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.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Squash and Garden Porn

We went down to my parent's house this past weekend for a Christmas party. When we left, my mom let me take along a couple of very cool winter squashes that were left over from fall decorations. I've wanted to get seeds for these varieties for a couple of years, and now I don't have to buy them. Woot!

Musquee de Provence: 120 days (C. moschata) These gorgeous, big flat pumpkins are shaped like a big wheel of cheese, and are heavily lobed and ribbed. The skin is a beautiful, rich brown color when ripe. The flesh is deep orange, thick and very fine flavored, fruit grow to 20 lbs. each. This is a traditional variety from southern France and makes a great variety for fall markets.

Rouge Vif D'Etampes: (C. maxima) Most beautiful flattened and ribbed large fruit are a gorgeous deep red-orange. A very old French Heirloom, this was the most common pumpkin in the Central Market in Paris back in the 1880’s. The flesh is tasty in pies or baked. This one can also be picked small, like summer squash, and fried. It is a good yielder too.

The descriptions for those squash come from Baker Creek Seed Co. I mention them because they are related to the second part of this post's title. Last week I got the 2012 Baker Creek Seed catalog. The fact that they send this out for free boggles my mind. It's chock full of amazing photographs of all sorts of cool heirloom and open-pollinated fruits, vegetables, and flowers. 61 of the catalog's 192 pages are full page photos! Jere Gettle (who frequently dresses like Gene Autry on acid) runs a great company, and year after year they put out a catalog that is good enough to be a coffee table book. If you've never bought anything from them, give 'em a try this year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thoughts on Liberty

One of the things that appeals to me most about homesteading is the way in which it offers people the opportunity to gain some measure of independence from the corporate and governmental systems that regulate so much of our modern lives. So many people now days are completely unaware of myriad ways in which the choices in their lives are controlled. They have internalized the values of their masters, and as a result they want what they are told to want - even when they think that they're exercising their own free will. Goethe had it right when he said, "There are none more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free." Here is a blog post and a speech that both deal with how the modern political and economic structure keeps us in cages, and conversely, what it means to be truly free. Read, listen, and THINK.

The first is from "The Downward Spiral", a fantastic blog that documents the ongoing decay of America.

The second is a speech that Lew Rockwell recently gave at a Casey Research Summit. He does a great job of getting past false notions of left-wing/right-wing, Democrat/Republican nonsense, and gets at the heart of our national political system - it's really fascism

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jars of Seeds

I'm something of a pack rat. I have a hard time throwing away "disposable" items that are still perfectly usable: tin foil, plastic bags, hardware, I hang onto all of it. Glass jars are another thing that I tend to squirrel away as they get emptied of their original contents. They're great for a lot of things, especially organizing and storing seeds. This afternoon I finally got around to shelling out some beans and corn that I've had sitting in my kitchen. The Bloody Butcher and Marbled Indian corns come from down at my parents' house, and the Blue Hopi is the only bit that I was able to salvage from the squirrels and drought this summer. The Navy and Kentucky Wonder pole beans were saved from plants I grew in my garden. The original seed for the Hopi corn and the beans came from Heirloom Acres seed company.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hot Sauce

Spicy food occupies a special place in my palette. Chili, Indian food, chicken wings, pizza. eggs, you name it - the hotter the better. Next to tomatoes, I have more varieties of hot peppers than any other plant. I'm always looking for different things to do with them. I found a recipe in Mother Earth News for a Tabasco brand-style hot sauce. Personally, Tabasco isn't my favorite type of hot sauce, but the recipe sounded interesting. It called for fermenting the peppers in brine for 4-5 weeks. I chopped a bunch of jalapeno, tobago, and pablano peppers, mixed in some salt and water, and let them sit. After 4 weeks, I mixed in a little white wine vinegar and let it sit for another week. In the end, this is what it looked like.

I tasted the liquid. I was spicy and very salty. The recipe was rather ambiguous about the amount of salt to add, and apparently I added a bit much. Undeterred, I strained the mixture through a cloth to separate out the pepper bits and seeds. I then used a makeshift sieve to get all of the seeds out of the pulp.

I heated the pulp, and mixed in some tomato paste, honey, brown sugar, coriander, and ginger. As per usual, I was making this up on the fly. I was hoping for something sweet, spicy, and vaguely exotic. It came out pretty good. Thin enough to mix into soup, but thick enough to put on a sandwich. I liked it enough to call it a success.
The liquid was a different story. It was so overwhelmingly salty that I wasn't sure what to do with it. I heated it up to boiling, added butter and sugar in an effort to balance the flavor out some. Ummm... I suppose it worked. The sauce was less salty, but calling it good might be a bit of an overstatement. I kept it, but I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with it. I the future, I'm going to use far less salt in the brine. Here's the final product:

This is a link to the original recipe at Mother Earth News. The article promises to help you save money. To be honest, I'm not sure how much hot sauce you need to consume in order to save an appreciable amount of money by making your own. At any rate, give it a try and enjoy!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hausgemacht Halloween

Ever since I've been a little kid, Halloween has been my favorite time of the year. I've always liked spooky stuff, and I'm sure the fact that my birthday is 3 days before it has a lot to do this too. Making my costume for trick or treating is something I've enjoyed about the season, and since we've had kids, I've looked forward to making theirs. Store bought costumes are a major pet peeve of mine. My wife always points out, as I'm trying to finish things at the last minute, that it would be much easier to simply go buy costumes. She's right, it would be easier. It would also be easier to eat lunchmeat sandwiches and chips for Thanksgiving instead of turkey and mashed potatoes. Somehow that seems to miss the spirit of the holiday, though. Likewise, buying some cheap, piece of shit costume that will look exactly like everyone else who bought that same outfit misses the spirit of Halloween. Anyway...the kids are really big Pokemon fans, so they decided to be a Poke-family: Pichu, Pikachu, and Raichu. I dressed up like a Pokeball (the little baseball looking thing that Pokemons live inside of). None of the adults knew what I was, but the kids all got it.I made the costumes from a combination of things I found at the Goodwill and some extra fabric I bought. All together, I spent about $26 for the materials to make 4 costumes. $6.50 a piece for costumes that will serve as play clothes for a long time to come, not to shabby. The kids all had a great time.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hoop House Progress

The framed out hoop house.

Football has finally wound down, and I'm trying to get some work done before Winter rolls around. I got the last of the frame work done on the hoop house last Saturday. The door and ventilation window have yet to be constructed. I'm hoping to get plastic put on in the next couple of days (once it stops raining). The various things that I planted in there some weeks ago are up and growing. I'm harvesting lettuce and radishes now, and the chard, peas, carrots, beets, and turnips are coming in nicely. I recently planted some spinach, but I'm not sure if it will germinate as the temperatures drop. Once the plastic is on, I also plan on transplanting the Tobago and Black Hungarian Wax pepper plants into large pots to over winter in the hoop house. I'll be interested to see how they do next spring.

The door frame at the end of the hoop.

I salvaged this giant piece of 6mil plastic from my school when there was roof work being done this summer.

The 3 beds about 1 month ago as I was starting to plant them.

The hoop house bed this past weekend.

Monday, October 24, 2011

There's no substitute for experience... (or, how a 70 year old man put me in my place)

My dad wrangles the plow while Noah samples the dirt

This past weekend I had the chance to go to the Heritage Day festival in St.Geniveve, MO with my dad and brothers. The weather was gorgeous, and there was a lot of interesting stuff to see. It was, in some respects, a lot like the fall festival that my parents run at the Saxon Lutheran Memorial. This event didn't pertain strictly to the mid-1800's, though. They had farm implements there that ranged from horse-drawn equipment all the way through 1950's era tractors. There were old time craftspeople, cider pressing, and hog butchering, as well as demonstrations of corn picking/chopping and threshing.

There was also a small field where teams of horses and mules were plowing. Most were using riding plows, but one old man was there with a team of mules and a walking plow. He was working his way up and down the field, and we were admiring the way he handled his team and the ease with which he controlled the plow. He was walking offset from the mules, using only his inside hand to expertly guide the plow to create a straight and even furrow. Dad struck up a conversation with him, and asked if he might try his hand at it. Bear in mind that my father has more experience working with draft animals than I could ever hope to have. Still, he himself hadn't used a walking plow since I was about 5 (that's 27 years ago). Dad grabbed both handles, walking in the furrow, as the man drove the team. They struggled down the 100 yards or so, backing up occasionally to start again where things had gone awry. They rested the mules a bit, and then came back in much the same fashion. Dad asked if any of us wanted to take a crack at it. I figured, "What the hell, this opportunity doesn't come along very often".

I don't know that I had any delusions about my abilities in this area (especially after watching dad), but by god if this old man could do it, I figured that I could too. From the get go, it was plainly apparent that this was not the case. The concept seemed so simple: Tip the nose down to go deeper, up go shallower, use the left handle to make it go right and vise versa. Nevertheless, the plow seemed unaware of my attempts to steer it. One second it was too deep, the next it was popping out of the soft ground. We veered right, then left, all the while I struggled to keep the plowshare from inadvertently cutting off the old man's foot. We backed up frequently. At multiple times, my teacher would take hold of the one handle, and magically the plow would go right back where it was supposed to. He would then tell me something that I've often told students who were trying to learn to throw on a potters wheel - "I know what it feels like, but I'm not sure how to tell you how to do it." Few things will let you know where you really stand like watching someone old enough to be your grand parent effortlessly do something that you can barely manage. We finally muddled our way back, and thanked the man for putting up with our incompetence. Shortly after, we noticed him going back and apparently fixing the plethora of mistakes that we made.

This guy really knows what he's doing

At some point, I would love to do farm work with horses or mules. It's pretty obvious, though, that an interest in something is a far cry from actually having any real skills in that area. This is true of cooking, gardening, painting, or playing an instrument. Going into a future where things like growing your own food (or plowing with mules) is likely to become more and more a necessity, it would seem to make sense to develop and hone those skills now while we still have the luxury of time.

Here are some more random pictures from this weekend.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Swimming against the current

Last year, I made exactly 0 posts during the month of September, and barely managed to get one in during October. Let me be clear about something: I HATE coaching football. The few enjoyable aspects about it are vastly outweighed by the massive time commitment that it involves. Yes, there are worse ways for a person to make some money, but I really wish that I didn't have to do it. But enough bitching...

I suppose the fact that is the second entry during September means that I am doing marginally better than last year, sort of. The garden is almost completely done with for the season. I tore out all of the tomatoes because they were in the way of the hoop house. Most everything else has been sorely neglected because I've spent most all my spare time working on the hoop house. The corn is brown, and I need to see if I will actually be able to get any seed from it. The okra is almost done. The potato harvest was abysmal. I need to dig up my sweet potatoes to see if there are any tubers under all those vines. The only plants that are still plugging away are the peppers. They have apparently forgiven me for this past Spring's massacre, and I've had better pepper production this year that I have for a long time. Here is a plate with a little bit of everything that I've grown. The one exception would be my Tobago Seasoning peppers. They are supposed to have the smokey quality of a habenero without the blinding heat. St.Louis is a bit farther north than Caribbean Island that they are native to, and I'm hoping that they will have enough time to mature before it gets too cold.

I'm about half way finished planting the beds in the hoop house. Ideally, this would have been done 2-3 weeks ago. I would have finished yesterday, but I had to go shoot scout video of a football game for the varsity team. Grrr... Today it has been raining almost non-stop, so I really can't do much in that regard. Thus far I have lettuce, radishes, carrots, corn salad, green onions, and beets. I still want to plant chard, some chinese cabbage, spinach, and peas. Hopefully it will be dry enough to do that in a day or so. I may have to resort to planting at night, after the kids are in bed (I've done this before). Oh well. Whatever happens, happens. In any case, the hoop house will be read to go come late Winter/early Spring to kick start next season. Woo hoo!

Monday, September 5, 2011

A productive weekend

The high temperature for this past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all reached triple digits and set local records. A cold front came in Saturday evening, and dropped temps by nearly 30 degrees. The weather yesterday and today was gorgeous, sunny and mid-70's. The nice weather and holiday gave me a chance to get outside and bang away on the hoop house. I now have all but the back wall framed in. It's pretty cool to see it so close to finished. The next step is to prepare the beds and start planting. September 21st is less than 3 weeks away, and I need to get cracking. The rest of the garden looks like shit, and is likely going to get a serious haircut in the near future.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find 4 little pullet eggs in the coop on Thursday, and I've since found 2 more. If Scratchy and Carmella don't start laying eggs soon, I'm seriously thinking about lining them up when Brown Spot bites it here in a few weeks. Having 4 layers ought to be sufficient, and if not, I suppose I could always buy a couple more chickens that, you know, lay eggs. Just a thought.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer Color

Summer break may be about over, but Nature right in the thick of things. Pretty much all of the tomato plants are producing (the Silvery Fir Tree plants are actually about all petered out). In terms of color, shape, and flavor, it's hard to beat tomatoes for adding variety to your garden. I try to grow 5-6 different types every year, and it's pretty neat to see them all together. Above is a bowl of everything I had in this year. My only real disappointment has been the Speckled Romans, which all developed blossom end rot. Here are some links to Seed Saver's because it's the only place I can find the Silvery Fir Tee seeds, but you can find most of everything else at lots of different seed sites.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hooping it up!

Today is my last day of Summer break, so I'm banging away trying to get the last of my major summer projects done. I've got the 4 hoops up for the greenhouse. Seeing it come together is really cool. I'll do a full post once I get it all framed out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Homemade Ice Cream

Homemade vanilla ice cream with cinnamon, corriander, and some local honey

I have a variety of vices and low-level addictions, chief among them beer and ice cream. My brother Rob has periodically brewed his own beer, and does a pretty good job. It's something I'd like to try at some point, but I don't have any of the equipment right now. Besides, there are lots of great local and regional microbrews at the grocery and liquor store.

Ice cream is a different story. There are some great places in St.Louis to go get good, hand-made ice cream; Ted Drewes, Serendipity, and Frostbite. At the store, however, I'm pretty much stuck with mass-produced "frozen dairy dessert" made with various conditioners, emulsifiers, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and let's not forget high fructose corn syrup. I ate it, because, well, I love ice cream.

A couple of weeks ago, while rummaging through the basement, I came across an ice cream maker that my parents had left here. Since I have a penchant for doing things the hard way, I immediately swore off store bought ice cream and vowed to make it myself. The churn had a recipe book with it, so I tried the "Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream". Wow. I remember having home made ice cream a few times as a kid, but this stuff was dynamite! My wife and kids loved it too. Better still, based on the quantity that you get, it's cheaper than the premium ice cream at the grocery store. It's safe to say that this is the only ice cream that we're going to have around our house anymore.

Here's the recipe, give it a try!

Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream
This recipe makes 5 quarts of ice cream. Keep in mind that the average carton of ice cream at the store is only 1.5 quarts, so make sure you have enough containers to keep it in.

Sugar 3 cups
Flour 1/2 cup
Salt 1/4 teaspoon
Milk 6 1/4 cups
Eggs 5
Cream 5 cups
Extract 2 1/2 Tablespoons

Combine the sugar, flour. and salt in a large saucepan. Stir in the milk. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly.
Whip the eggs in a bowl. After the milk mixture is cooked, mix 1 - 2 cups of it into the beaten eggs. Pour the eggs back in with the milk and stir thoroughly.
Put the mixture into the freezer for 45-60 minutes to cool off. Stir occasionally. Once it is cool, pour the whipping cream and vanilla extract into a bowl and mix. Add in the milk mixture, and stir with a wire whisk. (At this point, you should add any spices or liquid flavorings you are using.)
Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and churn for around 45 minutes. When the churning is done, pour it into whatever container(s) that you will be freezing it in. At this point, it is the consistency of a thick milkshake, so it's perfect for adding fruit pieces, candy, or brownie bits. Put is in the freezer for a couple of hours to get solid. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 2011 Update

July is nearly over, I need to finish my art supply orders, and next week I have faculty meetings…school is right around the corner. Gak! Where did summer go? I’m about a month past due for a mid-year check up on my goals for the ‘Burbstead, so let’s see how things are progressing.

1. Egg Patch: The turnips failed to germinate. The carrots, while producing lovely tops, have only managed to make roots the size of my pinky finger (and they’re supposed to be 6-8” long). They taste good, but they aren’t going to feed many chickens. The okra is up and doing nicely, so I should wind up with a good bit if seed. I planted Bloody Butcher and Hopi Blue field corn. The Blue is for seed, since I only had a small handful to begin with. Any of the Bloody Butcher that produces ears will go to the chooks. This fall, I’m going to have another go at turnips and beets. I’m also going to try growing the Dinosaur kale that Autonomy Acres recommended. I may have had some bad luck early in the Spring, but I need to do better. Grade: C-

2. Season Extension: The peas, lettuce, and radishes that were planted under cover came in really well and way ahead of last year. I transplanted a bunch of Silvery Fir Tree and Amish paste tomatoes under a tunnel in April. The SFT’s are going strong, and they’re a couple weeks ahead of last year as well. As for the hoop house, I knocked together the base back in the Spring, and I found another trampoline frame. I have the hardware sitting in my car, and I dug up some lumber that will work for runners. I need to assemble the frame here in the next couple of weeks before school and football really get into full swing. Grade: A-

3. Growing more herbs: I wound up deciding against putting an herb spiral into the garden, but I used some pots that were laying around to make an impromptu herb garden on a patio table. I planted Sage, Thyme, Basil, Cilantro, and Mint. It was looking pretty good…until we went to Branson for 5 days. The temperatures were in the mid – upper 90’s the whole time we were gone with no rain. When we got back, most of the plants were fried to a crisp. I should have gotten some of those little water globe things they advertise on tv. The Sage is still good, some of the Thyme is straggling by, and one of the Basil plants is still green-ish. Hopefully they will bounce back with plenty of H2O. I also have dill and cilantro sprinkled throughout the garden. That’s doing good. Grade: B

Herbs before

Herbs after

4. Documenting my harvest: In the past I’ve done a fair job keeping track of planting and harvest times and other garden notes. I wanted to do that, plus keep more specific track of how much food I was actually growing. Then, sometime in early May, I lost my garden notebook. Rather than making a new one, I just stopped doing it all together. Shame on me for being a lazy bastard. Grade: F

5. Front yard gardening: My efforts in the front yard this year have been largely experimental, but I think they’ll set the stage for more robust planting in the future. I planted a couple of rows of kidney beans along the front of our side yard fence. Next to the driveway, I planted corn, amaranth, lettuce, herbs, and flowers. It’s interesting to see how slight variations in the amount of daylight can affect the growth of the plants. Also, the wabbits have pretty much left the plants alone. Next year, I want to have a more substantial front yard garden, but so far, I’m happy with what I’ve gotten. Grade: A-

Front yard beans

Front yard corn and amaranth

6. Rain Catchment: Oh right, that…errr… Grade: F-

7. Clean the chimney: So I borrowed my Uncle Randy’s chimney sweeping tools, and spent a Saturday afternoon on the roof and in the fireplace cleaning a few years worth of squirrel nest out of the chimney. I got it to the point where I could see clear out the top. I lit a fire, and there was still a lot of smoke coming into the living. This fall I may have to call on the services of someone who is better trained than I am. Grade: B

8. Ramp up / organize food storage: I’ve just started my food preservation efforts for the year, and I’ve already put away a bit more pickles than I did last year (including my first go at Bread and Butter pickles). I have enough tomatoes now that I can start making some sauces and salsas and preserves. I need to hit up the farmer’s market for some more food, because I have yet to press my dehydrator into service. This year, I would like to try drying some strawberries and peppers, making peach jam, and freezing more squash and okra. I need to make sure I don’t get lazy on this. Grade: B+

Pickles July 2011

9. Solar drying / cooking: Ok, I haven’t done any solar drying or cooking this year, even though this summer has been pretty much perfect for it (perhaps a bit humid, but still hotter than blazes). However, I have managed to take advantage of the sun’s energy in a different way. When June got here, I finally broke down and turned on the AC. In an effort to offset the increased electric bill a little bit, I strung some clothesline up on the kids’ jungle gym in the back yard. It won’t completely negate the cost off running the AC, but the dryer is the next biggest electricity hog, so minimizing its usage can’t hurt. Grade: B

Swing set-clothesline

10. Meat chickens: Well, we didn’t get a bunch of meat chickens, but we did manage to increase the size of our layer flock. At one point, we had 13 chickens. The white hen Cookie succumbed to the heat (I think), and I took 5 of the new chickens to my parents’ when it became obvious that they were roosters. That puts us at 7 chickens. However, upon further review, one of the remaining pullets turned out to be a roo. At this point, he’s not very good at crowing, so I think I’m going keep him a little while longer until he’s big enough to butcher here. That will mean that I raised a meat chicken on the ‘Burbstead. Here’s to meeting the most unlikely of goals, even if it is by a technicality. Grade: A

My final "GPA" winds up being a 2.65 (C+). The two F's really hurt, but there's room improvement pretty much everywhere. By the end of the year, I'd like to be up to a B or better.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Old habits die hard...but new ones are easy to kill

When you do something on a regular basis - be it blogging, working out, keeping a journal, or whatever - it's pretty easy to stay in the habit as long as you don't get lazy with it. Once you let yourself slip, however, it can be hard to get back in the groove. And the longer you let yourself go, the harder it gets. Case in point: it's been 5 weeks since I put anything up on here. My goal would be to post something every week or so, but I've let is slide for over a month. So here I am forcing myself to get back at it. For right now, some miscellaneous jabbering. In a couple of days, a full blown, mid-year 'Burbstead report.

Most people assume that Summer is all rest and relaxation for teachers. That's not the case if you teach Summer School, which I did all June. I'm now looking at 3 1/2 weeks before faculty meetings, football practice, and Student Council events signal that Summer is over. Yeesh! This Summer has at least afforded me the opportunity to go visit some good friends that I haven't seen for a long time. Renee and I were up in Omaha, Nebraska for a college friend's wedding this past weekend. On the way up, we swung through Seward where we stayed with Tim and Kari Huntington. I met both of them our freshman year of college, but since graduating 8 years ago, we've only been back to S-town once (and that was in 2004!). Emailing is no substitute for catching up in person, and hopefully it will be much less than 7 years before we get to see them again.
Tim and I in search of Eskimo women, circa 1998

Tim and I, both much better looking 13 years later
I'm constantly digging things out of the trash to use around the garden. Access to a waste stream full of useful stuff is one of the few things I like about living in the city. Last week, however, I found something in my school's dumpster that wasn't really 'Burbstead related, but awesome none the less. As I was getting ready to dump a load of trash, I spotted what looked like 4x12 speaker cabinet for a guitar amp. I pulled it out, expecting the speakers to be destroyed or missing, but they weren't! Aside from some tears in the cloth grill and a lack of Tolex covering on the sides, it was in fine shape. I took it home, plugged it into my bass amp, and it worked great. I may need to replace one speaker at some point, but for now I'm still able to play my guitar painfully loud. After hearing me tinker with it, the kids wanted to come down and play music too. I slapped together a drum set from some buckets for Erik, let Alex play the keyboard, and plugged a microphone in for Taylor to sing. A raucous good time was had by all.
A couple shots of the music/art cave in my basement

Lastly, I came across this website tonight via The Survival Podcast. It's a group of people doing some heavy duty urban homesteading in Kansas City. Holy Cow! I've just started going through their site, but it looks awesome. I want to live out in the country, but if I'm going to have to live in the city, this is how I want to do it. Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Back in (the egg) Business!!!

As previously mentioned, our hens survived a near miss possum attack a little over a month ago. Since that time they had not laid a single egg. During the 41-ish day egg drought, we became reacquainted with the inferiority of store bought eggs. Gak!
Yesterday, however, as I was giving the chooks breakfast, a brownish orb caught my eye in the corner of the run. Sure enough, it was a fresh egg courtesy of Scratchy. It seemed like a silly thing to be excited about, but I was jacked up. My threat about the new chicks laying eggs and a soup pot wasn't made in jest. You can argue about the economics of store vs. backyard eggs, but non-laying hens are pretty much a sure fire money sink.

Things continued to improve today when I found an off-white egg in the girls' coop. That means that either Cookie or Carmella has also gotten over her traumatic experience. In short order, we should hopefully be back to our previous 2 egg-per-day average. No more concentration camp produced eggs for us. Sweet!

This is where the "farm fresh" eggs in the grocery store come from.

This is where my breakfast came from.

Frühstück von heute Morgen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spring Chickens

A few weeks ago we got 10 little chicks from the kindergarten class at the boys' school. They quickly outgrew the rubbermaid tub in the kitchen, and have since moved to a temporary chicken shack in the back yard. I'm going to move them into the big chicken coop this weekend. So far, they've free ranged in the backyard with the big chickens a few times. Scratchy, the boss chicken, wasted no time waddling over to the chicks and asserting her authority. Aside from a few disciplinary pecks on the head, things weren't too violent. I'm hoping that it will stay that way once they're in the confines of the coop/run. I also hope that the stress of new coopmates won't further hamper their egg production. 4-5 weeks ago I managed to fend off a possum attack in the wee hours of the morning. (My neighbors were treated to a sight of me in my tiny shorts running around my yard with a flashlight and a stick). The chickens escaped unscathed, but the ordeal apparently stressed them such that they stopped laying eggs. I expected this for a week or two, but it's been over a month. I told them that if they didn't get their act together, it would be the soup pot once the chicks start laying. We'll see how that brand of motivation works.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Colossal Pepper Fail

This past Friday I transplanted a bunch of pepper seedlings into the raised beds that wrap around the side of our house. All told it was about 35 plants, mostly red and orange bell peppers with some sweet Italian, paprika and hungarian wax varieties as well. They were mulched pretty well with straw. We're well past the average last frost date for St.Louis, so I didn't think much of it. Then a cold front came along bringing rain and dropping temperatures about 15-20 degrees below normal. The night time low was supposed to get into the low 40's for about 3 nights - no danger of a frost, but I was concerned that it might be a bit too cool for the newly transplanted peppers. What did I do? I used some wire brackets to float a sheet of clear plastic over them. Things were cold, wet, and miserable on Sunday; and the pepper plants looked fine. This would have been no big deal if I had pulled the plastic off of them on Monday morning before I went to work. Alas, this is the last week of the school year - ie, things are a zoo, and my mind was elsewhere. The weather cleared up, and it got into the 60's with a fair amount of sun. Tuesday was the same, and it wasn't until Tuesday evening as I was mowing grass that I realized the plastic was still over the raised beds. I pulled it off and almost fell over.

They were all dead...completely fried.

I was so pissed off at myself. The only possible survivor was one Hungarian Wax on the end of the bed that had a couple wilted leaves left on it. Everything else was a shriveled brown mess. The seedlings had come up so strong this year, that I was really looking forward to salsas, relishes, and all sorts of other stuff this summer. Oh well...I broke down and bought a couple of bell pepper plants at the grocery store today, and I'll probably hit up the nursery for some more this weekend, but it won't amount to anything close to what I had in the ground.

Two things occurred to me as I was putting the store plants in this evening:
1. Growing your own food comes with a definite learning curve. I've been gardening seriously for 5 years now, and I still feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing most of the time. Anyone who thinks that they can go from 100% dependence on the grocery store to living off the land overnight is in for a rude awakening.
2. It reinforced how lucky we are to have the resources available to us that we do. Make no mistake, the modern industrial agriculture/food system is unsustainable. I fully expect to see it fall apart in some way during my lifetime. Even if it doesn't, I'd want to get out as much as possible anyway. That said, it's nice to know that my family won't go without peppers this year simply because I'm a friggin' idiot.

Monday, May 2, 2011

April Showers bring...Mud Day 2011

The weather here in St.Louis has been miserably soggy for the past 2 weeks. There have been only a handful of days where the sun shined enough to go outside and do much of anything. While this has put a bit of a damper on working i the garden, it did facilitate what has become a tradition here at the 'Burbstead: Mud Day. Every year, before the garden is completely planted, I give the kids one chance to make a big mud hole and wallow around in it. Is this good for the dirt in that spot? Probably not, but I don't mind. A childhood is not complete if you haven't, at least once or twice, gotten so dirty that you must be hosed off before you can enter the house. The kids always have a blast.

Now if we could just get a sold week or so of 70's and sunny...