed.

This is our stopping point for now. I have to say that the blue in these photos isn't entirely accurate. The blue in the first photo (paint can) is closest. This is basically the same color scheme I chose two years ago, when we had the roof replaced. I liked it then and am delighted with it now. We still plan to add brick red shutters, eventually.

The old white vinyl siding has a few cracks and holes in it, and covers the original wood plank siding, which is in very bad shape.  With winter on the way, finishing the rest of the house will just have to wait. Besides, it's time to get back to work on the kitchen!

I admit I have some reservations about doing it in sections like this. I am concerned about things like whether the siding we chose will still be available in the future, and paint color matching; but under the circumstances, I'm not sure we could have done anything differently, except cover the house in tarps!

So. It seems like a very long detour from our original project, but I am very thankful to now have a sturdy, well built, well insulated wall and window in that kitchen corner. It was a frigid spot our first two winters. Plus I enjoy seeing our house with a new fresh, colorful face.  All in all, I think things worked out pretty well.

October 26, 2011

Looks Like A Good Year For Pecans

A sample of this year's pecan harvest

A good year for pecans and hickory nuts both. Not in terms of quantity, because pecans are something I only get gleanings of after the squirrels have had their way with them. Squirrels are greedy, wasteful little buggers. They start feasting on them while they are still green, often only cracking and eating the end of a pecan before dropping it to the ground, at which point the ants take over. I look at the mess under the pecan and hickory trees, and wonder if they'll be any left for us.

For the past two years I've dutifully collected pecans, only to actually net about one good one, for every 7 or 8 or 9 cracked open. I found the yield very discouraging, so that I would only work toward getting enough for a favorite recipe or two and leave the rest. Truth be told, I wasn't even going to bother with them this year. But when I spotted the first few on the ground, whole and lovely, I couldn't help but to pick them up. I immediately noticed how heavy they felt in the palm of my hand. I cracked a few to discover lovely nutmeats inside.

This year my results are the reverse of previous years, and I'm getting very few bad ones. I already have two quarts in the freezer (my time passer as I waited as a standby helper while Dan was moving the wiring from the old breaker box to the new).

The pecans are still falling and every day I manage to collect a pocketful or two.  I am looking forward to holiday baking and it will be nice to have my own stash in the freezer as well.

October 24, 2011

Electrical Upgrade, Done!

This is one of those projects that was absolutely necessary, took a lot of time to do, cost more than we might have wished, and has largely unseen results. Needless to say, there is something to show you, because we've gone from this....

Our old electric meter used to be
on a telephone pole out by the road.

... and this ...

Power lines as they used to enter the house from overhead.

.... to this ......

New electric meter. Cables come
up to the box from underground.

Dan chose this type so that he can run a line for his welding machine, and eventually we can run electricity to a workshop and barn if we want.

We also upgraded from this...

Old circuit breaker panel located behind the stove.

... to this ....

New circuit breaker panel located in utility room

Besides upgrading all the equipment, power to the house has also been upgraded, from 60 to 200 amps. The immediate effect is that our light bulbs burn brighter.

Dan did most of the work himself. He got the specs from the power company, consulted an electrician, got his permit, installed the new boxes, and then called out the county building inspector. His work passed with flying colors, so all that remained was for the utility company to move the lines.

Burying them....

View of the action from my kitchen window

... was the expensive part, but since the old lines ran through a tangle of tree branches it was either that or cut down the trees. Actually, it's a minor miracle that tearing winds or ice storms hadn't already knocked those lines out at some point, because according to the power company, they are only responsible for the lines up to the meter. The home owner is responsible for everything from the meter on.

So, my yard's a bit torn up but a big job is out of the way. It actually started two years ago, when we discovered that we still had some knob and tube wiring that needed to be replaced. The only thing that's left now, is installing the fixtures, switches, and outlets we will want in the new kitchen.

The irony of all this is that really and truly, we'd like to get off the grid altogether. Why didn't we do that instead? The answer to that isn't simple, except to say that we live in an area where neither solar nor wind are consistent enough to be utilized as an energy source on a regular basis. We've been researching other alternatives, but have no definitive answers yet.

The faithful observant among you may have happened to notice that the house color behind the new meter box was blue instead of white. I'll show you why soon. ;)

October 22, 2011

Food Preservation Totals for 2011

My pantry shelves are stocked and my freezer is full. Here are my preservation totals from this year's efforts:


Jams, all canned
  • blueberry , 11 pints
  • fig, 13 pints
  • strawberry, 6 pints


Soups, sauces, & juice

Pickles, all canned

  • eggs, frozen, 1 dozen
  • cheeses, hard, waxed & refrigerated, 14
  • cream, frozen, 4 quarts
  • milk, frozen, 14 half-gallons (for yogurt making)
  • milk, frozen 36 half-pints (for coffee)
  • mozzarella, frozen, 44 pizza's worth
  • whey, frozen, 5 ice cube trays

Grains (none weighed yet), Beans, & Nuts

I still getting milk, so cheesemaking continues. From last year I still have canned figs, green beans, canned and dehydrated Swiss chard, pickle relish, pizza sauce, green tomato salsa, dried black turtle beans, pickled beets, canned sweet potatoes, tomato soup, pie fillings (both blueberry and apple), applesauce, and apple butter. Also frozen eggs, which I've finally been using now that my chickens are moulting. Speaking of chickens, we have 7 or 8 cockerels for butchering in the upcoming months. And of course there's the fall garden.

In regards to our food goals, we've definitely made progress.
  • We're able to produce and preserve a year's worth of vegetables for 2 persons plus occasional guests.
  • Fruit trees are planted & growing, so hopefully in a few years I'll be preserving enough fruit for a year
  • Dairy is what we added this year. Hopefully I've frozen enough milk, whey, and cheese to get us through the does' dry season.
  • Protein is one I'm still working on. Eggs, milk, and cheese contribute to that, as well as dried beans. But Dan especially, is a meat eater. We have the cockerels of course, and the Kinders will be dual purpose for both milk & meat. Eventually we will have pigs, and there's a possibility for venison too, from garden fattened deer. And squirrel stew. 
  • We're making progress on grains too, though with that we've just begun.
  • Fats and sweeteners. Pigs will help with the fats. Sweeteners can be honey and/or sorghum molasses, both future projects.
  • Also this year I was able to add more soups to the pantry. I really appreciate these "convenience" foods during the winter. 
For now, I'd say things are looking pretty good. 

October 20, 2011

Around The Homestead

Updates and random happenings since my last Around The Homestead. Most of the titles link back to the original posts.

Chicken Hawks - We've lost three chickens to hawks, 2 of the Buff Orpington chicks and one of my Welsummer hens. We have numerous hawks, so it could have been a red tail, red shoulder, broadwing, or Harris. We've seen them all. We rerouted the chickens' grazing grounds to where there was more brush cover. The chickens, though, wouldn't leave their yard or the coop for days. About the 2nd week of October, the chickens headed out to the pasture and we haven't seen nor heard a hawk since. We must be in a migration route. We'll have to keep our eyes peeled come spring.

Chicken Integration

Waiting for some scratch

Sometimes I think this is going well, other times not. Most of the chicks are now roosting in the coop, except for a random few that still want to sleep in the goats' hay rack. The other chickens seem to accept them pretty well, except for the two at the bottom of the original pecking order, who absolutely refuse to let any of the newcomers rise above them. On occasion Lord B, our rooster, will chase and pin down one of the cockerels. I can usually distract him, and fortunately no one has been seriously injured so far.

Cockerels & Pullets - My best guess is that of the remaining 12 Buffs, I have 6, probably 7 cockerels. It's hard to count because they don't keep still. That will leave us about 5 pullets. The home hatched, purebred Barred Holland is a pullet, but her half brother is a cockerel. On these breeds at least, it's been fairly easy to tell because of comb development.

Critters under the house - I didn't notice this until I pulled out almost everything from my zinnia bed in front of the house.

Not noticeable at first......

I had seen a young ground hog in the front yard before, and assumed it was responsible for eating my echinacea and chicory plants. I found an opening under the front porch, which Dan blocked with bricks. That seemed to resolve the problem until the other day, I discovered this.....

.... but there's a critter cave under our front porch

The bricks had been pushed aside and the opening was evident again. I put the bricks back, but when I checked again later that day, they were pushed aside again. Must be time to get a live animal trap. We do not need anything spending the winter under the house.

Critters in the house - Are snakes critters? Well, we had one in the house, a juvenile rat snake. Katy found it and I might have stepped on it because it was just sitting there on our living room rug. It was quickly removed to the woods, where it can hopefully make a better living for itself than in our house. The cats also found a young chipmunk in the house. We think it might have been there for several days, based on the cats' behavior. They treated it like a toy and chased it all over the place. Finally Dan had to catch it himself.

We suspected Katy might have brought these in through the kitty door. I know she's brought butterflies and grasshoppers into the house (I find the miscellaneous parts). Our suspicions were confirmed the other day when she caught a bird, and we found her and Riley admiring it under the dining room table. I put the terrified but otherwise unharmed bird back outside and told Katy to stop bringing critters into the house. Do you think she'll listen?

Critters in the garden - That would be deer.

Deer tracks in the demolished beet bed.

One day I discovered about a dozen beets pulled out of the ground with most of the tops eaten off. And deer tracks all over the place. We've seen deer from time to time since we've been here, but this is the first time they've invaded the garden. I've taken to covering the beets at night, wondering what they'll move on to next.

Kitchen Remodel - We've been focusing on the electrical upgrade, so we haven't done much on the inside. Once the circuit panel is moved, we can gut the kitchen including the wall the panel has been in. This is an exterior wall, which needs insulation as well as another new window.

On rainy days though, I work inside getting ready to do some painting. That means stripping 90 years worth of previous paint jobs. Obviously much of that is lead based, so the going is a little slower to deal with it according to removal and disposal guidelines.

At least 5 layers of paint: 2 golds. 2 greens & white

I thought about taking it down to bare walls and leaving them natural wood, but that would be too much work and the effect too dark. Instead, I'm just aiming to be able to apply a new coat of paint, an off white.

Bread Machine - Remember when I blogged about Small Appliances I Have Known & Loved? Well, I found a barely used bread machine on Craigslist and bought it. It's not the model I originally had my eye on, but it was $100 cheaper, which recommended it highly! I've also decided on a much more affordable toaster oven, which I can really use once we finish gutting the kitchen.

Frozen Eggs - Last summer I froze about 13 dozen surplus eggs, thinking I would use them last winter. I didn't, because we still had a steady egg supply. My layers are moulting now, so I've been digging into the freezer to get those frozen eggs! I'm so glad I have them, as I'm down to about one egg a day for the time being. I was concerned that a year in the freezer might be past their limit, but my husband, who has a keener sense of taste and smell than me, thinks they're fine. Honestly, you'd never know they were frozen. I will use these up now though, and freeze fresh dozens next time we have a surplus.

Saturday's post will be my food preservation totals for the year. Click here for that.

October 18, 2011

Cheese Making Update

Some of my homemade goat milk cheeses

I haven't mentioned cheesemaking in awhile. Not that there isn't anything to tell, I just haven't gotten around to writing about it.

My 1st hard cheese. Still in wax but waiting to be cut.
I made my first hard cheeses last June. We waited, while they, encased in wax, cured for the required 60 days. After making about five, I turned my attentions to learning to make mozzarella. It was one named cheese I definitely could use, but also, I figured I'd better see if I needed to adjust my cheesemaking process before making more than several hard cheeses. That meant we needed to taste test. While we waited I made and froze enough mozzarella for winter pizzas.

In August, it was time to sample our first hard cheese.

My first goat milk hard cheese

I was curious as to what it would look like when we cut it. It was speckled with small eyes and was very white. This color is typical of goat cheeses, because their milk does not contain beta carotene like cow milk. A small patch of mold had developed under the wax, but not being adventuresome, I cut that off, and fed it to the chickens (who loved it).

The thing that struck me was how hard it was. Everything I had read suggested that goat milk only makes soft cheeses, which is why calcium chloride is recommended as an additive. I'm not sure how I managed such a hard goat cheese, perhaps a fluke, perhaps it's repeatable. I'll have to see how my other cheeses turn out to compare with my notes.

Time to taste. I was not impressed. It had a sharp taste (but not overly so), and a dry texture. Dan thought it was akin to colby, but also objected that it was "goaty." I didn't really notice this, which according to Ricki Carroll is because of the naturally occurring lipase enzymes and fatty acids in goats milk. While I didn't care for it for table use, it was an acceptable cooking cheese, and we used it up that way. I think it could have been improved quite a bit with more salt, about which recipes are fairly vague. I only added a teaspoon for 3 half-gallons of milks-worth of cheese. I've subsequently increased the salt.

Newest cheese, air drying to develop the rind before waxing

Even though it wasn't a huge success, I was not disappointed. I figure it's like learning to make bread and will take awhile to get an acceptable product. And of course having to wait two months to judge my results only slows down the perfecting process. However, I find that life is so much easier when I permit myself time to learn, and give myself room to make mistakes. In this case my "mistakes" are edible, so all is not lost. Experience truly is a wonderful teacher and I've made my start.

I have done some recipe modifications in subsequent cheeses, though we won't know the taste results for awhile yet. I've experimented mostly with my starter, which is whey based, rather than a boughten culture. I did purchase some thermophilic starter culture to try my hand at Parmesan (a favorite of Dan's), but the jar of milk exploded when I sterilized it, so I have set that project aside for the time being.

"Cooking" the curds in their whey, heating
 actually, until they are squeaky to chew.

One thing I don't have at present, is a proper "cheese cave." Cheese caves age the cheeses at the recommended temperature of between 45 to 60 F, and humidity of 75 to 90 percent. I'm using my 2nd refrigerator in the pantry, which is also used to keep the whey and store other items, and so is cooler than a cheese cave. Consequently it's environment isn't ideal for aging cheese.

I continue to study the cheesemaking process, and have made minor adjustments to temperatures and technique. I also started using whole milk, instead of skimming the cream off with a spoon first. I have already noted that these cheeses are heavier when they come out of the press. Each time I use 3, half-gallon jars of milk, but my first, skimmed milk cheeses were a pound, pound and a half. My whole milk cheeses have averaged 2 pounds out of the press. I'm hoping this will help the texture as well, and that the resulting cheeses won't be so dry.

I'm still getting milk, so I'm still making cheese. I'm not sure what we'd need for a winter's supply; I'll have a better idea of that next year. Once I figure out a recipe we like, I imagine we'll eat quite a bit.

We're eating the cheeses in chronological order, one at a time, so I won't know for awhile how well my tweeks and experiments work out. All things considered, I'll let you know in about two months.

October 17, 2011

Love Is In The Air

Surprise & Gruffy

Breeding season is upon us.

Let's make some Kinders!

But how does such a mismatched couple accomplish such a tall order?

With this.......

The Pygmy Buck Assist

Strategically placed on the right ridge, the only other thing that's required is to get her into position and make sure she doesn't step forward. Gruffy takes care of the rest.

October 14, 2011

Contemplations on Value & Money

What gives a thing value? Is it how rare it is? How much it sells for? How much someone else says it's worth? For it's potential to make money? Or, is it's value based on how much others need or want it? I am thinking these would be commonly accepted ways to set value. I daresay most folks in Dan's and my shoes would look at our home improvements and ask themselves, how long before thus and such pays itself off? Or, how much of a return can we get when we sell the house?

I'm contemplating this because I'm thinking that as homesteaders, our view of value needs to be different. Dan's and my goal, which I think is a typical one for homesteaders, is to meet more and more of our own needs through our relationship with our land. That could be extended somewhat, to secondarily meeting them through our relationship with our local community. I'm going to suggest that our success will hinge in part, on how we perceive value.

I've blogged along these lines before, in "Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading?" Applying this mindset to how we're trying to live, is something I'm constantly mulling over. It requires conscience effort because it is not the way we are socially indoctrinated. Indeed, it is quite foreign to most folks.

Chickens, for example. Every homesteader, rural or urban, thinks about getting chickens. One of the first things we typically do, is calculate the cost. This is compared with what we can buy eggs for at the grocery store. If we want chickens for meat, we can figure that in too. In my case, I included the manure for compost and the ability to reproduce more chickens. After all that, the question we inevitably focus on is, which is cheaper? We try to determine the value of this endeavor by what it will cost us, and what we can recover.

At some point in our chicken deliberations, we entertain the idea of selling our surplus eggs to offset our expenses. No problem with that, but it finally occurred to me that, for what I was claiming our goals were, I was asking the wrong questions.

The question I ought to focus on, is, do I want to have a self-sustaining source of eggs, meat, compost, and chickens? If the answer is yes, then the cost comparison becomes basically irrelevant. If I have the money I get the chickens, and work toward feeding them from my own land. Here, their value is based on my need and how well they help me attain my goal, not whether I can get my money's worth from them.

Another example. Let's say I have an old farm tractor "worth" $2000, and you have a freshened dairy cow "worth" $700. I need milk for cream, butter, cheese, etc., to feed my family. You need to plow your fields to plant grain for your cows. A consumer/profit based trade would assume, "you still owe me $1300". Whether or not the trade could take place would depend upon whether or not the cow's owner had an additional $1300 worth of goods or cash to complete the transaction. If not, neither party would have their needs met. A need based trade on the other hand, might make the trade as is, and call it even steven.

What I'm suggesting, is that money is not the only standard by which we can set value. We can also set it by how well a thing fulfills our needs or helps us meet our goals.

Now, most folks probably wouldn't want to do it that way. That's simply not the way things are done and money is, after all, an easy way of setting value. There is a problem with that though, because ultimately, a thing's value is only what someone else is willing to pay for it. If I have a rare book that I claim is worth $10,000 but nobody wants it, is it really worth $10,000? I could theoretically starve to death because I wouldn't part with it for less than $10,000. If someone was finally willing to pay $500 for it, is it still worth $10,000? The original owner might think so and assumed s/he'd been cheated, but I'd say it is only worth $10,000 if the new owner can sell if for that. If not, then it's only worth what the next buyer is willing to pay. In other words, value is arbitrary. A real life example is the 2008 mortgage crisis, where many folks suddenly found they could only sell their homes for considerably less than what they paid for them.

Another example of the mindset I'm talking about would be the movie, It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed. The Baileys were interested in helping folks own their own homes, more so than they were in large profits. They lived comfortably but modestly, and were willing to sacrifice to help meet peoples' needs. Mr. Potter on the other hand cared more about profit than people. Of course he was the bad guy, and we all cheered in the end when things worked out for George Bailey. We might think of this as nothing more than a Christmastime feel-good movie, but it illustrates the real life viewpoints I'm talking about.

Now, I'm not trying to minimize the reality of money, nor am I suggesting that it is possible to do away with it. What I am saying is that there is more than one way of looking at it. It can be viewed as security, power, or a tool. Unfortunately, economics is the religion of our times, and those in power are it's priests. They deem that it's the duty of the rest of us to get jobs, work, make money, and hand it over. More and more people are beginning to become aware of this and don't like being pressured into this mold. We commonly hear the problem described as "corporate greed," but anybody can be greedy: from the kindergarten bully who steals everybody's candy, to the politician who takes bribes under the table. Some suggest that the answer to capitalism is socialism, but a government can be just as greedy, power hungry, fraudulent, and uncaring as a big corporation. It's the human element that makes it so, and is something no law can govern.

I think it is important that those of us who desire a self-sufficient lifestyle understand the underlying basis upon which we make decisions. How we assign value to things will influence those decisions. The problem is that a standard of value other than money, is foreign thinking to us. It is not the mindset we are taught and it is difficult to think this way. Our challenge, is to begin to look at ourselves and the things around us in a different light. It is something I invite you to consider.

This post was the first in a series. It continues with:

October 12, 2011

State of the Herb Garden

Culinary herb bed: violets, lavender, oregano,
sage,  thyme, sweet basil, and rosemary

My herb and flower beds were neglected quite a bit this summer. Our front yard in general was pretty much neglected, and that's where my herb and flower beds are.

Antique marigold
Part of the neglect was in the form of not mowing and not weeding often enough. When we put in the new herb bed last April, I knew I'd have trouble keeping grass down at the brick borders. And I did. I'm thinking we really need to invest in a weed whacker. Not that I'm into another electric or gas-powered tool, but sissors certainly didn't cut it (well, they did, but not very well :)

Some of the grasses that grew were easily uprooted. The wire grass (Bermuda grass) however is tenacious and has been spreading. This is my biggest headache. Mulch helps, but Bermuda just takes it in stride and sends its stolons up and over to quickly conquer.

Chicory is still blooming
Part of the neglect was not enough water during our several long dry spells. The front yard, being at the highest elevation on the property, dries out more quickly than other areas. Again, mulch helps, but with so many plants around the place needing water, I didn't get them all hydrated as often and as well as I should. Really, to get everything watered properly I'd have to have the hose running all day every day. I suppose that's an excuse. Sometimes though, I feel so time pressured with all the things there are to do, that I don't want to take the time to drag the hoses around the place. I think, "it can go just one more day."

The other problem I had was that something was eating my chicory and echinacea. Right down to the ground.

Echinacea trying to make comeback

We know deer have been making themselves at home in the back of our corn field all summer. We've seen the flattened grass where they lie down. We also had a young ground hog try to take up residence under the front porch. Ground hogs are herbivorous and this one was likely the culprit. Dan blocked the opening it had pushed in some loose bricks, and things seem to be finally recovering.

Yellow cosmos, sweet peppers, & a tomato

I had a number of seeds never germinate: pyrethrum, poppy, valerian and basil. On the plus side, I've been able to enjoy fresh culinary herbs for cooking, dehydrating, and canning. I dried yarrow and thyme for the goats. The newly planted horehound and spearmint got well established, enough to get one modest cutting. I discovered that chopped thyme, sprinkled over moth hole riddled cabbage plants, did a wonderful job of shooing those moths away.

I also had a volunteer tomato grow huge and wild in the front bed.

Sprawling volunteer tomato, never staked

I never have the heart to pull volunteers like this, though I neglected to stake it. It's sprawled to the point of taking up most of the bed. Even though it didn't get enough water, it's provided us with an odd tomato or two. Pepper plants were planted nearby, though they haven't produced nearly a year's supply.

The other thing I'm happy about, is the St. Johns Wort. I thought it didn't make it, apparently has!

This looks like St. Johns Wort to me! Does it to you?

I discovered it when I weeded the zinnia bed last week.

Weeding the zinnia bed, badly overgrown with grass

What an eye sore this had become. I should be ashamed.

My long term goal is to have the entire front yard in herb and flower beds. I haven't made plans for a new bed yet however. The reason for this is because rebuilding the front porch may be next summer's house project. The porch floor is badly warped/buckled and Dan says there are problems with the floor joists.

We also hope to get at least part of our rainwater catchment system in place, which will help with watering. With just the two of us however, progress is slow on our many plans and projects. Being patient with them and ourselves is always a challenge. We often wish we'd been able to start our homestead when we were younger, but that just wasn't the course of our life. Even so, I'm thankful to be doing it at all.

October 10, 2011

1st Lemon

I found a lemon on the ground the other day. It had fallen from my potted Meyers Lemon Tree.

My 1st Meyers lemon. Looks pretty good on this side.

It looked pretty good on one side, but on the other ...

Not so good on this side. :(

It has a big soft, brownish spot. Disappointing. There are 5 more fruits on the tree, all at various stages of ripening.

I blogged about it blooming last December. It was loaded with flowers. Most of the flowers turned to little fruits, but many of these were self-pruned, until I had half a dozen left. Probably the right number for so young and small a tree. They certainly seem to take a long time to ripen. In fact for awhile, Dan was positive I actually had a lime tree instead of lemon.

Dan said this one was delicious in his iced tea. What I'm hoping for, is to be able to make my great-grandmother's lemon cream pie. A lemon lovers to die for! Traditionally I make it once a year for Christmas, though I have been known to make myself a lemon pie for my birthday instead of cake. I just hope the rest of the lemons turn out all right.

October 7, 2011

Small Appliances I Have Known & Loved

Trying to figure out the arrangement of my kitchen cabinets is forcing me to make some decisions about various items and what to do them. I'm not especially enamored with gizmos and gadgets. I don't have a lot of so called time saving devices in my kitchen (which, I think, often take more time to clean up than are worth the trouble.) I do have a few items however, small appliances, that I use a lot. So much so that I've taken them for granted because now that they are all falling into various states of disrepair, I really miss them.

The three I particularly like and miss, are my Kitchen Aid mixer, my toaster oven, and my bread machine.

Stock online photo of a
Kitchen Aid mixer
My mixer is over 8 years old. Ever since I lost the paddle to my bread machine, I've been using my Kitchen Aid for kneading bread dough. I use it occasionally for cake batter, whipped cream, or egg whites for meringue. Batters aren't much trouble to mix batters by hand, but whipped cream and egg whites are another matter. Plus, the dough hook frees my hands for other tasks, and does a much better job of developing the gluten.

The problem? The motor. It won't turn the mixing arm. A new mixer would cost $200 - $300, which isn't in the budget at present.

Now, I do have one of these....

Egg beater

.... an old handheld egg beater. And I do use it, but it works best for eggs. Anything thicker binds the beaters. Fortunately Dan found a place to buy Kitchen Aid replacement parts, so perhaps my mixer is one small appliance I won't have to do without.

My old Breadman Ultimate
My bread machine is an 8 year old Breadman Ultimate. For it's age, it's held up amazing well. In fact, I used to go through a bread machine a year, even my Zojirushi! This one though, has held up admirably. After losing the kneading paddle I still use the bake cycle for baking loaves of bread.

Eventually I found the paddle when I was putting compost on the garden last year. Now that my mixer is kaput, I really need to see if the old Breadman is up to the task of kneading these days. If not, I have my eye on a Panasonic SD-YD250 .

But why get a new bread machine at all? I can still knead by hand after all. True, but what I really like it for is the bake cycle. It takes a whole lot less energy to use, and in the summer especially, it doesn't heat up the kitchen like baking in the big stove. Plus, I can keep it in the summer kitchen so even the little bit of heat it generates stays outside. In the winter, I'll bake bread in my wood cookstove gladly. The disadvantage to a bread machine, is that it makes only one loaf at a time. Fortunately it's no trouble to bake a loaf daily if needed.

My old Euro-Pro has seen better days
The third small appliance I absolutely love is my toaster oven. Not only does it make toast, but it bakes as well. I've used it for small cakes, muffins, meat, casseroles. It's perfect when cooking for just the two of us. I admit I wasn't much impressed with the convection feature (fan now dead anyway). This didn't actually seem to cook the food any faster, but I'm sure eliminated hot spots, so is probably a good thing. Now, the oven's upper heating element has died.

Mine is about 5 years old and the brand, Euro-Pro, is not one I would buy again nor recommend.  It did a fair job, but in accommodating two baking racks, the heating elements are too far from the slices of bread to toast them quickly. After reading endless customer reviews, I'll replace it if I ever can, with the Cuisinart TOB-195 .

The reason I like a toaster oven, is for the same reasons as the bread machine. It's portable so I can move it out of the kitchen in the summer, plus it's more energy efficient than turning on the big oven every time I need to bake a small item for two, or heat up leftovers.

There are a couple of possible alternatives I'd like to try. One is a cob oven. The other is a solar oven. This website (link courtesy of Dani) has loads of excellent DIY solar cooker plans. I've had my eye on the Windshield Shade Solar Funnel Cooker all summer. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any of those windshield shades. Both a cob and solar oven would have their limitations and wouldn't be for year round use, but would be excellent for outdoor summer cooking. Some day (after the house is done?) Dan hopes to work on a barbeque / smoker / outdoor oven. But as with all things around here, it must await its time.

One small appliance that I do not / will not have, is a microwave oven. They are touted as being time and energy saving, but when our cat Rascal developed feline lymphoma I researched his diet. I learned some things about microwaves that caused me to immediately throw ours out. This is not simply, beware if you have a pacemaker, but what microwaving actually does to the food. Several good articles (if you're interested) are:

Now that I've started working on my kitchen cabinetry plans, I need to make some decisions. I'm working on where things will go, and have to ask myself, do I want to fix or replace these three items, or learn to do without? I like them all for the reasons I mention, especially the energy savings. Still, if we are on route to becoming self-sufficient and all that this implies, why would I want to replace them at all? If we can ever get off grid, these may no longer be practical, depending upon how much of our own electricity we can generate. Then again, considering how far in the future that probably is, even new appliances will probably have worn out by then!