Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why I Want a Donkey

Yeah, yeah...laugh now!

Seriously, I really do want a donkey. To me, they are one of the homesteader's dream animals along with goats and chickens. When many people think of alternate ways of doing things, whether because they are convinced the country's infrastructure is going to fall, leaving them in the dark ages, or because they truly want to get back to the land, they think of horses. I think of donkeys and mules.

If you've ever seen me standing next to a typical donkey, you might laugh again.

Yes, my legs are far longer than many donkeys'. In fact, my arms are often longer than a donkey's legs and that is humorous. Picturing me riding a donkey could bring you to giggles, I'm sure. BUT, donkeys are an amazing animal, riding them left to the side for now.

A donkey is a very hardy creature. Far more hardy than any horse I've met, including the northern ponies. They are comfy in almost any climate, bed down wherever they can, eat willingly and with little pickiness and are often smart to the point of wiliness. Many of the truly scary ills that even the most cared for horse gets I've never heard of in a donkey, such as a lethal case of gas (colic).

They live for a very long time and their care is super easy. They also can carry
burdens far and away greater than you think and it doesn't even bother them enough to stop them trotting off for something tasty to nibble. They can pull carts and wagons and odd shaped conveyances with ease. And, they'll carry people, albeit comically.

Personally, I like riding a donkey. I do it to the side like I've seen often in South America but I don't really see the need to do it save to keep them used to it on any regular basis. Where their true value to me is in their ability to haul and carry. Odd shaped loads of firewood, big bundles of assorted stuff, produce baskets and even a cart filled to the brim with dirt are all viable options. And because they are small, they can get closer to the garden, woodpile or on a smaller trail in the woods. They don't squish up the ground as bad either.

So what about their stubbornness? Oh yes, they do have that, but like any animal, that is far more often the fault of the human than the animal and I personally, haven't yet met one that didn't do what was wanted when handled properly. They have personality and spunk. It needs to get to know you and you need to get to know it. Most of the time, you'll probably wind up really digging each other.

Strawberry Patch and a Matching Dehydrator

Like some of you out there have reported, I too have had a great deal of difficulty getting my strawberry plant orders in. Finally, after placing 3 orders with 3 companies, 2 of them came in. What is funny, is that the only one I didn't have problems with was Jung's. I ordered from them last of all and got theirs first.

Gurney's came in second with only one delay. My Park Seed order, placed in January, still hasn't come and no notification has ever been given, only reluctantly admitted when badgered by phone.

But anyway, I'm now the proud mama of 75 Strawberry plants and I immediately set to work getting them in the ground.

Now, that strawberry patch may not look impressive to you, but to me it is a joy to behold. Why? Because that piece of ground is a nightmare! Truly. That little tree you see is actually the 4th one of it's kind to be there. The previous three have died there. My house isn't even 4 years old so this is worriesome.

The matching one on the other side is hale and hearty. It is only in this patch of dirt we have problems.

I finally figured it out though and now have high hopes. It turns out this little 6 foot by 12 foot patch of ground had several problems: poor drainage and fill dirt hidden underneath being the main culprits.

So, this past weekend I dug it out. I mean...dug. Pulling out all the house building debris that construction workers had hidden underneath the pretty layer of dirt and sod they put down afterwards, digging up the dead tree, freaking out over a great many worms and bugs, pulling up every blade of runnered grass and weed was the first half. I then filled it back up with a lovely compost and topsoil mixture and added 6 inches in height for drainage. I bordered it with those blocks and then planted my tree and strawberries.

What amazed me was that those little leafless bundles of roots put out leaves in less than 24 hours. Amazing!

Oh, and those 3 in front are testers. I went ahead and bought 3 of those $2.98 each strawberry plants from Lowe's to see if there really was a difference in the plants by the time for bearing comes. We'll see!

And for my big news...drumroll...I finally bought an Excalibur Dehydrator! I got the 9 tray, 3900 Model, which is my heart's desire! This month, till today actually, they had a pretty amazing special going with 50 bucks off the price plus a whole lot of accessories and free shipping. They are a significant investment, I know, but using the WalMart Nesco special last year for the first time showed me the value of a good dehydrator.

For me, it is really important to Store what I Grow and Eat what I Store! In short, no waste if possible. Freezing stuff is fine, I suppose, but it uses a lot of energy. Dehydrated stuff is no fuss, no muss and isn't going to spoil when I lose power in storms. Plus it keeps nutrition really well and seriously, who doesn't love home-made jerky or fruit wraps?

I'm very excited to get it and can't wait to start the production going for this year!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Herbs are Rising!

I'm always amazed at plants. Over winter I didn't touch my herb pots or garden area. Not once. In fact, I'm just now getting to those and pulling out the collection of pine cones and weird debris that has collected there during storms over the winter.

As I was pulling out piles of tangled pine needles, I realized that almost all of it had already come back to life. Here is flat leaf parsley and St. John's Wort.

And here my Feverfew is growing with amazing speed!

And here is Comfrey, peeking out of it's bed of hay.

And here is one of my second year Rosemary plants, which grew and bloomed most of the winter. It is once again taking the opportunity to bloom like crazy in the spring rains. Actually, if anyone knows how I should collect seed on rosemary without damaging the plant and how to know when they are ready and also the best way to store them, I'd be most appreciative of advice! The old blooms are simply loaded with little cups having 2 seeds each (I think 2).

There are a great many more to see on a tour. More types of parsley, tarragon in huge numbers (which surprises me), 2 types of thyme and oregano that is both lush and aromatic in it's new growth. Ones I didn't at all expect to survive and renew like Lemon Balm and a tender and old catnip are nicely growing as if tomorrow would be just too long to wait.

Surprisingly, given how invasive it is, it appears one of the only casualties in my herbs is the Mint! While others battle it like I battle honeysuckle, I've lost it entirely with not a hint of life from below the withered stems.

For your viewing pleasure we now have Gigi, in her bed at night. We use a sheet over the bedspread because she is shedding for this lovely change of season. Oh the joys of spring with dogs! In case you can't see, she is sleeping with a toy. She tucks it under her arm like a kid would and simply won't settle until she has it just so. I'm thinking she was, at one time, a very spoiled little beagle before she wound up in the dire straits she was in when we got her. And just as a side note, when I come to wake her in the morning, she may have rolled around some in her covers, but she is in the exact same spot and holding her toy. Weird.

Blast From Our Soda Past

Recently, I read a really great recipe for Ginger Beer on a blog and decided to try it out. It isn't done yet, but it did bring up the idea behind trying it. Namely, that I do like the fizzy soda-ness of soda, but just can't tolerate how very bad it is for you. Even though I do admit that I will partake now and then at work, I wish that I wouldn't!

By chance, during a clean out of my frig, I found this. Now, when is the last time you saw a Diet Coke with a pull tab? Sometime in the 70's I'd imagine, yes? Are you now imagining that maybe I've actually had a coke in my frig for more than 30 years? ::laughs:: Not quite, but it has been in there a while. Now take a look....

...at the other side of the can.

Surprise! Yes, this is from the Middle East. We bought several cases while on the ship since soda became as rare as hen's teeth for quite a while and anything made with ship created water tasted horribly of bromine. A good bit of it made it home as items of curiosity for friends and family and 2 lonely little cans were hidden very well (fell behind the bins on a hidden shelf I didn't know was there).

For those who might ask: Bromine is added to water made from sea water on our ships to kill germs. Our situation was such that we were making water fairly close to a country you wouldn't even want to get in the waters off of, so we were super-brominating the water. Aside from the taste, that much has other, completely unmentionable effects on the body. At that point, even soda is less of a hazard :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Favorite Needlework Book and An Old Project Found

Pardon the blurry picture. The cover of the book may be old, but it is very shiny so I had to take it with no flash.

This is my, hands down, favorite book to learn sew-y, knit-y, needle-y things with. It covers almost any type you might care to do and has loads of pictures and patterns to go with it.

It came back to my attention while I was doing a bit of spring organizing and unearthed an old dining room tablecloth project from several years ago that I'd put aside before going on deployment.

I found it, shook it out and thought how very pretty it was and realized I had no clue as to what I'd been planning for the rest of it. I dug out my handy book and tucked neatly inside was my written and drawn diagram.

Of course, I changed it. I unwound all the scalloping and am making it more like the center so it will stay flatter until I get to the very edge, then I'll add the scalloping back in. The color on the picture isn't very even due to the flash, but it is simply ecru in color and uses size 10 cotton.

It will, upon completion, fit my big dining room table with all the leaves in it. Meaning huge. When projects get so big that I consider it a milestone to get another row done, I stop finding them as fun. This one will probably wind up being a test of willpower.

Right now though, I'm enjoying picking it back up again.

The book is long out of print, however a quick browse of the web and I found at least 2 copies for sale at various places. If you ever run across it while in a second hand shop, give it a look. It is a great one to get someone who'd like to get into doing such things, but doesn't like being hand taught.

Snow, Ice, Sunshine and Gardens

And how do you like your weather lately? Pshaw! If yours has been doing anything like mine, then you've been on a roller coaster.

Norfolk, especially where I'm at on the interior river's edge, isn't really known for horrible winters. Cold, yes. Rainy, yes. Snow in March? Ehhh...apparently the answer is yes to that now too!

Here's a nice picture of my house after the snow had plenty of time to go away. We were not amused since we had just finished planting some things.

And yes, my house is missing some screens. We've had some killer wind storms and I can't find the same kind of frames for these screens. ::sigh::

And here the Pupperonski's are expressing their dubious feelings about leaving the cozy house in such weather.

Luckily for me, nothing major was transplanted yet, just a few seeds for radishes and other cold hardy items put in. You might notice that the normally even layer of pine needles I usually have is a bit bare. My normal source doesn't sell them anymore. I mean, seriously, dozens of bags are put to the curbs all the time and I can't get enough to lay down in my yard? Boggles the mind, it does. Alas, picking up some myself isn't really an option. No one, including me, separates out things so almost all bags have some of the invasive species contaminating them. And I certainly don't need to introduce more!

And during that windswept night, we had some crashing and falling all about the house. One nice big branch landed on the roof and caused a bit of work (no punctures) but this one is the hum-dinger. It may look small, but it actually comes up to my hips and is pretty hefty. It was sunk into the ground, spear style, almost a foot. Sure glad that one wasn't on my roof!

So the weather was so dreary and cold, we decided to stay in and keep trying out bread recipes. I'm still stumped as to why my white bread rises up so wonderfully high and light while my whole wheat bread is so low and dense.

Here we are above, about a week later, and you can see that I've begun the transplanting. Cold weather crops like cauliflower, brocolli and so on are in the new beds. Potatoes are in the big pots (well, a few are since my Peaceful Valley replacement order never did come in!)

After that, we were, shall we say gifted?, with 4 straight days of rain. Ack, it was horrid. So far we've have very few garden casualties though.

Above, just two weeks later I've finished all the moving of beds, with my final bed moved from behind that tree where the shadow is (unwise placement, I know) to a nice sunny front row seat. It is now mostly empty and getting a nice sunshine sanitization session before getting refilled with fresh dirt and compost.

For a nice peek at what I wake up to every day, above is the view from the back of my house. My bedroom overlooks this and the wind over the water and through those invasive phragmites australis is heaven to wake up to. They are mostly between 10-12 feet tall but there are a couple that are even taller. I remain at war with them, but it is a war of attrition and I won't lose!

I've slowly been replacing them with natives that have largely disappeared from this area like Lobelia Cardinalis, Joe Pye Weed, Dutchman's breeches, short spartina, Jack in the Pulpits and other lovely and appropriate things.

Gigi and Boscoe give you all a nice howdy-doo, too!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Homesteader's Home

Living where I live now, I was limited by city ordinances, lot size, environmental restrictions and a whole host of other items, not the least of which was financial, so I built a home that was wood frame, extra strong and flexible (hurricanes), super energy efficient and roomy enough for a big family without a lot of extra rooms no one uses. It matches my neighborhood theme and I like it. Good ending, yes?

Ehhh..not so much when you think about it.

Someday soon I'll be retiring and moving to the country, whether it is to the property I own in NE Arkansas or some other lovely few acres I find, I'll be building a house on it too.

Deciding what to build as a homesteader who is also trying to be sustainable, trying to embrace the human values that made us a successful species, ensure continuity for the future, able to age in place and on top of that...love it forever, is a tall order.

Maybe you all can help me out.

I've considered the low cost things that are totally natural like the famous Hobbit House. I've considered the ultra-efficient and low impact Natural Home. I've perused the offerings for Underground Earth Homes. I've spent hours combing over the available concrete home plans in search of more permanent homes. I've even finally found articles on the increasing trend in Multi-Generational homes, yet plans remain sadly lacking in realistic living.

The bottom line on all of that is that they are hopelessly flawed in one way or another. What is a self-sufficient, sustainable, homesteading, multi-generational living, comfort loving girl to do?

While the Hobbit House is cute and, in theory, lightly living, it isn't at all a really permanent home no matter what the former inhabitants say. Too flimsy and too vulnerable. Also not a good idea for aging.

The Natural Home and Underground homes both have the appeal of concrete, which is much more permanent, but they are drastically limiting in terms of normal family sizes and multi-generational living. Both also tend to have significant problems after 20 or 30 years that just don't pass the permanence test for me.

Concrete home plans seem to be geared almost entirely toward those who want to build huge monstrosities in areas where houses probably shouldn't be...like the Florida coast along Hurricane Alley. And current multi-generational plans usually really mean it has 2 ginormous master suites or a mother-in-law cottage/suite somewhere in there.

So let me run past you all what I think I want. Maybe you can offer me some sage advice?

1) Permanent - Homes are generally built for a 30 year life. Surprising but true. They say more, but no, not without a lot of work. Concrete is a sure and certain way, if properly done, to ensure your house will be there for hundreds of years of continuous occupancy. Minor maintenance needed, of course! Look at some of the simple middle class homes from Rome, almost 2000 years and still safe and sound, albeit buried under the new city. Heck, the Colosseum is still there.

2) Sustainable and gently built - Believe it or not, much of the concrete and cement materials are sourced locally to their use. Fossil fuels for creating it are often counted as the bad guy, but nowadays, many use old tires and other industrial waste for that process without contaminating the concrete itself. Good deal. Sustainable to me also means lasting. If a house has to be rebuilt every 5 years like the Hobbit House, then it really doesn't matter that only a tenth of it came from manufacturing, it is still a waste in the long run. Permanence is a part of sustainable, I think.

3) Multi-generational - Personally, I think the idea of every nuclear family unit living a totally separate life from the rest of their family is going to wind up being a fairly short lived norm, relatively speaking. It leads to so much instability, so much waste and so much expense that it really isn't super wise. I'd like to be able to ensure a reasonable and comfortable existence for all who live there. (I lived multi-generationally for a while and it isn't an unknown concept to me. I rather like it; no scratch that, I love it.)

4) Flexible Over Time - Any house that ties me to one type of wiring or permanently fixes some "modern" need in time won't work. Part of the reason our homes have a true life of 30 years is because of these ancillary issues. Any house has to be able to be changed, modernized (or de-moderized) and be generally flexible.

5) Appropriate to the climate - Most houses are not at all built that way. Same house plan in muggy South Carolina can be seen in Wisconsin. The dependence on artificial means to force it to work is a hallmark of today's homes. I'd like mine designed to take advantage of sun angles, prevalent wind conditions and all that good stuff. That includes protection from common negative environmental happenings normal to that area. Ever seen how many houses are now built in tornado alley that have no basement or storm shelter? No thank you, I say.

6) Stage-able - By this I mean that it doesn't have to be done, inside and out, to the last floor tile before I move in. I'd like to savor the experience of putting in shelves, the non-concrete interior walls (if any), the fixtures for all the bathrooms (but one, of course!), the cabinets, tiles...well...all of it over a period of time.

I'm not asking too much, am I? Nah..I didn't think so. So why is it that architects look at me in horror and simply say that is too complex a set of requirements in a less than 1 Million budget (for NE Arkansas!). Prices for design on a house like this are truly astronomical. I could buy a house with that much. Seriously.

I've considered that altering an existing plan might be better and, believe it or not, I found that the most likely one to be altered was in a luxury home plan book and I've found it online for you. It is ridiculous and all of it has to be changed, but it has the bones it needs, if you know what I mean.

So, what do I do? Where do I compromise? How do I find, commission or buy plans that will suit that? Who exists that will be my willing accomplice and design a home that is truly meant to be the right home for me and those who come after me? ::sigh:: Okay, I'm ready for your words of wisdom!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Away...And Back Again!

I know I've been away and haven't actually posted in more than 3 weeks. I'd been working on a series of posts but then I found out about a family member's passing.

The person who passed was my Great Aunt and a sister to my most beloved Grandmommy. I'd lost touch with her over the past several years when my father moved away. There was that sense of losing touch with that entire place and the pain associated with losing my Grandmother. Certain times I'd see my Grandmommy in my Aunt Clara and it hurt to feel her so close and yet so unreachable. When she laughed and then looked down, I used to see a happier and less troubled version of my Grandmommy and a younger version of her mother, my Grandma Elma.

Actually, both Aunts Ruby and Clara remind me so much of my Grandmommy in different ways that it was hard to be really with them. It was the same with my Uncle Jimmy and my Poppy (my grandpa). It's a convoluted thing though. Because in the end, you just wind up missing time spent with another person you love who can't help that they cut their eyes to the side a certain way, or laugh a familiar laugh or even walk the same as another person.

Nevertheless, I shouldn't have lost touch and just because we think of a person fondly and often doesn't mean they know we think of them fondly and often. It was inexcusable and I felt very guilty since it was now too late to fix. I couldn't even attend the funeral due to obligations here.

Hence, the past couple of weeks have been without posting or doing much online at all. But I can't leave off forever since that never did anyone any good. The best I can do now is to be sure that I don't ever lose touch with those I care about again. To be sure they know I love them. So for my family that comes here to see what I'm up to...I Love You. Aunt Ruby, that does mean you, too!

For all those who are probably embarrassed right now because we've never met, please excuse the family hug.