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.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Last week one of our hens, Scratchy, died. I knew something was up with her the day before, when she hadn't come bounding out of the coop as I opened the door. Rather, she quietly hung out in the chicken run drinking water and occasionally pecking at the food. This was the first I'd noticed anything being amiss with her, and by the next day she was dead. That same day, the kids noticed that one of the white chickens we had raised from the batch of chicks this past Spring had hidden a few eggs in the leaves under our wood rack. In light of Scratchy's passing, they asked if we could try to hatch a new baby chick. Having looked into the matter previously, I was a bit dubious about our prospects for two reasons:

1. Incubating eggs is surprisingly tricky, and seemed best done by either a store bought incubator or a live chicken.

2. Brown Spot, our rooster, is so hen pecked - both by actual hens and our well intentioned children - that I doubt he has actually gotten his groove on enough fertilize many eggs.

Nevertheless, it seemed like a fun project to do with the kids on a day off school. We built the incubator completely out of materials that were laying around the house. The only thing we had to purchase was a 25 watt light bulb. Everything was put together, and in went the 3 eggs. We counted out the 21 days it should take for them to grow, and as luck would have it, the prospective hatch day is the boys' 8th birthday. Will anything come of this? I hope so, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Monday, January 16, 2012


The art of preserving vegetables by fermenting them is something that goes back thousands of years, and is prevalent in cultures around the world. Considering my family's strong German heritage, it's sort of strange that I've never really learned how to make Sauerkraut before now. The process is incredibly simple: shred or chop vegetables, add salt, squash to release the veggies' juices, top off with some water, cover it, and let it set. As the vegetables ferment, the beneficial microbes and bacteria that are present help to break down the ingredients, preserve it, and make it easier to digest when you eat it. If you cook or can it, all of those organisms are killed. I decided to make my kraut with some carrots and radishes, along with the cabbage. Why? I had them sitting around and I thought it might be good.

I cut the veggies coarsely with a kitchen knife

I used coarse kosher salt to mix them in a large bowl.

This is what the mixture looked like after a few minutes of squeezing. There was a fair amount of liquid that formed as a result of this.

I put it all into this large jar and topped it off with a little water. I used a small plate and a cup to keep the veggies submerged. I covered it with a thin dish towel, and let it sit in my basement for about 3-4 weeks.

Once the Kraut was fermented, I put it into mason jars to keep in the fridge. From 2 cabbages, a handful of carrots, and 6 big radishes I ended up with 2 1/2 quarts of Sauerkraut.

The fermented Sauerkraut is crisp, tangy, and delicious.

I'm not certain how long this stuff is good for in the fridge. At the rate I've been eating it, I don't think I'm going to find out. It's darn tasty. Making it in smallish batches like this seems to be the smart way of doing it. Cabbages and root vegetables store really well on their own, and this is something that lets you make use of them throughout the year. Below is a video featuring the eclectic fermentation guru, Sandor Katz (who may or may not have been the narrator for the infamous "Honey Badger" video). It lays out the process that I followed pretty clearly.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Growth in the New Year

Fun at home on Christmas Break

The Christmas/New Year's holiday rush is finally over, and now we can settle back down into the routines of regular life. I'll do a bigger post in the next few days looking back at what happened around the 'Burbstead in 2011, and what I'd like to see happen in 2012. For now, a quick update about a few random odds & ends.

Hoop House:
I got the hoop house covered with the salvaged plastic a while back. I knew that it wouldn't last more than one season, and the fact that the weather here has been remarkably mild up until this past week was certainly helping things. Since New Year's, the temps have been getting down in the 30's (which by itself isn't a big deal), and they've been accompanied by 40+ mph winds. That's started to test the strength of the plastic. I've repaired a number of small tears and holes. Yesterday I found a large opening in the back wall. I'm trying to keep in mind that this is an experiment and that we often learn more from failures than quick success, nevertheless, it's frustrating to have to continually break out the transparent duct tape. The plants have taken it all in stride thus far. I've pulled a ton of radishes, lettuce, and other greens out. The carrots and turnips are looking good, and I'm curious to see when the spinach that I planted in November will start to take off.

Swiss Chard, Black Seeded Simpson and Winter Density Lettuce, Beet and Turnip greens fresh from the Hoop House.

Cool Christmas Gifts
I had the good fortune of receiving a number of awesome Christmas presents this year. I'm not the sort of person who needs a lot of material things to be happy, but it's still nice to get some things that I probably wouldn't have bought for myself. A few of the "Burbstead related things I got were:

Food Mill with 3 different sized sieves.

A couple of books that I'm looking forward to reading