Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bumper Crop

As per usual, the garden has been a mixed bag this summer. The cabbage and squash have not cooperated so well, the tomatoes, kale, and peppers have - especially the tomatoes. I got a really early start on them this past spring, and they've been going strong ever since. I began weighing what I picked every couple of days, and so far we're just shy of 150lbs (but I have to pick some today). The Silvery Fir Tree and Purple Russians were the first ones out of the gate, and the SFT's are almost played out by now. Lately I've been picking a lot of Amish Past, Moonglow, Sudduth Brandywine, Hillbilly Potato Leaf, and Black from Tula's. Some of them are HUGE. The Green Zebra's have less than prolific this year, and the Beam's Yellow Pear's are so so. A couple of the plants seem like they have begun to develop some sort of disease (powdery mildew?). I'm going to trim the bad parts back, and hopefully they'll keep going into the fall.
31 pounds of 'Burbstead fresh tomatoes, all picked on the same day

A Sudduth Brandywine that was almost 1.5lbs, the biggest one so far.

The best part about having all of these tomatoes, other than eating them fresh, is that I'm putting up more tomato sauce, salsa, and preserve than ever. Speaking of which, I have a bunch sitting on the kitchen counter that need to be cut up before band practice starts. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Homesteading with kids

 Alex helps mow the grass

Tater helps plant pepper seedlings

One of the best parts about trying to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle is having the opportunity to pass on important lessons and skills to your kids. Resourcefulness, thriftiness, compassion, and the ability to think critically are all things that children gain from learning to garden and cook or having to take care of animals. Learning about food preservation instills that value of being prepared for the unexpected. Having chores or helping to fix things around the house builds self-confidence and responsibility. Considering the amount of time that most children in modern American culture spend consuming various forms of electronic media (7 hours and 38 minutes per day, according to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Stanford University), these are character traits that a lot of young people today are missing out on. My experiences in the classroom suggest to me much the same thing.

Once of my goals as a parent is to give my children as many character building opportunities as possible. I want them to have the chance to maximize their potential as intelligent, creative, responsible young people. That's not to say that other parent don't want those things for their children, but rather that I think a lot of parents today simply don't pay enough attention to actively fostering those things in them. With the hectic pace of modern life, it's easy to let things go on auto pilot. People are busy and tired, so they stop keeping tabs on how much time kids are spending online or playing xbox. Cooking from scratch and eating as a family become too much of a hassle, so they order out or heat something up in the microwave. Texting and Facebook updates replace face to face conversation. I suppose it is a time honored tradition of cranky old people to complain about younger generations, but an awful amount of my students seem to be self absorbed and completely disconnected from the world around them. They lack the ability to think and do things for themselves, and they are incapable of taking responsibility for their actions. Have kids always seemed like this? I suppose, but it doesn't mean that I have to idly sit by and accept it in my children.

Below is a short video of Erik helping me can salsa yesterday. I'm sure a lot of parents would squirm at the thought of letting an 8 year old do this. With all of that boiling water, hot jars, and bubbling salsa, there were ample opportunities for him to burn himself; and truth be told, he did burn his fingers a couple of times. But you know what? He didn't kill himself, and he learned how do it correctly in a way that he wouldn't have if he had simply watched me do it. True learning is born out of experience, and by doing it for him self, Erik learned that he is able to do much more than starring at a tv screen and pushing buttons. One of my greatest joys as a father is the look on my kids' faces when they find out what they are really capable of (look for it at the end of the clip).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pending Abundance

Summer isn't technically here yet, but the garden is getting ready to explode. Two days ago, I was weeding around the tomato plants, and I saw this:

I was excited, because I've been looking forward to eating fresh tomatoes since I planted these seeds back in late January. Today, I got home from sumer school with one thought in mind - BLT's for lunch! I picked the 3 that were most ripe, and there were 4 more that will be good in a couple of days. A quick look around the tomato plants show that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

My blackberry plants that I put in 2 years ago are loaded with berries that are just now starting to ripen.

This is Das Cluckhaus 2. It is currently housing the 10 chicks that came from 2 different kindergarten classes this Spring. The 4 older ones are 7 weeks old, and the younger 6 are just over a month. I plan on butchering all of them (assuming the roosters don't get too noisy before that point). I've read that they should be good to go at 3-4 months of age, so that puts D-day sometime in early September. Good thing I don't have anything else going on that time of year...oh, wait.....

Monday, May 7, 2012

Garden Salad

The garden is growing like gangbusters. Here's a quick pic of the ingredients from last night's salad - all freshly picked.

Kale, Lettuce, Spinach, Radishes, and the first Sugar Snap Peas of the spring. The best part was that there was enough left over to take for lunch today.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Garden Pics

It's May, and the garden is alive and kicking. Here are some pictures from the 'Burbstead.

Sugar Snap Peas growing on a trellis that I made from reclaimed lumber, old porch swing parts, and a piece of an old soccer goal net. The Aster flowers are all volunteers, and they're ALL OVER my garden. I also have tons of volunteer Marigolds and little yellow flowers (Dwarf St.John's Wart?). This isn't a problem by any stretch. I try to sprinkle flower seeds around every year, and I let the volunteers grow wherever I'm not growing food. Not only do they attract pollinators, but they make the garden look nice.

 I've got 5 Blueberry bushes planted on the edge of the garden. Two of them have little berries on right now. I'm hoping to get enough to make a pie this year (assuming the damn birds don't eat them all). In a couple of years, they should be big enough that I can have enough to eat fresh and preserve some.

 Early Flat Dutch Cabbage. There are about 12 plants. I'm hoping that enough of them get big so that I can make a lot of Sauerkraut. Right now, something has been munching of the leaves, so I need to figure out what sort of pests are hanging out there.

 Fordhook Chard and Buttercrunch Lettuce that I planted in the hoop house last fall. It over-wintered, and took off once the weather started warming up. I'm not sure how long the lettuce will go before it bolts and turns bitter. In any case, it's awesome that I can get a really early Spring harvest thanks to the hoop house.

Curly Blue Scotch Kale. This year is the first time that I've grown Kale, and it's doing great. I put some in vegetable soup the other day, but other than that, I'm not sure what to do with it. Joe Rogan always talks about drinking Kale and fruit smoothies for breakfast. I'll have to try that sometime.

 French Breakfast Radishes and Olympia Spinach in the front, and Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce in the back. You can also see some Kentucky Wonder Pole beans poking up on the left side. I've planted them around the base of the hoop house so that they'll (hopefully) climb all over the frame.

Yes, that is a tomato. It's a Silvery Fir Tree. You might be saying to yourself, "But it's only May 2nd. Isn't that crazy early for outdoor tomatoes to be starting to put on fruit?" Yes, yes it is. The crazier part is that since I transplanted these in mid-March, I only had to cover them with a sheet ONCE! If I had known that this Spring was going be so warm, I would have transplanted all of my tomatoes back in March. It's funny to look back a couple of years at how excited I was to find a little tomato in early June. At this rate, I'll be eating fresh tomatoes before June. This must be what it's like to garden in southern California. Yeesh...

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hatch day update

Today is the official hatch day for the eggs that Tater Tot's class were incubating. Renee called this morning to let me know that when she dropped Tater off, 5 of the chicks had hatched, and 2-3 more looked like they were in the process. So this Friday, we'll be getting another shipment of up to 8 more chicks. It's a good thing that the earlier batch were moved out to Cluckhaus 2 yesterday. It's an A-frame tractor style coop that should serve as a good transition home for the new chooks. Once I get the roof shingled this afternoon, I'll post some pictures.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

New Arrivals

Tater and Erik smile for the camera, while Alex tries to put a voodoo hex on the chicks.

Right about 1 year ago, we got a delivery of 10 chicks from the kindergarten class at my children's school. 5 of those (4 hens and Brown Spot, a rooster with permanent laryngitis) are currently hiding from the soggy weather in the chicken coop out back. Well, a friend of the kindergarten teacher decided to hatch chicks for her class, and about a week ago they moved over to the 'Burbstead. The kids were all very excited to get more chickens. I had to explain to them that we weren't going to be keeping all, if any, of them. Our current flock lays more then enough eggs for our family. Besides that, at least a couple of them are going to be roosters who will no doubt be noisier than Erik's beloved Brown Spot. We'll have to wait and see how many boys and girls we get before we make any plans. We also have to wait for...Tater Tot's class eggs.

Tater is in kindergarten at the same school that Alex and Erik go to, and the teacher is once again hatching a dozen eggs. The estimated hatch day is April 30. So in about 2 weeks, we'll have a whole bunch more chicks. Hmmm, I smell a mid-Summer butcher day coming...

The latest 'Burbstead additions warming up under the lamp