Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's Sunday...



"For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
- 1 Corinthians 5: 7-8




























Friday, November 21, 2014

Do You Have Extra Space?

For the last ten years my family has lived on 4.6 acres, raising animals and food. Our beautiful home is at the foot of our property and the garden is set back into the mountainside. Nearly a decade later there are a few things that would have worked better and some we got right.

1) Location, Location, Location!!!
No matter how much space you have, keep your garden somewhere you will see it from your living room. There is no greater inspiration than the possibility of the local homesteading group seeing your untrellised tomatoes and eggplant sprawling together in a weed patch.
Our garden is almost out of site of the house. It is set back into the far corner of the fenced area and that is probably our biggest regret. Proximity is important. Out of sight, out of mind. When life got busy, we didn't have wilty plants reminding us to check drippers and fallen onions in full view.
It made it difficult to just go out to the garden for a little bit and in time the work would pile up until it was one big bramble. Basil would bolt and squash would get too big to use.
Ideally, the garden would be right outside the house, making it easy to maintain and use produce in the kitchen.

2) Start Small  
Different seasons in life determine how much you can do. As you plan and develop your garden start small the first year and figure out the basics: compost, water, and sunlight. Once you have these things in place expanding will become more natural and sustainable. Finding what works for you could mean growing an orchard, vineyard, or multiple raised beds.

Take the time to learn about your land. What are the pests? Are you able to use water catchment or is there a natural spring? What natural pollinators are there? Are there any local varieties to try? Meet your neighbors and learn about their gardens. Learn to do a few things really well.

Small spaces force you to get the most out of every inch of your garden. Using space well is a learned skill and another reason to start small. No matter how large your garden is, if it is poorly maintained or difficult to access, you will not get the full yield. Using a space well goes beyond weeding, it is using planting methods,  companion planting, and sustainable systems. (These things will all have their own post, so stay tuned to learn more!)

Each of these things gives back more than it takes. Planting methods bring out superior yield. Companion planting uses different vegetables to drive off pests and increase pollination. Each tool overlaps into the others to create a system. For example, if you plant radishes by a cucumber it will make the soil too hot for the cucumber beetle. In Square Foot gardening you might plant one foot of radishes next to a trellised cucumber. All of this together creates a tiny system that keeps beetles away.

3) Dry Farming
Currently, many gardeners will testify to the value of stressing crops to make them sweeter and now in California a larger market for dry farmed produce is growing. In Europe most of their wine grapes are dry farmed.  Water is a big issue in California and most of the United States. Just a couple years ago, the water table was so low in Georgia the residents had to limit their showers. When it did rain, the pavement filled state flooded and the ground eroded. With plentiful accessible water, more people have filled there land with grass, landscaping, and food. Before this Indians in the Southwest used dry farming methods in areas with low precipitation.

In his book, Gardening When It Counts, Steve Solomon says that before modern water methods developed farmers needed large portions of land to spread out there crops. The orchards and fields were spread out so that the roots could feed off of the ground water. This developed smaller, intensely flavored fruits and vegetables.

This system is directly opposite of most gardening methods. The intensive methods require large amounts of water and high maintenance. Putting large amounts of food in one area drains the soil of nutrients and requires large amounts of amendment and compost.

Will you consider taking this route?

4) Please, Don't Plant A Lawn



40 Million acres are currently covered in turf grass.

17 Million gallons of oil are spilled trying to maintain it per year.

700,000, 000 dollars are spent on pesticides for lawns (This is about ten times the amount of pesticides per acre on farms)

5 billion dollars is spent on fossil fuel derived fertilizers per year. 

30-60 percent of potable water is used on lawns. (It varies by the city)


This is 60 million acre-feet of water per year. That is enough water to cover 60,000,000 acres in one foot of water. 

 40-50 Million Americans have allergies related to grass, but they still spend water and money keeping it alive!

According to the UN Water Cooperation Project, "783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation."


We can use our resources better. Our land is dry and people around us need food and water. Let's take the time to be thankful for what we have and ask for the wisdom to do what is best with it. If you would like to donate to help a few great water projects, check out water.org or WaterisLife.

Our next post in this series will be publish the Monday after Thanksgiving. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!







Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Books To Read With Your Girls

Books were my very first love. As a young girl, my mom gave me Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Caddie Woodlawn, and Elsie Dinsmore which led me to love literature and the ideas the authors took the time to embed in their works. I still read compulsively, but the ideas my mom taught me through the books she gave me laid the groundwork for the worldview I embraced. 


In the Age of Technology many things have been lost like reading together as a family. This is something I want to keep alive. Even now I read with my husband and hope to share Narnia and Middle Earth with my children. There were so many books we read together as a family, and here are three of them  I hope will inspire conversations in your home.  They are filled with the stories of real women who had wisdom, godliness, and strength and a biblical understanding of femininity. 

   
1) Beautiful Girlhood
  In 1922 Mabel Hale wrote thirty three lessons ranging from word choices and honesty to cultivating a pure heart and consecrated life. This woman has compiled a guideline for living that is both charming and filled with truth. The book starts at the beginning of a girl’s awakening comparing her to a rosebud blossoming and  encourage girls not to blossom too quickly. As the book progresses character development is encouraged at all stages of blooming. Adolescence, romance, Christianity, life work, purpose, and their progress through womanhood and motherhood are explained and the struggles at each stage are discussed.

     My mom read this book to me when I was younger, my best friend and I read it together when we wanted to hold each other accountable, and now my sisters are listening and talking about it. Mrs Hale helps to give each reader a sense of true beauty in proper care, virtue, and purpose. She encourages care for others and the proper nurturing of every relationship. She carefully differentiates between character and attributes that have come to pass as character like cutting remarks passing as frankness and sincerity. 

2) Daughters of Destiny
     I’ve had so many adventures with this book. When I was eleven I remember crawling up in a tree to read about my favorite women, those I wanted to be like, and those who I knew would be my best friends.  

   This book has the biographies of seventy five other women who lived well, whose lives honored God and who we should try to emulate. While Lady Jane is the woman I would most like to know and befriend, there are wives, mothers, princesses, queens, peasants, writers, and first ladies who go above and beyond what anyone would expect of them. My other favorites are Catherine Von Bora, Edith of Scotland, Queen Victoria, Mrs Merrill, and Mrs Parker. The last two were Pioneer women who fought Indians for their families and forged through the wilderness to keep them alive. This book does not finish a story, but encourages the reader to live lives that are honoring to God, faithful in all things, and true to the purpose God has for them. Every story encouraged me to look deeper into the lives of the women who lived them and sparked part of my love of history and biography.  

     It reminds us that our lives are stories as well and will be told someday before God.

3) Created For Work
Bob Schultz, the author, understands the purpose of God’s creation. He taught faithfulness through carpentry, excellence through winterizing, endurance through logging, and watchfulness through his sheepdog. While it is written for young men, it applies to every one. The application is in the heart and this man turns our hearts towards God and his goodness. 

I still remember my dad reading the last chapter around the same time of the last Presidential election. The final thought was that we are responsible for the work that is given to us and God will take care of the rest. It is difficult to trust Him, but part of the work we are given is to be faithful to the task at hand and not be anxious about those things God has other people handling. 

These three books communicate simply what it is to be a woman through timeless principles. In the words of Mrs Hale, “We are all provided with means by which we may become acquainted with those who have moved earth’s masses most, whose lives have influenced most people for good, knowing the very motives and desires of their hearts, and learning exactly what their opinions were or are.  The medium for all this wonderful knowledge is the printed page.”




Monday, November 17, 2014

Small Space Gardening!

Earlier this year I moved into a second story two bedroom apartment. It is perfect for my husband and I with plenty of room for books, a good kitchen, and lots of beautiful views. The only drawback is the garden space - a small deck space for potted plants and start thistle everywhere else. It was clear that we would have to get creative if we wanted anything besides African Violets in the window sill. I had to start thinking about gardening differently and it has made all of the difference.


A small space doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. Many people who have hundred of acres are unable to use what they have well. The best part of having a small space is learning to make the most of every nook. The old addage of "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do with out" rings true here! We have used wall and ceiling space, culled out the extra bits, and enjoyed living a simpler, clutter free life. When it came to gardening, I was ready to rewrite my opinions on what had to be a certain way. 

When you plant anything and care for it you have a garden. 

You don't have to have rows, grow the right plants, or even have it all outside!  When looking for a good gardening apartment, keep an eye out for lots of windows and southern exposure. That will help out in the winter when most growing grinds to a halt. Small apartments are perfect for live-in green houses. With lots of light and a little extra warmth you can keep harvest all through the cold dark winter months. Nothing like green growing things to push the winter blues away.  

We started with shallow rooted greens in our windowsills and after some trial and error figured out a few simple changes to the traditional garden methods. We are using as many alternative methods as we can - containers, pallets, raised beds, and straw bales. As Anne Shirley would say we have been given a lot of scope for the imagination. Each of these methods has pros and cons. 

We mix the plants we want to the method that fits.

Pallets can hold trailing plants like strawberries and squash as well as containers of shallow rooted veggies. Straw bales are good in case you have to move and raised beds can double as cold frames. 

1. Container Gardening
     Terra cotta pots are beautiful and porous which makes them good for both sunken clay watering vessels and lettuce greens. Recently my husband repurposed a wood pallet into a pot rack to hold my next flat of seedlings. The best part is that as the pots drain they will 'rain' on each other keeping the greens moist and lovely.  Different sized pots can hold anything from lettuce and brussel sprouts to beets and onions.
Also, I grow herbs in containers in my kitchen.  I am going to try leeks this year by planting them at the bottom of a big pot and hill them every few weeks, until the pot is full. You can use them indoors or outdoors and with a dish underneath save water by using creating a small reservoir.  Container gardening gives you so much freedom - to create, to move, and to give your porch some curb appeal! 

2. Grow Vertical
     My kitchen doesn't have a lot of drawer space, so we hung up all of our utensils and dishes on pegboard or a ceiling rack. There are so many ways to hang herbs on the wall or  strawberries from the ceiling. I use a cute herb rack from Home Goods for instant fresh flavors.

This doesn't just apply to the full grown plants. I grow my seedlings in a bookshelf with grow lights hanging from the shelf above. So far I have everything from kale and chard to St. John's Wort popping up. Don't negect the higher spots in your apartment. Hot air rises and if you have enough clearance, the top of bookshelves, extra dresser space and hanging baskets are perfect for those warm weather veggies. 

3. Communicate 
     Just recently I got permission to put a raised bed in below our apartment! We also have a compost pile and a worm hive. I am hoping to turn our raised bed into a cold frame for winter crops, but all of this would have been impossible if I hadn't picked up the phone and asked. 
      Gardens give a property more value and purpose. They look good and that is an asset to your land lord. We keep everything cleaned up and make sure nothing smells funny. By fostering our relationship with our realtors (and giving them seasonal goods) we are opening more oportunities to expand on the property and maybe get chickens!
       This summer we are going to use straw bales and five gallon buckets to grow corn, tomatoes, eggplant, and more of summer's bounty!

4. Compost
     We have talked about composting on Homestead Revival before. Right now I compost in two different places. We buried a rubermaid container about six months ago and inside we started a worm hive.

 By having two at the same time, I can mix vermiculite and compressed compost with a little peat moss to make a good seedling mix. In our raised bed we have horse manure and seasoned goat and chicken manure. Our  goal is to rebuild the soil where ever we live, so double digging and mixing in the good stuff is worth the extra effort. We won't live here for long, but we will leave it better than when we came.  This next year I want to cover our raised bed area with newspaper, straw, and wood chips, so it composts into beautiful dirt and defeat the star thistle. 

Small spaces have so much potential! Enjoy the space you have and fill it with as much beauty as you can. On Friday we will talk about using larger spaces well. 

What do you like about your space? 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Soul Filled Sabbath

Lets take a moment to prepare our hearts as we enter into the season of celebration and thanksgiving!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.



Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations."

- Psalm 100 


Friday, November 14, 2014

Early Season Garden Planning: Reading Seed Catalogs

Seed catalogs are a love language of their own, filled with tiny time capsules promising me purple speckled pole beans and peppers that will make my husband finally admit their is a hot sauce too hot. In a perfect world I would buy one of everything and find out what I like through trial and error. Alas! Budgets, time, and my small apartment scheme against me. While I still buy a large amount of seeds every year, I have learned some of what to look for.







     Between the pictures of purple carrots and multicolored tomatoes its easy to look for the strangest and most stunning pictures and skip the print, but there are a few things to know.

Open Pollination
 These seeds are pollenated by anything, the wind, bees, and people. They are able to develop characteristics that fit their environment better and adapt over time into a unique heirloom.  

Open pollinators give you a little more control over pollination and are what you need for seed saving. Left to themselves different varieties of the same species will cross polinate, but there are different ways to manage this without having to buy seeds every year.  For example, there are four species of squash and if you’re letting nature take its course you can only plant one of each. The Pepo species has many of my favorites from Patty Pan to Black Beauty Zuchinni. If you want to save the seeds, it is easy to rub the male flowers of each plant into the female ones and cover them with a brown bag until the fruit forms. 


Heirloom
An heirloom variety is an open pollenated plant that has developed particular traits which makes it unique and desirable. All heirlooms are open pollinators, but not all open pollinators are heirloom varieties. 

One of  my goals is to develop varieties particularly suited to my area. All of the heirlooms I love were bred especially for their area whether it was planned or accidental. We are losing varieties all across the nation as corporations plant mono crops  that slowly ween out the unique attributes of local seed. 

Hybrids
These are different variety of a species that have been bred together to develop a particular trait like higher yields or larger plants. In a catalog it will be described as F1 Hybrid. The seed from hybrids will not grow true to the original product. Gardeners who use them have to buy seed every year. 







There is no one size fits all form for choosing varieties. When you are reading the catalog, think about what problems you usually have. In my parent’s garden, they don’t get enough sunlight to fully ripen tomatoes, so my mom looked for varieties known for early maturity. The most commonly known variety is Early Girl which is an F1 Hybrid. The patent for the genetic strains behind this beautiful fruit are owned by Seminis, a seed house purchased by Monsanto. According to farmers who work with Seminis they were unable to provide untreated organic seed to the farmers which means we will have to start looking at other varieties to get tomatoes in June. Baker Creek and Seed Savers earliest varieties are beautiful and tasty. I am growing Black Cherry Tomatoes which mature at 65 - 70 days from their transplanting date.  
Other characteristics are dwarf, long season varieties, and great producers. 
Another good option is to look for varieties that come from your area or an area similar. I live in a wide valley that has long hot summers with full sunlight for twelve to seventeen hours in the summer. I have chosen varieties from Iraq and the south west. There are micro climates in every area, so get to know the extremes and use them as assets. I am so excited about my Iraqi variety!




I bargain shop for everything, but when it came to seeds I was ready to just buy from the place that had what I wanted. The thought of trying to do anything else gave me a headache. 
I researched all my varieties individually to look for reviews and more information about growing them in my area. While some were only sold by one company, most websites had a close variety. This year I have planned my garden from two companies, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Seeds. For the most part their prices were comparable, but each seed house had a vegetable that they grew more and sold for less. 
I am still checking out local seed companies for late season crops and can’t wait to discover new favorites. Exploring new catalogs is exciting and familiar and the first step of a year of adventure!





     In a previous post, we talked about gardening like your life depended on it. While many of us have option of buying from the store, it is not one I like to use. Whether the reasons are ethical, nutritional, or economic, the most important thing is to do as much as you can. I love to grow things and watch life spring up under my care. My goal is to have a continuous garden next year and grow enough to provide for my family.

Even though I hope to save my seed, I will never be done with catalogs. There will always be a new variety to try or back up seeds to buy. Seed catalogs are full of potential and challenge; they inspire me to try new things and keep trying until I find the plant that works the best for me. Producing pitch black tomatoes and turnips the size of an ostrich egg doesn't hurt. 


Next time we will look at where we plant our gardens. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Early Season Garden Planning: Why Plan Early


After the winter crop is in, it’s time to pull out the garden journal, seed catalogues, and notebooks to prepare for the next season! While some people wait for January and February to start planning, I choose the brisk and beautiful month of October. The first frost on spinach leaves fills me with anticipation for sweet leafy greens and a new year of planting. With a hot cup of tea I get down to business concocting new ways to grow food for two in our two bedroom apartment.
   It is easy to let the months drift by until all of the sudden plants need to be in the ground and all you have are the seeds you didn't really like from the year before. I have done this too many times to get caught again. Early planning starts out every season well and prepares both the garden and the gardener for the work ahead.



 




        Every year seed catalogs are sent out in January and February just as the winter blues set in. As a seed catalog enthusiast, I order early copies and keep the previous year's religiously. Favored varieties like Amish Snap Peas and non-genetically modified Early Girl Tomatoes are snapped up by gardening ninjas leaving those who savor each catalog description in the dust.
     Seed availability depends upon where and when you order. Larger companies, like Johnny's have a larger store of seed, but there is a trade off. Some of their seeds are genetically modified and Johnny's is owned by Monsanto involved with Seminis, a seed house owned by Monsanto (9/10/14).  I prefer to support smaller companies that cultivate dying varieties, both unmodified and rarely hybridized. My current favorites are Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.   Orders late in the season long after the spring blitz are less likely to have unavailable varieties.
    When I plan my garden and order my seeds early, I know right away if I need to change a variety or plan a second order for late winter. After my seeds arrives, I can have an order form or online cart for any last minute needs. This gives me extra time to double check my plan and make sure I have every seed I need before the seedlings need to be planted. This year I realized after two different seed orders I hadn't ordered any Patty Pan squash and my favorite variety of snap pea wouldn't be available until next year. Fortunately, I am planning in October for what I need in January and there is still plenty of time to find the best plants.







      I am a dirt nerd and have been known to romanticize long days of canning, weeding, or hauling prickly dead squash plants. I like to focus on what is going right whether it is germination rates or bumper crops of tomatillos.  While these things are great, in order to improve my skills and grow better food I need to be closer to the hard moments. It is also easy to cloak an entire year in failure because tomatoes rotted, the corn had worms, and for every weed you pulled five more came up.
The longer we wait to plan for the next year, the more rose colored (or bleak) the previous year becomes. Gardening is hard work!
 I keep a detailed garden journal of every plant from germination to yields to avoid letting my memory color the reality of the season.  Every year as the garden becomes more consuming the journal gets less legible. By planning early, I can still remember what most of my notes meant.

     Whether you garden year round, use season extenders, or enjoy summer's bounty there is always a cycle to get the most from the ground. It needs rest, feeding, seeding, weeding, and harvesting. All of these things find their natural place in the cycle of the seasons. In order to get the most out of their garden, summer gardeners need to compost and mulch in the winter, prep seedlings through out the spring and summer while they plant, maintain, and harvest during the summer and fall. The more seasons you work, the more of these things you will be doing at any given time.
 

     The longer you give yourself to plan, the better the product will be. There is a ton to manage every year from compost to companion planting. I can prepare in case things go wrong. I have had mice eat all my peas, tomatoes freeze because we planted too early, and whole flats of seedling die unplanted. Nothing ever goes perfectly, but I have learned to plant lots of extra seedlings and have seeds in reserve. Planning gives me more room to recover. From a sustainable approach early garden planning prevents me from having to use potentially harmful products and helps to work on my longterm goals to steward the land around me.  This creates a natural flow to my garden from season to season in order to reach its full potential.








     By late fall saved seeds and stored food are ready to be assessed for the coming year. The cans of sauces, jams, pickles, and ferments have started coming off the shelves for fall meals and winter gifts. As each can is used we can determine how much time and work went into it and what we got out of it. A quart of tomato sauce from a pound of tomatoes made with a couple dozen others on a sixteen hour work day in July will be gone in an hour or two, barring leftovers. Every family will value different things. What do you miss? What was gone before the jar lids had time to seal? Will you have enough applesauce to make it to the next autumn? You can buy more or less seeds depending upon how you answer these questions. Also, you can determine whether it was a better use of time to make your own or buy from a local provider. I usually reassess every couple months and adjust the next season's plan accordingly.
  It is time to do germination tests on the new seeds. Seeds from open pollinated plants will develop characteristics suited to your area. However if the germination rates are on the low side, it is good to buy a few back up packets.


 





    When Homestead Revival began, I lived in a chilly zone 4 microclimate where we grew seedlings in February or March to plant short season varieties in late May, but we could still get snow in June. We could grow broccoli year round. Now I live in zone 8b with roughly four months of frost threat. This week marks eighteen weeks before the Last Frost Date, so I have seeded all of my brassicas for next year and hope to get broccoli and cabbage before it is too hot for either.
    Zones are usually discussed in landscaping, but it is a huge factor in food crops. Extreme weather causes buds not to set and limits which foods will thrive. If I waited until March to plant, none of my early season crops could survive. In my zone I can plant an early spring garden, plan two summer harvests, a fall crop, and greens all year.
    Early planning helps me get the most out of my zone, avoid prime pest and disease times, and ensure that my plants will set seed at different times, so I can save them for the following year.

      Early planning is key to the success of any garden. Knowing what I need to do to feed my family reduces stress and increases my productivity. After the months of hard work it is tempting to take a break. I would encourage you to take a little time each day to plan and prepare to reach your next garden goals.

In my next post we will be looking at seed orders and how to determine what is best for your garden.







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