Sunday, March 3, 2013

Here's to New Chapters

I am still a little sore from yesterday. It seems my body doesn't bounce back quite as quick as it did twenty years ago :)
I am active in the "big brothers" program and my "little" Chase and I have been hanging out together for almost seven years now. Yesterday he came out to help me get my raised beds ready for the year.
I started by getting a yard of topsoil from my local nursery.
I am fortunate to have such a nice nursery only a couple miles away.
My truck and I are the same age until April--47 and still going strong. Well, the trucks still going strong :)

Last year I put in almost straight composted horse manure. This year I realized I needed more topsoil so I added only dirt to my beds and pots.
I mixed the dirt with the compost as I went. It was pretty laborious but  I was very happy to get these beds ready for spring.
I also got my blueberry bushes trimmed up as well as trimming and re-tying my espalier apple tree. I also have a new addition, my two Chippewa blueberries had some issues last year. They produced tons of berries but many of them fell off early. I purchased a different type of blueberry this year in hopes of cross-pollinating them for better results.
My three Blueberries all trimmed up and ready for spring!

I have a small bed ready for some raspberries and Chase's mom told me she had plenty of raspberry canes to share so I was pretty happy about that.
We were very fortunate the rain held off just long enough for us to finish the beds and pots and put the cat deterrent chicken wire back over the beds before the first drops started falling. Then it was off to lunch and a trip to the local swap meet where Chase found a glass dome that looked like an old Victorian cloche for his mom for $5.
 We finished our day by stopping at the feed store and picking up some seed potatoes to start chitting on the windowsills. This year I am planting all of my potatoes in large black nursery pots. It just isn't as much fun as it used to be to dig those potatoes out of the ground. I have a few of these pots but it is time to hit up Craigslist and find some more.
I'm going to have two rows of four of these potato pots here.

Spring is coming up fast and I feel like I'm already behind! I need to get my peas in the ground tomorrow and my potatoes in as soon as they start to show some eyes. I have got a few starts under lights in my garage. I have cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, lettuce and some cherry tomatoes started. I could also sew some spinach, carrots and onions too.
I also got my worm bin ready for my delivery next week. I am trying out some of the European Night-crawlers this time. I did order 5lbs. of Vermi-compost as well to make some tea. It ships Monday and they are only about 100 miles away so hopefully I will get it soon.
I guess I need to get back out there but at least I got the real hard stuff done!
Ready for planting!
Right as the light is fading an overall shot.

The Spring always represents a new chapter in our lives but this one is especially dramatic. In less than two weeks our one and only child will be getting married and moving out! She will also be finishing her bachelors degree in June.
With an empty nest the house will definitely have a different feel but I am excited for my daughters new journey as well.
Well the sun has just popped out again time to get outside so I'll see you again soon.

Hey!     Is your garden ready?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Making the move to real foods

I have recently been adding more and more real foods to my diet in my journey to a more sustainable whole food diet. As I look back I realize I have tried quite a few different things and thought I would share some of them with you.
About two years ago we tried our first grass fed beef. We have never gone back. Grass fed beef is lean and has a wonderful flavor. As far as cost, we ended up paying about $4-$4.50 a pound after the cutting and wrapping and butchering waste. This is $4 a pound for hamburger and $4 a pound for T-bone steak. Overall cheaper then the grocery store and the grocery store beef is  simply not in the same league as far as taste and quality goes. We are pretty good at calculating our use but if we run low on beef we cringe at the thought of having to buy "supermarket" meat. Thank goodness we have a local butcher who can tide us over until the next beef is ready.
Grass fed beef is cooked completely different then the fatty meat you get at the market. I used a meat thermometer on mine for quite a while when we first started cooking it. Remember "Low and Slow is the Way to Go" with grass fed beef. Cook it right and you'll never want to eat that plastic covered stuff in the store again.

More recently I found a great egg source right on my way home from work. I get to see the actual chickens that lay the eggs. True free range eggs are full of more nutrients then cage raised commercial birds and have an exceptional taste. Their yolks are a deep orange color as opposed to the pale yellow eggs you get at the supermarket. They also are tougher to break so they make great over-easy eggs!  Canfield Farms also sells locker lambs and sheep breeding stock too.
Aren't they beautiful?

Two weeks ago I bought the first raw whole milk I have had since I was a kid. My plan was to skim off the cream for my coffee and drink the rest. I got a little over zealous and bought a whole gallon instead of a half. I was a little afraid it would spoil because I don't drink milk that often. I got it home and skimmed the cream off and then poured myself a glass of the milk. I liked it instantly, I really thought it would taste too thick or weird but it tasted wonderful. The cream works great for my coffee as well. I have also found that I really like a glass with dinner every night. I swear I feel better after drinking raw milk with my meal. Must be all the good probiotics that pasteurization kills. I was fortunate enough to find a store that sells milk from the Old Silvana Creamery nearby. I can also run up to the farm and pick it up. It is only about 30 minutes away. They run a small Jersey herd and are passionate about making a safe and delicious product. I am excited to try making some Kiefer soon!
The Farm Stand

Just tonight was my first time eating free range chicken. I recently visited R Heritage Farms in Gold Bar, WA just a few miles from my house. They have a wonderful little farm raising free range poultry and true pasture raised hogs. The birds were butchered on Saturday. I got the chicken on Sunday and aged it in my fridge for five days until Thursday. On Thursday one went in the freezer whole and the other one got cut up for grilling. It was my first time cutting up a whole chicken but I think I did pretty well:
Not bad for a first time!

Of course the back and other bones went into the freezer for soup stock down the road. I cooked the chicken on my gas grill at a low temperature. I cooked it to the proper temperature using a meat thermometer. The results were very different then "regular" chicken. True free-range birds have a much more pronounced flavor they have much more "chickeness" then the store bought version. The meat was much firmer than I have had in the past. I remembered these birds actually used their wings and legs so they are larger and have a firmer muscle. all of the pieces were nice and juicy. The breasts were not the pumped up supermarket size but were moist and delicious. I hope to be able to try some of their pork this April when they butcher next.
The "herd" at R Heritage Farm

So those are a few of the things I have tried in my transition to whole sustainable foods. In addition to these I have been trying many different recipes and eating fresh produce from my own garden and local organic when I can.
It's been an up and down journey but overall I am making progress. What steps have you taken to begin eating real foods?


Monday, January 28, 2013

New year and new direction

I have decided to revive my blog! I recently came back and realized my last post was about taking a break from technology for a week or two. Well, it's been almost a year since my last post!

I have a lot of plans for the coming year. For the first time I am really attempting to change my garden from a hobby to a major contributor to our health, budget and goal of eating more whole foods.
We actually removed a small part of our back yard last year. We have added an espalier apple tree, an Italian prune tree and another type of blueberry to cross-pollinate my two existing bushes.
I was not happy with my garden in 2012. It was a miserable cold, wet and gloomy Spring and early Summer. I think that some of the seeds I ordered were not suited at all for our climate here.
Many of the plants that did grow did poorly. Potatoes and Zucchini were a bust. In fact so were all my squash along with my cucumbers. I also tried to grow corn but it never produced anything. Of course my peas, lettuces, carrots, kale and other cold weather crops did well. My green beans also did well.
My new espalier produced a decent amount of apples for being in a new home. This year although the blueberries produced well, few of the berries stayed on the vine until they matured. I think this was do to the lack of cross-pollination. I have recently got a nice mid-season blueberry bush to pollinate them.
We bougth some heirloom tomatoes while passing through Chelan on a weekend trip. Unfortunately I did not harden them off properly so they did not do well but the few that did make it were delicious and made me want to try again.
My wife had picked up some hanging pots for the fence for some flowers but we ended up planting them up with some cherry tomatoes. They were a huge hit! We had hundreds of delicious fresh cherry tomatoes.
With all that the important thing was that I learned a lot and know I can make a lot of improvements this year.
This year I will plant crops that are proven in our climate. I am growing sunflowers for seeds instead of just show. I have purchased meters to help me determine moisture levels and PH.
I'm looking forward to this coming year! I intended to post pictures but I haven't been getting home much before dark.
Hopefully this kind of catches you up and I look forward to getting back to regular postings!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Is technology destroying our sense of community?

I read and interesting article today. It talked about how the internet and cell phones have given us more opportunities to communicate then ever before. Yet we are more isolated than any other time in history.
Remember when if you wanted to talk to someone you called them? Maybe you can remember when a friend might even just (gasp) stop by to talk. How about when you wanted to tell someone you were thinking of them and sent a card. Remember getting a card in the mail, opening it and smiling over it, then sitting on your counter so you could see it when you walked by.
Here is a freaky thing... remember when you talked to people in line at the grocery store? No, you weren't texting or emailing or chatting on your phone you were actually acknowledging another persons existence.
Now don't get me wrong I am guilty too. I am just wondering what technologies we actually benefit from.
I read a lot of blogs and gain a ton of information from the internet. I have earned money buying and selling online. This money has been a great help on our path to being debt free.
I've been thinking about this and I have decided what I find beneficial and what I find detrimental. The last week or so I have spent hours on the computer. The dark dreary weather of the Pacific Northwest has managed to keep me glued to my recliner after work for hours.
 I am going to cut back on my computer time starting today! Now I needed to decide what is good and what is bad about my time on the computer. The last week or so I have been searching craigslist excessively and watching tv episodes on my computer, at the same time I have been neglecting my blog and my blog reading. Basically the opposite of what I want to do.
I also have mixed feelings about Facebook.  I am having a hard time finding any value in it. I guess I see posting from my favorite blogs but I usually read their blogs anyway. There are definitely privacy issues with Facebook as well.
Some of you are probably saying that the internet is a source of relaxing or entertainment. I am going to seek my entertainment elsewhere. Maybe I will watch a movie with other Homo Sapiens, maybe I will seek out other humanoids and play a board game where you interact with people.Maybe I'll talk to my neighbor next time I see them outside.
I know it sounds crazy but I'm going for it.
Can one person change a city, or even a city block into a community? No but we are not alone there are many others who. whether they know it or not, are craving human interaction.
I think sustainability can be very consistent with nurturing a community. Focus on your little piece of the world! Grow your own and share, share tools,share knowledge and most importantly share compassion. There is nothing more powerful then truly listening to a person and showing you care.
I realize this post is rambling but I have a lot of thoughts rattling around in my head. Look for more posts coming up and please share your thoughts on these matters.

So here is my little experiment.......for the next two weeks I will be limiting my internet use both in time and in content. I will actually have more blog time but no TV shows or excessive Craigslist. I am also going to take a break from Facebook and re access it's value.
I am also going to make a concerted effort to interact with actual people more........ I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Putting in the new raised beds

It's been awhile since I have posted but I have got some things done. I recently took a long weekend and was able to get my new raised beds in. I found some great rough cut 1" X "10 Cedar boards in twelve foot lengths from Craigslist. I decided carrying 12 foot boards in my 6 foot truck bed was not for me. I thought I'd take a chance and see if he would deliver the lumber and to my surprise he delivered 25 miles to my front door for only $20! I felt really blessed by this and he shared some pictures of his garden and his new Hugelkulter gardens he is experimenting with. So with the boards at hand the construction began in my garden. I had a tough time getting the layout down . One of my goals was to try to take more advantage of my rock wall. To accomplish this I built the South end of the beds even with each other and "stair-stepped" the North end to get an equal amount of space between the beds and the wall in order to put my most heat-loving plants nearer the wall.

I knew the best weather I could expect in February was cold and occasional showers so I knew I needed to be prepared. I decided to make my shed into a temporary break room and shelter from the heavier squalls.
My rest spot notice the thermos on the shelf? I'm going to call this" my happy spot"!

So what's better than working with electrical power tools in the rain? I ended up getting quite a bit done. I think leveling the beds was almost as hard as building them. I got them in and leveled and didn't run out of coffee. It was nice to get them in.
Almost leveled.
I have decided to remove all the soil and bark mulch from my garden area and replace it with crushed rock. I am hoping to get some better drainage and retain more heat. The second day was spent scraping the topsoil and well composted wood chips from my garden bed and putting it in the new beds. On my next days off i will be adding compost and soil to finish off the beds.
Looking to the North

I have  nine, ten and eleven foot beds, all four feet across.
In the top photo you can see the edge of my territory. The dark pot is for Mary's petunias.
She normally has five pots the first one isn't in the picture.
While we were admiring the beds she actually said " Maybe we could move this pot to the front and you could put your new apple trees here so they can get the full sun". After I regained consciousness I realized she had actually given me more space for my gardening! Now if I can just get her to let me take out part of the back lawn. Hmmmmm better not push it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The home and garden show !!

My wife and I recently attended the home and garden show in Seattle and what a blast! I don't venture into the big city often so I must have really wanted to go. The display gardens were pretty incredible. They were a great displays of a gardeners vision and handiwork.
Some of the stone work was pretty amazing when you considered it was all set up in a few days inside of  a building. The displays were complete with waterfalls and Koi ponds!
I have to admit though we really enjoyed the marketplace. We didn't buy a lot but it was pretty cool looking at all the greenhouses and all the merchandise. Some of my favorites were hand crafted items.
I looked at some wonderful hand tools that were hand forged by a local blacksmith. There was a lot of art and hand made items.
It was a good opportunity to get to know some local artisans.
I also found some local sources for plants and seeds. There was a local beekeeper who had many great products. All in all a great time.
I think the highlight of the day was the the class we took on winter gardening.
It was taught by Annette Cottrell who hosts a great blog, you can find it at:
Annette is a rockstar in the sustainable living field. Kind of like the Jimmy Hendricks of Urban Farming :)
She has also co-written a book called The Urban Farm Handbook. After the class I picked up a copy and had her sign it. It was nice to meet the person behind the blog I had learned so much from. I gained a lot of useful information but maybe more importantly I gained inspiration!
I hope to incorporate some of the ideas I learned into my garden redesign. I also learned the importance of the huge rock wall that runs on one side of my garden.
This 12 foot tall rock wall runs the entire length of my back yard and garden.

I hope to better utilize the heat it produces to enhance my heat loving plants as well as moderate temps in the winter.
We spent about 5 hours there and could have spent a little more time browsing and went to at least one more class. The plan for next year is a full day with a long lunch.
I will be putting in most of my redesigned garden in the next week. It will be a lot of work and I seem to change something in my head every time I go out there. My next post will include the framework of the new garden. I have several veggies started under my fluorescent lights in my garage and they will need a home soon! What are you growing?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Are frugality and decluttering incompatible?

I have done a lot of studying on frugality. I wish I was as good at being frugal as I am about studying how to be frugal. Now I know a few people who are , at least what I consider, frugal and it seems they have a lot of stuff. They save odd containers in case they want to store small pieces of...well..something that has a lot of small pieces. They save every tool, nail and screw they have ever owned. When they need something they either have it or make something else work.
Personally when I save that much stuff I usually buy a new one when I need it and then discover the one I kept from 3 years ago shoved in the back of a drawer the next week. 
Recently I have been thinking about decluttering. I know I have way to much "stuff" but what if I need it someday? How foolish would it be to throw out a sour cream container when it is the perfect size for starting tomatoes?
The fact remains that we have to create a balance between our making good use and re purposing our items and accumulating so much "stuff" that it begins to complicate our lives.
A perfect example is my garage. I recently did a major organizing/decluttering job on it. My garage, although we do park a car in it, is my shop, lawnmower repair facility, seed starting area, storage and a few other things area.
As I went through it I realized there are no hard and fast rules on decluttering. I have heard the old "if you haven't used it in six months get rid of it" rule but that isn't always right. For instance I have special tools for changing drum brakes, now I haven't used those in about two years but I know I will be using them within the next year or so. That means those will be staying in the tool box.
My biggest struggle came when I begin going through the shelves and drawers in one my work areas. After cleaning off the top and rearranging the pegboard it looked really nice. However, I new what was inside the cupboards and drawers. What a mess.
As I stared blankly into a couple of drawers that I had been stuffing things into I got overwhelmed. I knew what I had to do.....I had to call in a professional!
"Honey! Could you help me in the garage for a minute" Yes I wasn't messing around I called in the "A" team of organization-my wife! Even though the "for a minute" turned into a couple of hours she helped me get the ball rolling.
I have to admit I did wince a little bit when she made me throw out about 20 Altoids tins I had been hoarding for things. With her help I began to see what I really should keep. I ended up eventually going through my entire shop and got a bag of garbage and two garage sale/Ebay boxes of "stuff".
One of my work areas. With free Craiglist cabinets.

In the end my shop just plain feels better. I know where everything is and it is easy to get to quickly. So what area in your house is stressing you out? You need to be strong and get rid of a lot of stuff! It is true that less is more! Only you can strike that balance between keeping things to re-purpose and getting rid of them to rid yourself of clutter.
You have to remember though our grandparents use to "save everything" they only had a fraction of the stuff we get today!