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I call it just a day.  A real day.  I spent time away from the computer.  I opened and learned the new pressure canner I bought.  We have so many tomatoes, and I know I need to learn to put things up.  It’s part of it.  Though I have heard the stories of pressure canners blowing people up, I know they must be relatively safe, and it is time I got acquainted.  Tomatoes are supposedly easy to put up.

I hate reading manuals.  I like my reading to have a narrative quality even if non-fiction.  I’d much prefer learning my being taught by a breathing being, but time has not allowed me that, and none of my family that lives closer to us cans.  I withstood the reading, working through the text step by step, trying to be hands on instead of reading and then doing.  I readied 7 quart jars.  I knew I’d fill those and have left overs.  Yet, when I smashed in the tomatoes as instructed by the manual, I found that I could only fill 4 of those.

As soon as the jars were prepared, the girls and I got the best surprise.  At my back door, stood my daddy.  He had come just in time to be present for my blowing up the house.  But, it all went off without a hitch.  The best part is my daddy was smiling and seemed at ease.  He has a job that carries with it a huge responsibility, and sometimes I wish he could leave it behind.  I always remember my happy daddy fondly.  Nobody else can be happy like him.  When he is happy he can hold the world on his back and go with simple movements, unhindered, laughing.  Oh, the laughing.

Dad helped me fix the air conditioner away from the stove.  Our little wall unit blows the flame on my gas stove, so I had turned it off.  It was like a sauna in the cabin.  He couldn’t stay long and we were alone again.  The jars finished processing.  I did my yoga practice.  Ivy napped.  When I got the jars out of the canner, I got this…

Floaters.  I should have poured off the juice I got after packing and put in more tomatoes.  The jars are sealed though, and John’s Mamaw – canner extraordinaire – says they are going to be just fine to eat.  They will be used for soups and sauces this winter.  I’m so pleased that the blight didn’t wipe them out this year like our last year’s crop.  We are making progress even if baby steps.  We’ll eventually walk with few stumbles, then glide.

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First, you start with real good garden soil, a set of plant starts, and eventually you will have a gorgeousness that looks like this.

 

When the first pea pods appear, they will be tender enough to put in the skillet without steaming first.  If you like peas in the pod, you’ll leave them on longer, but to make this dish, you’ll need to string them, and/or steam them for tenderness.

Make some bacon.  A whole pack is nice because you can eat while you cook.  I prefer to buy bacon free of nitrates or nitrites and sugar when I can find it.  Sautee some onions in bacon grease until they start to brown.

Then, add the washed pods and peas.

Cook them over medium to high heat until they are fully greased and tender.  The amount of grease you use depends on your tastes.  I use the whole pan from making the pack of bacon.  When tender, crumble in some bacon and serve.

 

You’ll notice that this dish is similar to the Appalachian green beans and kilt lettuce and onions.  Pork was a mainstay of the Appalachian diet, and used to flavor many dishes from cornbread, beans, to greens.  Because chickens provided eggs and cows provided milk, they were not butchered as regularly as hogs.  When not eating pork, or chicken for Sunday dinner, Appalachian peoples ate the meat of hunted animals including, rabbit, deer, squirrel, wild turkey, opossum (some folks didn’t care for it), and groundhog (has a reputation for being greasy).  In our family we eat rabbit, deer, and wild turkey, as well as fish caught from our lakes and streams.  I prepare a traditional foods diet for my family most days.  I have found that if we eat foods that we are genetically predisposed to tolerate, then we have better outcomes physically.  My family has lived in the mountains for generations.  My ancestors were Irish and Cherokee primarily.  My husband’s were Melungeon.  By keeping the traditional Cherokee and Appalachian food ways we were familiar with, and researching those that had been lost to industrialization we have found healthy eating.  Being involved in where your food comes from both animal and plant forms, is extremely rewarding.

It’s hot here folks, and I am enjoying the rain today.  I finally have the pictures I promised.

The garden that is furthest along growth wise. We have 3. This is the only fenced one.  We are already eating spinach, swiss chard, and broccoli from this plot.

Aren’t these peas just gorgeous?

I can’t wait for the pods… well, if it means loosing these blooms I can wait for a little while. 🙂  They make me think of Alice in Wonderland.

We bought fencing yesterday for the other plot by the barn.  For the plot by the house (last year’s only garden), we are doing the low string and pie pans again.  I’m hoping to get to work out there tomorrow.  John’s uncle Ben suggested some barn repairs, and I hope that is underway soon.  I am also waiting to hear about Farmer’s Markets to participate in.

In other news…. Deladis is still going strong on her start to her kindergarten year.  I can most definitely say these few weeks have opened my eyes and made me realized that I have a lot to learn about teaching little ones.  We are using a curriculum that is for preschool, but it is akin to kindergarten.  The regular curriculum starts with Grade 1, but I haven’t seen a sample to know if I will use it for next year or not.  I like it because it is nature/domestic based and spirituality has a part.  The illustrations are non-commercial, but beautiful and real.

Deladis has been enjoying herself very much… when mommy isn’t being too uptight.  One of the parental instructions suggested in the book is that children should complete work neatly.  Proper posture and holding of the pencil should be practiced.  She is just learning to write.  Here we have dotted lines, and examples to trace.  For me the instructions translated into when making them on her own the characters should be as large as those she traced.  This especially came into play with the 3.  The top should be at the top line.  The middle in the dashes, and the bottom at the bottom line.  She would make lovely, perfectly legible 3s that were much smaller.  We’d erase and try again.  Before long, she was crossing her arms and looking at me.  I felt kind of ridiculous erasing her 3s that were out of proportion, but for some reason felt the need to make sure directions were followed.  I went to message boards for advice.  I found what I needed from the unschooling community ( I am looking into some application of that philosophy for our experience).  The next day, we did 3 again.  This time no erasing.  Just reading directions.  Deladis practiced on her own, and before I knew it, she was making a 3 similar to the one she traced.  I had decided that I wouldn’t care.  That I would let her explore the writing on her own after reading the workbook directions.  She loves the workbook.  She made me draw the riders on the horses in the picture.  As you can tell with her coloring, nothing is outside the reach of her ability to imagine, create, understand, and transform. 🙂

This is what I have to remember.  She learned to potty on her own.  It happened when she was ready.  On her own time.  All I did was explain how we went about it, and gave her encouragement and help as she needed.  There was no “training” involved.  No, she wasn’t 18 months old and wearing underpants, but she was using it on her own in a reasonable time frame.  After 2 weeks, there were no accidents.  Why should learning anything else we need for growing up or adulthood or creativity or spirituality or work be any different?

Others suggested that she is too young to learn to write.  They said I’m expecting too much of an almost 5 year old.  Deladis asked to learn writing.  She asked me to show her and help her to learn.  She showed signs of academic readiness that I read about in my study of Waldorf education, though before her age.  I had determined I’d follow her cue and embrace her eagerness as an opportunity for learning.  I just need to supply her with resources, be there to read directions (until she can read them herself), offer ideas, demonstrate things, answer questions (or help find answers), and offer my help as she needs it.  She will learn.  She will learn because that is what we do, and because I as her mother and teacher am nurturing that ability in her.  Not by erasing her 3s until they meet the criteria, but supporting her practice until they meet the standards that she sets, that is her personal best for her age, or until it is time to practice something else for awhile.  I learned to let go a little of the thought of “teaching”.  I watched that letting go help Deladis to learn through her own hand and observation.  The “teacher” in me was impressed with her.  Who knows where this journey will lead?

Pictures coming as soon as John comes home with his banjo case where the USB cord for the camera is located.  Why?  We don’t know. 🙂

It has been quite awhile since I have written anything about our efforts with the homestead.  The Confluence (the name of our homestead, homeschool, and educational organization) has grown since last year.  Instead of the one garden plot that we had next to the cabin last year, we kept it and added two more down by the barn.  The two new plots get full sun, so our corn, tomatoes, peppers, berry bushes, watermelons, peas, broccoli, cabbage, onions, swiss chard, and spinach is there.  Here at the cabin plot, I have put in the potatoes, carrots, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, and dill.  We still have some more tomatoes, lettuce, lavender, pumpkins, several bean varities, and sunflowers to plant.  I haven’t decided exactly where they will go.  They will be in the ground either this evening or tomorrow.  However, I will not be planting while the sun pours down across my back.  My shoulders and forehead are sunburned and I have the hot chills.  Our planting takes quite awhile, because we do it all by hand, scooting across the ground, pinching and dropping seeds.  Someday, we’ll have more equipment.

We hope to have enough produce to sell a bit this year.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that John will get a chance to work on the barn so we can get a chicken flock that will be protected from predators, and eventually a few goats.  I’d like to be able to sell eggs as well.  John has mentioned wanting to spend more of his time on the homesteading, and for it to work as we have dreamed, that will have to be the case.  Our friend Nathan has been helping us along, but he will be leaving on a year long, around the world trip in August.  Another friend Brett Ratliff has been helping as well.  He is a musician and travels quite a bit as John does, so his time exists a bit of everywhere.  Both of them are bachelors with nothing tying them down – free spirits those boys, and huge helps as they can be.  So, then there is me – mountain mama of two under five. 🙂  I can get a lot done, but not enough.  If John is able to be here a bit more, then it will be a huge help for the homesteading dream.

The Confluence in it’s current existence is our home and Nathan and Brett call the cabin at the mouth of the holler home.  The four of us are working on this project together as our time allows.  We are planning to bring it into a place where we offer workshops on sustainable agriculture and traditional music.  John’s art studio is here, and he plans to open that to the public.  We may host some small group events as we are approached to do so for traditional music, arts, sustainable living, natural family living, and childbirth preparation.  Eventually, when Nathan comes back from traveling the world, we may apply for non-profit status.

So, this year, we are slowly moving forward, and we are happy with that.  John is so good for me in that regard.  I’m like a wild filly out of the gate.  I want to do everything in short order.  But, we are moving just as fast as we are supposed to.  Any faster would be overwhelming.  We have heard rumors of Farmer’s Markets organizing, so my goal is to participate in those as we can.  I am prepared to do a lot of preserving food too.

I’m excited about the opportunities this brings to my life.  I am scattered all over the place right now, and if you asked me what I wanted personally, the list would be ridiculous.  My goals are in some sort of transition period.  I started simple when I began this blog, and then at some point realized that something wasn’t working or wasn’t enough.  I’m still trying to set on what that something is, and at this point it is taking the form of many projects.  I will figure it out.  It’ll be a dang good thing when I do.  🙂

The last week (well, since Tuesday) I’ve felt like Death warmed over.  Now, I ain’t been too far from home, so I don’t know if that is strictly an Appalachian expression, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were.  Us mountain folk love to discuss our ailments.  I don’t know when that came about, but as long as I have been alive, it has been true.

It usually goes a little something like this….  You see Linda’s, Mamaw Flora at the grocery store.  You go to church with Linda, so you feel you should say a hello.

“Hello  there, Flora.  How you today?”

“Aw, not too bad.  I got the arthritis so bad in my hip I can’t hardly get up and down.  Linda can’t help me none… much.  She had the stomach virus this week, and Fred (Linda’s husband) has been down in his back.  He’s too old to be working underground, but he can’t retire.  Not right now.  But, we ain’t doing too bad.  Can’t complain.”

So, I’ve felt like Death warmed over, folks.  I’ve had the whole sinus thing going on, and I’ve just felt plumb wiped out.  John’s been off his feet because of swelling and blisters from all the hard work he’s had to do these last weeks.  Winter was rough on us this year.  But, we can’t complain.

This week we’ve had visitors from Princeton University who said the trip to the cabins here to talk to John and George were the highlight of their trip.  I haven’t felt like keeping up with the girls, but they kept up with me. 🙂

Ivy found the dress up clothes that Deladis never bothered with, and was a Princess for two days.

Deladis had to get in on the picture taking fun without really playing dress up.

Today, we were all feeling a little better.  The girls went to stay with John’s mom last night, and husband and I got some much needed sleep.  The sunshine this morning lured us out to the barn and the garden plot we’ll be sharing with our friend and now neighbor, Nathan Hall, for some work.  Nathan has huge ideas of the real learned variety.  He has somewhat of a degree in agriculture.  We’ll have a nice organic garden this year. 🙂

This morning we spread nice wet and aged poopy throughout the area where we will plant over the next few weeks.  The aged poopy came from the barn, and the nice fresh stuff, Nathan brought back from some where off.

The barn door.

This area will be disced and more manure spread as we go along.

Soon, we will be adding more animals to the mix.  We’re looking for meat goats and some larger chickens for egg laying.  We did get six eggs from our house hen yesterday!  Crazy!  They are tiny little things too.  She isn’t setting though, so they’ll be breakfast.

It’s a beautiful day, and John’s Mamaw is celebrating her 82nd by cooking her family a nice old time dinner.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend and being a little better than not bad. 😉

I want to begin by apologizing for not quite keeping up here with the comments and posting these last few months.  I want everyone to know I read every comment and respond in my mind (Hopefully, I will be able to do better about posting those thoughts as we get back into a healthy post holiday rhythm).  I very much value the interaction on this blog and the others I read.  It’s nice to have online community.

So, we just got back from Cincinnati visiting some family there.  We went to the zoo’s Festival of Lights and saw an amazing light display, some neat animals (an eastern screech owl up close and personal, shown by a delightful caregiver, and some spectacular insects), and an outdoor show by the Madcap Puppet Theater in about 10 degree weather. 🙂  It was their Christmas present for the girls, and I am so grateful for it.  Both Deladis and Ivy were in high hog heaven. 🙂

But… the highlight of the trip for my personal self was a trip to Trader Joe’s to stock up on some hard to find grocery items.  I had read various women sing the praises of Trader Joe’s on internet forums, and I had never experienced for myself.  I have fallen in love, and I want to know how you can get a store like that to come to a rural place like this.  The first surprise was the size.  It was a tiny, quaint store.  I didn’t know what to expect, and while I didn’t see shelves and coolers filled with a crazy variety of food like you would at a Whole Foods store, I saw just enough.  It was almost perfect – almost.  The prices were the kicker for me.  I found Trader Joe’s bacon that was nitrate/nitrite/MSG free for $3.99.  I bought 4 packs.  Here you pay $4.99.  Frozen blueberries for $2.99 (12 oz.).  Gluten Free Mac-Cheese for $0.99 a box!  I found whole milk yogurt with a higher fat content than Yo’ Baby, and when you have a picky toddler who loves yogurt that is a blessing.  Ivy needs all the fat she can get.  It was wonderful.  I bought four large canvas bags full to the top of good food for $137.00  I can’t believe how excited I get over food.  I want a Trader Joe’s in the mountains.  I pay twice the price for some of the things I bought today on a regular basis.  I think that once local people saw the food was affordable, they’d be happy to shop there.

Yee-haw!!!

2010 is a good year.  Heck, every year is a good year.  We are blessed with life!  I have been inspired in these last weeks, and I know without a doubt that I am being led, and I am taken care of.  It’s nice to be assured of that.  It’s freedom.  It makes you want to do something about it.  Over on a blog I found a few months ago a challenge is being held – Hip Mountain Mama (One Small Change) .  She is encouraging people to make small changes in our living to create sustainability and positively influence our impact on the environment.  John and I try to work on this every day.  It is of a great deal of importance to us as energy issues impact our everyday life with the coal industry being a crucial part of the economy of the mountains and living with the impact that has on our surroundings.  We know that this isn’t a stable energy source, and it won’t be possible to fuel our local economy off of it forever, and John and I both believe we mountain folk need to start making those changes now and learn what we can do to sustain ourselves here.  However, we know that coal provides about 80% of the nation’s electricity, so it is up to all of us to begin that change.

I probably won’t be able to keep up with the blog deadlines she has set, but I’m going to participate in my own way.

Here is what I want to change:

1.  There is no recycling center in our county.  The closest is about 30 miles away.  Because of this we have stopped recycling.  (And John watched a Penn and Teller BS episode and feels it might not be so bad. I don’t know.  I’d have to revisit that episode myself.)  So, in lieu of that, I’d like to reduce our waste.  We have it down to about 1 garbage bag a week.  The next change I think I will make it making some napkins to use in place of paper towels for eating and some mess clean up.  I have some old sheets that would work perfect for that.

2.  I’m going to make it a point not to buy bottled water when I am out and about.  I plan to purchase a stainless steel water bottle and fill that to carry around.  We use water we collect from the watering hole for consumption and cooking at home.  Carrying that with us won’t be hard.  Plus, after hearing about the movie Tapped, I am motivated.  It is hard to think about when the local water supply can hardly be trusted because of recent petroleum spills and other such industrial pollutants.  Praise God for our watering hole.

I challenge everyone to make one small change.  Something you can feel good about.

I’m wonderfully optimistic about the year to come.  I think I’m finally coming to an understanding of what it means to let go and let God.  To kick off the new year, I have decided to start a series of posts on things we have a right to know about (in fact in many situations our life depends on it), but for whatever reason they are kept “secret” whether through planned secrecy or by tactful exclusion of information.

John and I spent the evening on the couch last night watching our new Netflix arrival – Food, Inc. .  I’ve been waiting on this movie since it came out a while back.  This film demystifies our current system of industrialized food and the problems that arise from our expectation of fast and cheap food.

It was a little over a year ago now when a prolonged illness of mine prompted me to switch our diet to a traditional foods diet as proposed by The Weston A. Price Foundation and authors like Sally Fallon and Nina Planck.  Since then, I have noticed a tremendous change in my health and well being along with that of my husband and children.  I have lost and maintained a 100 pound weight loss (though I was already losing weight before changing my eating, I contribute most of it to traditional foods).  I have more energy.  My gums no longer bleed when I brush or floss my teeth.  But, the most noticeable for me is my relationship to food.  I no longer fear food making me fat, because I know that what I am choosing to eat is real food and not something fabricated in a factory.  I enjoy my food and I eat plenty of it.  I’m eating things the diet industry tells us will make us obese and sick – butter, bacon, red meat, and whole fat dairy.

This approach to eating (I don’t call it a “diet” in the terms of how most of us view the word) has changed my life so completely that I can’t help but get excited about sharing it with others.  However, all to often I have noticed people don’t want to hear the truth about where their food comes from, and I tend to get tuned out.  Instead of accepting that there is a problem here and we are in need of huge change as a society, they continue to eat from the conventional store shelves food that more often than not is some kind of factory made variation of corn or soy bean products and they wonder why they are sick with things like diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, or obesity.  Why is that?

The fact of the matter is that we have a right to know where our food comes from and under what conditions it is being processed for our consumption.  Our food is life.  What we put into our body directly affects how we are able to live our life.  However, now that our food supply is being controlled by just a few multi- million (billion) dollar corporations that treat their farmers and factory workers like second class human beings, who don’t care at all about the health of the animals they process for meat, and treat our meat, produce, and dry goods with a variety of chemicals to give them unnatural shelf lives, we are being kept in the dark of food practices that if they were public knowledge would incite the citizens of this country to demand a change.

The truth is that 1 in 3 children in this country born after 2000 will develop diabetes1 in 3 children in this country are either considered overweight or obeseLow-income Americans (under $30,000) a year find it hard to afford a healthy diet.  This comes along with the idea of fast food being cheap.  You now can buy chips for a lesser price than a head of broccoli, and then there are dollar menus at fast food restaurants.  The question of food availability also arises.  Living in rural Appalachia, I find it extremely difficult to find food I feel is appropriate for my family, and I have to make too many compromises.

Our country is facing an epidemic that is inexcusable.  We owe our children a better chance at a healthy life than this.  We owe it to ourselves as well.  While industrialization has brought about many good changes in our way of life, when its principles are applied to certain more personal areas of our lives, we find we are detrimentally affected by its lack of concern for the greater human good as opposed to the low cost production industry holds so dear.  A few profit from the loss of many.

After viewing this film and others like it, I can’t help but encourage others to become informed as well.  Know where your food comes from.  Know that in one pack of ground beef there is meat from 50-100 cattle.  Know that most chickens raised for commercial slaughter for companies like Tyson never see the light of day or feel grass under their feet.  In fact, they are lucky to be able to bear their own body weight on their brittle legs.  Know that the tomato you are buying that is so pretty and red was shipped to your location in many cases over thousands of miles, and picked while still green.  It was ripened chemically.  Know this, and decide to change it.  There are farmers out there with answers to this problem.  We can have normal, affordable, healthy food.  We can live without the fear of food related disease.  Arm yourself with knowledge.  Then, cast your vote for the foods you want every time you choose your purchases at the grocery.

I sat in the living room with Ivy in my lap watching the fog come up the holler this morning, and wondering how the rest of the weekend will play out.  The gas company is still working on roads and new pipeline.  The yard is becoming a mud pit, and I am ready to have the peace back around here.  Today, I caught about five of them hovered around the chicken coop.  One of them was giving one of our roosters hits off of his cigarette.  I quickly went out on the porch to make myself known.  I was about to have words with him, but I was able to restrain myself, and they just as quickly left our yard.  I know that when all is finished, it will be better for us and easier on the vehicles, but right now, it’s hard.

mud

I’m having to keep the girls inside for the most part.  Today, it was so beautiful, we had to venture out for a quick swing while we caught some quiet.  What you see here is the new road.  We had to move the swingset.  The road took our compost pile, all my wild blackberries, and my bird feeders that I made with the girls.  However, it will prevent us driving through a large part of the creek.  Hopefully, we’ll have a bridge over the deepest part at some point.  Right now with the rain, we can’t park anywhere near the house.  We are parking about a football field’s walk in the mud from the house.  The dozers and inloaders coupled with the type of work they are doing has kept us out of the hills this fall.  Usually, we are in them most days.  I had wanted to take pictures of the trees and all their colors.  The leaves are pretty much gone now.  I took this next photo from the yard, catching a patch of trees that hadn’t been so blown by the wind.

red

I’m trying to look on the bright side of things.  John has described this month as the month from “hell”, and for him it probably has been.  October is my favorite month, so I’m giving its redemption my best shot. 🙂  I went to the produce stand on Wednesday and discovered that as long as there is something to be sold and people buying, they will be open!  They carry some local goods like potatoes, honey, sorghum, and other canned items.  The rest of the produce is trucked in from North Carolina, but it is a family business and small.  It is an outdoor stand.  Though the produce is not organic, its flavor is magnificent.

Here are some of the winter items I stocked up on, just in case they close.

produce

In that basket are apples of all sorts, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and butternut squash.  I plan to peel, slice, and freeze some of these apples for fried apples through the winter.  Some of the green ones will make an apple pie.  I have Mutsu and Granny Smiths.  Sweet potatoes are something John and I have never liked until we started cooking more traditional/whole foods.  Now,in this area, most sweet potato dishes that are served are very sweet, almost like a desert.  Brown sugar, margarine, and marshmallows are added along with other spices.  It makes it taste wrong to both John and I.  However, we have found that we love them fried in butter with nothing added except occasionally a little nutmeg or cinnamon.  I thought about making sweet potato chips with some of these, or baking a few.  Yum!  I can just see the melted butter.

I also got a few huge cabbages for sauerkraut making, and a box of the nicest onions.  The red ones in the picture are the best tasting onion I have ever put in my mouth.  They are so sweet.  The little ones are PeeWee Vidalias.  I’ll have to report back on those.

onions

Before John left today, we talked about cooking.  Neither of us can remember when I made a dinner last.  😦  I cook breakfast every morning.  It is the family meal we rely on.  This month we have been apart most of the time for dinner.  I don’t cook when it is just me and the girls.  They eat so little that we just eat lunch type foods.  I miss dinner.  That is why I bought the butternut squash.  I have never had it, and I want to make something different.  I want to eat things that are in season.

This morning, I made fried apples from the fresh apples I bought yesterday.  The girls and I really enjoyed them.  It is a traditional Appalachian food.  Many families had apple trees on their little hillside homestead.  I’ll post my recipe on the favorite recipes page.

apples

Thanks ladies for the well wishes for the girls.  It is a minor thing – cold like.  I’m thinking either from all the wet weather or the sitting in the car cart at the mall when we went for my birthday.  It is that or the mold issue.  We are still working on that.  The ventilation has brought some help, but not quite enough.  We are looking for a dehumidifier.  If that doesn’t work…  I hope that isn’t the problem.

It is more than a blessing to be able to live in this holler and in this cabin.  It is perfect for us.  Our landlord is a true friend.  I wish so much that it wouldn’t have to ever come to an end, even when things are a bit off kilter.

The weather of the last three days has made me high on life, I tell you what.  Those cool breeze days are coming closer everyday.  🙂  The girls and I are experiencing rocks and gemstones this week with our Little Acorn Learning curriculum, and being outside these last days has been perfect.  While the girls washed some stones we had collected by the creek, I decided to start clearing up the garden, chicken coop, and working on our compost pile.

We’ve made several poor attempts at composting.  The first was dumping old food in the same spot in the back yard.  Our dog would come by and eat it all up, so our pile never grew.  Then, we decided to make a real attempt when we still had our little flock of chickens, so we made the pile bigger.  (Lack of research and thinking you already know how to do something isn’t always a promising adventure.)  John pitched some outdated chicken legs into the pile raw, and in a few days we had maggots like I have never seen before.  The stench was gawd awful.  I would go on to describe it in detail because the image is burned into my brain, but I will spare you.  So, we destroyed that pile.

Lately, I’ve slowly been researching composting a bit more, asking questions of those who know a bit about it, and we have a true compost heap.  I can’t call it a pile anymore because when composting without a container, you need a heap for it to work.  Today, I did most of the work to make it into a heap.  It now is the height of my knees.  I’m 5’8″.

It started like this.

compostThe point is to create enough moisture and heat to turn the organic matter into a rich, crumbly, earthy scented dark soil.  This soil can then be used as topsoil in the garden and around plants to give them more nutrients.  In organic gardening it is a must (we didn’t use it this year) because the nutrients it provides helps plants become strong enough to fight off diseases and naturally repel whatever might destroy them.

It can take quite awhile for compost to be ready, but with daily attention and aerating, you can have compost in 4-6 months.  That’s my goal.  When spring comes again, we’ll have compost.

I was most pleased to find out that you can compost shredded paper and cardboard.  We don’t have a recycling center in our county, so we collect our recycling wherever we can find the room to stash it until we can make a run to the next county for disposal.  It piles up fast.  I hate throwing away anything that could be recycled.  Now, we can recycle the paper stuffs ourselves.

The following websites helped me figure it all out.  There are several different ways to start a compost.  I wanted simple and free.  I can make a pile of layered material.  I can be a brut and turn the pile.  I ain’t afraid of hard work.  I am afraid of technicalities and costs.

Garden Guides – Guide to Composting

Dave’s Garden – Household Composting

We also have good news that we are going to be getting some new chickens soon.  They are just old enough to identify the sex.  Shredded paper is great for their nest boxes, and I’ll then compost the poopy bits. 🙂

I’m excited about trash.

I’ve been experimenting with sourdough bread making with great results.  I made my own starter.  Bacteria from my surroundings cultured my starter and gives it a distinct flavor.  It is one plus to living off grid.  I don’t have to worry about bad air ruining my adventures in friendly bacteria. 🙂  I made my starter with rye as per the instructions in the Nourishing Traditions cookbook.  It stews for seven days on a counter top, covered with a cloth to keep bugs out, until you have around three quarts of starter.  You use two to make three loaves of bread and save the other quart for next time.  I use whole grain spelt flour to make the bread.

My lovely starter

My lovely starter

As you can see here, the starter develops yeast naturally from what already exists in your surroundings.  The dough rises beautifully with nothing else added.  I flipped when I first saw this look in my starter, but was reassured, and then began to notice that it looks quite a bit like packaged dried yeast, just moist and gray.

I’m out of batteries in my camera so I don’t have a picture of a finished loaf, but it looks like the milk and honey sprouted wheat bread that Jenny has blogged about at The Nourished Kitchen.  The bread is a bit more dense than store bought breads, but oh so tasty.  Mine has a distinct cheesy flavor of a sharp variety.  Almost like a dry Asiago or sharp cheddar, but better than cheddar.  Yours will taste different.  That’s the adventure.  I have heard that you can get unique flavors by creating starters in different containers and setting them in various locations around your home.  Ummm… bathroom sourdough.  I’m kidding. 🙂

Storing your starter for next time is fairly simple.  Place it in a glass container in the refrigerator.  It can keep a month or so without feeding it, but I wouldn’t go any longer than that.  The starter is a living thing and needs fed.  That becomes obvious and so interesting when you actually put your hands in the dough to knead.  It breaths and pushes back.  🙂  You can also order starters online.  Cultures for Health has a wide variety of affordable starters for sourdough and other creations that I’ve been dabbling with lately – namely yogurt.  I recommend purchasing a starter if you live in a place with lots of traffic, pollution, or an area that is not well ventilated.

We are enjoying sourdough here, and I am quickly learning that we don’t have to be afraid of real, fresh food like we have been taught to fear our grocery store food.  Knowing from where our food comes makes all the difference in the world and is why I’m loving my kitchen experiments.

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About Me

An Appalachian woman born and raised, mothering two little girls in a place that is non-existent to AT&T or UPS. Happily working toward a sustainable lifestyle and writing on the demand of a loud muse.

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