I’m a regular reader of NW Edible Life – the Pacific Northwest homestead blog of the very prolific and seemingly radically-organized Erica Strauss. She has a download section on her website of helpful bits and bobs that she’s created – canning label templates, an excel garden planner, and freezer inventory sheet to name a few – so that the rest of us don’t have to reinvent the homestead wheel. She shares freely – in both the monetary and the liberative sense – and embodies what I think is the ideal of any grassroots, community-centric movement – sharing openly and honestly without much agenda beyond making what we do more accessible. She wants more people to do what we do.
She’s a big proponent of analyzing what works, what doesn’t, and making lists. Big lists. Her goal list for 2012, while inspiring (booyah, girl!), lists a whopping 25 aspirations for the coming year – about two goals per calendar month. It’s a good read. Check it out.
My goal list clocks in at a personally ambitious 10. I’m not a lister, have two jobs (three if you count volunteering) and have dachshunds to appease (Chuckle all you want. Didi’s belly will not be neglected). Also, the garden and the homestead surroundings here are still very much in fetal development. It still feels very much like a blank canvas. The possibilities are vast. My first rule of homesteading? Know thy limits. Yes, push the envelope and get out of your comfort zone. But don’t create an unmaintainable hell
like I did once. Ok, twice.
So, in no particular order, la lista de 2012…
Morton’s flake salt uses a anti-caking agent called sodium ferrocyanide. Called “not especially toxic”, larger amounts (5x the recommended) did produce, “marked albuminuria accompanied by numerous granular casts, white cells, epithetical cells and rare red blood cells,” in the urine of test subjects. No studies available on long term and/or lifetime exposure, and all subjects returned to “normal” after two weeks. But why would I willingly choose this for my body? My family’s? Even in small doses? It’s even in my Morton’s Kosher Salt, pictured above. Time to change the salt inventory.
1. Make salt - I live in a massive state with a large ocean coast line and ample, dry summer heat and sunlight. The salinity of our ocean water is higher thanks to a long dry season and steady evaporation. So can anyone tell me why artisinal salt making doesn’t exist here? Granted, I’m just coming off a reading of Salted by Mark Bitterman so I have just enough information to be dangerous. But considering how chemically-pumped and unsustainable commercial salt making is, and that I live in an environment that makes summertime evaporation a low-pull, slow food option, it makes sense for me to at least give it a go. Bonus? I get to tap into the liberation that Ghandi was trying to inspire with his salt march in 1930. Food sovereignty, yo. First step – finding a clean water source. No small task. But not impossible. My Master Food Preserver knowledge may come in handy here, too. Dehydration is the name of the game. Hey sis – this guy is doing it up in Oregon. You have local salt!
2. Save seeds - Our Dad grew up on a farm in Michigan and had a couple of uncles who would whip anyone who touched their selected “seed plants.” They’d watch the crops come in, identify which were the best, and then flag them for non-consumption. ”We were poor,” he said. “They saved all their own seed. That was how we got our crops each year.” My great grandmother, Hattie, used to core the eyes out of their homegrown potatoes and replant them. Not whole seed potatoes. Just the eyes. This year I became an accidental seed saver – I had let a few bean vines mature and dry in the garden. This gave me a nice little mound of seeds which I fully intend to plant in the summer. That was easy. Hoping to take it to the next step in 2012 and save seeds from at least half my crops.
3. Make a vertical green wall that doesn’t cost $1K - There’s a space next door to the barn that butts up against our neighbor’s shed. Said shed is unpainted and unsightly, especially now that our barn has a couple of fresh coats and a new door. Painting over it would cut off light to their interior (part of it is a “window” of plastic sheeting). And we don’t have their permission to do so, so it’s pretty moot. It also doesn’t solve another problem we’ve had with that space – there’s a gap where Didi the Curious could hop down between the buildings and potentially escape. Solution? Steve asked me to look into a vertical green wall. There’s a company in SF that builds them and based on their pricing I’d need to fork over at least $1000 to cover the space. Oh hell no. The “system” is essentially sown up pockets of recycled PET plastic felt (from soda bottles), which you can buy from manufacturers here in the US. I can sew. Or staple. Or whatever. I can also set up the irrigation and plant it up. Steve will have to build the frame, and I still need to figure out how to manage the run off so it doesn’t erode the ground between the two buildings. But it’s entirely doable.
4. Make cheese - Pretty self explanatory. My future life includes goats and sheep. It just does. Therefore it will include milk, and thus, cheese. The more I learn now, the better off I will be when that day comes. It might not be til I’m 50, but it will come.
5. Make beer - Also self explanatory. I don’t like commercial beer. Never have. But one day a friend brought over a homebrew, and the clouds parted. THAT was what beer should be. So I’m learning. Luckily, we have a beer guru amongst the master food preservers, so I’m totally going to tap that…which sounds like something that it’s not. Creating the barn helps. The carboys and buckets will reside in there, freeing up kitchen space.
6. Plant a more bee-friendly garden - I actually want to keep bees, but Steve has safety concerns regarding the dogs. His decision is firm and I respect it. I sighed heavily once
maybe twice and got over it. The next best thing that I can do is plant a very bee-friendly garden. The lavender and aloe that bloom in the winter help. But I want to expand our flora to have a nice year-round bloom for them to visit.
7. Retool the lower “farm” - The lower yard, to be blunt, is a wreck. It’s also rife with old railroad ties. Yes, I know, I know. We were working fast and cheap and the ties were already there from the previous owner. Lesson learned. A more recently built raised bed uses recycled cinderblocks instead. But I need to get those ties away from the food crops and rebuild the soil. I also want to install a small greenhouse on the brick ‘patio’ we built down there last year. That’s the left side of that yard. The right side? Fraught. The previous owner dumped a mess of old asphalt roof material there. I’ve dug down about two feet and still pull up shingles. Jerk. I’ve written it off as food growing space for the present and want to prepare it for chicken housing. Once I’ve leveled the soil, added a “safety layer” of dirt, and mulched, then Steve will start to build the coop and fencing from the leftover lumber used to renovate the barn. But at some point? We need to address the roof tile issue there – correctly – and restore the soil as best we can.
8. Plant Damascus roses and Elderflower/berry bushes - For both liqueurs and for distilling rosewater. Distilling rosewater? Not illegal. As long as I’m not making distilled spirits, I’m good. Also, I want the elderberries for wine. I can forage for these locally, but we live in a forage heavy urban community and a lot of the best bushes are already marked.
9. Companion planting - Do it. Help them, help you.
10. Teach - There a rumors that a local 4-H group has formed in my urban neighborhood. I want to offer them my MFP teaching to help them with a preserving project. I also want to do classes locally with Diep at her restaurant. And since I can’t do all this alone, I’m going to try recruiting some local learners who will assist in exchange for knowledge. I already have a small group forming who I’ll call The Jam Ladies who want to come to my kitchen for quick, seasonal lessons in preserving. First class is in January. Marmalade. You down?
11. This one goes to 11! Bonus goal! Actually plan things out - Often times I’m at my local nursery and say, “OOOO peanut seedlings!” and then bring them home and put them wherever there is free dirt. Not efficient, money or production-wise. And often, the timing is WAY off. I bought watermelon seedlings last year way too late in the season. The vines grew beautifully, but at that point it wasn’t nearly hot enough for the buds to set and form fruit. Total waste of resources. Databases, calendars, and guides will be employed. There will be order, efficiency, and maybe a little innovation. For 2012, I will cease to be an impulse planter. No mas. I will also start my own seeds whenever possible. I managed to do that with most of my winter crops this year. Summer will be a challenge. But I’m game.