Monday, February 23, 2009

New Raised Beds Are Done!

Here is yet another great delivery of dirt and compost mix from Friday. Another 6 cubic yards, another long bout with my little garden cart and a shovel.

Yeah...(can you hear the excitement)?

Nah, just kidding. I really do enjoy doing this hauling. I feel like I'm accomplishing something that has actual results vice some paper shuffling result. So here is my nice, fresh compost smelling pile on Friday.

And here I am with one raised bed built and filled. (It only looks crooked because I take pictures crooked. We were sure to level it.)

And here we are on Saturday afternoon, with both raised beds built and filled and the "squash bed" being laid out to the left.

The area that is a bit gray and dry is where I leveled out the area with 6 cubic yards of dirt a few weeks ago so the beds would sit nicely. I'll be banking up that front area with a bit more dirt. I'll also be using very large containers that my herbs and such go in as a frontage on that bank.

Now to something completely different...

Last year I wrote about making dehydrated squash into dog cookies. I got some questions and remarks on them. I even tried them on my best friend's dogs but they had no interest in them (they are young boxers). What I have found is that because my dogs had yellow squash quite frequently in their home made dog food, they developed a taste for them and now, dog squash cookies = maniacal frenzy of love. Here I am opening up a new jar of dehydrated squash chips.

And this is what I see as soon as that lid pops and the aroma escapes.

Too funny.
I thought, hey, if they like them, I wonder what they taste like.

I won't show you the after picture because my face is not web-safe after I took a bite. And yes, that is bread dough in my hair. Don't ask.

For those who had questions on my home-made dog food recipes, I'll give a whole blog entry on the expanded recipe set later on. Needless to say, they love it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chris's Questions: My Answers

Another blog I follow pointed to yet another great blog that had the following questions on it. I really enjoyed reading the answers other people gave so I thought I'd take a run at them too! Hope you enjoy my answers as much as I've enjoyed others.

If you want to get them for yourself, the One Acre Homestead in Ohio is the original author and has the original versions easy to copy and paste. Let me know if you do so I can read yours! Hey, I'm nosy. ;)

Basic Questions About You
1-What is the biggest goal of your lifestyle?
Improving self-sufficiency and independence, being sustainable in a real way (not the faddish TV way), having clean and healthy food that actually tastes better, being less of a consumer and more of a creator.

2-When did you start this lifestyle?
It grew on me. Since I'm still near the urban center/edge of the suburbs, I'm very limited by local ordnance what I'm allowed to do. I've been increasing my capabilities over the past 2 years conciously and drifting that way for years.

3-What was your main motivation?
If you had to boil it down to one single motivation, I would have to say fear. That is a bit embarrassing, but true. Food contamination, lack of control over prices and availability, utter dependence on our consumer system really sort of freaked me out.

4-Did you have any previous experience in anything you're doing now?
I come from a long line of farmers, but really nothing that I did myself. I never graduated from the "little helper" stage in my Great-Grandma Elma's or my Grandmommy's garden. Even as a teen I was still being directed due to lack of interest. Canning and preserving and hunting and fishing and the cleaning of catches were done under duress. I wish, oh how I wish, I would have been more pro-active. They told me I would regret it....

5-Does your spouse/signifiacant other (if you have one) share the same ideas?
Alas, no spouse ::sigh:: but my family is sort of half and half on it. One sister shares my "green" ideas and also gardens and the like for health but no one else. I really think they think I'm a bit of a nut job.

6-Do your friends and family understand and support these choices? What about your kids?
My best friend is very supportive even though she doesn't share my passion for it. Some family support in the form of not making actual fun at me, most of the time, but no one to really share the journey with or enjoy the accomplishments. The kiddles, my sister's, really have no interest save the youngest who thinks the wonderful rich compost/dirt mix smells and feels nice to play in. (I agree.) She also likes to see things grow. I have hope for her!

7-How happy are you with your achievements so far?
Pretty happy. I wish I could do more. I'm always reaching for the next thing to do or learn. Really can't wait to move into the country!

8-Are you more of a gardener, homesteader, prepper, health concience, "green"' or a combination of several?
I would say all of the above since they all sort of lean on each other or come from or go to another. Being a gardener gives an urban homestead capability that allows prepper-like food independence that is more healthy and certainly more green!

9-Has this change of lifestyle affected your personality?
I'm not objective enough to judge my own personality changes. I'm me every day. BUT, I do think it has changed my views enough so that it must show in my personality. Every single day I get at least one moment of max happiness and that is good for your sunny side. It also means I see more of the "lack" in the world in independence, responsibility and just plain common sense. That, I think, has made me a bit less sympathetic and I'm sure that shows in my personality at times. I'm also less daunted by new things or skills because I have learned new things I never thought I could do. Now, I'm more of a grab a bull by the horns sort of person. (No actual bulls will be grabbed this way!)

10-Has it changed your view of your life before?
Pretty much as in Question 9.

11-What about how you view others that don't understand it or naysay?
Sometimes I feel like I should try to change their minds, mostly if I care for them. Other times I feel like such total idiots should not be reproducing. It varies. Many times, I just feel sorry for their kids, growing up to be just one in the zombie horde, dissolving their brains with TV and junk food.

12-If you could convince someone to live the way you do in ONE sentance, what would you say?
If you've ever actually seen what e-coli or salmonella can do to a kid, you might want to start a bit of a garden.

Other Questions-
1-How large is your vegetable garden?
I do Square Foot Gardening with some side beds and herb gardens. I couldn't really give a square footage since I am opportunistic in where I put plants. They are everywhere! And I use dozens of giant to medium sized containers too. Just look at my 2009 garden plan for the plant listing to get an idea, I guess.

2-Do you grow any fruits, and what and how many?
Some blueberries from a couple of bushes and strawberries. I have apple and olive trees but the apples won't produce for a couple more years. Ditto with my newest fruit dwarf trees that I keep in containers.

3-Do you have any animals and what are they? (other than pets)
Nope. City laws allow NO chickens or poultry and no other animals not "commonly" considered pets. Pshaw! I'm working on it!

4-Do you can/dehydrate/freeze/store your own produce?
Yes, Yes, NO and Yes. I don't do very much freezing of excess produce because it is energy dependent. In a major emergency or hurricane, I couldn't keep it frozen. I can or dehydrate or just plain store (root veggies, etc) almost everything.

5-Do you work with mainly power tools or hand tools in your gardens and others? (wood cutting, splitting, tiller vs. broadfork etc...)
Because my home borders the wetlands, I can't do anything with power back there. It completely sucks. You ever tried taking down a 30 foot high wall of invasive japanese honeysuckle, poison ivy and multiflora rose with a pair of hand clippers? Yeah...great....

6-Do you compost?
Yes, but I'm a miserable failure at it to this point. It just won't break down! I'm keeping on trying though. I'm gonna get one of those fancy spinner ones this year.

7-Do you recycle?
Absolutely! However, I never take the labels off the cans because I'm lazy and I don't like touching slimey cat food. (Before anyone says anything, my cat has IBD and has to have a special pre-digested food. I've have him 14 years (as of the 15th of February) and love him so I give it to him.)

8-Do you consider yourself energy consience? (conserving to save $)
To some extent. I've really tried by unplugging things when they aren't needed and replacing all the non-critical lightbulbs with CFLs. Places like the kitchen and bathrooms though, I just can't stand that yellowish light so they have regular bulbs. I have been doing really well keeping the thermostat much lower this winter than in previous years and simply not wearing shorts 365 days a year.

9-Do you make any of your own household cleaners?
I've recently begun doing that again. I used to years ago because I was so poor when I first went out on my own. So far, I'm limited to vinegar for window cleaner (it really does work better than Windex!).

10-Do you make your own bread?
Yes, 100% of it for the last several months. For Christmas my best friend and her dad got me the ultimate in bread machines, the Cuisinart stainless steel rolls royce of bread machines, so that I could do it even when I was simply too busy with gardening after working all day. I gotta say, it really does free me up to do a lot of other things and uses a LOT less energy than firing up the big oven.

11- If in an emergency situation, are you able to not leave home for a week? How about a month? A year??
Yes for a week or a month. No for a year however that is the goal. I think at 3 months I'd be hurting. And milk...I'd probably be sweating bullets for a glass of cold fresh milk by the end of the first week. I would have to have power though to do it at this for anything longer than a week if in winter or full summer.

12-Are you tired of answering questions yet?
Nah..this is fun.

13-If you prep, what do you consider to be your most useful tool/items
Hmm....Propane grill/stove probably, because I can do so much with it from cooking to canning to baking to sterilizing water in a pinch. You'd be amazed what you can do with a good one!

14-Are you able to heat your home without gas or fuel oil?
No, since I live near the wetlands and in a pretty protected area, I'm restricted in what I can do. I built the house to be super energy efficient, meaning all electric also. I've got propane based support to a limited extent.

15-Are you able to cook without gas or electricity?
I can for so long as my propane bottles hold out. I can also use my solar oven for some things if there is sun. If no one is checking, I can also build one heck of a campfire!

16-Again, if in an emercency situation, could you live in the wild or out of a tent? ( camping,hunt/fish, cook,etc.)
That depends. Not here because there isn't enough wildlife to eat nearby without a vehicle to get to them. I could fish in my river, but I'd have to be pretty darn hungry to eat out of it since it runs all through the suburbs and urban environment. I am a pretty good camper in general though.

17-Have you ever practiced your prep skills? (turning off main power for a day or 2) How did you do? (this can include a power outage due to weather as a test)
I have had to practice it when a water main broke for a couple of days and once when the power went off for about 24 hours. Other than that, I've really limited my practice to individual things. For example, trying to figure out how to clean clothes if I had no power or having no power to cook, etc. Given my heavy work schedule I really do have to work around "modern life" at this point.

18-Do you have the knowledge & skills (plus tools) to hunt and fish for food?
Limited at this time. I do have some skills, but I really need to find someone this year who will take me hunting since the last time I did it I was a child. I'm a crack shot (I've got the chest candy to show it) and have some skills with human powered projectile weapons as well.

19-If you don't prep, why not?
NA. I do prep.

20-Do you or can you sew your own clothes and make your own bedding?
Yes! I love to sew and can sew everything from a full authentic Elizabethan gown to modern pajamas and make my own patterns too. I wish I had more time to do it at the moment. I can crochet but what I don't know how to do is knit. That is one of the skills I've got on my list for this year.

21-Can you field dress a deer, drink a coffee, smoke a cigarette, make a cell phone call, light a fire, AND answer all of my annoying questions at the same time? lol thanks for playing!! Wish I could do all that and whistle a tune at the same time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weirdest Veggie 2009 - Cannibal Tomato

It seems that every year I hear about another new and weird veggie. Could be weird for its looks. Could be due to history. Could even be the name.

This year is no exception and my personal fave for weirdness is the Cannibal Tomato.

It's actually an eggplant, though it is red or green. It is from Fiji and thereabouts and supposedly, the sauce made from it was used for cannibal meals.

Talk about gross.

Now, I'm no shrinking violet and I do love a weird vegetable. I'm an experimenter by nature. But this one just couldn't make it to my short list.

It wasn't the veggie, it was the idea of it. I mean, wouldn't you instinctively shy a bit from something you know had that history? Could you enjoy it knowing the history or would you get a little gag reflex going when you really thought about it.

It's not quite fair really. Poor eggplant. Picked on for it's history. Shame on me!

Random Stuff from Shopping to Onions

Christmas last year, we decided that consumerism had reached ridiculous proportions and that either no-gift, handmade gift or drawing a name options were the way to go.

With my best friend, we simply made a list and set a dollar limit. For those who know me, it is perhaps not surprising that everything on my list was cooking or kitchen related. I do love my kitchen and all it's wonders.

One of the coolest gifts I got was this pair of Onion Goggles. Now, I know, some out there are going to bonk me on the head for wasting all that plastic on goggles against onions, BUT, I'm exceptionally sensitive to them. I love them, I eat them any chance I get, but I cry like a baby and have burning eyes for hours when I cut them.

Alas, no one will cut them for me. So, Onion Goggles. I was going to take a picture of myself with them, but the result was so horrifying and silly looking, Boscoe volunteered instead. He looks much more attractive. The blur is because he was doing the "Boscoe Dance". They work wonderfully.

I know I just recently wrote a post on what I thought sustainability was and I know that buying smelly nice things for showering isn't exactly in the correct category. Bear with me in my imperfections!

But it does bear on frugality.

I do have pretty dry skin in the winter and it is quite painful to have your hands so dry they crack from washing them a lot, digging in dirt and all of that.

Most of the Bath and Body Works formulations work well for me and as a bonus, smell nice! But I'm also trying to be less spendy on things and get used to the concept of planned spending and improving overall spending patterns.

One of the ways I do that is to buy a large supply when they have their fantastic semi-annual sale or when they change packaging and put all the old packaged items on sale. Here is my haul from the last sale. I saved an average of 49% even including shipping costs. I probably won't need to buy again for a year and maybe by then, I'll have figured out how to make more of this stuff on my own.

(Not all of this is for me, by the way. I do front load items that will go into gift baskets for both expected and unexpected gifts throughout the year. Hey, I found out right after my order that I would need to give a Mom-To-Be basket soon, so we all know it happens. Congrats, J!)

And just for kicks, here is the Boscoe-Big-Man enjoying a moment and trying to lure me into scritching his belly! You'd give in to that face, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Seed Potatoes, A Very Bad Smell and Then...?

Okay, I posted a pic of the opening of the box of my seed potatoes a few days ago here. When I opened it I saw a small wet spot from the top, but it looked okay overall.

Weeeellllll, when I brought out that bad of potatoes it was a hot mess that smelled as only rotten potatoes can. It looked like the Colorado Rose seed potatoes had pretty much disintegrated and spread the nastiness all around.

I managed to clean off and save 3 All Blue seed potatoes, 1 Yellow Finn and no Colorado Rose. There are a couple each of Blue and Yellow that only have rot on a small part of them.

How do I, or can I even, save those?

Now, I only ordered 5 lbs since this was just for first time fun growing, but the idea of losing all my seed potatoes except 4 out of them all is pretty bad.

I've written to their customer service and we'll see what happens. But what I would like to know is: Is that much rot normal? Do you get rotten ones in your seed potato orders? If so, how much and how often? Do you just order more than you need to compensate? And how do you prevent the nasty rot juice from corrupting the others in the box?

Any and all info so I'm not such a total amateur is most welcome. :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

What Is Sustainability And How Sustainable Is That?

If you ask 10 people you'll probably get 10 very different answers. At one end of the crunchy spectrum, you'll get people who say sustainable is taking only 20% of their earth share (about 1 acre) in goods and resources. At the other end on the decidedly delusional end of the spectrum, you'll get someone who says that sustainable is ensuring their hand-scraped mahogany floors are imported from Borneo from only Orangutan friendly and selectively harvested virgin forests. Or even better, the person who buys a new Hybrid car every 2 years when it takes about 6 years to payoff the savings of going from regular gas to hybrid.

I'm somewhere in the middle there.

The real question is, what level of sustainability can I, and all my world neighbors, live with and remain reasonable yet still provide an avenue towards the future?

I've been reading Radical Simplicity, and while I have a whopper of a book review to be posted at a future date, it did make me think more about what sustainability means to me and how sustainable such sustainability is.

Now say that three times fast for a prize!

At either end of the spectrum it is unworkable in the long term for humanity.

Cures for cancer aren't developed in mud huts by people who will only use 1 acre of total global resources. That won't even get them a single box of sterile test tubes. It won't develop new ways to manufacture that use less virgin material, that too must happen in a lab where a few square feet equals that 1 acre of resouces. And people who dedicate their lives to these pursuits aren't going get the education to do that research since each student month of university time equals 1 acre or so.

One piece of immutable wisdom comes to mind. If mankind ceases to use their current technology for 30 years, a single learning generation, then they will never rise again. Ever. Retrace to the Stone age then stop for all of the future of our species.

Why? Sideline digression:

Because getting up to the bronze age, iron age and industrial age calls for surface materials for one. Being able to glean copper from rocks laying around or extract iron at low temperatures from nice chunky surface deposits and a hundred other things. None of that is available and will never be available again. Right now our metal resouces have become so far removed from the surface that it has actually become profitable to glean nodules of magnesium from the very deep sea floor where they precipitate out. If you can imagine how much in resources and ingenuity that takes, then you can see why no stone age person is going to make the transition to any metal age should all our technology and know-how go away via attrition in time.

To pre-argue all the suppositions others could make, I probably could go on for days and pages, but suffice it to say that to get from there to here, stones to space shuttles, requires a large middle portion that we simply couldn't re-create.

Scary, huh?

Sideline digression over!

In the end, if we take our two extremes above, these are the two worlds we eventually get:

One, we totally embrace the back to nature movement and a world we make by hand. If we all did it at once, for a few generations we'dl enjoy the peace of ignorance with our leftovers but the inevitable slide into early death by disease, losing half the children we bear, starvation when a year is bad and all the things that come from a stone age life will happen. A few hundred years and the stories of our lives today will be like magic tales and the people alive then will most certainly not share our idyllic view of their lives. And what happened to the rest of the world during this time doesn't bear thinking about.

Two, we totally embrace development. Humans being what they are, it is almost certain to lead to a world as bad as the one from the first choice. In this Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity Cash Is King world, no fictional dystopia could really depict what we'll probably wind up with and the results beggar description, but surely a world unfit to live in save for the very few fortunate ones is not out of the question. And in the end, what happens to them?

For me, who is somewhere in the middle, I'd prefer we look to the future with hope and reason and grit our teeth when development goes through times that seem wasteful and learn from the mistake not to do it again.

Our species may struggle through this delicate period and we are faced with the bad effects of changing things where we shouldn't have and a population that behaves more like locusts than custodians, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Change our individual ways but always have the next year and generation in mind as well as the next development technologically. Support that which achieves the goal of a better future and eschew that which uses resources for no real purpose. Raise our children in nature and to appreciate it, while ensuring they know as much as they can get into their heads educationally and let them be scientists without prejudice.

In short, I would take a third choice: To think well and hard before we leap, with every leap we take, but never be afraid of the jump. Work to anticipate the consequences of everything we change and then forge ahead.

So where is it that people like me, and maybe like you, can make a difference without sabotaging our future? Again, what is sustainability in our small part of the world?

I think it means waste not, want not in its purest form. The 3 R's in today's catchy terms but with a little more thinking than a 30 second TV spot gives.

Perhaps I'm getting a bit preachy here, and I do apologize. The word sustainable gets bandied about so much with so many different meanings that the importance of the word is getting lost in hyperbole and advertising and political infighting. And I wanted to get out there what I thought and even more importantly, find out what others think. So, what do you think?

I'd really like to know how you define sustainability and where you think you are at in the spectrum.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Seed Potatoes are Here! What now?

My seed potato order from Peaceful Valley is in! I ordered 5 lbs of their Red, Yellow and Blue mix just for fun. I've got some Yukon Gold here so these will be a nice flavorful change if I'm successfull. Included are Yellow Finn, Colorado Rose and All Blue.

My original Grand Plan was to build potato boxes like these.

But then I recently saw these Crocus Potato Boxes and fell in love with the concept. I couldn't actually build any for the price these are, but how long would they last? Anyone got any ideas?

I'm hesitant to build yet more things that I'm going to have to load up in a truck in 2 or 3 years and take with the other 13000 lbs of stuff to my final homestead. And with all the other dirt hauling and raised bed building and tree planting this early spring, I'm really dreading putting yet another building project in the queue. Hmm..that sounds perilously close to whining doesn't it?

I may just wind up making a big pile of dirt and straw.

What would you all recommend?

When Waste Isn't...Sort Of

I'm not much of a drinker since I'm such a lightweight. In fact, I'm so easily made tipsy that it is embarassing and I'm quite careful if in the company of others.

Despite that, there is one beverage I do like. I realize that some of you may start giggling and ask when I became a 1960s era loose woman, but my drink of choice is champagne and orange juice. I don't know why but it always feels like a fizzy juice I used to get from the soda fountain when I was young.

Considering how little I drink though, buying a whole bottle will mean 3/4 goes into the trash. So recently I started buying those little 4 packs. One four pack lasts me 3 months or more and costs about the same as one bottle.

And yes, I do buy the cheaper stuff. Who can tell when it is in calcium enriched Minute Maid Orange juice?

Mostly I recycle the bottles, but I have used some for various herbal mixtures that I use for gardening, bathing or the like.

So even though it is less efficient to buy things in tiny four packs than in a single large bottle, I guess waste is relative when you use so little of something. Of course, if I was really being sustainable I would be making the stuff in a vat in my bathroom, but hey...maybe someday. :)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Global Rich List...Ready For a Shocker?

As I was reading the entries for blogs I follow, I found a little image on one that read, "Affluent Persons Living Sustainably".

My initial reaction to that was, "Well, La Di Da for you." To me, affluent can be a divisive word because it indicates they are doing it for a different reason than the rest of us.

But then I thought about it. Isn't the good old USA considered a universally affluent sort of country? I mean, even our illegal immigrants tend to live better than they would in their home country despite the stress and problems they endure.

All that led to me to click on through and then I found the link for the Global Rich List. You put your income in it and then it tells you where you stand in the world economy.

I was pretty shocked to see that I was in the top 0.63% wealthiest in the world and my specific standing was:

You are the 38,061,910 richest person in the world!

It is shocking to think that might be true. Taking aside almost the entire population of the UAE, where even the trash carriers are imported and paid approximately twice the average American's salary, and all the other well to do people that litter the western world, that means that over 6 billion people have less than I do.

6 Billion.

I do okay, I admit. But after 22.5 years at one job, steady advancement and working through multiple levels of college, it doesn't seem fantastic. I worry about mortgages, changes in financial strength and paying college tuition for el kiddoes, but that number certainly puts it in perspective.

How about you? I'm deciding that I feel pretty lucky today.

I Do So Want One of These!

I took this image from the site where I drool over it, Kitchen Krafts, but they are a bit pricey. This one, with the spigot, is $299.95 and without the spigot is about 40 bucks less. That is certainly the price or more for a very good pressure canner.

Why do I want this? Because I have a ceramic glass stove top.

For those who may be just getting into canning or are thinking about it, a ceramic glass stove top, especially that Star Trek looking thing I have, are not suitable to anything that doesn't have a flat bottom. They also have weight restrictions.

There is only one canner that I know of that is specifically for use with those type of stoves and it is the WalMart Presto version, the smaller one that can hold 7 quart jars, not the huge one. But that is a pressure canner. I also used it as a water bath canner this past year because no one said I couldn't. :)

The difference is the weight. To use that Presto as a water bath canner I put a LOT more weight in it to get the water an inch above the top of the jars. The result is that I feared I would crack my stove and did very little in the way of Quart Jar processing out of fear.

This little puppy above will eliminate that problem by allowing me to water bath can right on the counter top and hold water at a steady heat so that I can minimize time between batches and process more efficiently.

What do you all think? Anyone ever used one? Like 'em, hate 'em? Anything I should know about them?

As to why I have an electric stove and all that, well, when my house was being built I wanted an E* plus house and so it wound up being all electric but very efficiently so. Give and take, I guess :)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tracking the Costs of Reclaiming the Good Life

Last year I was absolutely dedicated to the idea of tracking how much it cost to start a garden. To that end, I saved all recepts and even logged them for a while.

By September I wound up with a large pile of fading receipts, indecipherable entries streaked with garden dirt and a vague notion that I had spent approximately 7 dollars per pound of vegetables.

I was not impressed.

But, like I said before the vast majority of those costs are going to be amortized out over time. The dirt deliveries, building raised beds, various cages and stakes, seeds...well, the list is really endless. Suffice it to say that I pretty much started from an idea and a check-card and didn't even own a wheelbarrow.

Again, I'm determined to keep track of my garden costs. I'm also creating new beds so I will again have some additional costs.

So far, one dirt delivery at $224.00, the Lowe's purchase above at $120.83. Olive trees at 124, apple trees at 70, grow lights at 145...okay, the list is long and I'll get to it. I promise!

The real reason I post this is because of the economy now. For a while I've been telling my friends and co-workers to start a bit of a garden so they can enjoy it. They all like the produce but don't like the idea of a garden. And invariably, when I bring up that it offers independence and food security even in stressed money times, they always point out that all of us are doing just fine so why bother.

This year is different for many though and now I've found people asking me about starting a garden. I hate to tell them all that they need since most of them are starting where I did, with nothing for gardening.

When money is tight it is hard to scrape up the investment and even harder if nothing comes of all the investment. To my view, people should start a garden and get over some of our common rookie mistakes when they are prosperous, not when they are strapped.

How do you get that across to others? Do you find it is the same for people you know or meet? What do you recommend to people who really need to start but are pretty broke or under economic stress?
And for those who are also relatively new to this, how many years did it take to amortize out your initial investments in gardening?

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Tale of Sloth...The Three-Toed Kind

Hah, you thought I was going to wax philosophical on some of my procrastination lately. Well, no.

Instead I thought I'd share a story from several years ago in Costa Rica. It is one of those that never really leaves me and I find myself telling it at odd times. And now I also love Sloths as a bonus side effect.

So here is the story...

I was standing on a sidewalk between sights and I noticed a young man who looked like he was hugging a stuffed animal.

Now that is a strange sight for a nice conservative place so I subtly got a little closer and realized it wasn't a stuffed animal. Instead I was looking at the cutest face I had ever seen. Smooth baby head, a big contented smile and eyes that crinkled up at the corners because of that big smile. And of course, long arms with wicked long claws. It was a beautiful three-toed sloth.

My mouth was hanging open and the guy saw me and laughed. He, surprisingly, spoke very clear and unaccented english. He was outside waiting for his wife and child who were shopping in a store that didn't want his sloth in there.

At any rate, I did ask and he did tell his story. I can't remember his name, but he was an only child because it turns out he had a congenital heart problem that his sister had died from as an infant. His parents were told not to have more children because they too would have the problem. I later had it translated and looked it up and it was essentially very leaky valves which caused depleted blood to enter the arteries, lowering the oxygen percentage in the blood. Surgery for this was far too expensive for his family, who had a small farm. After his sister died and his parents were faced with him following her they went to an old healer from the rural parts one of his parents hailed from.

The healer had said that if the boy had a three-toed sloth, he would live to grow up.

Now, this is clearly ridiculous but the parents went with it. There are laws against that kind of thing though and an adult sloth isn't exactly tame. The father set about locating and tracking all the sloths in an area while the mother worked the farm. Apparently it was not a short procedure and the father searched and tracked for a long time, like months.

But finally what he had been searching for happened. A baby sloth had fallen off of its mother onto the ground. His father waited and hoped and sure enough, the mother sloth didn't come down for the baby. (They often don't depending on the age of the youngster or the danger.) So the father grabbed it up and headed home.

The baby sloth was fed on goats milk and a very carefully prepared diet as it grew and it lived on the boy. Yes, on. It hangs from his chest with its arms over his shoulders even now. At night, it slept on a stand much like a bird stand so it could hang upside down. This same sloth had lived with the boy who was now a man and when I asked how long it would live, he said that it could live to 25 or even 30 years and he hoped he would not have to live without him.

He let me hold his sloth. I didn't ask but he could tell I was twitching to. He simply put his hands around it's little chest and tugged slightly in my direction. I stood next to him and the sloth moved one long arm over to my shoulder and transferred himself. He was snugged in and comfy very quickly. He stared up at me like I was the worlds most fascinating creature with that smile on his face.

The feeling is instantaneous. And I could immediately understand why the healer said what he did. There is an odd sensation that goes with a sloth like the feeling at the height of a good massage. Total calm. Considering that heart problems are made worse by stress, well, the sloth by it's very nature allows no stress to be felt by the wearer.

When I pointed him back by moving his arm, I felt strangely bereft. Sad and almost like I'd lost a friend I could never get back. The man patted me on the back and said that is how everyone feels.

We were outside for about an hour I'd guess and eventually his wife and daughter came out. He said that his daughter did not have the heart defect and that he himself was doing quite well.

I found out when I came home and researched the three-toed sloth that the smile is actually just the way they are all the time. The same with the upturned smiling eyes. I also learned that the claws aren't generally dangerous as they are really not aggressive but they are ideal for hooking into trees for hanging around.

Most people I tell that to don't really fully believe me and I'vd had a hard time finding proof. Recently on one of my random searches I found a sort of proof via another person who had a similar experience and had the foresight to take a picture. You can see it here: It is on the first part of the very long page.

One of his parting wisdoms was that the three-toed sloth was slowly going away and he felt the world would become a bad place if that happened. He also said that when a baby sloth falls and no one finds it, they are eaten. He said that he thought every baby that fell should be given to someone who needs it and then the world would have peace.

Very profound there. Wouldn't you say? I never forgot this encounter and whenever I see a three-toed sloth, I just want a hug.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

To Orchard or Not to Orchard

It is now an established fact that I do love gardening. I really can't think of ever going back to not gardening. The taste of a tomato so fresh I can almost taste the sunlight, lettuce so recently plucked that it is still finishing up photosynthesis while we enjoy it and corn so new and bright and sweet that it is shocking.

Yes, I do love my veggies. But I also love the process. Lovingly tending the tiny seedlings, the exciting day when those strong plants get bedded into the garden and the smell and feel of the foliage as it grows.

Oh yes, I'm a gardener alright.

But what about fruit? I do so want more permaculture that I'm feeling a terrible lack.

But there is a little hitch to just doing it.

I'm not going to be staying in this house after I finally leave the military. Instead, I'll either be moving to the 3/4 acre that I already have a few states away or, if I finally find "the place", then to there. But either way, it won't be here.

So actually planting an orchard doesn't seem smart. For most things, I'll just be getting that first harvest when I'm ready to leave. But also, who wants to to wait several years for that first harvest from trees once I get moved. Ahh..the conundrum.

What I have done is buy a few dwarf apple trees that I'm told I can keep in very large containers for a few years. We'll see if that is true. I also have 4 Arbequina Olive trees coming that can supposedly be kept in large containers forever if need be. Again, we'll see.

But for every tree that I buy and keep in a container, I also have to be committed to hauling that now much grown tree all the way to my final homestead. And while I will have a military shipment of my regular household goods, I will also be hauling all the rest and my SUV in a truck on my own. I'm sure that is going to be stressful for them.

So what does everyone out there suggest? Should I go for it and fill my life with everything from elderberries to pears or should I stick with the 7 trees I have. Or at most, get a few of those ever so tiny citrus trees that are more like houseplants.

Tough call...