Monday, October 24, 2011

10 Signs You are a Garden Warrior

1) You are not afraid to get your hands dirty.  In fact, clean nails, uncracked skin and a long-lasting manicure are sure signs that you are not a garden warrior.

2) You know how to wield a pickax and aren't (too) afraid to do it.

3) You have quads of steel and you got them the old fashioned way.  No weights.  No machines.  No gym memberships.  Just squats with a purpose - weeding, planting, harvesting.

4) You have killed to protect your garden.  Snails, rats, gophers, hornworms.  You may feel bad that you did it but you'd do it again.

5) You are not above hiring out the dirty work.  The cat who kills rats.  The bat who eats mosquitos.  The ladybug who devours aphids.  You invite these killers for hire into your yard with food, a bat house tucked behind the play house, cover crop in the winter.

6) You are willing to "thin" your seedlings - even though you coddled and loved each seed once upon a time.

7) You pull out still producing plants when the season dictates - even if you wish you didn't have to.

8) You can tell the difference between collards, mustard greens and swiss chard at 50 paces.

9) To you, going native does not mean what most people think.  It has nothing to do with getting naked - though, truth be told, you've gardened in varies states of dress and undress.

10) Like all warriors, you have a code of conduct.  A place you'll never go is the use of pesticides.  Okay, maybe a little bit of organic sluggo but by using pesticides, among other things, there just is no challenge.

Are you a garden warrior?

* Join the Facebook Page to keep the battles going.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hot Tips for Cold Nights

I'm a temperature wuss.  No really.  I'm a California native.  A SOUTHERN California native.  Yes, I ultimately braved the freezing cold temperatures to move to the San Francisco Bay Area.  That first winter was tough!  Eventually, I adapted - sort of.

But when you cross the green in me with the wimp, you do get something slightly more respectable. I've been doing Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Your Buns Challenge every winter since its inception in 2007.  I don't usually go below 64 degrees during the day and the heat off at night but still, here are my favorite survival tips for keeping warm anywhere.

1) Take Up a Warm Hobby - Knitting is good, crocheting is good, sewing works.  Something where you are working on something that keeps you warm.  In the winter, I often knit and whatever project I'm working on sits on my lap, warming me.  A laptop achieves the same thing. ;-)

2) Become One with Your Pets - We have a cat who we call the "Heater".  He likes to sleep below the covers and heats that bed up faster than hot water bottles or an electric blanket.

3) Double Or Nothing - Okay, remember that I am a wimp!  I double my socks at night before going to bed on a really cold night.  I've also been known to sleep in slippers and, when really desperate, a hoodie.  Remember what they say, feet cold, body cold.  Or something like that.

4) Open Up - Your oven door that is as well as your the lids on your stove-top pots and pans. Nothing warms the kitchen faster than a cooling oven.

5) Go Electric - We used to go with hot water bottles but they just don't do it like an electric blanket.  Of course, the whole sleeping surrounding by electrical waves or whatever does creep me out but most times, you can heat the bed up before you get in and your are golden.

How low will you go this year?  Will you freeze your buns off?  Any tips to keep help this warm weather girl go to 63 degrees?

* I'm linking to Thrifty Thursdays at Thrifty & Fabuless and Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Different Kind of Holiday

I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today considering whether what changes I could make to make this holiday season more meaningful.

Cruising the Internet the other day, I came across a woman endeavoring to spend zero dollars on Christmas this year.  Zero dollars!

On one hand, I love this idea.  Focus on experiences rather than materials.  Save money and put an end to the consumerism of the holidays.  However, these all or nothing challenges always intimidate me.

Plus, I don't think we could do a Zero Dollar Christmas at this place in my life.  But that doesn't mean that this doesn't give me some ideas.

Click here to keep reading.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Truth About Chickens

Minerva Louise checking to see what leftovers I brought.

1) Chickens and mulched pathways do not mix.  Chickens and mulched trees and plants do not mix.  Chickens and sheet mulch do not mix.  Sensing a pattern here?  Let me make it easy.  Chickens + Mulch = NO!!!

2) Even though chickens and mulch (and frankly vegetable gardens) don't mix, that doesn't mean chickens aren't awesome for the garden.  They obviously add protein to the homegrown diet and produce prodigious amounts of poop.  They, also, break down straw like nobody's business, adding fertilizer as they go.  I clean out the straw bedding from the coop periodically and spread it as mulch around the fruit trees. Their crushed egg shells go into the soil for added calcium.  It's an edible gardener's dream.

3) Devote a pair of shoes to your chickens.  Yes, one whole pair or maybe even two.  These are your chicken poop, I mean coop shoes.  They can walk around the garden but preferably not on alot of paved surfaces and never, ever, even in an emergency into the house.

4) Wear gloves when cleaning out the bedding or the expletive you utter will be what is on your hands.

5) Chickens are the carb queens of the livestock world.  Oh sure, you hear folks go on and on about how their chooks just go crazy for watermelon.  Or grapes.  Or blueberries.  Okay, mine like blueberries too but blueberries are too expensive to waste on those birds!  Whenever I bring out the kitchen scraps, is it the pumpkin or cantaloupe they go?  The tomatoes?  It is not.  Those little piglets can beak out a spaghetti noodle or hunk of bread quicker than you can say "egg"!  They are also mighty partial to proteins: scrambled eggs, bits of cheese.  The healthy stuff?  Last resort, baby!

Serena found the leftover pasta.

6) On the topic of leftovers, chickens are the great garbage disposal of the homestead.  Almost all of our leftovers (they cannot eat uncooked onions and potatoes, moldy stuff), go through the coop.  They'll eat it all - and then you'll save on chicken feed.

7) People or animals who are scared are called "chicken" for a reason.  Because chickens think everything is scary.  The rake.  The hose.  The kids (okay, they are a bit scary).  The shade on the side of their coop that blocks the beating summer sun.  I've only ever had one chicken who was afraid of nothing - even our dog who tried to eat her.  Of course, chickens are prey so maybe it is a good thing to be wary of life after all.

8) Speaking of sayings, once you own chickens, you will understand half of the proverbs on this planet.  Ruling the roost.  Bottom of the pecking order.  The nest egg.  The hen house.  Cackling like a bunch of hens.  Don't put all your eggs in one basket.  Flew the coop.  Chicken scratch.  Don't get your feathers ruffled.  If its a saying and you've heard it, odds are about 50% it involved chickens.

9) No matter what you name your chicken, it will sound adorable.  Omelet.  Cute.  Henny Penny.  Fun.  Puff and Fluff.  Sweet.  Dinner.  Hilarious.  See what I mean?

Read what my hens have to say, in their own words, in my Tales from the Roost series.  To keep up with my squawk-talk, join the Facebook page.

* I'm linking this post to Homestead Barn Hop.

Friday, October 14, 2011

5 Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate

(Or on the porch bench, but you get the picture).

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, "Oh my but summer was late."
The second one said, "The homestead sure did care."
The third one said, "A full grown pumpkin was rare!"
The fourth one said, "I hardly grew at all."
The fifth one said, "But already it is fall, fall, fall."
So, ooohhhh went the gardener and out came the pumpkins
And five little squash went into the oven.

So much for the pumpkin patch.  Next year is another year - with hopefully more summer-like weather and more intelligent pumpkin patch placement by this here gardener.

I'm linking this post to Harvest Mondays.

Join the Facebook page to keep track of these five little pumpkins - and the rest of my urban homestead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seasonal Gardening Sadness

It happens every year.  The sunlight grows a little less warm.  It slants more instead of beating overhead.  The tomatoes slow down and the summer squash falls victim to powdery mildew.  Leaves turn brown and drop.  There is something beautiful about fall.  Welcoming.  A promise of quiet and a house smelling like pumpkin pie.

But it also signals a time to clean out the garden.  To put down sheet mulch and cover crop.  Tuck in peas and garlic and greens.  But there's only one problem . . .

To put all those things in you have to take something out.  Something that, while not completely done, is nearly there.

I'm ready to put my peas and Chinese cabbage in but which tomato plant should go?  The sungolds will produce through Thanksgiving.  The yellow pear can go the distance as well.  Betty with its big ole green lobes waiting for a heat wave to turn could go but her stocky limbs are intertwined with a long-lasting heirloom.

And I'm ready to put in the sheet mulch.  Exactly where next year's pumpkin patch will go.  Full sun.  As attested by the still blooming zinnias - a blur of fuchsia and orange.

The cardboard is the beginning of my sheet mulch.  Farewell zinnias.

The cover crop?  A tangled mixture of fava beans, peas and vetch that harbored beneficial insects and a toad last time I planted it in a large area.  That is scheduled to go over above sheet mulch and in between my citrus - you see.  Right where alllll those flowers are currently blooming . . .

But fall gardening is a Catch 22.  Let summer have her last laugh and you won't have time to plant your fall edibles.  Or tear out the vestiges of summer's bounty and bid a premature farewell to her slowly turning tomatoes and poste haste peppers.

Almost every year, I choose the latter.  But that doesn't mean I don't feel the sadness of seasonal gardening as I do it.

* I'm linking to Tuesday Garden Party with this post.

* More on gardening, chickens and homestead holidays at my Facebook page.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Homestead Cannot Run Itself

We moved to our half acre a little over a year ago with grand plans.  Okay, the "we" with the grand plans was me.  An orchard.  Raised beds.  A pollinator garden.  The chickens (moved from our old place).  Bees (hopefully next spring).

Many of my plans came to fruition (no pun intended) but I forgot how much work it can be keeping up with everything.  The pounds and pounds of unrelenting process-us-now or else tomatoes.  The unyielding siege of summer squash.  The diligent delivery of eggs.  The baking from scratch, the home-cooked meals, the hand-knit Christmas presents.  Not to mention keeping the house in decent shape, the front (non-edible at this point) yard weeded, the patio swept, the cats cared for and so on.

My dad visited in the midst of tomato-fest.  He looked at my two kids - ages 6 and 8 - and said: "It's too much work for one person to keep all this up."

Yeah!  What had I been thinking.  Keeping up a homestead is quite a bit of work!  These weren't just beings who needed help with homework, required lunches packed for them, prodding to clean up their rooms, help folding their laundry.  These were little homesteaders perfectly capable of pitching in big time - beyond the set the table/clear the table sort of thing.  Heck, in the Little House on the Prairie days (my kids hate it when I bring this up), kids their age would be out plowing, chopping wood, baking, you name it.

I set about asking for help.  Big zero.  Demanding help.  Not much more.

And then, Pinterest came to the rescue.  I came across the idea of the Job Jar.

I promptly brainstormed all the little things I do during that day that a 6 and 8 year old could help with.  Man there was a lot - a lot that would help me keep my head above water and keep me a step ahead of the chaos.  A lot of places where some well placed child labor could keep the homestead afloat.

The Implement:

My Job Jar is a thrifted canister filled with folded paper notes.  It works well and didn't cost a dime but the kids keep picking the same jobs over and over again.  I might switch to popsicle sticks or wine corks (here's the general idea with ping pong balls).

A Facebook page commenter suggested a job wheel.  Here's a handy one for multiple kids.

A blogger friend uses a coat hook type of solution.

And, if you are willing to pay for the chore beyond regular allowance, chore magnets are a fun idea.

The Follow Through:

Now, when my kids get a consequence (in lieu of the time out system), they have to do a job from the job jar.  If they leave toys and such out after they go to bed or don't clean up their rooms, whatever's left lying about goes into the ransom box (another Pinterest find).  It can be ransomed by one job per item.

We have regular, daily jobs that the kids need to do to earn their weekly allowance but I suppose job jar pickings could be tied to the allowance as well.

Have you tried a system like a job jar?  How did it work for you?  How do you get your kids to pitch in?

* I'm linking to Homestead Barn Hop for this post.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Free Range Furniture

A week or so ago I read about the next step in local food.  It's local clothes.  I'm not sure I'm there yet but if local clothes are the next step, then I think local or more environmentally friendly furniture cannot be far behind.

Furniture is, to me, like meat.  Not great for the planet no matter how you look at it.  Resource heavy but still something people really want.  So, in furniture shopping, I've started to look for happy furniture.  Its way better than factory farmed.  I like my furniture to have roamed free - preferably through other people's houses and into antique fairs, thrift stores, consignment stores, and on Craigslist.

My most recent acquisition - bin table from a rural antique store (total bargain!), shoe basket from an antique fair and under bin basket free ranged for many years through my mom's house.

Not all furniture is that happy, though.  If its not available second hand, furniture made from old furniture - or other things - is the still pretty happy.  You know - upcycled, reclaimed?  You can find such furniture at antique fairs and swap meets or, for those like me who like to let their fingers do the walking, on Etsy!  That's right!  I'm in the market for a coffee table.  After finding nothing suitable second hand, I turned to Etsy.  I had no idea the amount of furniture you could buy there made from reclaimed wood, reused metal, and upcycled bits of this and that.  Bonus - I'm supporting a small farmer, er, artisan.  Simple Internet searches can turn up small local showrooms of folks in your region doing the same thing.

Even though it seems impossible, not everything in the world is available on Etsy!  Turns out some other medium sized and industrial farmers have turned to reclaimed and recycled as well.  LL Bean carries a great line of partially reclaimed wood furniture that was made in the USA, so it was shipped halfway around the world.  Crate & Barrel offers many pieces made from reclaimed wood or with other "eco-friendly" attributes.

Finally, even if you cannot have organic food, I mean, recycled furniture, at least it can be locally grown - or made.  Maybe not in your city or even your state but I do feel a bit better buying Made in the USA furniture shipped across the country instead of across the sea.  Plow & Hearth has a diverse line of well made Made in the USA products.  I can attest to the quality as I own one of the dining room pieces.  Sturdy as can be and a final solution when free range furniture failed me.


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