Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Planning, thinking, mulling

Only a minority of my peppers and tomatoes have germinated. I'm worried. I also had my first garden worry dream last night. I dreamed that I was at a local farm and they had large okra and full-grown peas and all sorts of delicious veggies already in the fields, not to mention bearing fruit. I sat up in a tree, oggling the lush, spring fields below me thinking, "How could I get so far behind! My okra isn't even started yet!" Then I woke up. My garden hasn't even been tilled yet!

Mulling, continued

When I start thinking about jobs and career paths I inevitably bump into my freelancing ideas and small business concepts, which, while scarier and much less fail-safe than the jobs I was mulling over yesterday, are actually better suited for my long-term hopes and dreams. The trade-off between short-term security and long-term gain, when it comes with what feels like a significant chunk of risk in the immediate future (my savings, my financial security and stability, my resume) is a lot to wrap my mind around.

So I need to keep mulling. This time, about the summer, and a half-baked plan I keep toying with to work fewer hours this summer in order to focus on starting a home business either making salves and such things or writing more (freelance, etc.)

If I cut back on my hours and work 35 hours a week, I will have to make $50/week (after taxes) to make it worth taking the cut. If I actually committed to starting a small business, that $50 would actually be reflective of many, many more hours than 5 per week. The question is whether the extra 5 hours of personal time would be a big enough time investment in my freelance writing/small business to make the cut pay off.

Let's say, for example, that I take fridays off and work 8:15 - 5:00 (35 hours) Monday-Thursdays. Monday-Thursdays would basically function like normal weekdays, the extra :45 morning minutes wouldn't change much in how I function. Friday, however, would turn into a full, 8-hour (9-5) work day for me, in which I could focus on developing whatever business plans, etc I'd like.

That seems like a good trade, but I think it'll only make sense to make that tradeoff if I start working on the business ideas now so that making money starts happening when I start taking time off from work (Let's say at the beginning of June), rather than that time-off serving as more planning time. Which means that in the next few months I need to see what it feels like to work 2 jobs at once, if that's what I want to do (plus having a garden!)

Now, the question is, do I focus on selling the book and on freelance writing or do I keep the book going in my spare time as my hobby and focus on salves, teas, and products of that nature? Or do I sit tight, keep on working, and take some horticulture classes while waiting to apply for a job that's really in the field I like?

Yesterday's mulling and today's is a conflict that is, inherently, about whether I want to organize my life around career-building or around homemaking. Yesterday's plan is a career-path that would make me happy. Today's plan is a make-money-and-homemake-path that would make me happy. I'm not sure how well I could do yesterday's plan and then switch to this one if and when I decide to have kids and settle down - starting a new and successful business while starting a family sounds about as easy as becoming superwoman (and would require something of the sort). However, an established home business based in the rural lifestyle I love is something that could grow with me. Not contributing to a household income and not continuing to maintain self-sufficiency isn't an option.

I go back and forth. A lot. There is something extremely appealing about just having a job in a field I feel strongly about and not worrying about clients, sudden flare-ups, or anything work-related after 5. I am not particularly ambitious, and I don't know how well that would translate to entrepreneurship. I seriously would love to be a part of a public garden. Furthermore, one of my fatal flaws is a lack of patience - which often translates into me working for a future that is by no means certain and for future desires at which I can only guess. And yet - isn't it foolish to not try and guess and work towards that guess? And, besides that, few things are more appealing to me than being able to define where and how I live. The idea of being able to make it on my own with my own business, and with my own ideas of success is absolutely thrilling.

I think, when it comes down to it, I want a business partner and a part-time job at a public garden.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Garden Jounal
While I was away, the peppers, tomatoes, and leeks have started germinating. The lettuce, daisies and calendula still only have their first two leaves but are getting big. Everything is leggy because of the lack of light. They're happily back home and under a light now, though it might be a bit cold in the house for them. Nothing to do about that at the moment though.

Mulling - jobs I'd love to have
With a total of 12 hours of driving this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about work, careers, school, and working in a field I love. My job is great, and it's giving me a lot of skills that are useful to me and my resume, even though I have no intention of working in theater or arts for long. But I've been mulling. I turned down an interview at a good public horticulture program last year because of where it was (South of Philly), among other things. I still think that was the right choice - school for 2 years after 18-some-odd straight years of school would have been way, way too much, and living in communal housing again would have put me over the edge, not to mention being South-of-Philly for 2 years, in the middle of nowhere, not close to anyone I know or love or want to network with. I don't regret it, but I am aware that i gave up a 2-year sacrifice in exchange for being a shoe-in for most jobs I'd love.

So it's good to remember that the experience I'm getting now is invaluable, not to mention a huge relief and much-needed respite after what feels like a billion years of schooling. It's good to know what working 40 hours a week is like with juggling hobbies, making ends meet, and living on my own. And that I enjoy it way more than I enjoyed school. And what's more, I can still be a shoe-in at jobs I love - I have way more experience and chutzpah than most people my age. It's just going to take some concerted effort and creative thinking about strategic additional coursework and the resume item known as "equivalent experience" to get to the next step. And when I put it that way, I relish the experience and look forward to the coming year or two with a zest I could hardly muster in college - even when looking forward.

So I'm thinking about what's happening next. I'm not going to be an office assistant at a theater forever (obviously! - at some point I'm going to homestead and housewife it up)! I've already arranged to take the next Master Gardener course that Cornell Cooperative Extension is offering in my county (which isn't until next year). That's great knowledge and cred. People are always excited by the "Master Gardener" qualification - if only because it sounds so legit. It'll be good for making contacts, learning awesome gardening stuff, and opening up my opportunities - and who wouldn't want to volunteer by answering gardening questions a few times a month? I do that all the time anyway! Besides, being able to put "Master Gardener" after my name means I can teach more classes and get some things published. It doesn't hurt that a job for the extension is one of the few local jobs I absolutely covet.

And then there's my favorite garden in the world - that place where faeries still exist, even at my age - The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, which has the unbelievable benefit of being on Metro North. It has it's own horticulture certificate program (a full time, 2-year program that's affordable, though not really, seeing as you can't really work for 2 years), but also has part-time certificate programs (!!) and gainful employment opportunities. And there's a good botanical garden in the berkshires, not to mention colleges with landscaping that needs maintenance.

So I've been mulling. a lot. That, and I have a book to write, a garden to grow, and a personal life to keep up with! And I need to plant ground cherries! Oh my! At least the rain is coming at the right time this year (even if it's coming down a bit too hard)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Calendula Germinated

Calendula has germinated. Still no sign of life from the peppers and tomatoes. Still no need to be nervous, I know, but I'm nervous! I just can't help it! I've been keeping the house very warm though, so I should really stop worrying.

I'm very glad I've arranged to bring my seedlings to my sweetie's for tending this weekend (along with the cat - in exchange for leftover seeds for his garden and him probably fattening my cat up trying to get her to love him best - which will never happen). It's going to be a wicked weekend full of frosts and cold days. I'm not sure if I should bring the florescent light over, because I doubt he'll have a place to set it up. In a south-facing window the seedlings should be fine for a few days, so I'll probably leave it at home.

I'll have to plant my ground cherries when I get back from the weekend away. As well as fertilize my lemon tree and think long and hard about repotting it (oy!)

In other news, I have been drinking home-made kombucha for over a week now! When I get home from the weekend away, round 2 should be nearing completion. I made this batch with jasmine tea and sugar and it is divine. Next batch is early grey and honey - we'll see how it goes. I've been diluting it with water, which is less than ideal, but I'm a bit lazy on the iced tea-making front, or juice-buying front, and it's still delicious. Also, I added it to my asian-style dressing and it was divine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

watching seeds germinate (true garden journal begins)

Turn on grow light when I wake up. water when I get home. keep stove stocked. turn off light at 8 or so. That's been my routine. I'm keeping the stove stocked (at a calm, warm, temperature with small brick-sized logs that have been lying around) to make sure the little seedlings germinate.

My lettuces broke soil yesterday, and the daisies are just starting to do it as well. Nothing else has germinated. I'm worried I kept the house too cold for the first few days - not really stoking up a fire. it was probably just under 60*, which I realize now was a mistake, but I was worried about my wood lasting - though I'm less worried now. I've been watering with water that's about 70* to keep the soil temperatures up. Germination temperatures for daisies are in the 60*s, so if they germinated, everything should be fine. There are more than 1 seed in each pot, so even if I get a 50* germination rate due to lowered temperatures, I should, in theory behind. Either way - it's too soon to worry. Nothing's been in soil for more than a week.

My landlord is going to water the seedlings for me, though I'm worried that it's going to be a cold weekend, so I'm going to try to send my tender nightshades to someone with heating for plant sitting, and put the other seedlings by the south window for the weekend for light and heat. Maybe I'll trade my extra seeds and pots to start them in for seedling-sitting.

I check everything in my Fedco catalogue for now - they have good master charts for germination (side bar also has seed starting charts for flowers and herbs).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gardening is not farming and cold frames are not greenhouses

The seedlings are wet and well under their humming florescent light (which has insistently given me a headache and given my living room a bizarre glow for the past few days). I'll be starting ground cherries in a week and Okra, a spattering of herbs, and marigolds right around May Day (I started calendula and daisies already). I haven't decided if I'm going to start sunflowers in pots or try to keep the birds away and direct-seed them.

I am trying hard to figure out a way to stay home more. I have been away every other weekend for the past two months. Aside from what this does to my poor kitty, the result has been very destabilizing to my attempt to chart my desires and my future and get started. There's a certain amount of alone time with myself that I need before my brain starts clicking about certain things. Today I remembered thing I haven't though about in months and shocked myself by the conclusiveness of my decisions over the past year and where they have landed me. I think, all in all, I'm happy about the firm decisions I have made and less happy about the things I have floated through.

So I'm putting my foot down. My home, my garden, and my plans have been put on the back-burner as a result of a routine that has begun to resemble eat-clean-pack-drive-socialize-drive-repeat. It's a three hour drive to Jersey. I cannot, cannot, cannot do it twice a month. I am only leaving for weekends away from home once a month starting in April (I already have a trip planned for April to Jersey). So please, plan ahead with me, way ahead, if you want to see me away from my home. And keep in mind that it's summer, and upstate is beautiful and worth visiting. Friends and family from far away are more then eagerly invited, but it might include some help in the garden.

In other news,
Some suggestions on a theme:

Gardening is not farming and cold frames are not greenhouses. While its true that the lines blur at the edges, it is extremely hard to start seedlings in a coldframe during a typical early spring season and it is equally unwieldy to use standard farming procedures on a typical backyard garden. I learned this the hard way. For example, gardeners have enough room to start seeds in pots rather than trays so as to not bother switching from starting trays to small pots to larger pots, which farmers do to save on room (but not on labor - in fact, it'll take a tone of your time for no good reason if you do it this way).

Gardens really benefit from fencing and they're small enough for this to be possible, unlike farms (seriously).

Greenhouses and cold frames are not interchangeable. there is no heat source in a cold frame (unless you just got really fancy - though i bet you didn't) so beware the freeze and, more specifically, the optimal germination temperatures of the seedlings you will be starting. Also, Cold frames are much more prone to shading some of their contents. There is a reason cold frames are used for hardening off seedlings, rather than starting them. Unless you're willing to schlep all your plants indoors most nights and monitor the temperature and light in your cold frame extremely closely (I'd say every few hours), use the cold frame in the last, not the first, step of preparing seedlings for the garden.

No matter how much light your seedlings are getting, make sure it's enough. Full, day-long sun is key. seriously consider that it costs only $30 for a whole grow-light set up and way more than $30 to purchase all of your seedlings (and that's only for one year) if you mess up. Your window sill probably isn't enough, and please see the warning about cold frames above.

Your time, unlike a farmer's is not being compensated, and you are doing this for you - so be realistic about what you are willing to do. when you save money, you are almost always paying for it in your time - and this is a really important consideration, especially when it comes to how you might wiggle out of your best-made plans after 40 hours of work a week.

When starting 12 tomato plants, if 6 die, it's a catastrophe. When starting 120, it's to be expected. Losing that shaded-out row at the front of your cold frame that's pretending to be a greenhouse is probably not going to be worth it.

That being said, I'd love to hear if you prove me wrong.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How-to Start Seeds, build a sifter

This weekend is going to be full of gardening. I'm hoping to start seeds with my sweetie today after work in this fine, fine weather. If we have time I also hope to bring out the cold frame and maybe tap a black birch just to see if they're still flowing - black birches give the most divine sap for drinking straight (too much of a pain to boil down to syrup because the sugar ratio is pretty low). Since the season for tapping birch is slightly later than the maple's I'm hoping the sap is still flowing, though this sugaring season has been incredibly short and strange - we haven't even been getting nighttime frosts anymore where I am! And something that's making me giddy is that my animal kick is being totally fixed by my sweetie, who surprised me a few weeks ago by dropping that he will be working at an animal farm this summer! Yay!

Since you too need to start some seeds, here's what you'll be doing over the next few days:

Starting Seeds
Seed starting is an integral part of growing food. if you're going to do gardening the cheap way, you will not be buying seedlings at the nursery for $3 a pop. instead, you'll buy a $3 seed packet and get planting!

high quality top soil/potting soil/finished compost
a sifter (optional but helps - see below on building your own)
pots, trays, whatever you'll be planting into
water (a lot)
a seed-growing station (florescent light, surface to place seedlings on)
a bin/wheel barrow for soil
clothes you're going to get wet and dirty
something to mark what's what (Sharpie and masking tape works well)
a rag or something to wipe your hands on
any soil additives (like bone meal or blood meal) that you're using

Dump as much soil as you will need (I always err on the side of caution and use extra soil) through your sifter and into a barrow/bin. working in small batches, pour soil over sifter, and shake the soil into the wheel barrow/bin, throwing large chunks that can't be sifted into a separate pile for use in the garden, compost, or with better-established seedlings. Sifting soil provides for the finest soil so your seedlings don't have to fight through rough and chunky soil to get established. Add any additives you're using at this point.

Wet the soil until it's very wet, but not muddy, and mix well. I do this all with my hands.

Next, fill your pots or trays to within a centimeter of the top. Fill all the pots at once, because you'll need to have somewhat cleaner hands for the next step. You want the soil to be packed in enough so it won't settle much more. When you're done, wipe your hands.

Get your seeds and plant them in the pots 2-3 seeds per pot (you can weed out the weakest ones later). Generally, seeds should be planted at a depth of twice their width. Some seeds, however, need light to germinate. Check what the catalogue or seed packet says, or consult a gardening book. Also make sure that your seeds don't require extra treatment like scarification prior to planting. If you're planting seeds that have a very poor germination rate, plant in flats with a lot of seeds and then replant the surviving seedlings into individual pots. In general, starting in trays and then transplanting to pots saves a lot of space if you're doing a large-scale garden.

Cover the seeds with soil and label the pots with plant, variety name, and date started, along with any other relevant details. I'll be keeping a journal (on this blog) about varieties, how they grow, what they taste like, etc.

Bring your seeds your seed-starting station, if you're working outside. Once seeds germinate, keep them in the light for at least 10-12 hours a day, adjusting the height of your lamp to prevent leggy plants. Keep the plants warm (soil needs to be warmer than 55 for a lot of seeds to germinate. Check your specific seed guides for what temperatures you'll need). Water daily with a light stream of water that doesn't displace soil or harm the young seedling. Once the plants have leafed out in their first true leaves, thin to the strongest seedling in each pot.

In a few weeks, you'll need to bring them into your cold frame to harden them up. I'll be posting a cold frame tutorial soon. In the mean time, a sifter:

Building a soil sifter
A soil sifter is pretty much the same thing as a flour sifter. It lets through small particles of soil, fluffs them up, and keeps out larger particles. It's a useful garden tool and extremely easy to make. Keep in mind that you will be pouring the soil into the frame and then shaking the frame to sift the soil while you make your sifter.

- A window frame or sturdy picture frame (preferably with a middle beam for added sturdiness) that is roughly the size of the bin or wheel barrow you will be sifting soil into.
- 1/4 inch hardware cloth (or 1/2 inch size, or a smaller screen, depending on how fine you want your soil)
- Staple gun
- Wire cutters
- gloves

Measure your hardware cloth to be larger that the size of your frame so that you can curl the edges around the frame and over the back of the wood, and cut, using the wire cutters. You'll want to be wearing gloves, because cut wire is sharp and no fun to play with.

laying the hardware cloth under the frame, fold the hardware cloth so that the edges wrap over the top side of the frame. Fold in the edges as if you were wrapping a textbook.

Staple ever few inches down, so that the hardware cloth is firmly attached to the frame. Cut off any excess wire that might hurt you while sifting.

Do a test run to make sure everything works properly, that the hardware cloth is firmly attached, and that there are no sharp wires cutting into you as you sift.

Make sure you keep your sifter out of the rain so it doesn't rust and lasts you for a long, long while. Every year, check to see if the staples or the frame needs reinforcement. It's much easier to fix things while they're only mildly broken.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is this month doing??

First of all - HOW did it get to be MARCH 17TH already!? Last time I checked, it was February!

Second - Spring took steroids this year. The crocuses are blooming! The willow over the pond behind my house is that yellowish shade it gets! A flock of red-winged blackbirds followed me in the trees on my walk (which I took without a jacket) yesterday. Sugaring season is already over! WHAT!? Has anyone seen ramps yet? What are the morels going to think about this!? Please, please, weather gone wild, DO NOT kill off the tomatoes again!!

and thus begins the mild insanity we call early spring.

Which means that this weekend/week I will be:

Bringing my cold frame out of winter hiding
Marking out my new garden plot and helping my landlord till it
Going over the tilled plot with a broad fork to aerate the soil (the tiller doesn't go very deep)
planting out lettuce into the prepared soil (if you have spinach you can plant that too)
Picking up a bunch of topsoil from neighbors (anyone have a pickup truck I can borrow?)

I will be doing that on top of what I had planned for this week (err...and earlier), a whole 9 weeks before the last frost:

Starting my nightshades!
Finishing my chicken coop

It's still March and I already feel like the white rabbit! I'm late! I'm late!

In good news - I opened up the cellar and it turns out my veggies were fine. No flooding. And seriously - 5 months later, my veggies are still delicious (except the carrots, which got really woody and are going to the compost, stat), firm, and not sprouting. It has been by far the best root cellaring experience I have ever had. Way easier than the high tech cellars we had in my last house (a really lovely co-op check it out)

Oh, and my darling readers, have I told you that I will be making and selling salves and other things of that sort starting this summer? I haven't figured out the details yet, but if anyone wants to chat with me about it, I'd love to chat. I need a label design - I'll barter salves, gardening advice, garden design, or whatever else we can think up for a label design. Let me know if you can do that for me.

...can you tell that I've had too much coffee today? and one too many little green cupcakes with nothing nutritious in them at all?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mud Season

Rain! Rain and flooding and oh my! I still have potatoes and carrots on the bottom step of my root cellar - which floods! Why don't I just go and move it? Oh, because I cannot get the cellar door open on my own - it catches a corner and I can't pull it up without help (as my male guests know - they get used for root cellar access all the time).

In other news, the forsythias are starting to bloom hysterically early. Mud season, my friends, is upon us. I have seen buds on the trees.

If I don't sound that excited, it's because I'm not. Spring is that wondrous season that unveils herself after a cold, snowy, and equally wondrous winter. The contrast of a white, silent, and sleepy winter with the muddy, green, waking humming busyness of spring is the appeal of spring to me. But this year we didn't have a snowed-in winter in the Mid-Hudson Valley. We had a pathetic, broken animal of a winter. The rest felt stolen, unpaid for with shoveling endless walkways, just stolen. With no winter to tail, spring doesn't feel like an unveiling. It's just mud and work and waking green.

I know I'll get excited soon, once the blossoms start blooming and the snow melts off the mountains, replaced by that vibrant, nascent green, that can only mean the start of the busy seasons ahead. The heat and cold will compete for primacy as the seasons kick into high gear and the scurrying of spring with all of the planting and preparing will fade into summer with her glaring heat and constant work and that glorious week, tucked into late June, when everything is planted and the weeds haven't started in earnest yet, and there's nothing to do. And then the weeds will burst up and the summer will be full of swimming off the constant heat of picking weeds, and tomatoes, and the constant, flowing harvest, which will turn itself into hours at the stove canning sauces and jams, freezing everything, and slowly, the tremor of early fall will make me wake in a sweat in the middle of the night fearing a freak early frost until everything is harvested and the frosts start rolling in, and the root cellars are stocked and there's the constant smell of apples and wood smoke in the air. And then, maybe then, we will have a white winter which will remind us why spring is such a magical time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Newspaper pots (and other things)

Spring is definitely out in full-force. The sun is waking me up at 6 AM as it shines into the east-facing windows above my bed. The birds are singing, the weather is bright, the dog chased a raccoon all over the property yesterday as i did some outdoor spring cleaning and checked out my garden site, and the weather is wonderful! I come home to plenty of sunshine, haven't been running the wood stove during the day all week, and the space heater in the bathroom (that I keep on a timer so that it's warm in the bathroom the morning and when I get home from work - when the house was coldest in the winter) has been unplugged. I am entirely overjoyed.

I have a gazillion things to do tonight before I leave for a weekend trip to Boston straight from work tomorrow - a bit of necessary house cleaning, making presents for the folks I'm visiting this weekend (my batch of calendula oil is setting 6 weeks today - I had no choice but to put it off until the last minute), as well as cooking for and going to a pot luck! Oh my - that means cabbage salad for the pot luck (with quinoa for extra yum), and probably some late-night cleaning. Which is fine seeing as I just received The Master and Margerita on CD in Russian to listen to while I'm working (why not brush up on Russian literature and Russian language while you work - it's kind of like whistling).

In other ludicrously exciting news - here is a good tutorial on making newspaper pots that makes perfect little 3 inch square pots. If you're using half-sized papers (local papers - anything smaller than the NYTimes, like I did) skip the second and third steps. The only other note I would make for clarity is that in step 13 she means corner, not edge, folded across to the middle crease (I had to really stare down the picture to figure it out). I also added a little staple to the folded-in flaps to keep the pot standing. I have no intention of planting the pot in the soil (in my experience that never works, it just contributes to a root-bound and sad plant). I'll just throw the little pots onto a bonfire and to hell with the staples.

If the soil dries up and stays workable over the next two weeks, chances are good that there will be some tilling going on. Anyone have any finished compost or composted manure I can take off their hands? I need 2 cubic yards, but more would be much appreciated.

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8th!

Happy International Women's day! And beautiful, beautiful spring weather! Yay!

This is one of my favorite holidays, mostly because it feels like a family secret. Apparently, Americans don't believe in international holidays like this one and May Day. I'm going to celebrate by scouring the local thrift stores for a nice, large enameled casserole dish and making brisket (using this recipe). I am sick of my simple cast-iron dutch oven, which (among other virtues) is a pain to clean, retains smells, and currently has a lining of burned beef chuck stew that I can't scrape off - a remnant of my one and only tragic dinner burning experience. I have scraped, soaked (I know - I SOAKED my cast iron!), and still haven't successfully detoxed my dutch oven it's so stubborn. It's partially my fault for putting off cleaning it. I was so distraught about burning dinner to a crisp that I just left it and my sweetie and I went out for dinner instead. When I got home, I was still too upset about it to deal with it. I put the burned beef stew on the floor where the cat was overjoyed at the opportunity to pick at it and went to sleep.

The way to get the worst burned-on gunk to unstick from the bottom of your pots and pans is fairly simple. Pour baking soda into the pan just to cover the bottom, then add about an inch or 2 of water and boil for a few minutes. When it's been boiling just long enough for you to have finished whatever other small task you were doing, pour off some of the water (just a precaution so you don't splash yourself with boiling water) and scrape the bottom. Usually one round works.

I will also be starting my lovely little lettuces. I decided I'm going to have to buy a heat pad for my seed starting table - I simply do not keep it warm enough indoors to ensure proper germination of my seeds.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Now What?

I'm still fixating on raising animals - but I think I'm a bit too scared to actually commit and jump in. There's a lot of upfront cost and work. I've been researching a new animal each day. Today I looked into geese. If it weren't for the fact that people don't really eat goose much it would be perfect. Eggs, down, feathers, quality meat, and really good foragers - plus low rates of disease and good at defending themselves. Kind of sounds too good to be true - which it is, seeing as people seem to think that goose is only good eating for Christmas.

The biggest hurdle to cross for me in starting a small-scale, backyard animal operation is going it alone. Animals, unlike vegetables, require constant vigilance. They require daily human attention, and the infrastructure can be pretty high, depending on the animal (though geese, chickens, and rabbits would only be a little more than putting in a new vegetable garden). Fencing is the most daunting part of the infrastructure. I'd build a little animal house any day, but banging in fence posts in rocky soil is up there on my list of things I really hate doing. Though my landlord wants to fence in the 5 acres behind the orchard anyway, so why not?

It's very conflicting. On the one hand, I want to live in line with my values, and i want to do the things which make me happy. On the other hand, I really don't want to overdo it. I want to be able to go to sleep at night without rattling off everything I have to do until the inside of my head tics like a clock. But I don't want to feel contented and blase in doing very little to move towards my goals - which is how I'm living right now (or at least, it feels like that). Okay, I admit, I've always been an overachiever. I've always started way too many projects, and been in a rush to do it all. I've also always left plenty new tasks undone. It's a pattern of mine, so I'm cautious about taking on anything new - even though I'm less stressed than I have been ever before. And yet, I know I can easily get stuck in this place.

I don't want to become exhausted, over-worked, or resentful. I don't want to fail miserably by taking on too much, or by taking on projects that aren't well suited for me. I want time to sit in my living room and daydream. And to be honest - I want to play second fiddle sometimes. Being the only person around to clean the house, cook food, start seeds, motivate myself, and tell myself to take a break gets very hum-drum. I'm generally stronger, braver, and more productive when I work alone, but it's tiring to always have to be the brave, motivational one. And that's what I feel most strongly with the animal question. I want to do it with someone - someone I trust and someone with whom I'm on equal footing. I want someone to share the responsibilities, the risk, and the blessings with me.

That's one of the reasons that makes me feel strongest about putting off getting animals for at least another year or so. hopefully by next spring there'll be someone to raise animals with. This year I could easily content myself with helping out my friends at Awesome Farm - which doesn't address that I want extra income, but it'll at least give me some experience - which I know I need. My landlords have their own little farm stand that they've offered me selling space on, and I could easily get some friends to sell home-made products for me if it came down to it - I don't have to focus on animals.

As all the reasoning piles up I still wonder if I'm reasoning myself out of committing myself to something that would be meaningful, important, and exciting out of fear and temerity. It's a strange line to walk - and I can't tell which side of it I'm on.

I don't know. It somehow ties in with how this article about the trade-off of back-to-the-land'ing has been on my mind. I don't find radical all-out homesteading to be terribly appealing, and I don't particularly want to put myself on that road, except I'm not even close to being an all-out homesteader. In fact - I'm farther than I'd like to be. but i want those skills. And i want to know how to make do. I just don't know when and how it makes sense to escalate my commitment to all of this.

I've been gardening for 4 years now. I still love it, but I want more, and I want to see myself moving in the right direction - which includes making some extra money and gaining more land-based skills - and animals seem to be a way to marry the two. It's not like I'd be making much money - but if I started small, I could at least break even, given a good business plan. It's not like I'm looking at buying a flock of 250 birds, or 100 rabbits. I'm thinking more on the order of 10-20 animals for sale at the end of the season, plus a small breeding stock. Enough to cover the costs of putting some of the meat on my own table and maybe to cover one of my minor expenses - like heat - for next year. That would make it plenty worth it.

I just don't know.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Clearly, this is a day for getting my sillies out. Some of you may remember that I have a minor obsession with Sweetened Condensed Milk - the most delicious thing in the world. And look! The New York Times Style section does love me! Milk in a Can Goes Glam

Now that's what I call delicious.

In other news, I set up my seed-starting station. I spent $30 for the whole get-up and 10 minutes measuring, setting up, and hanging the thing.

I still want sheep. or chickens. but really, sheep.

Excuse me for a minute...

Dearest Self,

You do not actually want to raise a flock of chickens, sheep, goats, alpacas, or anything else. It's just the spring talking. I know it could supplement your income, help you get closer to the things you want to be doing, give you some much-wanted skills, and even give you the best excuse to not go anywhere ever, but do you really want to commit to waking up at 6 AM every day, not traveling at all (including weekends) unless you have a trusted animal-sitter, and otherwise relegating your life to lovable little fluff/feather balls that poop everywhere and do their best to get eaten? I think not. Snap out of it and get some sense! Plus, you do not want to build a fence. I know you don't. You hate building fences.


Dearest Yourself,

What if I stage a coop d'etat and do it anyway?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Fever!

Yesterday was an incredibly beautiful day that smelled like spring! And it really is the season. The sap is beginning to run in the maples, it's time to have started the onion seeds, you could have started your lettuce seeds already, and the hens have been laying for almost a month! I spent yesterday drooling over farm animals on craigslist that I could never afford or take care of. I also picked up some meat at a local farm and found out that they have laying hens I can buy for $15 a pop. Not a great deal, but definitely worth it, seeing as laying hens for sale are pretty hard to find around here - especially 6 of them!

As for me, I don't have onion seeds to start, but friends have started them about a week ago. Im going to start my lettuce seeds today, and hopefully tap a maple tree (if I can find one on the property that my landlord hasn't tapped already).

11 Weeks before the Last Frost
Start Onion seeds (if growing onions from seed)
Tap maples
Start lettuce seeds (just put 2-3 seeds under 3-4 millimeters of moist soil and keep warm and watered until they sprout, then thin to the best one)
prep the coop for hens (if you're me)

Tapping Maples
Tapping a maple tree is fairly easy, and if you have cheap anything to boil the sap on for days, it's a great way to make maple syrup. Maple sap runs when nights fall below freezing but the days are above freezing. That's now, so get started!

A maple tree that's 10 inches in diameter or more (one tap per 10 inches, no more!)
A drill and bit that's 7/16" (or 1/2" if that's what you have)
Grimm spouts with hooks (or see cheap alternative below)
gallon plastic bottles or buckets with netting to keep insects out
A nice big pot for boiling water near an open window - it's going to get steamy!

The process
The best trees to use are sugar maples, but silver maples and a few others are good to tap. Make sure you have the right tree! It's best to mark your trees in the early fall when they still have leaves. If not, consult a good guide book with bark identification (such as the Audubon guide to North American trees)

Drill a hole with the bit that is angled slightly up at a height that makes sense for you to hang the bucket/jug at. If you have a grimm spout all you have to do is stick it in, hang the bucket off of the hook and let the spout empty into the bucket (on top of the netting is fine), or force a hole into the side hanging jug so that the spout empties into the closed (and therefor bug-free) jug.

If you don't want to buy Grimm spout, here's a cheap alternative - but you're going to lose some sap, so it might be worth investing in the grimm spout and hook - which is pretty cheap as things go. Cut a soda can (or a sardine lid or something similar) to about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Roll this into a half-tube and stick this tube into the hole you drilled into the tree as tightly as possible. hammer a small nail into the tree just about the makeshift spout and hang a bucket or jug off of the nail so that the spout runs into the jug or bucket.

Check your sap buckets daily and empty them. If you're not going to start boiling immediately, keep the sap refrigerated. Simmer the sap, being careful not to burn it, until the sap condenses to become as sweet as you want it - it takes about 32 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup - so that boiling will take a while! You can add sap as you collect more in the early stages of the boiling, but once the sap starts boiling down, I'd transfer the syrup to a smaller pot and keep it on a low simmer until finished. YUM! Keep finished syrup refrigerated. any mold that forms can be taken off the top of the syrup which should then be boiled before using.

Make sure to try some raw sap! It tastes like magical water.