Posts Tagged ‘food’

Tomato Soup Base

Before the frost.

Before the frost.

Fall has arrived. It’s snowed a couple of times, and the frost has taken out 90% of what was left in the garden. Fall also means finishing the harvest and socking the last of the summer produce away in the freezer (or with another form of storage).

After the frost. Poor peppers.

After the frost. Poor peppers.

One of the first things I did was to start turning my tomatoes into soup base. It’s a recipe my mom uses as an easy way to get extra tomatoes from the vine and into the freezer with as little fuss as possible. It’s also a good way to use as many of the damaged tomatoes as you can. After all, once it’s pureed, you won’t be able to tell that half of it got cut off to remove the bad spots. Come winter, I can have nice, vine-ripened tomatoes in my soup of the day for a burst of flavor and nutrition.

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What you need are tomatoes, basil, parsley, and a food processor. Chop the tomatoes up a bit, removing any yucky bits, and fill the food processor up about half way. (I did a bit more than half because I only had enough damaged tomatoes for one round and I was planning on eating the whole tomatoes.)

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Add to that a handful of parsley and a handful of basil. My parsley was smothered by weeds, so I had to buy that, but the basil is from my garden.

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Puree it until you reach the desired consistency. Also- take time to admire the colors. In just my soup base I will have red, yellow, green, and purple. As I add other stuff to the soup, I’m just improving an already fairly spiffy nutritional profile. If you’re doing multiple batches, pour each lot into a pot before divvying it up to freeze. Mixing them together will give you more consistency in taste and texture since it’s not an exact science.

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You can store it in anything you would like for the time spent in the freezer. If you’re using glass jars, don’t forget to leave room at the top for the food to expand as it freezes. That’s also why you want the wide-mouth jars- there aren’t any shoulders for the freezing food to run into and crack.

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I picked the basil a few days before I needed it, and our kitchen was being worked on, so I stuck it in some water and left it in the bathroom. It turns out, purple basil is pretty, smells good, and matches our bathroom decor.

Urban Homestead Tour: The Redux

grass, urban homestead 207

So . . . my covering of the tour got a little wordy. Sorry about that. For those of you that got glassy-eyed at around word 600, I wanted to pull out the main points that I got from the tour. It’ll help me sort through it all, too.

What did I learn on the Urban Homestead Tour? In no particular order:

  • Anyone can do it. Even if you don’t have access to so much as a porch for container gardening, you can still can, freeze, or sew. Heck, knitting takes up practically no space at all.
  • It’s ok to start small. Most of them seemed to start with gardening, but you could even start smaller by buying produce at farmers markets to can or freeze.
  • Chickens are the gateway drug. Some people stop there, but for others it just opens up a whole new world.
  • Eggs, honey, and veggies can be sold by anyone as they are whole foods. (Milk is not.) You just aren’t allowed to put up a sign advertising that you sell them.
  • Be prepared to meet your neighbors. You may also need to bribe them.
  • An urban homestead shouldn’t stink. If it does, you’re doing something wrong.
  • Get used to that non-city smell.
  • Be creative. Raising meat rabbits? You can sell rabbits, pelts, and manure, not just meat. (Also not a whole food, so look at the rules governing selling meat.)
  • It’s not about going back in time, it’s about bringing that knowledge forward.
  • It’s about being resilient. You’re reducing the impact a disaster will have on yourself and your loved ones.
  • Be very, very, very wary of buying second-hand housing for your stock, whether it’s chickens, rabbits, bees, or goats. Disease can get imbedded in the wood and wipe out your new stock.
  • Think outside the box. What do you have that can be repurposed? What can you find for cheap or free to make into what you need?
  • Also know when you really do need to pay for quality. Buying any old thing for breeding stock isn’t usually a good idea.
  • Craigslist is your friend. So is Freecycle.
  • Make horse friends. Why buy manure when you’ll get thanked for hauling it away for free?
  • Read, learn, and take classes, but don’t procrastinate through your research. Sometimes you just need to make mistakes.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Learn the local building codes, rules for selling food and other items, and rules for keeping animals.
  • Learn which rules are enforced and the penalties for any rules you choose to flout.
  • Learn to talk to your local leaders to change the rules you don’t agree with.
  • Meet locals that are doing what you want to do. They may already know most of the above.
  • One you’ve acquired a skill set- how can you pass it on to others?

Urban Homestead Tour: Day 2: Part 2

How pretty is this coop? Starting with something simple is good- but this is something to aspire to.

How pretty is this coop? Starting with something simple is good- but this is something to aspire to.

Sorry for the delay. Jury duty, you know. It’s a rather fascinating process, actually, but I think I’m glad I wasn’t picked for that particular case.

Stop three on day two was cob building with Niko and Brandi Woolf (ooh- another blog!). Sadly, I missed a fair amount of this lecture because their backyard is set up to maximize its use rather than to fit the maximum number of people. It was a very popular lecture. Quite possibly because it was how to build weather-tight buildings and ovens using cheap to free materials.

The word “cob” comes from the Old English word for lump. To make the material, you mix one part clay with one part manure (he uses horse for his buildings), and after it has sat for a week or so and the enzymes have worked, you pull cobs, or lumps out of the water. That is then mixed with one part sand. The finer the sand that you use, the finer the finish on the wall. Your insulation is generally perlite or straw.

That's one happy chicken. You know, if we would close the coop and leave her in peace.

That’s one happy chicken. You know, if we would close the coop and leave her in peace.

The first building we saw was the chicken coop. The thick walls keep it cooler in the summer. The large overhang helps with that, and it helps with protecting the walls from the rain. In the winter, it works the opposite way. He closes off some of the ventilation to stop drafts and the hens are perfectly comfortable without any extra heat. They did buy a couple of 2x4s for the basic structure, but other than that, it was all free and reclaimed materials.

Feed me!

Feed me!

The second was the oven. I think one of my favorite parts about cob building is that it fits an imagination much better than your standard building materials.

When you are building, you want to try and build daily. It takes a while, but you don’t want your cob to get too dry before you apply the next layer. You also don’t want it to dry too quickly, as that can result in cracks. A couple tips he provided were to keep the work in progress covered and to leave holes in the top of today’s work, so that tomorrow’s work can fit into it like a puzzle.

The eastern side of the greenhouse.

The eastern side of the greenhouse.

Speaking of taking a while, his greenhouse took about two years. It’s an earthship with the open end facing due south. That means that it takes full advantage of the winter sun, but as the sun moves higher for the summer, it’s somewhat protected. Unlike the coop and the stove, this one could potentially run into building code violations. As an unheated, nonresidential building, if it’s short enough and has a small enough floor-space, it shouldn’t need a permit- but check your codes! You don’t want to spend two years building something just to have an annoyed neighbor rat you out. (It seems like any trouble from homesteading tends to come from a cranky neighbor. Consider bribing them with veggies, eggs, milk, or honey. It will also help you meet your neighbors.)

You can even plaster with  colors.

You can even plaster with colors.

The very outer layer should start about 18″ off the ground, and should be protected under a sturdy roof. However, it is the sacrificial layer, so it should get replaced every one to three years depending on the wear. The upside to this is that you get to re-explore your artistic side each time.

The very last one was talking about building chicken coops with Lindsey and Herbert Aparicio- The Goat Cheese Lady and her husband. We also met their guard dog- an Anatolian cross. Apparently they are fantastic guards from predators. Unless the predators are humans. Then they just want to be petted.

I think he would have climbed in someone's lap given half a chance. Such a sweetie.

I think he would have climbed in someone’s lap given half a chance. Such a sweetie.

Speaking of dogs- of all the predators we have around here, dogs are the worst. We did hear on the tour one story of someone who had a chicken-eating dog that stopped when the older dog, the bad influence, passed away. However, in most cases, once a dog realizes chickens are mobile food, you probably can’t let them mingle. The other side of the coin is that if you can convince your dog that your chickens and other critters are, in fact, part of the family, they can be the biggest part of your protection for your farm animals. This is usually done by raising the dog from a puppy with the animals. However, whether your dog can mingle with the critters or needs to be on the outside of the fence, it can be very helpful. Cats are also a problem while the chickens are smaller than cat-sized. Again, they are useful for rodent control, but keep an eye on them.

Make it dual-purpose whenever possible- a way to deal with mud and a way to rebuff predators.

Make it dual-purpose whenever possible- a way to deal with mud and a way to rebuff predators.

As far as inanimate protection goes- remember that your fence is only as good as your gate. Don’t forget to close them. A rule of thumb for visiting big farms is to leave the gate as you found it, whether it’s open or closed. I expect the same applies to little urban farms. (Although if I run into an open gate, I do usually ask if it’s supposed to be that way, just to be on the safe side.) Lots of predators will try and dig under your fencing, but if they run into barriers right at the fence line, they generally won’t think to move out a few feet and dig a longer tunnel. To achieve that, you can place concrete slab or very large rocks on the surface at the base of the fence. You can also dig your chain-link into the ground. If you go straight down, you need to go down about two feet. If you flair it out, you don’t need to dig it in as deep.

Clearly reclaimed materials- and a very cool result.

Clearly reclaimed materials- and a very cool result.

When it comes to your runs and chicken housing, beauty needs to come second to function. We saw some gorgeous coops on the tour, but none of them sacrificed the necessary bits for the pretty bits. Whether you’re building a mobile coop or a stationary one, also bear in mind that heavier really is better. If you can pick it up easily, so can a curious dog, or child, or a gust of the wind we have around here. He prefers to build with 3/4″ plywood whenever possible for that extra weight and sturdiness. Think about your materials, too. Plastic and PVC can be chewed through. good, old-fashioned metal chicken wire and chain link is pretty impervious to that. You will also want to consider building your coop a couple of feet off the ground. This will give the chickens shelter from sun or unexpected rain without requiring them to go back in the coop itself.

I love the edging on the raised beds. They have pipes under them for hot air in the winter to be able to grow more crops out of season.

I love the edging on the raised beds. They have pipes under them for hot air in the winter to be able to grow more crops out of season.

Using chicken wire, 3/4″ plywood, and concrete slabs doesn’t mean you have to buy them new, though. He is also all for salvaging materials for building. He also did a fair amount of building using the rough outer edges of trees from a local sawmill. It gave everything a more artistically rustic look and I have no doubt it was cheap to free, since those pieces couldn’t be cut into “standard-sized” boards. They also use their neighbor’s leaves for bedding through the winter. It seems to be a popular use for something that really shouldn’t be going to the landfill.

Hello, Ma'am.

Hello, Ma’am.

For your chickens- you can’t go wrong with Rhode Island Reds. They’re sturdy and pretty steady producers. Another good one is the White Leghorn. Apparently Leghorns in general are smaller, so they eat less, but they’re steady producers. The White Leghorn might not be pretty, but it’s very sturdy. A couple of others that might be suited to Colorado are the Star chickens and the Wyandotte. When your hens get old, bear in mind that you need to be more careful when you stick them in the crock pot, but if you do it right, the meal you end up with is often much more flavorful than the youngsters raised specifically for the pot. If you feel like keeping the elderly hens, though, he had one that at the age of 12 would still pop out an egg every so often.

Urban Homestead Tour: Day 1: Part 1

Gardens, chickens, ducks, doves, rabbits, cats, and a pair of very friendly dogs. All in one urban back yard.

Gardens, chickens, ducks, doves, rabbits, cats, and a pair of very friendly dogs. All in one urban back yard.

It was pure chance that I stumbled on the schedule for the first annual Urban Homestead Tour, but I’m so glad I did. Each homestead had a 45(ish) minute presentation staggered so you could attend all four of them each day. Each homestead was also open for four hours so that you could come before or after the crush if that worked better for you. It turns out the turnout was a bit more than expected. Next year, presenters, could you have the homesteaders do two or four presentations during the open house to spread out the mob a bit? It’s only going to get more popular, and some of the yards weren’t set up in a way to handle large audiences. That being said, even if I missed some parts of some of the presentations, each one gave me a good dose of information. So much, in fact, that you’re only going to get an overview here. You’ll have to come out next year to get the whole scoop.

It's a treadle sewing machine! That she uses!

It’s a treadle sewing machine! That she uses!

The first stop on the tour was Kathy Olson, formerly of Couch Comfies by Kathy. Her topic was fiber arts. She was a fantastic start because when she asked me if I was a homesteader and I demurred (I consider myself to still be aspiring to that title), she asked if I canned, or froze, or sewed? I don’t can at the moment, but I’ll get serious about freezing once my freezer arrives, and I do knit. I guess I do belong with these folks! She then described the best way to freeze herbs. Wash and dry them, lay them flat in a ziplock bag and squeeze the air out. Once they’re frozen, you can just open the bag to cut off what you need.

She made the bear when she was 12, and he's sitting on her first quilt and other samples of very doable quilting.

She made the bear when she was 12. He’s sitting on her first quilt and other samples of very doable quilting.

Once her talk started, it was pretty clear that her approach to fiber arts was both practical and welcoming. Quilting is basically being able to sew straight lines. But don’t be afraid to quilt something other than, well, quilts. She was wearing a pretty quilted vest, and she had several examples of gifts including pillows and wall hangings. She, personally, likes to knit hats and scarves herself to match them to her coats. As for practical, her biggest hint for quilting was that if it doesn’t work quite the way you intended, finagle it until it does work. The odds are that no one else will know that the pattern isn’t quite what you’d intended when you started. The other option is to box up “mistakes” to look at later. If you start an afghan today and get bored, you might be ready to finish it two or three years from now, so hang on to what you’ve done.

Yep, looks like homesteading to me.

Yep, looks like homesteading to me. Yum.

Did you know that Amish quilts always have a flaw because only God is perfect? They aren’t the only culture that has some variation of that idea. Did you know that if you get a genuine antique quilt, you’ll probably find an even older, worn out quilt inside of it acting as the batting? Waste not, want not, you know. Her suggestions for beginning homesteaders are to make it Convenient, Organized, and Not a Chore. The easier you make it for yourself, the more you can do. Also- patterns are really just suggestions.

Coooookies! (All American Sun Oven)

Coooookies! (All American Sun Oven)

The second stop was John and Louise Conner to learn about chickens. However, we were first greeted by the scent of baking cookies. The sun oven is so good that it even works in the winter, if you have enough sun. It’s a bit pricy, but apparently if you find them on Facebook, you can get some decent discounts on it. The other thing that greeted me was that the yard looked, well, normal. I could see having friends over for a picnic in that yard and not weirding out your non-homesteader friends. Of course, how the yard comes together does depend on how much you put in it and how it’s shaped, but it was nice to see the variety of possibilities.

It looks so normal . . .

It looks so normal . . .

He started off talking about reading a whole lot of books when he was thinking about getting into chickens. He read them, and promptly forgot most of the information. Most of what you will learn will be from experience, but knowing it’s in one of your books to refer to will be useful. His two favorite books are Keeping Chickens by Barbara Kilarski (a friendly intro to chickens) and City Chicks by Patricia Foreman (a more in-depth look at them). He also suggested backyardchickens.com, warning us that it’s got such a huge group of people that it might be a little intimidating.

. . . until you get to the cool part.

. . . until you get to the cool part.

The city rules are up to 10 hens and no roosters (although apparently you can have as many as you want if they’re under 6 months). He finds that four hens can be a bit excessive since it’s just he and his wife. During the summer, hens usually lay daily. They taper off in the winter unless you fool them with extra lighting. The city requires two square feet inside and four square feet outside per chicken. John (and other presenters) pointed out that if you give them more room outside, they can accept less room inside. They just come inside to lay eggs and sleep, generally. Most back yards aren’t big enough to have genuine “free range” chickens- particularly if you intend to do anything else with it. However, the more room you give them, the happier they will be.

That's a happy chicken.

That’s a happy chicken.

When it comes to housing, he suggests keeping it close to the house since you will be going out twice a day in any weather- letting them out in the morning and locking them up at night. However, you will need around a 10’X10′ space that gets sun in the winter which may determine where the coop goes. He purchased plans for the coop- the Playhouse coop– but the run was constructed from broken dog runs. Freecycle, Craigslist, and dumpster-diving seem to be a part-time job for most of the homesteaders, but you get some pretty awesome results from re-thinking how to use cheap to free objects. When you’re placing and building your chicken coop and run, you need to bear in mind that chickens will probably destroy the ground in their run- they love to dig- and we have a lot of predators. Even if you don’t have a neighborhood bear, you will be dealing with foxes, coyotes, birds of prey, cats, and dogs. This is why you lock them up overnight. It’s easier to make a perfectly secure coop than a perfectly secure run. The other thing that you need to think about is having enough ventilation but no drafts. If you get it right, chickens don’t need a heater in the winter. He also chucks in old leaves for them to shred and peck at. Once they’re broken down, he’ll scrape the top layer out of the chicken run for lovely compost.

The world would be a better place if more street corners looked like this.

The world would be a better place if more street corners looked like this.

He doesn’t like using the word “sustainable” for homesteading since it’s been co-opted. He’s got a good point. These days, it’s about as meaningful as “organic.” The word he likes is “resilient.” During the Black Forest Fire, one of their major concerns was the fire getting to the highway and shutting it down. Not because of the commuters to and from Denver, but because most of our food comes via Denver. It would be possible to find other ways to get the food here, but it would be a lot further and a lot more expensive. As I mentioned in my last post, most cities have about three days worth of food. However, if you have a garden and a couple of chickens, a hiccup in the food supply isn’t that big of a deal. Heck, if you’re also canning and freezing, you might not even notice that the stores are short on stock.

It Never Rains . . . But It Pours!

Step one: Check out these photographs: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=82090 and Step two: After you put your eyes back in your head, here are a few numbers for you: http://krcc.org/post/high-costs-colorados-high-water-numbers Step three: After you put your eyes back in your head again (really, it’s not good for them to do that), here’s a video from down by me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Hgcl2ltSg Colorado Springs wasn’t hit nearly as hard as they were up north, but it’s been rough. Manitou Springs has been dealing with flooding all summer because it was built on a flood plain (not so smart) and is now downhill of the Waldo Canyon burn scar (not so lucky). All of those trees and plants that got burned are no longer able to slow the flow of water down the mountain. They’ve also been having trouble in both burn scars with flood mitigation. Because they’re in the mountains, they simply can’t get the big machinery where it needs to be. While there are some amazing people doing amazing things to protect both the mountain and those of us at the bottom, they are limited if they only have the tools they can carry in.

Summer

I apologize to my readers for not being around much this summer. I’ve been a little busy, and my depression has been kicking my butt. Between the two, I just never made it on here to post anything.

My depression is actually part of my interest in food, gardening, and nutrition. I have been working with a book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. Her basic premise is that a large number of our mental and emotional health problems are actually due to being malnourished. Our brains aren’t being given the amino acids, among other things, that they need to function correctly. The explosive increase in problems is linked to the increasingly un-nourishing food we eat. It sounds silly to say that Americans are malnourished, considering how large we have gotten. In fact, Colorado (the thinnest state) is now fatter than Mississippi (the fattest state) was in the early ’90s. However, obesity is also linked to malnourishment. A body will eat until it gets what it needs to maintain itself. What it needs is more than the almost pure calories that so much of our food has become. If it only needs 2,000 calories worth of food to get the necessary macro and micronutrients, it will be able to stop there. If it can’t get the nutrition without eating 10,000 calories worth of food, then it will remain hungry until it gets them.

I feel confident saying that without supporting links, because in my own n=1 experiment, the more nourishing my food, the less I eat. The more I adhere to the eating guidelines and supplementation from The Mood Cure, the more balanced I am. “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Hippocrates, 400 B.C. For some reason, the medical profession has forgotten this little gem. Can we drug it? Can we cut it? Can we tell the patient that they’re imagining things? If one or more of those work, why would the food they ingest even be considered? Granted, there are mental and emotional (and physical) problems that do require the intervention of drugs and surgery. However, drugs and surgery should be used for what they are- treatments for acute and severe dis-ease. They were not designed for (and often don’t work well for) the management of chronic or mild problems. Of course, there would be much less money to be made in the medical industry if patients could manage and cure their own problems by changing what they bought at the grocery store or picked out of their gardens.

On a lighter note- here is a brief overview of what I’ve been up to this summer:

Ranch Rodeo 065

 

I went to the local ranch rodeo. Real cowboys doing the sort of things they do in their daily lives. The other rodeo, Pikes Peak or Bust, is pretty cool- but not as cool as this one.

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A pirate and a cowboy. Game over. He wins.

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Yep- I get to live here. This was from a hike on the West side of Pikes Peak.

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I did some weeding for a client.

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It gave me a whole lot of time to think. And to realize that having Hotel California stuck in your head is a major bummer when you don’t know the whole thing. I can’t wait to see what it looks like, though, when the grass finishes filling in.

Ranch Rodeo 003

Lastly, I’ve been spending time at Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. This is Mack making sure we don’t forget his noon meal. He’s more accurate than the clock.

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These two, Olive and Olivia, went to their new home on Labor Day. Olivia took forever to be born, but she was pretty independant from the moment she hit the ground.

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Also- chaps and wranglers.

Black Forest Fire Day Four

I tried to go up to Pine Creek High School again, since it had such a great view, but it has been totally taken over, so we civilians weren’t allowed in. When I was trotting around looking for another good site, I got this picture:

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Yay, rain!

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 004

Colorado does this awesome (read, potentially annoying) thing where it precipitates by zip code. It might rain in the mountains, but nothing in town. It might rain in the north part of town, but not the south part. You can see here, rain where I am, but blue sky not so far away.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 008

I headed out to Falcon to see if I could get some pictures of the eastern side of the fire. You can see how windy it is from the thunderstorm. My camera and I aren’t fast enough to get lightening pictures, but we had that, too. You can also see the development in the bottom of the picture. As you head east out of town toward the plains, you tend to see either open farm/ranch land or housing developments. Sadly, those are usually on old ranches because selling to a developer is more lucrative than farming or ranching.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 009

Between the clouds and the road blocks, I didn’t get anywhere near the fire. However, I’d rather have the weather finally helping with controlling the fire than awesome smoke and fire pictures.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 012

In tonight’s update, they were very clear that while the rain was helpful, the fire is far from out, and it wouldn’t take much at all to return to the hot, dry conditions that were fanning the fire earlier in the week. However, the cloud cover, higher humidity, and brief rain shower did help the firefighters make some headway. We are up to 30% containment, and some of the mandatory evacuations were revised down to pre-evacuation status. The count is up to 400 homes lost, but 2,833 are fine. They have about 5,000 more to check in the mandatory evacuation area. It is very tragic for each of the 400 families who lost their home, but the ratio of buildings lost to buildings saved is impressive. Many thanks again to all of the people working to keep the damage as limited as possible.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 002

So what have I been up to, aside from trotting around taking pictures? I am living about 10 miles south of the fire, and the wind hasn’t really blown it south much at all. However, I have still been cooking, doing dishes, doing laundry, and working in the yard. They are normal tasks, but they take on new meaning in these circumstances. A hotel room may not have a kitchenette, but it will probably have a microwave. Pre-made meals mean that I can still feed myself on a budget even if I have to leave. It also means that I’m leaving less food behind to be lost. Dishes and laundry need to be kept up with so that I don’t have to do them while I’m packing my car to evacuate. Plus, I prefer to travel with clean clothes. I’ve been slowly taking last year’s dead weeds out of the yard this summer, but the task took on new urgency when the dry weeds changed from unsightly to potential tinder. I don’t want to think about the yard if the wind changes direction and we are put on pre-evacuation status. At that point, all I want to think about is getting my car packed and hitting the road before anyone else does.

The other thing I am doing is planning. Last year there was one fire, and it was a bit north of us, so my roommate and I fled to Pueblo. This year, Pueblo had a small fire, and the Royal Gorge Fire is also south, so that’s out. The fire is north of us, and has closed down 83, which leaves 25 as the only direct road north to Denver. Well, evacuees plus construction would make for a mess. North is out. The plan is to head east out of town. Maybe, depending on the fire direction, I would feel safe stopping in Calhan, or maybe I wouldn’t stop until I hit Kansas. To that end, I’ve been watching my gas gage, and if it hits half-full, I’ll top it off. If I have to leave, I don’t want to stop.

This year I’m also much more on top of what I’ll take with me. I finally re-packed my trunk so that it held the things that I don’t use on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t want to lose. I have also made a mental note of what else needs to be taken, and in what order it goes to the car. The most important stuff gets loaded first just in case I get interrupted and have to leave now. I haven’t packed any clothes, but if the wind starts blowing this direction, I’ll do that immediately. I have no intention of waiting for a mandatory evacuation order to get out of the house.

Given the wild hurricanes out east, the tornados in Oklahoma, and the increasingly early fires out here, I suspect that this is not a fluke. This is the beginning of a trend of increasingly wild weather and natural disasters. How fast can you get out of your house with the people, pets, and items that matter most? Will it be fast enough?

Transplanting 2

It needs some help.

It needs some help.

The same day I planted the RCG bed, I also stuck a few things in the ground in Showcase 2. The last post was getting a bit wordy, though, so they are being posted separately.

It doesn't look bad . . .

It doesn’t look bad . . .

The bed that was the potato bed last year had been pretty neglected. I planted the garlic in the fall, after digging out the potatoes. Not all of them came up, but it’s not a bad crop considering the level of neglect they suffered over the dry winter. At this point, I’m not gardening as my main food source, so anything I get is mostly a bonus. I’m still too early in the learning stages to depend on it totally, though that is the direction I want to go.

 . . . but this looks better.

. . . but this looks better.

When I uncovered the bed, it was still a little higher than the path, indicating that it still had quite a bit of space for air and water to wend around the roots. This was, in part, because it was pretty thoroughly dug over when I was digging out the potatoes right before I put the garden away for the winter. However, it is still a young garden, and the exercise is good for me, so I double-dug everything but where the garlic was growing. Just fyi, barefoot shoes are awesome for everything but double-digging. When I discovered a section the dog had clearly lain on when she broke in, I think I might have bruised a bone or two from jumping on the shovel. However, in the end, it did look and feel a lot nicer after I was done.

I'm still figuring out what I want to grow in the blank spaces.

I’m still figuring out what I want to grow in the blank spaces.

This garden bed got fewer plants. I wanted the parsley to be close to home because I love parsley, and it’s convenient to have it in the back yard. I also picked up one pumpkin and one butternut squash. They both like to sprawl, and Showcase 2 has more room for that than the RCG bed. They are also something that gets picked later in the fall, possibly after I am done with the RCG bed, since it is mostly hot weather plants. Will the marigolds get swamped by the squash vines? Yes. But until then, they’ll add a splash of color to the garden. If you’re picking a pumpkin, bear in mind that some varieties are more suited for cooking, and some are more suited to becoming jack o’lanterns. If you don’t know which is which, do what I did and ask someone that works at the greenhouse. If it’s a good one, they’ll be able to tell the difference. I was rather surprised that the “Cinderella” pumpkin was good for eating, but that’s why I asked instead of guessing.

The perennial garden. Maybe.

The perennial garden. Maybe.

The last bit I put in was some thyme and flowers. There is a wire buried below that line of rocks that I discovered last year. (Don’t forget to call 811 before you dig. I’m lucky I didn’t electrocute myself when I discovered it the hard way.) Rather than leave this section bare and boring, I’m planting thyme, which is a perennial, and marigolds and violas that may reseed themselves next year. This section was not dug over first, but if the plants decide they’re happy enough to grow this year and come back next year, the roots will help to loosen the soil that I can’t loosen with a fork. The benefit, aside from herbs and flowers, is that I am making that much more soil a little more inviting for decomposers.

The plants should make a bigger impression once they've grown some.

The plants should make a bigger impression once they’ve grown some.

Setting the plants in depressions and re-covering the bed with straw is even more important in Showcase 2 than in the RCG bed because it does not have an automatic waterer. Therefore, when I do water it, and if it ever decides to rain again, it is even more necessary to funnel the water to the plants and shade the soil to preserve the moisture. The potatoes, as you can see, are quite happy with the arrangement.

Happy 'tater plants.

Happy ‘tater plants.

Losing Topsoil

The other day, I was on a bodybuilding site reading through a comment battle between vegetarians and vegans versus the meat eaters. Yes, this is a form of entertainment for me. One of the commenters pointed out that veganism isn’t the solution since we may well run out of topsoil in 60 years.

WHAT?

Running out of oil makes sense. So does running out of potable water. But soil? Ok, so I guess I knew that it was being degraded, but it’s really scary to think that I might live long enough to see the end of enough topsoil to support agriculture. With only a moment of research, Time magazine supported that assertion for me. The article goes on to point out that what is missing from the soil will be missing from the plants grown in the soil. So even before the soil is considered to be unusable, it’s already being less useful to those of us depending on it. Another point the article makes is that degraded soil doesn’t hold water. The worse the soil is, the less effective irrigation is.

First- why are we destroying our soil? The short answer is, we are taking and not giving. When we do give, it may well be poisoned. On most conventional farms, they’re simply too big to do things like till in nicely decomposed manure in the spring, or spread fresh manure after harvest in the fall. Spring in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was invariably announced with the smell of manure. The Amish farms would start their field prep by spreading the manure from their cows on their farm fields. Given a choice, Amish fruits and vegetables were the way to go when we were growing up, when we didn’t get enough out of our own garden. However big the Amish farm is, though, it is just a drop in the bucket compared to the operations that supply grocery stores. A family-sized herd of cows won’t give nearly enough manure to replace the organic material carted away to ship to the store. Their animal counterpart, CAFOs, can’t really be used, either, since the waste they produce is pretty much toxic. In short, we are pulling out organic material, vitamins, and minerals, and all we put back is “NPK.” Because, given no other choice, plants can more or less be grown on primarily nitrogen, phosphorus  and potassium. While organics are a step up from conventional produce, if you’re buying them from a big company, they’re probably still guilty of taking without giving. They just leave less poison behind.

Second- how does this affect me? When it comes down to it, I admit that what gets me moving the fastest on an issue is if I know it will have a major impact on me. This will. Already, conventionally grown vegetables (and the meat that is grown on conventionally-raised grains) offers me less vitamins and minerals than it could. Than I need. As the population grows (seriously, enough already, people) and the arable land shrinks, food prices will go up. Which means I will be paying more money for an increasingly inferior product. The more soil we lose, the more potable water we lose, since degraded soil just can’t hold on to it. I think everyone can recognize how bad that is.

So now what? I don’t own a farm that I can convert to something more sustainable. (If you do own a farm, though, that is something to keep in mind.) I do have a back yard, though. Along with the garden, I can build soil in the rest of the yard by creating a place where native plants and grasses can grow and do their thing. Going native generally means fewer chemicals (if any) and once it is established, way less upkeep. Having a healthy lawn also means that when I’ve had it with food prices, it’s much easier to convert to a healthy garden. I will already be working on the topsoil, including encouraging the growth of all the creepy-crawlies that keep a garden healthy. I can also make a more concerted effort to support those that support our soil. Buy local, buy organic, and buy from small producers. 100 acres is much easier to take good care of than 1,000. 10 acres they should know even more intimately. Buy grass-finished meat. Not only is it better for you, but it is a lot better for the environment. If you live in an apartment, ask a friend if you can help in their garden, or hijack a corner of their lawn to start your own. There aren’t many that would turn down help with pulling weeds or free, fresh veggies.

Will any or all of this fix the mess we’ve made of our farmland? Not hardly. But the less we rely on conventional farming, the less affected we will be when it collapses. The more we support responsible and sustainable farming, the more it will be seen as a viable option for those conventional farmers that just can’t do it any more. I doubt there is a single farmer out there that actually wants to destroy their fields. It behooves us to make conventional farming less profitable than sustainable farming. Help the farmers help the soil. We can’t live without it.

Definition of Diet

It’s almost that time again. New Years, the end of the holidays. What gets us through late winter and early spring is thinking about bathing-suit season, right? Right. I doubt it is eager anticipation of being seen in a bathing suit that drives so many to begin their perennial diet on January 1.

I just watched the documentary “Hungry For Change.” It had an agenda, but it also had a lot of rather profound things to say. One of the most profound was “Obesity is not the problem, it is the solution.” In other words, one does not become obese or overweight just because. One becomes obese or overweight for a reason. Your body is trying to tell you something. That changes the entire question about how to lose weight from a matter of sheer willpower to discovering why a person is overweight to begin with. It might be physical, or it might be mental/emotional, or it might be both. In any case, difficulties in losing weight are no longer a matter of being weak-willed or lazy, but a matter of having unsolved problems.

If high numbers win, I’m currently at a personal best. It’s not that I don’t know how to eat well and exercise. I do. In fact, I know a lot more about it now than I did in college when I weighed what I’d prefer to weigh. I know what it feels like to be strong. I’ve been relatively lean. Being as weak as I am at the moment, with the levels of body fat that I have is neither normal nor enjoyable for me. I don’t like my body not working right. Why am I telling you this? This isn’t a blog about dieting or weight loss or strength-training. It is, however, tangentally about health. While I don’t qualify as sick, I would say I have less than optimal health right now.

In my personal journey, I have never been a serious dieter. It always seemed like too much work for not enough payoff. Also, I like food. A lot. The dabbling I have done, though, had shown me that if I was in a good place mentally, weight would come off. If I wasn’t in a good place mentally, there was no point in trying because weightloss would be a lost cause. The documentary reinforced that stress in particular, but mental or emotional disorder in general, has a physical manifestation. When we are not happy, we seek comfort foods. Generally, those are the kinds of foods that stick to your hips, not your ribs. More than that, though, is that the body is also holding calories in the form of fat so that you will have the energy to deal with whatever it is that is stressing you out. Unfortunately, our bodies have not caught on that the stress of being stuck in gridlock doesn’t need the same caloric support as the stress of being caught on the wrong side of a rockslide.

Something that I have been lucky enough to dodge, but many people haven’t, is having a very thrifty body. In other words, a body that needs a smaller number of calories than average to function so that it can ferret away the rest to be used later. I don’t know what all of the causes of this are, but at least one is the environment training the body to expect starvation. In fact, this training can happen before birth. In 1944, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, they starved the local population. The children of women who were in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during the famine grew up to be more prone to obesity, among other illnesses.

One of the other major points that this documentary speaks to is malnutrition. We are, in fact, starving. Just not for calories. If my body determines that it is not being fed enough nutrients to carry out the necessary functions, it will assume it is starving. When my body starves, it will keep a white-knuckled hold on fat stores. After all, who knows how long the famine will last. I’m also hungry. I want to eat more to try and find the missing nutrients. So much modern food, specifically the kind with a shelf life, is mostly or totally nutritionally void. I can eat it until the cows come home and my body won’t get what it’s missing and therefore won’t willingly release my excess fat.

The solution to this is simple. Replace nutritionally void food with nutritionally dense food. Unfortunately, the solution is not necessarily easy. Vegetables are more expensive than Ramen Noodles. When you’re cooking for one, as I do, they can also seem like an awful lot of work for each meal. There are even people that don’t really have access to vegetables due to food deserts in cities. When you get into sourcing healthy meat and dairy, it only gets more expensive and inconvenient. However, every time I have done this in the past, my body has willingly let go of excess fat. With all of the nutrients my body had to work with, I also looked forward to physical pastimes that resulted in building strength and being generally more functional.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of diet is: a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed b : habitual nourishment c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>

Now that the holiday indulgences are over, like so many others, I am going to have diet on my mind. However, I am not going to use definition d. I like definition b. As the year turns to the new one, I am going to be changing my habitual nourishment for my mind and my body to provide the nutritional and emotional building blocks that will make 2013 a much healthier year than 2012 was,