Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What are you passionate about?

That question has been on my mind this past week, but it's a bit of a round-about to get to why...

Early ;ast week, I was reading the Bangor Daily News, as I do each morning and was attracted to an article under the heading "HOMESTEAD." It was about a "classic Maine farmhouse" in Winterport which, while interesting, really didn't seem to speak at all about anything homestead related, at least in my understanding of the word. The article ended with a call for submissions: Send us stories about your house and land... 

Being me, I immediately put fingers to keyboard and addressed the topic of homestead as I understand it. After I hit "send" I did a little more research and discovered that they were using the term in a different manner... as a rebranding of their "family" section in the paper.  I also seem to remember somewhere, though I cannot find it now, a call for contributors that ask the question I posed as the title of this entry.

I did hear back from an editor, who wanted to speak with me further, and asked for photos to illustrate what I wrote. While we never talked, I did send her some photos from last year and shortly thereafter received a draft of the piece with her edits and captions for my photos, and it appeared in the online edition April 15.

On the same day I was able to answer the question in my own mind. I am passionate about "not losing the old ways." Yes, I am talking about what some call the Old Ways, with capitals, referring to the spiritual ways of our ancestors. But even more I am talking about what might be termed "secular" old ways.... growing, cooking, eating food without the use of chemicals or factories, being provident in the use of resources, being thrifty, fixing and not replacing when possible, sewing, mending, darning and even spinning and weaving to give a few examples.

I am most assuredly not "a prepper," neither am I Menonite or Amish. I don't do this out of fear of impending societal collapse or a sense of doom (though, honestly, I wonder how much longer things can continue to follow the current path) or for specifically religious reasons but out of a belief that "appropriate technology" includes the ability to use both new and old technology and skills.

I love the convenience of the Internet for communication. Social media is like chatting over the back fence or having a coffee klatch with a groups of friends, only not just with the back yard neighbor and folks in your town. I love the ability to research questions at the drop of a hat instead of having to make notes and hold onto them until library day. And I love the ability to quickly communicate via email with most folks in a time that suits me and have them respond in a time that suits them, as well as having a record of what was "said."

I know many consider telephones and mobile devices essential and appropriate; I have never enjoyed talking to disembodied voices on a telephone, not even when I was a teen girl. When I have had one, I have considered that it was a device for MY (not others') convenience and that it was not necessary to drop everything and run just because it was attempting to summon me. Now, using Tractor Guy's telephone account, I let everything go to voice mail and if necessary, return calls at my convenience. But I still prefer to avoid it.

I take advantage of the convenience of a supermarket, but prefer to buy ingredients and hopefully only those that I cannot grow. Even in pioneer days, folks typically shopped for coffee, tea, sugar (though in far less quantity that we do now) and even flour and baking powder. And I am glad that, if necessary, I CAN buy a package of frozen peas or a jar of canned tomatoes, though with luck and proper planning I hope to put up a year's supply of all such things.

I think it is important that we all be able to cook "from scratch" sufficiently to nourish ourselves. It need not be fancy and not necessarily even terribly varied but it should be stuff we like. And yes, if we were raised on packages and boxes and take out and fast food, I think it is important to learn to like foods made from basic, natural ingredients!

I think it is important that we consider waste as an important aspect of everything we do and certainly everything we buy, and strive to waste less. If you are in doubt that waste is a problem, especially food waste, check out this Earth Day offering from MSNBC Wednesday night,  April 22.

On another aspect of waste... who, these days, actually wears their clothes OUT, other than some small children? We do! When buying clothes we look for natural fibers and practical designs and therefore "good" or "town" clothes, when they become worn or stained, get turned into things to wear at home, on the farm. Farm clothes get mended... seams repaired, holes patched... until the fabric gets thin and then they help populate the rag bag. The Rag Bag... do you remember this? Old cotton clothes cut into pieces and used in place of purchased bales of shop rags, dish cloths, paper towels! And speaking of paper towels, there is no need for such things in our house, as tasks like draining bacon can be performed equally well by newspaper or brown paper bags.

I think it is important to, when you must buy, that you buy quality stuff, stuff that will LAST, and then keep it, repair it, use it or not buy at all. And, for me, buying such things already used adds to the value.

I am passionate about mending and darning, about home repair and small appliance repair.  I am passionate about growing a garden (of food to EAT) from seeds you planted to seedlings you grew to plants you transplanted. I am passionate about not letting that effort and those crops go to waste, so I can, freeze, dry and share with friends.

I am passionate about knowing my food, calling it by name, loving it, raising it up and processing it by my own hand. And I guess I am also passionate about sharing these passions. What about you?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Late winter? Later spring? Not really!

I know everyone here abouts -- or so it seems -- has been on the horn to Old Man Winter and Ma Nature about the apparent slow departure of said old man. Like this it is unusual here to have snow, cold, etc. this time of year. While patience may run thin, especially for farmers and gardeners anticipating planting season and with starting racks and greenhouses bursting at the seams, it seems that we are not too far off from last year, truth be told.

April 11, 2014 view of the garden
April 16, 2014 view of the garden
 These two photos, taken mid-month last year, show that we still had snow on the ground, and snow falling and accumulating, in April. When you consider that the AVERAGE last frost date is mid-May, and you remember how an average is determined if you didn't sleep through math class in school, this really should not be very surprising.

April 4, 2015 view of the garden
April 7, 2015 view of the garden
 So, patience is something that we all need to cultivate while we are seeding those soil blocks and flats, in gleeful anticipation of sunburnt days of planting ahead.

We have had a bit of a warming trend, thankfully, in the weather but the lows continue to be below freezing and my soil temperature test this week proved that planting is a way off, as it read 36 degrees at 4 pm on a sunny day. We have had rain and snow, and the rain has taken a bit of the white away but there are still large areas covered, not just the piles and drifts. The melt has, however, solidified the snow sufficiently that I was able to walk without snow shoes to replace lines on the clothes poles and take down the first load of the year, which I left out overnight, but which was thoroughly dry.

Tuesday, Tractor Guy ended up stopping by Tractor Supply for -- no surprise here -- tractor parts and discovered they were having Chick Days...so he brought home 3 Rhode Island Red and 3 Rhode Island White chicks. NOT what I was expecting, though he had been in town much longer than expected. Most guys would offer flowers or chocolate in such a case; I got chickens!  LOL  Of course I love the little gals (they are all supposed to be pullets) and they are currently in a tote in the living room under their heat lamp.

Otherwise, things have been slow here on the farm. I continue to work on hex signs, of course. Today I shipped this 36" Protection for Livestock - Horse sign.I was thankful that the rain abated so it could be loaded in to the Subaru and hauled into UPS easily and kept dry!
www.DutchHexSign.com Livestock Protection Sign for Horse

Moving ahead, the next project is an Earth Star Flower in the 2' size.

Friday, April 3, 2015

It's been a slow week at the sign of the Fussing Duck...

Necessity almost always wins. I had planned to talk with my knee surgeon about getting on snow shoes again but not having made my appointment, having missed the scheduled one -- and having broken through the snow multiple times while doing chores on Friday -- made the donning of my big feet pretty much a no-brainer without medical approval. K injured his ankle Friday night, hurrying through the dark and breaking through the snow to check on the fowl after Moose alerted us to the presence of a skunk ( yay Moose! Good guardian dog!)  and glowing eyes shined back at us in the beam of a flashlight shined from the back porch.  When he got to the area where the eyes had been, nothing was to be seen, thankfully. But having injured his ankle, and being pretty sure of being able to do chores with my big feet on now that the snow has melted enough to allow the gates to open wide enough to snow shoe through, off I went. It was pretty much like always, did allow me to move about more easily AND with seemingly less stress on the knees and legs.

Friday, after breaking through and needing assistance to get un-stuck, I iced the right knee for a while (long enough to knit 4 rows on my hat...dunno how long in clock time that is, but I am not an especially fast knitter) and took a dose of Tylenol. Knee felt pretty darn good all day, so I decided to do the icing again today, even though I did not feel especially swollen or painful. We will see if that becomes a routine.
Been trying to focus on being a better steward of our abundance, a department in which I fell far short this winter. Pretty much our entire crop of carrots will be compost; we did not even get them all dug and what was dug and put into bins did not get moved out of the back porch (which freezes solid even in a more mild winter) and into the back bathroom as I had planned. They all froze and are now thawing and rotting.

Saturday I processed two of the varieties of garlic for the freezer. One was pureed in olive oil and the other just frozen, loose, as cleaned cloves. I have one variety left, which seems to be the best keeper thus far; unfortunately I have forgotten who is who. Since I cannot currently get to the deep freeze, which is blocked my indoor laundry drying racks, the garlic and several packs of slightly beaten egg are in the fridge freezer for now. I had hoped to be able to begin hanging laundry as soon as I was able to get on snow shoes again -- and way eagerly eying the warmer, sunny day forecast for tomorrow -- but then I realized that when we quit hanging, it was because the lines were failing and need replacement.  Put that on the list for the coming week, along with another shop light for the
Something like what we plan to install for line drying!
grow rack. We are planning to replace the clothes poles this year with "Maine style" wooden "goal post" ends and relocate it, as part of our updated farm plan. We are looking ahead to relocating the fowl houses and pens in such a way as to maximize "snow drift voids" for the future and our current plan will occupy the space where the clothes lines now stand. But until we get there, new line will at least give me outdoor drying capability again. I hope that Mallside has cotton clothesline rope, otherwise a dedicated visit to Reny's will be in order as I have seen it there on every visit.

Sunday brought the MOFGA seed swap, a chapter pot luck and my first long solo drives, which went quite well. I enjoyed the swap, though I missed one of the friends who was coming there to give me some seeds and thoroughly enjoyed the pot luck, though this time I went solo. Brought back some fruit and a couple of large bags of bagged chips that will be food for us and the fowl. My hosts gather post-consumer food from schools and other institutions for their pigs and often get donated unopened bags of chips and uneaten fresh fruit that is not even close to being past prime, which they set aside for people food and share. This is our second "helping" of chips; we thoroughly appreciated the single serving size packages of the varieties that we enjoy and the fowl have fun picking on the rest. Last time we got several bags of pork rinds, which Stormy has been enjoying, a few a day as a high-calorie treat, as we try to put weight back on our sickly pup. While I was gone, Tractor Guy made short work of the dishes and cleaned the stove for me. I am most appreciative! Now I am thoroughly motivated to get the rest of the kitchen shoveled out to begin making soil blocks to start a wide variety of tomato and pepper seeds. That, and working on the hexen in process will be the projects for the day.

Weather-wise, it looks like we are once again back on a more spring like warming trend. Though the lows remain below freezing, the highs look to average around the low 40s for the next week or so, which should bring and end to the basic snow cover. The massive piles, however, will of course take longer.

I have installed the new 4-tube shop light on the grow rack and made seed blocks for many types of tomatoes ...
tomato - cosmonaut volkov - f - 2012
tomato - bonny best - p - 2014
tomato - glacier - f - 2012
tomato - nova - t - 2013
tomato - mortgage lifter - p - 2014
tomato - oregon spring - p - 2014
tomato - saucey - t - 2013
tomato - heinz 2653 - f - 2012
tomato - san marzano - labelGMOs.org - 2012?
tomato - peacevine - hm - 2010
tomato - long keeper - t - 2013
and from wintersown:
Liz Burt ND 70-75
Marmande DET 67
Gloria van Mechelen IND 72
Manitoba DET 70
Livingston's Gold Ball IND 70
Golden Jubilee IND 72
Ace 55 DET 75
Brandywine Red  IND 75
Grot DET 65
Coyote (yellow cherry) IND 65
and a few pepper varieties which include some "rat turd peppers" from the MOFGA swap, a hot pepper assortment and a bell. I am hoping that the overnight temperature stays moderate enough that they will germinate without added heat, as our wall propane space heater is out of fuel and I have made the executive decision to hold off filling a big tank until closer to when the cooking fuel will run out. It is chilly, but not overly cold thus far when I get up at sunrise and the kero heater warms the place sufficiently until the solar heating takes over (which by the look of the forecast, we will NOT have during the coming week...) Also soaked the remainder of the asparagus seed that I did not take to the swap, and I shall plant it today. Really wanting to increase the bed, and slowly beats expensively!

12" Mighty Oak hex sign shipped this week to Ohio
I shipped a small hex (left) and have begun working on a couple of Livestock Protection signs, one at 12" for beef cows and a 36" ones for horses. We no longer are getting large piece of cardboard from signage shipping from my former place of employment, so I am looking for a source of good clean cardboard in pieces up to  50" square. If you are in central Maine and have a source for such, please let me know!!

Meanwhile, the temperatures continue to be above freezing in the daytime and the snow is receding. At this point, about half or more of my garden is brown -- but frozen still -- and our driveway is mud and ice. When I went to ship the hex on Thursday, Boo made like an icebreaker!

I am hoping to connect with the replacement clothesline rope this coming week, but am not in a terribly big hurry as it appears we will have rain, snow or some combination every day but one in the 10 day forecast. "April showers" bring mud season!