Monday 30 April 2012

The Junk in the Yard

After receiving a reader comment about honest blog writing,
I thought that I would expose some of my dirty secrets.
Actually, there's not much to hide.

Of course, there is the messy house. 
But, everyone with kids knows that it's difficult to keep your home museum-clean with little ones following and undoing your every clean deed.

There are certain parenting moments that we don't share.
Those times when we feel ashamed about our behavior. 
When everyone is tired or hungry or both, it's not always easy to say and do the right things. 
We love our children and raise them as well as we can.
It's just that sometimes it's not so pretty.

On the subject of food and chemicals, we stick to the plan with ease. 
The only bugaboo is the butter.
We go through a fair bit and the organic prices are pretty heavy. 
The compromise is to buy organic for the kids and use the normal kind for ourselves. 
That too is a challenge, but we at very least make sure the product is local when we choose non-organic.

What you don't see in the pretty pictures
 is the junk in the yard.

A favourite spot of mine for hiding stuff.

Much of it is useful as raw materials, but some of it just needs to go to the dump. 
We have no garbage pick-up out here, and so we must take our waste to a transfer station.
Because we don't produce much perishable waste, the dump runs have become few and far between.
Unfortunately, we now have a net hoard of garbage because we can never take it all in one run.
The recycling alone is at least a truckload each time. 
That in itself has spurred us to pay closer attention to packaging.
I'm sure it's been a long time since the kitchen garbage has gone to the dump. 
It is waiting patiently in the garbage box. 
I fully expect it to come to life when the temperatures start to rise.

There's a broken dishwasher there. The electronic board is done.
I am sure I'll need that stainless steel tub.
And the hardware.
And the pump.

We have a compost bin, which is an unusual accessory in bear country. 
But most of the compostables go to the pigs and chickens.

Notice the absence of compost.
What didn't go to pigs and chickens,
went to the raccoons and bears.

There was a time when we were using so-called compostable plastic bags. 
Watch the claims on this stuff folks. 
I can assure you that in a cool running compost bin, they do not degrade. 
In fact, I believe that if you read the fine print, you will find that the ideal conditions are for municipal sized composting facilities. 
And so, as the raccoons broke into the compost bin, 
they ripped up the bags and left them for me to clean up; 
which is a job on my list.

Look carefully at the right hand side.
There is the crushed boat.

Here's a fun one. 
We used to have a small fiberglass boat. It had belonged to my Grandfather. 
It was nothing special, but now it's no good at all.
I didn't realize it was there until the giant Aspen was halfway to the ground. 
End of boat.
But it's still there.

Projects past and future,
but not present.
Much of the junk in our yard I intend to keep.
There are windows, and doors, and hardware, and metal, and.....well, 
things that may be useful in the future. 
I certainly have no intention of going to the store every time I want to build something. 
If I don't have it , then fine, I'll buy it. 
But it's all the better if I can build what I need out of what I already have. 
If I take all the junk away, I lose my stash of raw materials.

Obviously, the fence was put up to keep the sleds in.

The snowmobiles?
We used to snowmobile in the Winters. 
We stopped riding for a variety of reasons. 
Powersports certainly don't go well with our lifestyle now. 
The only reason we keep them is for the ability to be mobile in heavy snow conditions. If you find out why Monsieur Bombardier invented snowmobiles to begin with, you will understand why.

Failed Logging Rigs

I have made progress with clearing up the yard trash. 
The next move is to sort it out once more, 
and then organize it into an easy to dig through pile. 
Then, somehow, I will hide it,
so that no one sees it.

So, if you think there are no toys strewn across the land,
and the homestead is always tidy and clean, 
know that we are fighting the battle, 
but it's far from over.

(Just a little addition.
You would think that we would be more aggressive about keeping the yard cleared of trash.  
The beauty of this lush forest environment is when the plants take over for the summer...
...everything else just disappears.)

Sunday 29 April 2012

Elegant Simplicity

Rye bread from the woodstove.

There are many reasons that we have chosen to share our lives in such a public way.
The most important reason is to illustrate the elegance of simple living.
While many people know that there needs to be a major lifestyle change in western culture,
the direction in which to go is not as clear.
There is no one way of life for everyone.
We have chosen our path, and our hope is that many others will choose a similar road.

Simple, may not be the best description of homesteading.
Frugal, is also a questionable way to understand living closer to the land.
In some ways, homesteading is very complex.
In other ways, homesteading is very expensive.
There must be a different style of accounting for value;
for we strive to live according to our Values.
Values that are common to most everyone, but may be hard to realize in today's culture of living.

The freshest herbal tea you'll find.

Through hard work and efforts, many people seek a life of luxury.
We desire rewards for a grueling work week.
Meeting basic needs no longer brings the same satisfaction.
There is a feeling of entitlement to basic needs as if they are a human right.
Therefore, hard work is directed more towards achieving financial goals that provide us the freedom to consume luxuries.
The word 'luxury' is generally understood as being the fine things that we are not entitled to, but may buy if we have earned enough money.
The word actually refers to excess.

In the search for luxury, I feel that we have lost sight of what is truly fine.
The fact that luxury is, in fact, taking more than you need, precludes it from balanced living.
That doesn't mean that we need to live without elegance, style, and quality.
It also doesn't mean that we abandon comfortable living.
The goal is to live within our means and not consume more than our share.
Knowledge, insight, innovation, ingenuity, and creativity are great gifts that we are all capable of.
By living according to these attributes, we are able to discover beauty and elegance within simplicity.
By applying the best of our nature to the business of living, we may ease the burdens of labour.


Economically speaking, luxury is further out reach for many more people.
Too many people, taking more than they need, has led to a state of division.
The implicit nature of luxury is the desire for something out of reach.
Yet, our culture is constantly yearning for more than we will ever achieve.
The solution is to abandon luxury, and evaluate Values.
A self-reflexive question to clarify our priorities and our true goals.
Simple living may have what we desire; those fine things in life.

What is truly important to you?
What do you expect from life?
I believe that most people, answering thoughtfully, will have similar values.
A comfortable home.
A safe place to live. A safe place for our children to play.
Food. Good food.
Health of body and soul.
Time to spend with friends and family.

We use photo effects instead of fertilizer for green grass.

The greatest challenge is to break free of the regimen into which we have been enlisted.
Government and media is constantly telling people what they should want.
The barrage of market advertising is virtually constant.
Most of the motivation is based on achieving luxury; meaning somebody is looking to get some of your share.
The notion that hard work and enterprise will guarantee wealth is misunderstood.
In the context of a typical life in our market driven culture, it is a falsehood.  
When the idea is applied to achieving our needs and values, wealth is no longer associated with money.

Simple living can be many lifestyles.
Simple is really just focusing on what is important.
Our simple life can be challenging and frenetic.
But we enjoy an elegance, and style, and quality, that are found only in simple things.
And so we share our experiences as we learn to change our lifestyle to better suit our values.
This, in the hope that others may enjoy what simple living has to offer.

Saturday 28 April 2012

Seedlings, Surprises and Milk bags, Oh my! by Kira

Golden Sweet Pea
My seedlings are looking great! No disasters. The kids have been good with them. I think it is because they have been included in the whole process. I did however change the containers the seeds were started in. My cardboard cups were not holding up so planted the seeds right into trays. 

Red Russian kale

I started a few different kinds of hardy seeds outside a few weeks ago as well. Peas, kale, calendula, all are sprouting now. 

Calendula started outside top and inside bottom.

Lemon cucumber and Red Kuri squash.

Red Kuri Squash

A few days ago I transplanted seedlings into used milk bags. They are working well so far.

Surprise! Surprise!  Not sure who or what this little guy is yet. He sprouted up among my cucumbers.

Ground Cherries & Purple Tomatilos 
I am most excited about these. The ground cherries and tomatillos. They look great but small. I did read that both plants, especially the ground cherry, grow like weeds. I think once I get them out into the garden they will just take off. 
Mmmm... ground-cherries are very tasty.
You can find ground-cherries in most health food stores. They are usually called golden berries. They are sweet and tart, with a hint of pinapple and tomato, all wrapped in a pretty paper husk. 

Hatty # 2

This is Hatty number two. She helped me with the garden photo shoot this evening. This week I'm planning on putting in the beets and carrots. I'm sure miss Hatty will be helping along with the rest of the crew.

Friday 27 April 2012

Plying My Trade

Despite all of the ideological rhetoric regarding survival, there is really only one thing that you need to get by in contemporary society.
Regardless of hard work, innovation, virtue, altruism, and enterprising spirit, our economic climate exacts a singular cause.
Set aside any misgivings for the means, for the end outweighs the method.

Money will get you shelter.
Money will get you food.
Money will get you clothes.
Money will get you heat.
Money will get you energy.
Money will get you around.
Money will get you anything...... the metaphysical.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I pick up my trade to generate money to put into the farm.
As beautiful as the homesteading dream may be, the cold reality of the times dictate the need for money.
For not all work is equal.
Your hard work is not valued in and of itself.
Your hard work is valued according to how much money those whom you work for have.

I worked on boats and motors.
Boats and motors normally belong to people who have their basic needs met and have extra money to spend.
Of course there are exceptions.
Most notably, people who use boats to make a living, and people who cannot really afford to boat.

Now, I'm not talking about canoeing, or kayaking, or small-craft sailing.

This kind of boating requires a combustion engine, gasoline, and someone who can repair and maintain the craft.
I happen to be that person.
The irony of our homestead, is that the greater part of the money used to finance it came directly from the popular and lucrative nature of recreational boating.
The ideological contradictions are grave.
Yet the ends have justified the means.
And while you may not agree with John Stuart Mill's reasoning, I would not have been able to maintain the level of investment in our project without the funding from this nefarious power-sport.

Even now, having changed careers in order to reconcile my integrity, I am compelled by the lure of easy money.
It is not money without hard work and skill.  
It is however, much easier to convince people to hand over their hard earned dollars for a petroleum drunk joyride rather than argue that $5.00  is not highway robbery for a dozen organic eggs.

I draw lines when it comes to combustion engines.
There is great value in being able to use them to make light work of an otherwise grueling task.
The math isn't always so clear when tallying up the negative impacts of gasoline and diesel engines.
Opinion and values may be applied to a debate fraught with subjective fact.
Yet I call for caution and restraint.
There must be balance.
Excessive consumption, by virtue of it's nature, will compromise our future.

I am appreciative of having been taught my trade.
Boats and motors call for a wide variety of skills, tools, and knowledge.
From that experience, I may apply what I have learned to whatever I wish.
For certain, the homestead may rely on engines.
There is also plumbing, carpentry, electrical wiring, welding and custom fabrication.
Many of the building trades translate well into the homestead, for they all require a hands-on approach with an emphasis on problem solving.

My tools and my trade will sustain me in two ways.
The first is the skill that I will never lose or forget.
There is no need to call the repairman, whether it is the washing machine or the tractor or the chainsaw or the sewing machine.
The second is the potential to generate revenue.
Farming is not known to be easily profitable. Despite the demand for food, the market has driven price expectations so low, that without high volume production, the small scale farmer must rely on marginalized niche markets.
It is widely known that most farm families have a supplementary income in order to carry on. Perhaps in the hope that one day, producing wholesome food alone could support a family.
With a wrench in my hand, I carry that same hope.
The hope that my tools will not be for boats and money, but solely for food and shelter.

There is something so beautiful about being on the water.
It's almost like flying as you glide over 
the depths.
I can feel my heart beat with each dip of 
the paddle.
Time slows and flows as I am absorbed by 
the hypnotic cadence,
of the drip, drip, drip.
Water caught on wood.
Rushing to shed uniqueness,
and return to 
the whole.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Fire for Fruit

Our property amounts to twenty-five acres, which, by homesteading standards, is more than enough land. 
Self-sufficiency is supposed to be achievable with five acres, but that doesn't necessarily include energy needs.
In the reference books, that five acres is flat and arable. 
Of our twenty-five, none of it is flat or arable at this point.

Now, I'm not so good at estimating acreage, but I figure that we have about three acres that we have been working so far. That doesn't include where the pigs are out back. 
Of that three, there is the pond and house, so I think that there is no more than two acres total being worked. 
Of that two, is the hill at the very north-west of the property. We have been working on it for about five years now. 
The hill faces south, has water running through it, is very fertile, but is full of rocks. Unless we use raised beds, the hill is too difficult to work for crops or gardens. 
It was heavily wooded. 
We thought it would work out well for trees; fruit trees.
Felling the bulk of the trees was a challenge. The hydro lines are there. That's why it has been five years of clearing. Little by little though, we have been slowly opening the hill up and planting a variety of fruit trees and berry bushes. 
There is lots of room for a lot more fruit, and so we carry on preparing this land.

Way back when, we would haul the brush out back to decompose. That proved to be an excessive bit of work. Now we burn the brush, and save the good wood for fuel. It's hard work, but it's enjoyable and vigorous labour that gives a sense of accomplishment. 
You start with a mess and end up with a piece of land that you have never really seen before. 
You can sit back, reflect on a job well done, and feel inspired thinking about what might be suitable to plant. 
Our plantings thus far have been somewhat disorganized, but we are gradually improving the overall plan.

Sometimes residents must relocate.

I must admit that we could have been further along if I hadn't been so reluctant to cut down the existing trees. The vision in my mind was never clear and always included appealing, indigenous trees. I have learned however, to cut them all down, and plant trees that provide food. 
Most of the the trees in this location were Balsam Fir, Aspen, and Red Maple. Once I got a look at the heartwood of each tree, I found that their lifespan was going to be short anyways.
The hill will be divided by a fence.  On one side will be berries and shrubs.  This will be the non-chicken side.  It would be great if our hens could eat organic fruit on a regular basis, but they're not well known for sharing. So, on the other side of the fence is going to be the chickens and fruit trees.  
Once that fence is up, our chickens will still be ranging freely, but within a fenced area. There are a number of reasons to contain the chickens and I will go into detail when I write about this enclosure specifically.  The beauty of having fruit trees and chickens in the same area together is that most fruit-tree-eating beasties will become a more integral part of the food-chain before they reach the fruit.  At the same time, the chickens will be releasing fertilizer into the ground. 
Now, I'm not so sure that the hens will eat damaging caterpillars, but I hope that most pests will be dealt with harshly, and in a strictly organic fashion.

There is another challenge that we may face with this hill.  
That is the acidity of the soil.  
We haven't had it professionally tested, but I can guarantee you that it is very acidic soil.  That will be the order throughout the property as a whole. It's the nature of woodland soil to be acidic.  We have no intention of dressing the soil with anything to change that fact.  If anything, we'll look for tolerant plant species or perhaps some ground cover that neutralizes the soil somewhat.  
That is beyond our skill level presently, but that will change as we grow this hill.

Most of the hill will be permanent plantings.  There will no doubt be changes over the years, but this is a long term investment.  
Several years will pass before there is enough fruit to sustain us throughout the year, but one day in the near future, we will be harvesting berries and tree fruit of our own.  
That will supply us with fresh fruit, preserves, juices, cider and vinegar, and maybe even some cash if there is any surplus.
The clearing takes a lot of the time. The fruit trees and bushes take a lot of money.
But, if we're careful and focused, there will be food grown here, where there was little before.

Balsam Bonsai

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Forest Friends

Chickens are a very popular bird.
Everyone likes to eat chicken, or chicken eggs.
That's why they always draw so much attention.

The coyotes aren't so bad.
They take the hint well.
Chicken is pretty tasty, but the risk is too high.

The fox has us outsmarted.
He loves free range chicken.
He knows to do it all quiet-like, or he's gonna get more than chicken.

The Northern Goshawk is a large and graceful predator.
They love chicken.
I wonder what they taste like?

Raccoons are enterprising opportunists.
They have human-like characteristics.
And like humans, they eat chickens and their eggs.
And like humans, they are known to take more than their share.
Unlike humans, they have no constitutional rights.

Bears like their chicken cooked, with barbeque sauce, and sometimes the barbeque too.
But raw and still squawking will do in a pinch.
Bears and barbeque sauce go well together.

Today's photos are taken from free stock and are not ours, with the exception of the chickens.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Leaving the Books

We have come to depend on reference books and the Internet for much of what we do here.
Neither of us has any history of farming or self-sufficient living. 
We are also living in a sparsely populated area, and although our friends and neighbors have had knowledge to offer, we fend for ourselves when it comes to hands on learning.
Truthfully, I have used only six or so texts to get us this far. The books have also been inspiring and so have helped propel us on in the early stages.
Recently, Internet access has improved our capacity for learning new skills and reading about other families' experiences. 
It really has been a crucial link to a vast knowledge and experience base.
There was a time when much of what was available online was offered for money or as lead-ins for selling products. The amount of help that is now freely offered has been a great improvement to what ought to be an altruistic education vehicle.
There are times, however, that the Internet doesn't have what we need. Those times seem to coincide with the inability of the books to fill in blanks.

Generally speaking, I am a book person.
That is to say, a book will serve me well as a teaching method.
Of course, the Internet also works well in the same way.
Many people prefer the practical approach that a hands-on experience offers. There is greater context and a more tactile experience.
And, when it comes to homesteading skills, which are mostly manual, nothing is better than seeing it done, holding it in your hands, and witnessing it first hand.
Ideally, I will read about it, research it, and then try it out for myself. This normally works well for everything from building to animal husbandry.
By carefully preparing, we can avoid costly mistakes and make the best of a new experience.
Of course it doesn't always work out.
Let me offer an example.

Remember the homemade soap?
Yes. There were some posts about soap making that we never saw the results from.
Well, it's been long enough for the soap to cure.
The all-purpose cleaner that I have been using for myself is running low.

What is going on with that soap?

Seeing as today was a snow day, it seemed a suitable opportunity to check out the original batches.

They are still not soap.
Some hope though; in some places, the first batch did harden somewhat.
The second batch?
The second batch is still mostly like lard.

It smells like lard.
It feels like lard.
It tastes like lard with a complimentary burning sensation from the strong lye.

I had more hope for the second batch, but it seems that the first one came closer to becoming soap.
So, I went back to the Internet looking for answers.
All I found was more confusion.

My lye could have been too weak.
But, it could also have been too strong.
I could have cooked the soap for too long.
But, I could also have cooked it for not long enough.
There were contradictory statements.
The pioneers made hard soap from Potassium Hydroxide.
I also read that Potassium Hydroxide is only for making soft soap.
There were recipes calling for moderate temperatures.
There were recipes that boiled the concoction for hours.

After a while, I felt as though my books and the internet could not tell me what I needed to know.
I need a person who knows how to make hard soap from wood lye and lard.
I need to see it done.
I need to know if it needs more heat or less.
I need to know what I'm doing wrong.
Not having immediate access to a wood lye soap maker, I was forced into something dark and unpredictable.

With no sense of direction whatsoever, I just started playing around.
I took the first batch of soap and I put it in a pot to melt it down.
It immediately broke up and looked awful.
It appears that some of it did indeed turn into soap.
The remaining portion was still just melted lard with a hint of burning lye.
Without having any clue at all, I just started handling it to see what it was doing.
I just needed to take one course of action, or apply an idea to the sorry mess that was supposed to be soap.
I decided that, while I had put enough lye into the mix,
perhaps there wasn't enough water.
I describe the event as though it was well thought out. 
In truth, I was forced to simply guess.
So I added water without lye in hopes that it would emulsify the lard and maybe even saponify.

I have the second batch ready to try to finish it.
They say you can't repair broken soap, but I will try, if only to see how the mixture reacts to different conditions.

I believe that we may be entering another phase of experience here on our homestead.
The books have been read and re-read.
The Internet has been put to the test.
We have gone from knowing virtually nothing at all to offering help and advice to others.
But we are not where we want to be yet.
A great deal remains to be learned.
It may be that we must take what we have learned in books and from the online world, and apply it.

Not in the sense of repeating, in person, what we read.

I mean applying the accumulation of experience to solve problems that are not typical or textbook.
To go beyond what the book authors tell us.
Once even the most concise texts have been exhausted, the remaining details become a personal responsibility.

The new soap has been put back into the muffin tin. 
It looks much better than it did before.
This time, I won't be waiting to see if it turns into soap or not.
I just want to see what it does.