August 31, 2009

The results are in!

We have officially made it through two months of our home grown diet, and have decided to end the experiment a month early. Joe is going to be gone for almost two weeks of September, and the experience has already been very successful and enlightening. The point of the experiment was to see how plausible it was, in this modern day and age, to rely on our own two hands to provide the bulk of our food. Some of our conclusions were:

1) As long as there is zucchini seed available in the world, no one need go hungry. They may want to shoot themselves after a month or so, but at least they wouldn't have died of hunger.
2) Green beans are one of the toughest, most prolific and underrated plants in the vegetable kingdom. They take a lickin' and keep on tickin' - and we've yet to get tired of them
3) We relied fairly heavily on wheat products (flour being one of our allowed "foreign imports"), which goes to show that bulk carbohydrate/calorie crops are one of the weak links in our home food production. We could have and should have leaned more on our own potatoes, but we didn't want to eat them all up at once.

As I've mentioned before, we did cheat a few times. Not in any way that negated the legitimacy of the experiment, but mostly with seasonings and ingredients we already had on our shelf - soy sauce, curry powder, nutritional yeast, etc. One big canister of oatmeal was all it took to see us through any breakfast egg shortages. I don't have any huge huge grocery shopping sprees planned for September 1st either. In fact, the only thing currently on my mental list is rice and butter. The garden is still going strong, so we will continue to do our best to keep up with it.

Coincidentally, but as a fitting finale to our experiment, we watched the movie "Food Inc." last night at the theatre. None of the information presented in the movie was new to us, but as Joe said, "it was a nice lifestyle reaffirmation". In a time where there is virtually no connection between people and their food source and there is little that is wholesome and nutritious about either the product or the production, there's nothing quite like beating the system by sitting down to a meal that has your own love and care in every step of its existence. Maybe someday we'll be able to sit around a campfire with our kids and tell them ghost stories about the bygone days when Monsanto and ConAgra ruled the world (insert scary laugh here). Until then, I'm thinking of telling my chickens that Mr. Perdue and his band of mistreated illegal immigrants will be showing up in the middle of the night to stuff them into a truck and take them to chicken hell if they don't stay out of my mums!

August 29, 2009

Shanty Loo!

The Shanty Loo (aka the outhouse) is really starting to take shape! We should be able to start putting the siding on it today or tomorrow. Before we cover it all up, here's a photo of the beautiful timberframe structure Joe has worked so hard on.

August 28, 2009

Rainy days

What a delightful day this has been. Joe has been feeling a bit under the weather; it has been rainy and cloudy; and I didn't have to work - the perfect formula for a stay-in-bed movie day! Our original plans were to spend the whole day working on the Isuzu P'up and have the thing painted by the end of the day, but the weather eliminated that option. We will hopefully reschedule that work day soon, though, as I am quite excited to think of reaching the painting stage after three years of drawn out truck rebuilding. Until then, though, there are cinnamon buns and fresh bread coming out of the oven, and we've got plenty more movies to watch.

I haven't been completely unproductive today. I have spent the movie time shelling beans. Here is the first of our "yin-yang" bean harvest. I think these are some of the prettiest beans I've ever seen, almost too pretty to eat. It looks like we may end up with enough for one or two soups, not exactly a bumper crop, but they were super low maintenance.

I think I've finally realized why old tires "planted" with fake flowers are a fairly common motif in rural landscaping. While at first appearing to indicate a complete lack of aesthetic prowess, it may in fact be a result of practicality and creativity due to another common country resident - the chicken. This new appreciation came to me after my own flock of lawless free range chickens obliterated what was to be my display of gorgeous fall mums within a week of my planting them. I think fake flowers and old tires may be the only chicken proof form of gardening I can think of. If you see me resorting to this tactic in the near future, please don't think less of me.

August 17, 2009

Project success!

In an effort to be more efficient and productive, Joe and I recently sat down and made a list of projects. This list included the many projects we already have underway as well as those we'd like to accomplish in the near future. ("Build a house" did not make it onto the list. We were attempting to be realistic.) We further organized the list by deciding whether each project was high, medium or low priority. I am very happy to say that we crossed our first project, kitchen shelves, off the list today! Granted, it was a "low priority" project, but it was one of the easiest and most attainable. I wish I had taken a "before" picture so you could see what a huge improvement this is over the previous system, which was meant to be temporary and ended up lasting two years. These shelves were all built from 2" x 12" lumber scraps salvaged from a construction site. Deciding to whole-heartedly embrace the "rustic" look opens up so many opportunities. :)

I like to call this next photo "Pepper Peeper". I went to do some harvesting for dinner and found this little guy, a shy spring peeper, hiding out between two peppers.

One last note - I just uploaded a website I built (re-built anyway) for my sister Lynn. Check it out: Point of Light Studios

August 08, 2009

Homegrown diet update

We have now completed just over a month of our homegrown diet experiment. All is going well. We have eaten a TON of green beans (which I can't ever get tired of) and zucchini and squash (which I tire of very quickly). Our potatoes have proven to be a wonderful staple crop, although I don't know if we'll have many left for the winter at this rate. We have cheated a couple of times on a few items. As I mentioned earlier, the chickens went on a brief egg laying hiatus shortly after we began our experiment, so we've added the occasional bowl of oatmeal in order to avoid having to eat squash and zucchini for breakfast (unless it is zucchini pancakes, which is just delicious!). I would like to say that our food bill was virtually nonexistent, but no such luck. For one thing, flour and olive oil - two of our allowed, imported ingredients - ain't cheap, and we're going through a lot of both. Secondly, we've been doing SO much canning lately that all of the canning supplies - jars, lids, honey for jam, etc. - have added up quickly. Of course, the jars are a long term investment, if you can manage to hang on to them. I'm hoping the real food budget payoffs will be this winter when we start digging into all those canned goods.

We have managed to add some wild foods to the diet as well. Joe's cousin found a large crop of sulfur shelf mushrooms (chicken-of-the-woods!) that have been feeding us well for several meals. Joe has also produced several delicious experiments with milkweed pods (turns out they taste like green beans). And of course, there's always the berries.

Speaking of food, and green beans, it's time to go cook up some for dinner.

August 06, 2009

Happy birthday to Joe!

So I'm a couple of days late with the online birthday wishes, but that's how it goes these days. (A belated happy birthday to Barack Obama as well!) The birthday peach cobbler turned out good, and I was even able to muster up enough excitement to eat it. Joe's mom had gotten four pints of Hagen Daz ice cream, and since we didn't have a freezer to stick the leftovers in, we had to bite the bullet and finish them all off!

Joe's birthday marks the 2nd anniversary of our official move into the shanty. I came across this picture the other day of those first days in the shanty. It was quite a mess from moving, and still very much a work in progress (that hasn't changed), but it was home!! Can you spot Joe in this picture?

The food preservation blitz continues. After another day of work at the berry farm, we now have 3+ gallons of raspberries and a gallon of blueberries to process. I am currently in the middle of canning green beans given to us by a friend with an abundance. As exciting as it is to put all this food aside, and as much as I love canning, I must confess I'm looking forward to the quiet, relaxed days of winter when I get to enjoy the fruits of all this work. Our next major canning spurts will be applesauce and tomatoes. I'm hoping we get a couple of weeks break before those two crops really start coming in. For one thing, we need time to work out the puzzle of where to stash all these cans! I'm thinking the non-temperature sensitive items on the bathroom shelves will be transferred to secure boxes in the outdoor kitchen to free up valuable space.

Time to make my umpteenth trip to the pressure canner to see if it has FINALLY depressurized! (A lesson in patience I obviously need.)

August 03, 2009

Jam Cram

The peaches are processed! And it only took just shy of three days. On Saturday alone we canned the equivalent of 8 gallons of peaches and 3 gallons of blackberries. The 3-day peach total was closer to 14 gallons. It turned out to be easier than I was expecting because we hardly used our little two-burner camp stove at all. Joe rigged us up a makeshift, wood cookstove (pictured below), and we were easily able to keep two canners going at all times. The outdoor kitchen is really starting to prove its worth!

We did can a lot of jam, but most of the peaches ended up being canned as what we call "peach mash". It's the chunkier, non-food processed version of peach puree. We are hoping it will prove to be a highly versatile addition to baked goods, pies, cobblers, pancakes - especially since we have gallons of it now!

Late in the day on Saturday, I must confess I had a brief, but intense, emotional meltdown precipitated by what appeared to be the failure of the marmalade to achieve a proper gel (after cooling all night, I am happy to say it achieve a perfect consistency and tastes marvelous, I must say). In my defense, I had worked long days on both Thursday and Friday only to come home and can peaches until a headlamp was necessary to finish the job, so I may have been suffering from exhaustion. Joe, of course, never lost his sunny enthusiasm for peaches and canning the entire time. He has even requested a peach cobbler for his birthday tomorrow.