The spirit of Upcycling (And the best seed pots)

Today I have been exploring the various ways I can apply the spirit of upcycling to my life.

Upcycling (from dictonary.com)

verb (used with object)upcycled, upcycling.
1.

to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original: “I upcycled a stained tablecloth into curtains.”

This week I am sick with a nasty cold. It may be more than that. I went to see a doctor and got some medication that is helping me recover. They actually prescribed me antibiotics for fear that I might be developing pneumonia again. Once you get pneumonia once, it makes the risk for getting future bacterial infections worse.

So lately I have been fairly inactive, relying on my partners to help with most of the critical outdoor chores. But now that I am on the mend I am able to start doing anything again and I am able to upcycle my time stuck semi couch-ridden while also upcycling a pile of newspapers. While I am an getting better I am still a little short of breath when I do simple tasks. So I’m spending my time doing important tasks with my hands instead, upcycling a bad situation into a better and useful one.

Today I am making these seed pots;

papercups.png

A stack of 40 newspaper seed pots

These are some of the best upcycled seed pots I’ve ever used. They wick water up like a peat pot and are surprisingly sturdy for paper. Unlike a peat pot they actually break down in one season and so don’t restrict root growth as much if you plant the whole pot, plus break apart with some water and a few pokes to free the roots completely for planting. There are some newspaper seed pots that are round and rolled on a can but they come apart easily and the round pots make it harder to conserve space per square foot.

Some time ago I read about someone complaining how millennials don’t listen to people with experience but hypocritically also complained that they refused to do things without trying to research them online first. (The irony of this person demanding millennials learn from their online post was lost on them as well.)
Some places on the internet are garbage, but like all other upcycling, it can be something great instead depending on how you use it! Most millennials (and many others) find the internet to be an incredible resource, and for many of us it’s our only viable resource to learn things. Here’s an idea, upcycle your internet usage. It’s more than OK to learn things online, in fact, it’s awesome! Trade out garbage and depressing websites for productive learning! Not only is it a great resource to learn from people more experienced than you, but it’s also a great resource to learn about how to experiment in ways that more experienced people might not. It’s where I learned to make these, and they are great. You can find the instructions on how to make them here;

 

I get the newspapers from my father, who is in his mid 70’s and appreciates reading the newspaper as a daily lifeline to the world. He often saves them in large quantities for me and brings them to my house in batches of several weeks worth of newspaper at once. Our local newspaper uses soy based inks in their printing so the news pages are safe to use in the garden. (Always check with your newspaper supplier about this, some inks leach toxins into the soil like heavy metals. If you don’t know anyone who has newspapers, consider asking on places like the Craigslist free section or your local freecycle group.)

As I folded up the seed pots I couldn’t help but see the troubles of the world on those pages. Racist rants trying to rephrase a protest of police brutality as disrespect for our military. Sabre rattling between nuclear powers, their egos threatening the lives of millions of people they will never meet. Companies caught in security scandals putting their millions of clients whole financial futures at risk to save a few dollars per person. Painful calls of misogyny from beauty articles demanding women be young, thin and sexy or else they’re worthless. Cries to buy luxury fuel-guzzling vehicles for “low-low prices” of a whole years worth of income that the average person I know can’t possibly afford to give up. Sales of over-priced sick puppy-mill dogs from breeders just looking to make a buck in the classifieds. Countless pages upon pages of obituaries, mostly old but some too-young, each one with a little advertisement at the end that seemed to say: “This dead person’s family used *COMPANY*’s funeral service! If someone you love is dead, you should give them your money while you are grieving too!”.

It gave me plenty of time to notice all this as I folded and folded and folded. I watched TV and chatted with my partners, sometimes playing games or doing other small chores in between folding paper. It was also our weekly cartoon night where we all meet up with some other friends to watch Japanese animation and we all folded papers for a bit. And while I was folding I couldn’t help but reflect on the grander implications of what we were doing.

All that hatred and anger. The egos, the consumption, the greed, the negligence. All the terrible ills and death of the world were getting folded up and put aside. Over the next few months, all of those horrible things will be upcycled and used to grow something beautiful. Something that’s the exact opposite of what’s written on all of those pages. Something that feeds both peoples bodies and souls. Something that brings life and heals the planet.

Those pages will grow food. They will grow peppers and beans. They will grow tomatoes that go into jars and remind us of the rich summer in the middle of a gloomy winter. They will go into gifts for others that bring joy through the year. They will go into growing flowers and feeding bees and rabbits and even grasshoppers and deer. They will break down into the soil and feed the worms and nematodes and grubs in the dirt. They are bits of carbon that will have come out of the air and return to the soil.

No matter how much hatred and anger and pain is printed on them, they can be used to heal.

What a thought provoking day of upcycling.

Ultimately we made 100 seed pots in one day while heavily distracted. Which makes these pots not only great to grow in but fast to produce. If you have some days off that you’re probably just going to be watching TV or something for a good chunk of them anyhow, consider setting yourself down with a flat surface on your lap and folding some seed pots. A 100 pack of 2″ plastic seed cups is nearly $25 on Amazon. I need possibly as many as 400 pots this year, so I will be saving myself $100 by doing this while I’d otherwise just be sick in bed. And in exchange it will nourish my soil, increasing carbon and biomass, and turn something ugly into something wonderful.

Frugal. Ecological. Healing. Nourshing to land, body, soul, and the whole world. Everything gardening, and upcycling, should be. I hope you give these awesome pots a try and do a little upcycling yourself.

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My door is open, if you want it to be.

Content warning for conversion therapy, suicide and politics.
Today I read an interesting political article that lifted my spirits a bit. This post has a happy ending if you can make it through, for me at least.

The article talks about a man who is a farmer, protesting a republican political candidate. A good ‘ol boy if I ever saw one. He stood with his preachers, and his community, as they banged on their pulpits, preaching not of love but of how human beings simply existing were perverted and distasteful. They were speaking of gay people in this case, a community I am a part of.

This regular occurrence was common in his home. But one day he found out his daughter, Patti, was gay. A friend of hers told her family, “outing” her. This was a daughter that he loved and cherished. That he’d raised in a church that pounded their pulpit and called his child a pervert. A child who had only ever done good. He devalued her, repeated back what he learned at his church. Hate and anger. He apologized, he regretted what he said, but the damage was done.

Patti came to him crying, asking him to help her get help to stop being gay. Nobody asks to be born a certain way, of course. This was someone in pain, told that who she was was terrible for her difference. She didn’t want to BE different, so she asked her father to get her “help” to fix her. Of course, that’s impossible. It’s like asking for someone to get you help to stop enjoying eating food. Such things can only cause trauma to a person.

The father in question took Patti to see doctors, but these things have been studied again and again. You can never “cure” or even CHANGE being gay, only create trauma around the experience. So they told him what any sane person driven by scientific evidence would do. They told him there was no such thing as a cure, that it was normal, that they couldn’t change who she was. Every medical professional they went to said the same thing. And the reality is, it’s the truth. We have no way to rewire an entire biological system. We have no “cure” for “experiencing the world differently”. Nor do we truly need one. But everyone around her treated people like her as a monster… What other option did she have but to seek a “cure” for being who she was?

Her father found his daughter, Patti, on March 22nd. She had committed suicide. He said that she did it because she was tired of being gay, not because she was tired of loving other girls, but because she was tired of how she was treated. Of being ridiculed and demonized.

When he tried to return to his church, after so much loss and suffering, there was a guest preacher. And after a mere 10 minutes the preacher began to tell the church about how terrible being gay was. There was no sympathy and compassion for his loss, no comfort after the death of his daughter Patti. Only more hatred.

Sometimes, I hear some pretty terrible things from the farming and homesteading communities. I hear questions that stem from ignorance, like “Why do liberals hate farming?” “Why does the left hate Christians or families?” “Why do *insert generalized city/left folks here* hate *insert generalize country/right folks here*?”.
I want you to know that the answer is really simple. We don’t. I know countless city folks who love farming and farms. Many of the people I know have “farmers make food” stickers. They’re interested in how agriculture effects our country. They’re parents with children who love nature. They want to see “flyover” territory be secure and successful. They want to see farmers get fair wages, the want to see red states have wealth. They want people in small towns to have local businesses and for those same people to have equal rights. They care a LOT.

There is an anger there, however. The kind that stems from years of abuse, the kind that admittedly leads to many being abusive right back. The anger isn’t personal towards individual people or specific groups, like farmers or Christians. The anger is towards the anger they’ve experienced from others. They rage at a system that causes a community to demonize differences. They hate teachings that cause other people to live in fear. They hate a hatred that makes a father treat his own daughter with hate. They hate a world that pushes a young girl to commit suicide. They hate the voices that end their lives, and countless others across the world.

This story is tragic. That system, that hatred ingrained in those communities, OUR communities, causes people to die. It causes families to be ripped apart. It caused a father to loose his daughter. I hate that. We hate that. It disgusts us and it should disgust everyone.

This story has a quiet little high note at the end, however.

This father suffered a tremendous loss. But after that day at church he stopped going back to that church. He couldn’t believe that his God would send such a loving child to hell simply for how she was born.

The reason his letter came to my attention was he is now advocating for people like his daughter in his deep-red state. The politician in question referred to members of the queer community as perverts and sinners. The politician in question also has a high profile set of sexual misconduct accusations. And this father sees the hypocrisy in his words. He hopes that people will think twice before voting for a man that calls his daughter a pervert, and emboldens the people that drove her suicide. He regret his past actions deeply and pushes back against anti-gay movements in his own small towns and farming communities. He’s a farmer. He’s one of US, and his suffering deserves to be heard.

Nathan Mathis. You’re a brave soul. There was a point in time when I would have probably been disgusted by who you were. There may be people you’ve hurt who will probably never forgive what you’ve been, a straw on a camels back, a drop in a bucket of anger that can never be forgotten. They’re not obligated to, we’re not obligated to forgive people who have hurt us, and that’s OK. But *I* forgive you. I’ll mourn with you. And I think you’ll find that, in general, we hateful leftist perverts are a pretty forgiving bunch all around. Even the bible says “reform ye, therefore, and turn back, for your sins being blotted out”, by and large, we’ve learned that we live it. We don’t actually WANT to hate anyone, and, indeed, we rarely do wish ill on others. We’re willing to see someone who has changed for the better and care for them again, to embrace them, to love them again. Nathan, you’re welcome in MY house any day, even if your neighbors won’t let me into theirs.

I recently heard somewhere that doing the right thing is a choice, a choice to do the right thing followed by an action doing the right thing. That you can’t do the right thing unless you are consciously trying. People’s mistakes happen in offhand ways, swept up in the moment without consideration or reason, they do bad things. It’s easy to end up on the wrong path, doing things that are wrong, without even realizing it. “Oops! Sorry I hurt you, I didn’t mean to.” By contrast; “I did the right thing without noticing!”, “Why, the next thing I knew, I was doing good things!”, “in a moment of carelessness, I helped someone! Whoops!”. You never hear those things. Goodness cannot exist without the intent to be good. You can’t do good things unless you actively try to.

My door, and countless others, are open to anyone who genuinely wants to be better, to anyone who decides that they want to do good things and who tries to. To anyone who wants to know how they can stop hurting others, to anyone who wants to help others. To anyone who genuinely wants to connect and share compassion. If you want to be good and then you do it, my door is open to you. I believe that Nathan has decided that he wants to do good, and is trying to do it.

And Patti Sue Mathis. I’ll say your name. You’re a victim as much as any other. You didn’t deserve the end you had. I hope your name will be remembered by many people. But I also hope you know that, wherever you are, there’s a little more light in the world because you were in it. Because of your legacy of loss, there’s a few more people who will see love instead of hate. I hope wherever you are, you’re at peace. And I hope you know that you mattered.

Someday, I hope that we have more Nathans. I hope we have more people who decide to do good in the world.

And you don’t have to take my lefty feminist words that it’s a good thing to do. This old man, a farmer, a father, a christian and a republican, is asking you to do good as well. I hope his message spreads, far and wide.

You can read his letter here;
http://www.dothaneagle.com/news/letters_to_editor/letter-soul-baring-thoughts-on-gay-bashing/article_a1a6b423-82df-5bff-92fd-46e1e1a12ece.html

And the article about his protest here;
http://theweek.com/speedreads/742788/alabama-farmer-who-lost-gay-daughter-suicide-speaks-near-roy-moore-rally

Good luck, Nathan. I’m rooting for you.

Victory gardens?

In the 1940s, during the Great depression and WWII, wages were similarly unequal to today’s current wage system. The war ended up reinvigorating our economy with military jobs being converted into infrastructure and manufacturing jobs. And while war is ALWAYS terrible, a scant few good programs come out of that war. The best one (to me) being the victory garden program. It helped stave off hunger and high food prices all across the nation, establishing a groundwork for self-sufficiency within cities and as a nation.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, right before the victory garden program was being pushed in cities and the nation suddenly found itself growing half of it’s food in cities, suburbs and people’s back yards, another problem had been brewing in the countryside for a decade. Farmers were going broke, unable to sell their crops for more than it cost to grow them. Overproduction was the new norm in much of America. Agriculture was crumbling. So bills were put into place to stop farmers from growing so much food and to regulate prices by taxing the food industry to provide money for the US to buy grain during over productive years and distribute it during lean times. The result helped to stifle the economic disaster occurring in the US, but was ultimately found unconstitutional and was replaced by a similar bill in 1938. The 1938 bill became today’s Farm Bill, and was designed to help farmers grow crops that we needed more of during the war. Farmers were suddenly being paid to grow crops that were in under production at the time (cotton, wheat, corn, peanuts, barley, etc.) so that the nation would not run short on these crops. But also came with stipulations that only so much could be grown and distributed, to avoid the over production problems of the 1930’s. When WWII ended, the nation’s agriculture stabilized and the economy improved.

Between 1970 and 2000, the farm bill slowly mutated. Regulations on how much could be grown and sold were cut massively while the people making the most money off of the farm bill (mostly corn growers) lobbied hard to keep their crops that have plenty of production in the US on the list of subsidized crops. The goal of encouraging farmers to grow under-grown crops to stabilize prices of certain good was lost to the æther. Now a days, despite huge gluts in the market driving corn prices ever lower and corn being the most grown crop in the US, nearly a THIRD of all farm subsidies go towards growing corn. Why? Because there’s where the money rolls into our government from.

So I have one tiny, selfish hope for this steaming tire fire of a presidency.

Among the nonsensical and unconstitutional policies Trump is proposing, in order to pay for his 25 billion dollar wall, is a 20% tax on goods from mexico that was originally endorsed as the probable plan to generate the funds. Now I will start by saying that this is actually a tax on the American public. Because what’s going to happen is producers of goods are just going to (very legally, mind you) pass that price down to consumers.
Because Joe who grows avocados must make $5 off of his avocados to break even and pay his bills, he sells his avocados to us for $5. If the US taxes Joe 20% to sell his avocados in the US, Joe will still need to make $5 off of his avocados BEFORE that tax to continue to pay his bills. So Joe will either A. Stop selling in the US, therefore generating no revenue for a wall. Or B. Will add the extra 20% onto his avocado prices and sell them for $6, because he can’t give 20% of his $5 to that tax, he needs it to pay his other bills. If he does the second, and you, a US citizen buy his more-expensive avocados, Joe still makes the $5 he needs to pay his bills. You, the avocado buyer, just paid the tax. Not Joe. Because Joe still has bills to pay, and needs his $5. It just LOOKS like it’s coming from Joe. This is a system of exploitation that’s been going on for a very long time and is inherent in our society.

Now that wouldn’t amount to much if it were, like, Tibet where our imports kind of don’t exist. But the US imports 10% of it’s food from Mexico, a large amount of which is fresh produce. Which means 10% of food imported to places without much fresh food (especially inner cities, suburbs and food deserts) is going to get 20% more expensive should this policy go through. Inner cities already struggle massively with problems relating to food scarcities, specifically good, local, fresh, healthy foods like lean meats, vegetables and fruits. It’s hard to spend $5 on a bag of apples that you may or may not get around to, when $5 will get you 5 sandwiches and feed your whole family something with enough calories to get them through the day. Since many people in our nation’s poor urban centers also don’t know how to cook and handle whole foods, since food prep is a skill that was cut from public schools because of budget cuts, and is only able to be taught at home by people who have generational wealth and knowledge, (something that contributes massively to classism and racism) there’s not many options available to them, and it’s not really a wonder that poor people end up fatter while still being hungry and starving. And it’s about to get 20% worse for those people, leading to even more stigma for being in that situation as options for low-priced high-nutrient value food dwindle away and most of America carries on as usual.

So somewhere buried in that big pile of poo is my desperate little hope. A hope that this will spark some agricultural reform, possibly in the amending of the Farm Bill to suddenly stop producing tons of excess corn (which is bad for the environment as corn is awful on soil to grow) that goes into animal feed and corn-based plastics, fuel, and any other market they can desperately dump our massive corn glut into… And instead, it will subsidize farmers to grow the vegetables we need to support inner cities and food deserts with our own American farms with a lower overall footprint. Or, it may spark the urban agriculture movement to work towards urban centers, Victory-Garden style, because with a little help and rising prices on behalf of tariffs on Mexican imports it makes both urban agriculture and victory gardens that much more feasible and financially viable.

And I would be very excited for one (or both) of those things to happen.

So hey, maybe if we don’t descend into a war because of this massivehorriblesoul-crushingunlawfulfear-mongering political bonfire… Maybe farmers in the US and the state of our nation’s food security will be a little bit better for it.

(Please feel free to generally fact check my post, don’t take anyone’s word for anything. I didn’t bother with citations for most of this, but you can always look it up in your own time. Don’t spread fake news.)

Reeling and Seedling

Well, yesterday the hammer dropped and every single republican told 30 million people like me to go and die quietly please so they could save some money for rich folks, OK?

Not farming stuff incoming. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom if you don’t like the uncomfortable reality that at least some of you probably voted in the people that voted to try to kill me today. I’m looking at you rural farming America. Thanks for that. (Or, you know, if you’re too overwhelmed by the awfulness of it to hear about it again or you might go shoot someone. That’s an OK reason to scroll down too.)

It sounds like some sort of bad black humor, or some sort of dramatic hyperbole, but the vote to dismantle the ACA (including popular programs like protection from denying healthcare based on pre-existing conditions, coverage for pregnant women, and allowing young adults to stay on parents insurance for a few extra years) was clear. 51-48, not a single democrat voting to dismantle. In case you’re wondering, the senate is 52% republican and 48% democrat. I’d love to have the ability to vote republican sometimes, I do believe that the democratic party is corrupt, but the concept that republicans care about my human rights or my wellbeing or the wellbeing of anyone but themselves at this point is unfortunately a joke. They would genuinely rather I just die instead of spending money.

I have a family (and personal) history of female reproductive problems. Case in point; my mother who died of uterine cancer. Preventable uterine cancer that she did not have treated until it was about to kill her because she was one of the 30 million people that couldn’t get insurance without the ACA. Preventable uterine cancer that the only reason she was able to receive any treatment at all for (extending her life for 5 years which were happy and filled with life and joy, and having end of like palliative care, IE: letting her have pain killers and a hospital bed) was because of the ACA being passed soon after her diagnosis, protecting my dad’s ability to put her on his insurance after he finally found employment.

My family is what even republicans usually think of as a “good family”. We’re about as far from the ultra-racist “welfare queen/baby daddy” stereotype as you can get.  We’re white. My family came from a southern catholic farming background on my moms side. My dad’s father ran a cardboard box factory that made him significantly wealthy. Mom raised seven kids, cleaned, couponed, cooked, and made sure her kids were well educated and raised with integrity. My dad currently is nearly 80 years old and works for NASA. He designs lithium batteries that can handle outer space and are charged by solar panels. He holds a patent for some of the first neurological interfaces to allow people with paralyzed limbs to move their arms. All of us kids got jobs at 15 years old. We’re not uneducated, unmotivated,  have poor parenting or even just plain stupid. My family is gritty working types. And my mom died because there was no program like ACA when she got sick and my father was unemployed due to the Bush-induced recession. We live in the rust belt. The economy here has been awful for decades.

Now we’re looking at facing that all over again.

My partner owns his own retail store. It’s extremely successful for a retail store, going on their 3rd year anniversary with profits in the black. Over 95% of retail stores close their doors in the first 5 years and almost none make profits. He’s a small business owner. He built that.
He’s about to fall into the medicare gap. And without the ACA, he will not be able to afford health insurance.

I run this tiny urban farm. I work hard at it, I love it, it helps massively with my depression and I think few people this will reach would be able to tell me that farming isn’t a respectable job. But I will laugh in your face if you even consider the possibility that it makes enough money for me to afford insurance outside of the ACA. My healthcare is about to be gone. And best of all, the medication that keeps me able to function and could save my life is probably not going to be covered by most insurance any more. People still think birth control is only so people can have lots of sex that offends their religion. Little do they know that it’s probably slowly saving my life, not just from cripplingly painful cycles that prevent me from working normal jobs… But also from the genetically-inherited uterine fibroids that nearly killed my oldest sister and were probably inherited from my mother. Did you know that, if left untreated, uterine fibroids can develop into uterine cancer? Did you know that birth control prevents uterine fibroids for 1/10th the cost of a single surgery to treat them even before the become cancerous? Two and two fit so nicely together here if you care to look at facts.

So yes, when I say that republicans voted to literally end peoples lives today, I was not being hyperbolic. I was being frank. My mom would be alive today if healthcare reform went through in the 90’s. I or my partner, hardworking Americans, may not be alive someday because of the vote that just took place. Sorry if that’s too much of a burden on your taxes. I’m sure you needed that fat holiday bonus more than I needed my life. It’s cool.

And if you voted republican this past year? Fuck you. If I (or any of the 30 million other people insured the the ACA) die in the next four years, it is probably your fault.

 

Ok, you can pull your head out of the sand now. We’re back to farming.

FARMING AHOY.

So instead I’m trying to immerse myself in the potential spring hold for my homestead… Despite the fear and the potential for my untimely demise, I want to try to look forward to spring. This year we’re placing a new seed order. We grow heirloom organics, which allows us to save seeds from each plant each year. Still, not everything grows correctly and genetic diversity is important in plants AND animals, so we like to bring in new seeds.
We buy from high Mowing Seeds, and we’re not paid to say nice things about them. I just happen to like their seeds, prices, and polite customer service.

Here’s a list of what we’re getting and why.

Thyme
Every year we try to grow a new herb. I used a lot of thyme this year as it’s great on, well, everything? So we thought we’d give it a shot.

Bellstar tomato
This year the tomatoes did great, but they had some problems. We grew amish paste and san marzino. The amish paste did not produce well. The san marzino were nice, but they came in haphazardly, only allowing me to put away several jars of tomato sauce despite huge numbers of tomatoes growing. They just all ripened at different times, so we’d have 10 tomatoes here and 15 there, all year. They were also surprisingly watery for paste tomatoes and the plants were VERY thin and spindly, they needed trellises badly. Hopefully this variety will provide what we need a bit better.

NuMex Joe Anaheim and Early Jalapeno Hot Pepper
We grew an anaheim and a jalapeno from plants we bought at the garden center this year and they did very well. I use a lot of hot peppers and if we get these to grow and the tomatoes, it means jars of salsa!

Purple Beauty Bell Pepper
I have never gotten a bell pepper to live in my lawn. So I am kind of just grasping at straws here and hoping that because this pepper looks so different it might grow. Eh?

Kentucky Wonder (green beans)
These did great for us this year, huge plants, 8′ tall. We’re getting them because we liked them so much we want more of them! We have seeds saved from this year and last, but we’d like to establish a little more diversity in our genetics and we’d also like to grow LOTS of them this year!

Red Russian Kale
This is another favorite. It grows very well in our cold climate and has a nice flavor. But saving seeds is tough and often the plant grows as a biennial. So we haven’t saved seeds from this yet. I still had seeds, but they were a couple years old and I gave them away as part of a Yule gift to a fellow gardener.

Painted Mountain Corn
We’ve tried growing corn for three years now to no success. We’ve been trying to grow Roy Calais flint corn, but since it hasn’t done well, we decided to try a new kind. Fingers crossed this does better. We want a flint corn for cornmeal, grits and animal feed.

Cascadia Peas
We’ve had sub-par results with out peas as well. Often they get really spindly and sometimes they grow too tall for our pea trellises. Cascadia are a dwarf variety where the pods stay big but the plants are small. I hope they do better than our other ones.

Costata Romanesco zucchini
I used the last of these seeds this year, to great success! The biggest of these reached 7lbs 10oz this year and wasn’t fully grown. Wow! But because they never grew all the way, we couldn’t save seeds. Since they did so well… Again! Again!

Table Queen Acorn Squash
Winter squash has consistently done great up here. We’ve had acorn squash seeds volunteer out of our compost in past years and this year we had great success with a desperate last-second planting of Buttercup squash that had germinated in their seed packet mid-summer. This year we’re trying acorn squash deliberately and we’re hoping for equally good results.

De Cicco Broccoli
This is the vegetable that’s new to our garden this year. We’ve had some half-hearted attempts to grow brassicas but never tried very hard and never had them grow more than a few leaves before being mowed down by plants. Every year we try to add a new vegetable to our garden, and this year broccoli is it!

Flowers
We’re gonna try to grow some flowers this year. Echinacea, butterfly mixes, chamomile, sunflowers. Maybe we’ll get some pretty (and useful) flower this year for… Our…

 

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEES

I received a cedar warre bee hive for my birthday this year from my extra-generous MIL! Which means BEEEEEEEEES! I am extremely excited to have bees! We’re looking for our nuc right now and I am just floored and thrilled.

Despite the world being pretty dark for me (and most everyone I love) right now, I’m excited for the weather breaking and it being spring. Lots of exciting things will be happening and I am looking forward to it.

Wish me luck!

A proper update

I’ve been stuck indoors for the past few days with a second degree sunburn plaguing my shoulders. It started as just a normal sunburn. We went to observe some potential lands for the ecovillage, and the cloudy day when it was supposed to rain turned out to be sunny. So my pale skin turned into red skin. Then, the day after that I helped my sister with some minor home repairs and property cleanup. That day I wore sunblock… To no avail. The next day I woke up with shoulders covered in blisters so hot and angry that I could not dress. The pain is still there as the skin started peeling off before the skin underneath was ready, and now it’s like my whole shoulders are covered in a thin scab from being rug burned. It hurts.

This really set me off as we had a village meeting that evening. It really highlighted my frustration with a certain point of sexism in our society, the free the nipple movement. It’s not that I’m immodest and wanna shake my titties in front of guys, it’s a matter of comfort. If it’s extremely hot out or I have something like a second degree burn across my shoulders I shouldn’t have to strap something across my boobs (and sub sequentially, my shoulders lest it fall down) just to make a bunch of guys feel better about their lack of self control. Heat is hot. Burns hurt. These are practical, physical realities for men and women. But women are required to toss some fabric on under these conditions anyhow, and that bugs me in a big way. And while the group I was part of probably wouldn’t have cared much if I went topless, I felt uncomfortable about it anyhow. I ended up just tying some fabric around my chest in a band so it didn’t touch my shoulders… But the whole thing felt dumb.
(Fun fact, men weren’t allowed to show their nips either until the 1930’s. Prior to that, men were required to wear swimsuits that covered their chest for modesty reasons. In fact, in the 1910’s men were required to wear swimsuits that didn’t cling too tightly and may have even been required to wear skirts over their boxers so they weren’t so indecent!)

Because of the burn, I was forbidden the outdoors until I could wear a shirt without flinching again, which was about 3 days. When I came out, I found my garden beds were starting to grow with a gusto…. And so were the weeds. The birds had gotten big seemingly overnight and so had the rabbits. Turns out that being absent from your farm for half a week has big impacts!

So I finally got to go weed my garden and take some photos (my camera is still broken so I borrowed a smart phone) this week. There are some exciting updates on the farmstead itself!

Remember the sad, sad tomatoes?

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Surprisingly, they all made it! Some of them are still a little on the smaller side, and some are still recovering. But there’s a huge patch of tomatoes getting bigger by the day growing in my back yard! I have started pinching suckers and blossoms from them. I’m looking to get a crop that I can harvest for canning instead of having them to eat fresh, so I’d like the plants to get extra big before they start fruiting. (I did leave a few blossoms on one plant so we could have a few to eat.)

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I have some onions that got planted very late, but are starting to grow energetically. The patch looks bare from about 10′ away, but if you get close you can see literally dozens of onion sprouts peeking through! I’ve had to remind my helpers that these are onions, not weeds.

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Somehow the corn made it. But with only two stalks, I’m not sure that they’ll actually pollinate and produce. They were pretty weedy. This whole bed has since been weeded.

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The beans and peas are on the northmost wall of my garden bed, but because my lawn isn’t on a true North South line, they are shaded for a few hours in the morning. They’re still growing robustly despite that and are very thick. They’re starting to shade out weeds growing near by.

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And speaking of shading out weeds…. The kale! The kale is growing so thickly and is producing some strong, healthy leaves! We’ve started to eat the occasional leaf on a sandwich. The weeds are struggling to grow under these crowns!

We have a few other plants not shown. The watermelons are starting to recover and spring back with lots of new growth and the strawberries are flowering again. The zucchini is flowering as well, which means delicious vegetables are right around the corner! We’ve had some very serious issues with blossom end rot in previous years… This year we planted the zucchini with a handful of crushed egg shells in the hole. Hopefully we won’t see those problems again this year. And the more wild plants like the shiso leaf, the mint, the lemon balm, the plantago and the dandelions are doing well… But they are struggling against the other, less beneficial weeds in the lawn like the cats foot. I hate that stuff.

We also have a few new faces on the farm!

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Two leghorns and two australorps came to us from another farm recently. It’s been about a month and they have finished their quarantine period.  We waved goodbye to the old leghorn (who wasn’t laying), our newest chick and our chick from last year to make room for these new birds. They’re all pullets still, under 24 weeks, but the leghorns are already laying strong and their eggs are starting to normalize in size. Soon they will be in the pen with all the other birds.

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We also have seven little chicks from some eggs we stuck under our broody. We set a dozen eggs, but like every hatch, there were some problem chicks that didn’t make it. We may even loose one of the ones we have now. It appears to have some unabsorbed yolk, or a small hernia. We brought it indoors to try to recover. Only time will tell. But six chicks is a nice number to have. And our broody hen, a blue Ameraucana, could not be prouder!

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We had our NPIP certificate renewed last month. NPIP is the National Poultry Improvement Plan. If you read my post about vaccines, you’d know that flock health is a pretty important topic to me. NPIP is a simple test provided at a low cost to check for avian influenza and pullorum typhoid. These are both very serious conditions that threaten flocks nation wide. NPIP certification is easy… A tester comes out to test your flock. You get the pullorum result immediately with a simple blood prick test, and a throat swab goes to a lab to check for bird flu. The tester does all the work, you just hand him your chickens. In a flock of a dozen birds they may test 4 or 5 birds. Then you get a certificate.

If a test comes back positive your flock may get destroyed or permanently quarantined to keep these serious diseases from spreading.

Aside from having an official lab test and government agency reassuring buyers that you have a healthy flock (and are willing to risk the entire flock on that fact), NPIP certification is required to ship birds or hatching eggs to most states. The regulations vary a little, but if you don’t have NPIP it’s illegal to take your bird across state lines or to most poultry shows.

Our tests came back clean which means we’ll be able to offer hatching eggs for sale again! Hooray!

So, a lot of exciting and positive things are happening on the homestead this week, despite my arms screaming in pain whenever I lift them above chest level.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go strap some fabric that will assuredly catch on the dry, painful, cracking skin all across these burns to appease the masses while I travel to get some chick feed.

Climate Change Sausage

Last month there was a major historical moment that passed in the blink of an eye. I doubt most of you know it, but this year our global average temperature exceeded 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era average temperature.
(And if you’d like to ignore this fact, please feel free to be an ostrich and just scroll down to sausages. Truly, sometimes we just need some tasty food, not a morose look at our reality.)

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/04/is-el-nino-or-climate-change-behind-the-run-of-record-temperatures
http://grist.org/climate-energy/global-warming-is-now-in-overdrive-we-just-hit-a-terrible-climate-milestone/

Most people don’t even flinch at a two degree difference because it’s such a tiny number to us. For those of us in America its about a 3.6F difference. What harm could a few tiny degrees of temperature do? Well, as it turns out, a lot since it’s not like we’re going from a high of 90F to 93.6F in the summer. That number (2C or 3.6F) is the global SURFACE temperature, but what typically controls the weather is ocean and atmospheric temperatures (such as  El Nino) where a change of 3.6F surface temperature can translate into changing the temperature of whole oceans, even well under the surface. That comes back up to the surface later, and with so much more warm water, absorbing even more of the sun’s energy it has an exponential effect on our surface temperatures in hot areas, translating to an actual change far greater than that of 3.6F. In truth, the gap between where we are now and a global average climate change is exponential. For example, an increase of 9F is not going to translate into Nebraska going from an average high of 88 to an average high of 97… It is going to take Nebraska from an average high of 88 to an average high of 130F or higher.
Imagine for a moment the north pole. This past December the temperature at the NORTH POLE reached nearly 0C. That seems like a low number, but that is 32*F. The point at which water freezes. Now do you know what’s under the ice at the north pole? Ocean. Ocean that absorbs heat from the sun and air, rather than reflect light and cool air the way ice does. You know what else is under the ice (or more specifically IN it)? Methane, which absorbs more heat from the sun than other air particles. So you know what happens if that ice starts to melt? A chain reaction, where the ice melting causes MORE heat to become trapped on earth, which makes more ice melt, which makes more heat become trapped…

Well, I’ll let this guy explain the very scary reality of it to you;

This is an older video, four years in fact. Average global temperatures will probably reach +1.5*C in the next decade and we’re close to that now. Now what this guy doesn’t mention is the SOCIAL impacts of these problems. And if you think they won’t happen you’re kidding yourself; we’re already seeing them.

In July last year, an area of Iran hit 163*F. What!? I mean, we can understand temperatures above 110*, where you don’t go outside because it’s too hot, where elderly and children may die without shelter, water, etc. Those types of numbers typically appear in deserts, places like Death Valley in CA may even hit up to 130*F, which we may be able to manage with good buildings and swamp coolers. But this is higher still. Ten minutes outside at 140*F is enough to kill a healthy human. But this is even higher than THAT. This is a temperature that will literally kill you, whether you have shade, shelter, water, or anything. It’s literally too hot to exist. You will literally be cooked to a delicious medium-well pot roast. And that is the reality RIGHT NOW in the middle east.

And that incredibly shocking number, that so many people claim is just people being silly liberal naysayers but is actually well documented science, is a symptom of a much larger problem which is the drought in the middle east. The lack of water in the middle east has become a huge problem and if you think that the whole “not having food thing” has nothing to do with people getting angry, revolting, and killing each other, one needs only look back on every war ever where people started starving and revolting and killing each other. Just imagine adding to that the concept that both sides think THEIR God is punishing them for allowing the other side to live or some other religious nonsense and the fact that the US and other countries have been exploiting the middle east for petty power struggles, money, oil and world dominance for 100 years and it becomes a no brainer that people there are violent, angry, aggressive, extremists who just wanna destroy the whole world and take everything they’ve been denied for decades for themselves. Is it right? No, but it is definitely real.

And if you think “Well they’ve always had their silly religious wars and they have always been a desert. That won’t ACTUALLY reach America.”, think again. We feel the effects of those conditions every day through recessions from wars, terrorist attacks, TSA searches and oil prices as it is. Those effects spread, they have a butterfly effect. The recession put my dad out of work, no money meant my mother wouldn’t go see a doctor as she got sick, it means cancer had a chance to run amok in her body for years, and it means that on March 15th I will be honoring the day she DIED because some guys I never met dozens of years ago decided America needed more money and oil and set the precedence for our foreign policy in the middle east and our environmental policy of “ignore everything”.

And if the effects of foreign bodies reaching into the US and having chain reaction events aren’t enough or are too vague, remember that people are killed and threatened for not following a particular religious belief in the US rather frequently as it is. One only needs to look at our current presidential election to witness divides between frustrated people in a poor economy. And the droughts and aberrant weather patterns? They’re here, they have been here  (for quite some time), and they will get much, much worse in the future. We are HOMESTEADERS. What happens when we get so little rain that we can’t grow our plants and animals any more? What will YOU do when your farm dries up to a crisp or is flooded under a foot of water for nine months of the year from these conditions? What will you do when people get fed up with being shot at for being different than “the norm” and don’t even have food and shelter and they decide to start picking up guns of their own? What will you do when it’s YOUR family being threatened by that instability?

The future is scary. It’s terrifying. I never thought I’d see the day when the conspiracy theories that my parents used to listen to on college radio would seem not so far fetched after all.

So what am I doing about it? Well, I’m trying to found an egalitarian Ecovillage here in Northeast Ohio, a project I feel like Wiki does a fair job of explaining. We’ll live sustainably, we’ll form communal supportive bonds, we’ll rely on each other, and try to live well and respect other people without the discriminatory, violent, hateful, exploitation that permeates our current societal structure… Care to join us? (No, seriously, if you’re interested, please let me know!)

But beyond that, global change is out of my hands. I can change myself, but after that it’s not really up to me. It’s up to all of YOU folks out there. Like the TEDx video says; if you see this, it’s now your mission to make the impossible possible. Because without it we’re all screwed.

And in the meantime… I will show you some delicious sausages.

I had some friends over recently to help me prepare some rabbit sausages that, I must say, came out rather deliciously. I did my digging and my research and here’s how we did it. Your results may vary.

We started by testing out the meat grinder that I received for Christmas two years ago. Because of how tumultuous the following two years were, I never got around to using it so this was the first time it had been out of the box. It works very well, so I will endorse it but it does seem to have some clogging issues during stuffing. Not sure if that would be better or worse on a different model. The most frustrating thing about this grinder was the very short cord on it. I sure hope you’re prepared to use this large contraption on a small counter right next to an outlet and not on a tabletop! Or you could, you know, buy an extension cord.

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Next, we deboned and cut the rabbit meat into chunks. the best time to do this is when the rabbit is still partially frozen but you can cut through it. Unfortunately this is VERY cold on our wee little fingers and difficult to deal with it. But we persevered and left a carnage of bones in our wake.Sausage2 - Copy

This was the hardest part. We also cut up some pork belly into it. Rabbit meat has almost no fat and so it makes a terrible sausage on it’s own. It really needs fat from another source so that it doesn’t turn into rubber when it is fried. Most people say to use half pork-half rabbit like one does with deer meat. Out of 9lbs of ground meat, about 1.5lbs were pork belly, so a much lower pork to rabbit ratio than most people suggest. I really didn’t want to use a lot of pork because I wanted rabbit sausage, not rabbit-and-pork sausage and this ratio of 1.5lbs pork belly to 7.5lbs boneless rabbit worked out just fine. It gave plenty of fat for cooking and retained the rabbit flavor of the sausage. The pork belly came from a local market and was from an Ohio hog.

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We ground the meat and mixed the batches together to make sure that the pork was well distributed. For grinding meat, the grinder worked like a dream. Then we split the meat into two bowls and let it rest in the fridge while we mixed seasoning. We made equal amounts of two types of sausage; Italian and maple breakfast links. We got hog casings from our local big-box grocery. They sold what they called enough “all natural salted hog casings” for 25lbs of meat (which is probably accurate) in a tiny half-pint container for about $2.50. It was right in there along with Sugardale bacons, Johnsonville brats and cured box-store hams, so if you’re looking to make sausage, casings may be closer than you think! The maple syrup was 100% pure Ohio maple syrup. My herbs come from a local Italian restaurant supply store where I can get them in bulk for cheap. All around I spent maybe $9 on outside supplies and perhaps $1.50/lb on my own rabbit meat, meaning perhaps $2.50/lb on high quality natural sausage. Is it a good price for the product? Yes. Could I make money on it? Probably nah. Could I have done it cheaper? Probably yeah. Around here, chicken sausage goes for about $4/lb, which I think is a good comparison and it’s not the same quality product at all. Some day we may be able to provide all of these things to ourselves and not have to source anything from off the farm.

For recipes we just looked up recipes online and created an approximation of a mix of them, especially those for chicken sausages. We put more maple in the breakfast than was called for, and used wine as our liquid in the Italian.

We decided to do the Italian as bulk stuffed and the breakfast as links. We would keep some loose from each batch. Stuffing the sausages was much rougher than grinding the meat the first time and so I didn’t get any pictures of the actual process.

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Ultimately we had some problems with the sausage meat clogging up the grinder and getting turned into mush. Every time we’d clean it out after this we’d get about 3″ of clean meat before it’d clog again. I suspect that a bit of oil and feeding it a bit more slowly and loosely may have helped with the problem but we were aiming for something with a lower fat content and so adding liquid oil seemed counter-productive and we really had no idea what we were doing. In the future we may add a little less pork and a little more liquid oils during the stuffing process; olive for the Italian and vegetable for the breakfast.

Breakfast links. The ones that stuffed correctly on the right and incorrectly on the left. You can see the difference between the correct "lumpy" texture and the lighter over-worked much texture on the left. Both still tasty.

Breakfast links. The ones that stuffed correctly on the right and incorrectly on the left. You can see the difference between the correct “lumpy” texture and the lighter over-worked much texture on the left. Both still tasty.

Tubes of Italian with the same problem. "properly" ground lumps on the inside, over-worked meat on the outside.

Tubes of Italian with the same problem. “properly” ground lumps on the inside, over-worked meat on the outside.

Ultimately we cooked it up and had some really high quality sausage and some lower quality but still delicious sausage. I gave some to my friends, helpers and family and kept back plenty for myself. We will not be buying store sausage again for a good long while! Yum!

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Some of the over worked breakfast sausages and some loose crumbles cooking in a bit of water as a taste-test. While the texture was wrong, they’re delicious and edible.

Hey, I’d eat it.

To Make An Ecovillage

Ecotopia

Ecotopia; A vision for the Future

Well, that’s the goal anyhow… Actually producing one is another matter entirely.

Let’s start with some clear definitions on this project. I was rather vague about what an ecovillage even is and what the project we’re pursuing is last time I posted so I shall be more up front this time.

An Ecovillage is an intentional community (a group of people with a desire to deliberately come together to support one another as a community under similar belief systems as a society) where the focus is on being sustainable and ecologically responsible. Ours would be a large plot of land, many aces, in northeast Ohio. People could come and build sustainable, community, and tiny houses on our land, grow plants and animals, collect water in rain barrels, hunt for deer, use kilns to fire clay, wander into a shared root cellar and generally homestead. Resources would be shared, from food, to money and cars and decisions would be majority vote or even consensus. Ours would be an egalitarian society, a sort of utopian socialism that puts both communism and capitalism to shame. The sort of society that is praised and lauded and exists in the most egalitarian and democratic places in the world with the lowest poverty rates and highest job satisfaction percentages. Places like Norway and Sweeden which have the highest rates of happiness for their citizens ever seen anywhere. Nobody would ever get rich or become powerful in our village, but nobody would ever go hungry either. Nobody would ever be without a job, a home, or medical care. Nobody would be standing on the shoulders of the poor, rising above… But so too would nobody be those carrying that burden of the rich and powerful.

Utopian idealism? Maybe. But tell that to the Nordic countries who consistently rank highest on objective surveys for the best places in the world to live and work and have children. Tell that to Bernie Sanders, who is now one of the top presidential candidates for THIS country who hold the same idealism, when nobody thought he could win. Tell that to the statistics that show that getting an education is the most affordable in socialist/democratic places like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, New Zealand and France. Tell that to an America that is the third WORST developed country to try to afford an education in. People want that life. And we’re not stupid, we know there will be problems and concerns. They’re things we’re already working through. But we are sick of income gaps and the creeping power of the government. We want something better, something more fulfilling, something that’s more natural and speaks to the heart. Most of all we’re willing to give up gas stations, fast food and HD flat screen TVs with a DVR and Blu Ray to get it.

In reality, many Ecovillages exist world-wide and are already practicing various forms of this utopian idealism. One of the most famous in the US is Dancing Rabbit in Rutledge Missouri. Two hundred and eighty something acres of nothing in the middle of nowhere, deliberately removed from society in the creation of something new. An egalitarian and sustainable commune filled with 50+ college age kids, families and open minded people interested in experimenting for the future. Another is The Farm, one of the largest communities around with a focus on religious and spiritual aspects, wrapped up in a church-like setting akin to a new-age Amish lifestyle. The Amish themselves could be said to like in a sort of ecovillage, and indeed, certainly consist of an intentional community.

Each of these places has some aspect about them we don’t like. Strict religious requirements that lead to a cult-like feeling, a separation from the modern world that leads to questions about openness and a lack of publication or lifestyles that are extremist that could cause a lack of effectiveness and membership. And most importantly? We love our city and our area, our hometown of Cleveland Ohio, one of the most impoverished major cities in the US. And we want to be able to effect the people here most of all.

To that extent I brought together a group of people that may be interested in the project; friends and family, people passionate about gardens and animals, about recycling and social change, about composting and peace. And we talked. And we talked.

And slowly we started to see something take shape. Mission statements were drafted, tossed out, and re-drafted. Technologies were considered. Research on crop yields, on building and agricultural laws, on natural building techniques, on emissions calculations, on natural biocides, on water management, on holistic animal management, on forestry… The list goes on and on and the amount that just I have learned over the past year would not fit into a dozen text books. Numbers were calculated and calculated again, adjustments were made, costs projected…

And thus fell our harsh reality. We just don’t have the immediate start up capital that we want to achieve our current goals. Not that we’re sitting on nothing, and don’t have plans the generate more. But we are pondering the purchase of 40 acres and a mule, here, not 5 acres near a suburb. Because there are nearly 10 of us that want to bring the project together, that want open spaces and forest, that want to garden and raise animals, that want to live in the socially just society we are trying to build, free of sexism and classism and racism, and all the other “isms” that plague our society… We just can’t get a small property, not if we want to truly be a village. Not if we want to open up applications for other people. Not if we want to change the world.

To solve this problem, we’re going to be holding a crowdfunding campaign and separately seeking out other people interested in our idealism who want to help us fund the project in exchange for a place in our society. We have enough to put the down payment on a property. A big one, 50-100 acres of land to house a small village worth of people. The kind of place I can invite my readers or fellow homesteaders to come live with me on, in our own little slice of heaven. We could even break ground THIS year! Imagine for a moment the dream; growing food, living in a home in the woods with a wood burning stove, and having a client base right next door who always wants to buy them from you. Well, that’s what it’s going to be like. That’s what I dream about at night while falling asleep; getting to grow food and feed people and as a result of that work my needs are taken care of. I couldn’t care less if there were green slips of paper involved in the middle of it or not. Who cares? If my needs are met and I am happy, what else matters?

But we do not have the money for the infrastructure to really achieve our goals… Solar panels, cooking oil cars, electric tractors or draft animals, start up herds of anything we want to raise at all… Chickens, goats, cattle, pigs… Plant heirlooms and feed people who live on the land with us. Create community spaces, buildings to serve as places of worship or learning, or to hold meetings in. That’s what we want to do. We want our life to be abundant and flowing and natural and beautiful. Hopefully we can get the ball rolling on funding the project. We’re certainly willing to put our money where our mouth is!

What about you? What do you want out of life? Would you live in an ecovillage? How would you raise the money to fund your dreams?