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Amie cans a quart of water

The Indian summer came, went, and came again. Last Friday we hit 37 F – cutting it pretty close – but yesterday it was 70F. It’s going to get cold again soon, though.

Plant. Moved (replanted) the 2 rhubarb plants, because in the end we chose their first bed as one of the beds to be covered by our winter hoop house. Planted 50 or so garlic cloves (3 varieties) next to the rhubarb. Sowed peas and planted onion sets for overwintering and early spring germination in outside beds. I’m investigating more winter sowing in containers here.

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some onions at least made it to scallion stage, the celery is thin but tasty, the carrots are small but super sweet

Harvest. From plants still going strong: Swiss chard, kale, peas, green beans, potatoes, parsley, basil, scallions, carrots and all the culinary herbs. Last ones: cucumber, eggplant, cherry tomatoes. Pulled most of the celery for mirepoix (with own and Farmers Market carrots and Farmers Market onions).

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Mirepoix in the Dutch oven

Preserve. 6 quarts of green beans, 3 pints of pickled cucumbers, 6 pints of peach pie filling  making the (preliminary) total of jars to 101… PLUS (just in) 5 pints of Caribbean peach chutney – and that‘s the end of the peaches. So 106. Froze 5 lbs of mirepoix (I first cook it in butter, until just soft; I just love chopping it up; and I could cook it every day just for the smell of it). Froze 2 quarts of vegetable stock made form scrap (mainly celery leaves).

Waste not. We had a largish party, during which I was planning to do an experiment: I was going to set out paper napkins and cloth napkins and see which were most popular. Then I noticed I was out of paper napkins, so cloth it was, and the defunct experiment was the talk of the evening. We also used metal cutlery and recycled and compostable paper plates. The ashes from the 7-hour ribs went into a ash-bin for the compost and soil improvement. Filling a large bag of veggie “waste” (e.g., celery leaves) in the fridge: once I have enough I’ll make veggie broth and freeze or can it. For the rest, we continue on with our usual stuff.

Want not. Bought more canning jars (for some reason there weren’t many 8 oz jars in my Freecycle/Craig’s List hauls) – they were on sale this time. Our toothpaste was on sale too, so now we have enough for a year. But nothing else. It’s pathetic – I really want to be better prepared, for flu or power outage or whatever, but my self pep talks on the issue fizzle out so fast. I wish I had a buddy nearby to do this with.

Build community food systems. Chatted with farmers at the Market, getting on a first name basis and getting nice discounts too – I never ask for them, and when they’re offered, I always ask: “Are you sure? I know it’s not easy for you…” Some tell me about how they are just scraping by, and I also get to see how competition among the farmers at the market plays out. It’s very educational. I also went to a Transition Town meeting, and local food is of course a large part of Transition (more on that later).

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100% homegrown "shepherd's pie" filling, to be topped with homegrown potato mash

Eat the food. Ate most out of the garden and whatever is left over from canning – one evening when it was just Amie and I, I had only green beans for dinner, almost an entire quart of them. Amie was so impressed: how can anyone eat so many vegetables!? We’ve eaten nothing from our canned stores yet: it will be special, cracking open that first jar.

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"See, I can do this, Mama, because I've seen how you do it!"

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101 jars. Top row, left to right:

  • 3 pints pickled cucumbers
  • 6 8 oz cranberry peach preserves
  • 9 8 oz fig preserves
  • 8 pints apple sauce
  • 5 pints basic tomato sauce
  • 7 pints green bell pepper
  • 7 8 oz peach salsa

Bottom row, left to right:

  • 9 quarts green beans
  • 6 pints peach pie filling
  • 8 8 oz peach butter
  • 6 pints peaches in light syrup
  • 7 pints peach chutney
  • 4 quarts + 1 8 oz apple sauce
  • 16 blueberry jams – several recipes

Canning was one of the hurdles I cleared this season. As a teenager I witnessed my mom making and canning crab apple jam, but can’t remember participating. There really is nothing to canning, but it’s one of those old/new skills that was a bit intimidating to me. Nevertheless, wanting to work on our food self-sufficiency, I knew it was something I really wanted to do, so I started collecting jars early on, through Freecycle, Craig’s list and from the landfill. I still have many cases of empty larger jars. I only had to buy 8 oz jars, and lids and screw bands.

The shelves of the canning pantry were already there in our basement. I think the lady who lived her before us kept her own jars on them, because you can see some ring marks. I like it that they’re not deep, so I can see and check the jars at first glance. I’ll have to add some shelves if I keep this up, and also because I want to start adding things like flours, sugar, etc. The pantry is close to the furnace but the temperature fluctuations are minimal. Our basement is a constant 65 F, give or take a degree. It is always dark, except in winter, then I use the same space to grow my seedlings in winter: I will have to install a curtain for the pantry when those 16/24 lights come on

Like most of us in the States this year I was expecting a lot more from my garden then what I really got – bad weather and inexperience contributed. So I turned to the Farmers Market for produce (blueberry jam was my first attempt) and began hot-water bath canning in my large stockpot. I was already having fun when DH bought the high-pressure canner (the biggest Presto) for my birthday and helped me out on my first run, and then I was truly off. I use the Presto for the hot-water bath, since it is now my largest pot and it has a nice rack which keeps the jars from falling over.

I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for recipes and instructions, as well as the manual for my canner. I use my glass top electric cook stove. It takes a lot longer to get that big pot of water boiling than on a gas stove, but that’s how it is for now. I have no trouble with the glass stove top as my canner has a flat bottom and I’m extra careful when I put it down (so as not to break the glass).

As I wrote earlier, canning (especially in a hot kitchen on a summer’s day) is heightening my appreciation for food production as much as growing the food does. Peeling, coring, chopping up, boiling, straining and processing 12 lbs of apples takes about 2 hours of work and comes to 4 quarts and 2 8 oz jars. A quick run to the shop takes 15 minutes and could come to hundreds of jars of applesauce!

Then there is the financial issue. Those organic apples at my Farmers Market were about $7 for a bag of 6 lbs (much cheaper than the apples the grocery store). So let’s say I made 5 quarts of sauce, that’s $1.40 per pint, which doesn’t calculate in the cost of the jar (okay, free in this case), lids and screw bands, electricity, water, sugar, spices, and my time. The organic applesauce in my grocery store comes to $2.64 per pint. I think the jar, lids and other ingredients can easily fit into that $1.24 difference… but not my time.

But that’s applesauce. On the one side there are the so-called more added-value foodstuffs, like fig preserves, salsas and pestos, which will come out quite a bit cheaper home canned if you can source the key ingredients cheaply. On the other side there are things like basic tomato sauce, which will be much cheaper from the supermarket shelves. My $1.99/lb organic tomatoes made a shocking $4 per pint home canned basic tomato sauce (so again excluding jar, other ingredients, electricity and time), while the supermarket organic tomato sauce is only $1.14 per pint. Another factor is organic vs. conventional: if the raw materials are the latter, then the price compared to non-organic store bought cans will likely be against the home canner.

So let’s say it all comes out in the middle, like the apple sauce: it comes to the same, except for the time. Then the question is: is it worth my time?

I believe it is, for a variety of reasons. I am preserving not just apples, but a skill as well. I enjoy working with food (especially if I’ve grown it, or if I’ve come to know the farmer who has). I fear that in the future the supermarkets might not be so well-stocked on applesauce and I want to know how to fill that gap myself. I can be certain of the “local-ness” and “organic-ness” of the raw materials. And I know exactly what went into my handwashed jars: the apples, sugar, spices, water and lemon juice of my choosing and making – no Bisphenol A, no neglected bacteria and other contaminants, no “manufacturing oils”.

Heads up:

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October 18

Roxbury, MA

Bill McKibben, Frances Moore Lappé and Mel King

The major goals of the conference are to educate, inform, and empower Massachusetts residents to take actions in their communities to help build the local infrastructure and institutions needed to provide economic security in a changing world. The conference will help clarify, catalyze, and coordinate the emerging efforts across the Commonwealth that are blazing the trail for community-organized energy, finance, banking, budgeting, healthcare, food, education, retail, service, manufacturing, and more.

click on image to see flyer.pdf

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I bought the book. Nowadays when I want to buy a book I get it from the library first. After a couple of weeks of perusing and handling it, I might think differently about spending $15 on it… Not so with Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook. It’s full of hard practical advice and it’s beautifully made and I couldn’t wait to underline and make notes and set exclamation marks in the margins.

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We are about to build a “cold house” (an unheated hoop house) out of pvc pipe and plastic cover, that will cover four beds (dark blue). Inside the hoop house each of these beds will be covered with an extra layer made of row cover. In these doubly-covered beds I’ll grow lettuce, spinach, broccoli, chard, kale, parsley, carrots, arugula, leeks, mizuna, mustard greens, scallions and beet greens.

Some beds (light blue) we’ll cover with row cover at first and an extra layer of plastic during the coldest months. This double protection is one of Coleman’s three components of the winter harvest. In those I’ll grow the most hardy crops (mache, mizuna, tatsoi, pak choi) for Winter and early Fall harvest, and I’ll tuck in arugula, pea, carrot, beet and onion seeds for overwintering and germination early in Spring.

I’ll try some of those crops in the small glass covered frame (dark blue in front of the house), which I want to convert into a hot frame, heated with decomposing horse manure. I just found out that my source – a horse owner right around the corner from our house – uses wood shavings for bedding, which Coleman considers detrimental to vegetable soil, so I might only use it in the hot frame, where it will not be mixed in with the growing soil but will only be used to heat that soil from underneath. I still need to find out exactly how that’s done… (Good news is that the horse is on no medication whatsoever.)

The hoop house will be light and portable and the idea is to get four people together in late Spring to pick it up and move it to another collection of four beds, where it will create a nice environment for the usual greenhouse plants, like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. In the Fall we’ll pick it up again and move it to the Winter Garden beds.

This means I’m going to have to be a lot more careful about crop rotations than I have been. I must say that crop rotation is a problem for Square Foot Gardeners. This year’s problem with blight made that clear: if you had blighted potatoes and tomatoes scattered all over the place this year, you might not want to grow any Solanacaea at all next year. I did some SFG this year, but I think I will move to more conventional beds and row next season.

This is, of course, yet another grand experiment, but so worth a try. I had no spinach whatsoever in my first garden: my spinach seedlings bolted in Spring and I’ve been craving it ever since. If only the spinach works out, I’ll be happy!

Amie’s drawing is becoming more complex and colorful every day. Something must have pushed her onwards. It’s amazing! Let’s see if Mama can keep up with the developments this time. Click on the pics to see them larger and also go to the Flickr set with Amie’s art work to see tags and notes; also visit the Drawing as it Develops page for the history of Amie’s drawing since she could hold a pen.

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Amie and Mama in the garden with bumblebee, ladybug / with birds and clouds and a big watering can, and flowers

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Amie in the garden (the bumblebees and ladybugs for some reason all have eye stalks, like snails) / Amie and Mama in the garden holding hands.

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Amie swimming (on top) in the water with fish and shark with big teeth.

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Top to botton: a rainbow, a rocket ship, a horse.

It’s been a while since I reported on Amie’s art work (she just turned four). Since the burst of creativity when Amie’s grandmother was here, she has been more interested in imaginary play and playing outside. Lately though she has been sitting down to draw for long stretches of time, all of her own accord. It pays off to have all the art materials freely available – even though it is annoying to trip over them once in a while. On the flip side, there’s always a crayon when I need a pen! She also always brings a little book and a pen so she can draw in the car or cart (in the grocery store).

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There have been several developments. Amie now likes to do coloring in – not an exercise in creativity in my book – and has started paying extra attention to staying within the lines. But she soon tires of it and moves on to a blank piece of paper, the bigger the better.

On those big sheets she often draw not just “things,” but happenings: events, actions, contexts, interactions, and relations. I had been planning on gently prodding her into taking this next step, but she took it all on her own.

She asked me to annotate the two following drawings, which were made one after the other.

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Dictated annotation: “This [arrow to first figure, on left] is Amie lying down on her big pillow with an extra pillow under hear head. She is resting. Next to her is Mama on a big pillow with an extra pillow.”

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Dictated annotation: “Amie drew: Our house with the basement (& light switch) and Mama sitting on the sofa, drawing on the big board, and Amie on the balcony feeding the hummingbird at the feeder, and the chimney.” (sorry for the bad photo: my scanner’s fried).

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There are a lot of stories in the drawing above, all related to a day in the garden. There’s a lot of grass and two big earthworms – she was in charge of a big bin of all the earthworms we found while raking our yard when sowing grass seed. A girl is watering the grass and the flowers. There’s a crude house. There are two scary faces (securely boxed off, in the lower left corner) – which are part of the Farmers Market decorations these days.

She usually does this kind of drawing fast, with little attention for details. It’s all about what is happening. Sometimes things happen so fast that this is the result:

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Or events get overlaid on each other. The next drawing is of two girls underneath a tree. The one on the left pulled down a branch and leaves and dirt fell into her hair, so you can no longer make out her hair and face:

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As she draws these she often tells the story out loud – Amie is always the narrator, she often includes “she jumped up”, on top of the action, and even “he said” for dialogue! In these instances she’s not concerned with the result, only with the act of putting it down, seeing her story unfold on paper.

At other times, however, she is very deliberate about the result. Then she  pays special attention, for instance, to the spatial relations of things in a drawing. These houses, for instance, she drew partly with a ruler – she is so proud of herself when she makes that straight box.

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And yesterday she was quiet for a long while, then ran into the room and showed me her drawing and her model:

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She had drawn the saucer by putting it down on the paper and tracing it. And she proudly said: “I drew it exactly, Mama. But I didn’t like the way the bear’s mouth is all squiggly, because he doesn’t look happy, so I drew his smile straight not squiggly.”

To while away the time she also sits down with her little book and draws “I Spy”. She spots something, says its name, then draws it, laying it out on the page. When the page is full, she moves on to the next page. The next drawings are of the things in the bathroom, made while I was taking a shower. She has learned Dan Price‘s advice: You will never be bored when “making lines”.

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You can see how colors are gaining importance for her. A while ago she drew this parrot – I just love the way she got those wings right, and the beak – and then she asked me to put a little colored cross in the parts so she could color it in properly. She was extra mindful of the head part, careful to leave the white part blank. I can’t find the finished drawing, when I do I’ll post it.

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And look at these while-away drawings of her cardboard castle/abbey. The colors are so intense!

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You can follow the development of Amie’s drawings in the “Drawing as It Develops” series (and I finally got round to updating the list of relevant entries).

Independence Days was somewhat hindered by a sorry head cold, but here’s what I did before -

Ah——tshoo!

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Rhubarb

Plant. Two 1-year-old rhubarb  plants: I know it’s not the season to plant them, but they look very healthy and were cheap so it’s worth experimenting. Seedlings are still patiently waiting for the hoop house.

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Harvest of 21 September 2009

Harvest. Kale, chard, green beans – those beans just keeps on giving! When cleaning out the dry bean bed, I found 1 straggler fava bean – needless to say it never made it into the kitchen. Coupla tiny onions and carrots. Celery: the stalks are slim but the flavor is intense. The last of a very disappointing crop of Salem potatoes.

Peachy Preserve. Canned cranberry-peach preserves (6 8oz), peach salsa (7 8oz), peach butter (8 8oz). That and some munching took care of my half bushel of peaches.

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Peach butter

Waste not. The egg man at my Farmers Market (eggs so fresh, they still have feathers stuck to them) sells them in used cartons, the half dozens he sells in dozen-cartons cut in half. I asked him if I should bring back the cartons from last week and he said yes, please, he’s always running short. So today i brought him the 50 or so egg cartons I had saved in anticipation of our chickens. That will now only happen next Spring, and by then we and our friends will have saved up enough new ones. I’m also saving all those peach seeds to be put in once I feel better – what are the chances I end up with a peach orchard? I also started saving the celery and carrot greens for veg stock – why hadn’t I thought of that before?

Want Not. The stores are putting away their canning stuff, so I stocked up on extra pectin and lids – not because they were on sale (they weren’t :( ), but to have them handy.

Build community food systems. Nothing much in particular, definitely no “building,” but here’s a thought about the Farmers Market. I make it a point to buy something at each stall at my Farmers Market (it’s a small market). I buy most of my produce there for 3 reasons: (1) reduced food miles, (2) I can ask the farmers personally about their pesticide use and employment policies, and (3) to support local and small agriculture. That last one is important: in the future we will want these farmers to still be in business, we will want that farm land to be still in use.

Eat the food. We ate all of the food we harvested – the harvest is a trickle at the moment, too little to can. The plan was to bake bread, but the dripping nose, 0% taste and splitting headache made it less than appetizing.

Thought for next year’s garden: tea plants and elecampane!

This is the general plan for the Fall and Winter garden (click for larger):

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The idea is to put up a small hoop house that will be dismantled next Spring (blue). It will cover a rectangle of two large (8×4) and two small (4 x 4) beds, which will each have a row cover – so double protection. These will have spinach, lettuce, kale, mizuna, broccoli, carrots, etc. The cold frame (smaller blue rectangle) in front of the house will either harbor the most hardy veggies, or I might experiment with a hot frame with fresh horse manure… My copy of Winter Harvest arrived just in time!

The orange/brown beds are in, the light yellow ones still need to be dug – hopefully this Fall. The yellow rows at the bottom left will be rows (not beds). I’m putting winter rye in all the unused beds this winter, except for Bed 12, which will have the rhubarb and garlic, and Bed 13, which might become home to all those peach seeds – I’ll transplant whatever erupts in Spring to pots.

Wow, Sharon has another great blog entry up: Dreaming a Life, about radical lifestyle changes – “whether they come from adapting to a deeply damaged climate or from addressing the crisis, whether they come from adapting to depletion or from enduring it.”

Sharon points out that much of the political unrest we are seeing comes from the fact that people are realizing that they have been lied to, that they can’t “have all the things they want – a future for their children and an affluent present now.”  Sharon also warns that “unless a true and comprehensible story is offered, false ones will be taken up, and used as bludgeons.”

She goes into why we like being lied to, why we make it so easy to be lied to, and why it takes so long for us to finally see the lie. We are constantly fed dreams not of our own making, and we aren’t autonomous enough to dream differently, creative enough to make our own dreams. We “imagine ourselves as unique because we choose among a large range of commercial options – we can decorate our kitchen with baby ducks, pigs or flowers; can choose between coke or pepsi, can decorate our bodies within a range of a dozen or so arbitrated ‘personal styles.’  Given the sheer number of commercial choices, it is perhaps no wonder that we imagine that this is sufficient to constitute an identity and a dream.”

And, she points out, the “green lifestyle” we are offered is just part of that manufactured dream. It does not constitute the radical lifestyle change that will come for all of us, because “there will never be a society in which everyone can have a personal hybrid”, and because “even the rich having them is a disaster.”

Because:

The math is really clear – there’s not enough climate leeway, not enough water, not enough food, not enough money, not enough oil, not enough gas, not enough dirt, not enough phosphorous, not enough rainforest…. not enough left in the world to avert disaster if we have rich people, who see themselves primarily as consumers in a consuming world, and who live as we do now.

Which means we need an American (and European and Australian and Japanese…) dream that can work – and we need it fast.

And it’s up to us – the rich people – to imagine it and promote it.

It can’t be a nightmare. It has to be, Sharon writes,

immediately accessible. It cannot require vast creative energies, because honestly, most people don’t have them.  It cannot require that everyone go against the grain, because, quite honestly, most of us go with the grain.  It cannot require that we build an imagine entirely internally – you have to be able to go look at it.

I am taking this to be my personal challenge. I choose to believe it is possible. How do we already live that dream, and how and where do we show it for all to see?

Amie came home from school with a cold on Friday, I kept her home this morning, but she’ll be going back to school tomorrow. But I also got it. Runny nose, sneezies, ringing ears, head ache – o please let me be better by the morrow!

It is especially annoying because I couldn’t make it to my pottery class this evening – the first class in three months! My hands were itching. I gotta make something!

So instead I made lists. TO DO when I get better, that is, this week, please:

  1. use up last peaches (pickle them?)
  2. make pickles with Farmers Market pickles
  3. bake bread
  4. make yogurt
  5. make no-churn butter
  6. investigate quilting
  7. investigate making soap
  8. make a big flower press
  9. learn to use that sowing machine, again

And TO DO, better sooner than later, but not this week:

  1. build cheese press
  2. build hand churner
  3. build bread oven
  4. build cider press
  5. build stovepipe oven
  6. build workbench with vises
  7. build solar cooker

Goodnight…