Homestead 2.0 by Carol
March 16, 2013, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Photo credit: Cecily Deex

Photo credit: Cecily Deex

Greetings to any readers still subscribed to this old blog! Many moons (15 to be exact) have passed since I’ve been able to share some of our pursuits. And a few things have changed…

What’s new

Location – While we firmly believed we’d find our dream land (were we living in a dreamland?)🙂, in the vicinity of Asheville NC, the Universe had other plans for us. We searched and searched and even made a few offers but, alas, it was not to be. While snowbirding in Sarasota, FL we checked out some radically affordable real estate for a possible vacation rental. We found a 1/4 acre suburban plot with little in the way of landscape and much in the way of sun exposure and possibility. At the same time, we crossed paths with others here who were also interested in sustainable living and even permaculture as means to that end. We realized that we might actually be a larger part of a burgeoning community here rather than a tiny part of a better-established community in Asheville so we decided to make Sarasota our primary residence once again.

Scope – A 1/4 acre might not sound like much but it is vastly bigger than a small, west-facing condo balcony. In fact, there are any number of books on the self-sufficiency possibilities of 1/4 acre well thought out and planted. It is a surprising amount of land.

Ambition – We’ve been here a year now and the physical work on the homestead, indoors and out, has taught us much about our limitations. In fact I’d say that our greatest limitation is physical strength and endurance. Our ideas are limitless and we’ve improved our project management skills through our efforts thus far but we have had to scale back our expectations. Thankfully we have a few financial resources and have recently connected with the right combination of youth and knowledge to help us implement some of our plans.

Herbalism – What was a small part of our homesteading has blossomed into a passion which is, thankfully, a natural companion to our other pursuits and will allow me to eventually serve others in a very personal way.

Photo credit: Cecily Deex

Photo credit: Cecily Deex

What’s the same

Goal – Not much has changed here. Our overarching goal is still to live as sustainably as possible and to achieve some measure of self-sufficiency on our own land by our own hand. We have less space than we thought we would but in return we have a community that has farmer’s markets in bicycle range and other like minded people with whom to share, grow and learn.

Indoor Gardening – Can’t imagine ever giving this up. Sprouts and greens continue to be our most productive crop here on the new homestead. They  grow faster here in warm and humid FL. Bonus! We have a bit more space for them now and continue to experiment with new mediums like pea gravel which can be reused.

Vermicomposting – Our master bathroom dwelling worms made the trip south with us and seem to be thriving in our carport. Here we have to take care that they do not suffer overmuch in the heat. Our remodeling was not limited to just our needs. We added an addition to their house too giving them some more space to spread out.

Radical Homemaking – I’m still a radical homemaker. Perhaps even more radical and more ambitious than ever. My tolerance for the cost and chemicals in commercial products has decreased and I’m making nearly 100% of our medicine and personal care products now as well as a much larger percentage of our food. I’ll admit that it does at times feel overwhelming and I find balance where I can.

So there you have it. Thanks for reading this far. Future posts will be considerably shorter, more informative and even entertaining on occasion!

Migration and miscellany by Carol
December 6, 2011, 11:20 am
Filed under: by Carol

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Sunset in Sarasota

It is amazing what preparation for annual migration and injury will do to your blogging routine! I’ve had a lot of pain recently in my hands, forearms and shoulders. After much consideration, discussion and some imagination, I’ve labelled the trauma “textitis”. I do hope it is a new coinage because I love to make up words. A bit too much texting, lots of crochet and knit time and perhaps the blog typing itself made for some real pain and sent me to my first ever acupuncture appointment. The story of that appointment could be its own blog post.

Last year, after wintering in the historically but not recently mild climate of North Carolina, we decided it would be ideal to migrate back to FL for EVERY subsequent Winter. We were able to make it happen this year and we have now earned the pejorative title “snow birds”. Why o why is this such a BAD thing? Countless species of birds and mammals migrate.  Do we call them names? Do we dread their arrival? No we do not. We’re considering a Snowbird Pride parade!

One of our big concerns about migration, aside from the name-calling, was the ability to carry on with our pursuit of  self-sufficiency knowledge and experience. We’ve learned already that we will not be able to continue all of our pursuits as we would have had to tow a MUCH larger trailer to transport everything but that we CAN focus our efforts a little more narrowly and perhaps more deeply in a few areas.

The first area of focus is community. We are living with a housemate and friend and sharing space for the first time. I think this is going to be the most important “skill” we acquire over the next 6 months and one that will definitely serve us in a future where community and collaboration are going to be key. We cannot alone take care of all our needs as humans. We must learn to live and work together at some level to live a healthy and balanced life. This was once part of the human experience everywhere but it is no longer common in our Western culture so it really is a skill to relearn.

Since we’ve left the land of delicious beer, we have chosen homebrewing as another area of focus though we have yet to make much progress in that department. The chamomile ale we made before we left is interesting. We didn’t expect it to taste like any beer we’ve had as it not based on grain nor does it have hops, the traditional bittering agent. It actually tastes medicinal which is appropriate from an ancient perspective because that was one of the chief goals of the brewing process. I rather like it. Cecily does not. More for me! We are giving our mead a bit longer to brew and are preparing to bottle it soon. A quick sample suggested it might need more time to further develop.

We’ve picked up some chives and a couple pots of the magical, ever giving swiss chard but we’ve found that the lovely dappled sunlight in the backyard of our rental is insufficient for much growth. Thankfully the growing season is in full swing down here (another good reason to migrate!) and we are making great use of the farmer’s markets.

Finally, we decided to allow ourselves a bit of rest. Homesteading is a lot of work and the lack of like-minded community means WE DO all the work. That’s unsustainable and thankfully we are not yet in a position to have to depend on our own skills for food, shelter and clothing.

Clothing – Part 1 of many by Carol
September 14, 2011, 1:35 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Clothing

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Of the 3 basic needs that are my current focus and that of this blog, I’ve not yet written about clothing. That doesn’t mean it feels less important or that I have not been giving it due attention. More I believe it is because of humankind’s basic needs, we are most removed from self-sufficiency in this area. As such, it feels daunting.

It’s not too hard to find examples of people that have built their own homes, or at least played a part in the construction. Nor is it difficult to find gardeners/farmers who provide for some to all of their food needs. But I have yet to meet a person who makes all of their own clothing.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to clothing. Probably the most primitive example of clothing is buckskin made from animal hide. This is still done and many people have buckskin clothing made for them. It is an awesome way to make use of more parts of animals sacrificed for our needs. But would you want buckskin underwear? Would you want to wear it all the time? That stuff is warm in the summertime!

Fiber animals also give of themselves to help clothe us. Most commonly used animal fibers come from sheep, llama, alpaca, goat and angora rabbits. All of these fibers have different properties and are often used in blends to achieve yarns for specific uses. To get there, the animals are sheared resulting in a fleece which must be cleaned, carded and then spun into usable yarns. This is done commercially for the most part but if one wants to be more connected to the process (and this one does) than one can plan on devoting a significant amount of time to the endeavor. Then there are the plant fibers usually from cotton, flax (linen), bamboo and hemp. I haven’t even investigated silkworms but since we already have worms in the master bathroom, what’s a few more?  And if you want color, well then you must consider plants, such as indigo, which can be grown locally. Or bugs. But that’s another story.

Of course knitters, weavers and crocheters regularly make garments for themselves and others. This alone, I know from personal experience, is a daunting (though rewarding) task and I BOUGHT my yarn at a local store. The piece in the photo is made of cotton. For the process to be considered self-sufficient, I would have to have grown that cotton, harvested it, dyed it by some natural means and then spun it into yarn before beginning the multiple month crochet project. Yikes! Maybe if I had though, I’d have enough cotton yarn leftover to knit up a pair of underwear or two!

I admit to feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all of this and I haven’t yet considered footwear. Even if we return to the days when people just have a few changes of clothing it’s a mind-full to consider self-sufficient ways to provide for them. On the other hand, the resulting clothing would be local, relatively non-toxic and likely much appreciated. Given all that is involved, I know I  for one  would take awfully good care of it!

I am a Radical Homemaker by Carol
August 29, 2011, 7:33 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Clothing, Food, Shelter

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I cannot fully express my joy to finally have a title again. I am indebted to Shannon Hayes for this title which is from her book by the same name in which she describes the lives of men and women who are living very similar lives to mine and whom I did not know existed. In fact, radical homemaking is now a movement of sorts.

The question “what do you do?” has been my nemesis for so long now that I have  avoided social situations at times so as not to have to deal with it.  How would I respond? Ummm…nothing? Ummm…everything? Either could be true depending on your perspective. For the corporate work-a-day world I once inhabited, the correct answer would be nothing. In that world, what you do=what your paid work is=your identity. Mothers generally get a pass in that world as child-rearing is still considered a valid way to spend time and it is usually just a temporary time out anyway.

From my perspective, and that of my family, I do everything that does not involve earning an income (though I do manage our finances) and in so doing create for us all a balanced healthy life lived at a much lower stress level than most of the people I know. We do NOT spend our weekends catching up on all of the requirements of life that we don’t have time for during our hectic workweek.  For the most part, we spend our time hiking, visiting, enjoying each other’s company and engaging in creative pursuits. In the past year, I have been making more and more of our products, growing more of our food, forgoing all but the most necessary house cleaning, becoming ever more frugal and slowly decreasing our dependence on purchased goods and services. Cecily too helps with many of these activities as she can balance with her corporate job. And now I know we are not alone.  About the book:

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Radical Homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.

I’ve been working on my own definition as well because the above is a bit long for a cocktail party answer.😉 My working version is “a radical homemaker manages his or her home as the center of a life lived in increasing harmony with the earth and decreasing dependence on corporate products and services”. Not too bad I think. Leaves room for questions for anyone whose interest goes beyond social politeness. One of the passages from the book really resonated with me and lends itself to personalization as well:

It is time we come to think of our homes as living systems. Like a sour-dough starter, the home’s survivial requires constant attention. A true home is inhabited by souls who live, breathe, eat, think, create, play, get sick, heal and get dirty. It will wither in an antiseptic condition. A true home pulses with nonhuman life – vegetable patches, yeast, backyard hens, [sprouts], blueberry bushes, [soaking grains], culturing yogurt, [drying calendula petals], fermenting wine and sauerkraut, [steeping infusions and herbal tinctures], brewing beer, milk goats, [aging cheese], cats, dogs, houseplants, kids’ science projects, pet snakes and strawberry patches. A living system cannot respect the hours on a time clock and requires the involvement of all the inhabitants in order to thrive. When we can see our home as a living system, when men and women both play a role in its care, even if one of them goes out to a job for part of the day, we have taken the first steps to restore the important partnerships our Neanderthal ancestors innately understood. We will have moved toward creating a true Earth Community.

The bracketed items were my additions from our personal living system. This life is not for everyone. It certainly isn’t for this Salon contributor. As for me, it is the life I’ve chosen and I’m so excited about the new title that I had cards made (free from Vistaprint of course)  to make it easier to connect with people.  Viva La Radical Homemaker!

Skills Crash Course by Carol
August 19, 2011, 6:08 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food

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Photo credit: stock.xchng

I’ve long wanted to learn how to make cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut and pickles as these are very useful skills for a budding homesteader. I didn’t expect to learn them all in one 24-hour period! But sometimes you have to make hay, or at least try to, while the sun shines.

After a long day of land searching, our gardening realtor gifted us with 4 lbs of baby cucumbers, a head of cabbage an additional bag of veggies of many varieties and a gallon of  milk from a farmer friend. Now I already had veggies and milk in the refrigerator and we are just two so I saw this as an opportunity to try out some of the recipes in Wild Fermentation and the next day we set out to pick up a few crocks for the ferments and some cheesecloth to convert some of that milk to cheese.

That night we got the cabbage chopped and salted and crocked and thereby on its way to kraut and mixed up a brine with dill and garlic for the cucumbers to soak in. So far so good. It would be days before we knew whether the fermentation was successful. Then we got started with the milk, which smelled just fine at the time. I re-viewed previously bookmarked online videos for raw milk yogurts and dutifully followed the instructions happy to be able to have another use for my dehydrator. As long as you can maintain a steady temperature of 110F, a yogurt maker is not necessary. Next we made the cheese and finally understood that old nursery rhyme about curds and whey! We even jazzed it up with some chives from our garden before hanging it to drip for a while in our bathtub. Homesteading is so glamorous.

The next day we checked on the yogurt and it still wasn’t set. We added a bit more yogurt starter and gave it a some more time but ultimately only about half of it set up and it had a very runny consistency. The cheese set up very nicely but upon tasting it, we realized that the milk it was made from was a bit off. The day we brought the milk home was very warm and despite our best efforts to keep it cold, I suspect something went bad during the 1 hour transport. The milk smelled fine but we might have noticed the off flavor if we had thought to taste it before making the yogurt and cheese. This would be one of several lessons learned during this adventure. Subsequent milk from the same farmer has been most delicious.

We monitored the ferments and kept the veggies in the brine as instructed. The pickles seemed to be progressing  just fine but after a few days when we went to pull them out for a taste we realized that the whole batch had gone beyond fermented to rotten. One good thing to come of that was validation of our reading that there would be NO DOUBT about the edibility of the final product. I think the words were “nothing will make you eat a spoiled ferment”. Confirmed!

The sauerkraut took on its krauty taste after a few days and we transferred it to the refrigerator where it will continue to get krautier but at a slower pace. We are enjoying it immensely and glad that 1 out of 4 of our experiments resulted in success. Truly though it was all a learning experience and so all a success. We’re not YET dependent on our skills for survival and thank heavens for that. We had read that ideal fermenting temperatures were between 70F and 78F. What we WISHED we’d read, but learned later, was that at 80F, cukes in brine are unable to develop the proper acid balance and are almost certain to rot. Our energy-saving frugal ways mean that we don’t use the a/c until we really have to and that means mostly at night so there were definitely many 80F hours for those poor wanna-be pickles.

Now we are better informed, better equipped and ready to try again. Maybe one at a time next go around.

Oh Mead Oh My by Carol
August 11, 2011, 12:45 pm
Filed under: by Carol

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.

Photo credit: Cecily

Given that this blog is about keeping myself on track learning skills to provide for the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, I should probably not feel so excited about my first batches of mead! While delicious and healing, its a stretch to call it a basic need. (Dissenters’ comments welcome below) But heck. I’m only human and given that mead is recognized as the oldest fermented beverage and has been made for tens of thousands of years, I’m guessing I’m not the first to relish the magic of honey, water, yeast and time.

At the recent Firefly Gathering, I took a half day class on mead making and picked myself up a starter kit so I could put the newly gained knowledge to immediate use.  This was important because one of the things I learned was that mead takes approximately 3 months to be drinkable, and like most wine, improves with time. One of the recommended books by the instructor was Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Since this was already on my book wish list, I wasted no time acquiring it from a local bookseller. The first recipe in this highly readable and amusing book is for T’ej which is an Ethiopian-style honey wine. It is basically a simple form of mead that, I was thrilled to learn, is drinkable in 2-4 weeks! Near instant gratification.

So after picking up some sanitizing solution (another important bit learned), I set out to mix up the proper ratios of honey and water and then added 2 quarts of blueberries for flavor and to jump start the fermentation process as apparently yeasties love berries. It didn’t take long before that bowl was abubbling on the counter and each day the kitchen smelled more and more like a brewery. The bubbling slowed after 5 days and I  transferred to my gallon jug obtained with the kit, installed the airlock and we have been watching it bubble in our bathtub for two weeks.

Today we sampled it for the first time. Definitely alcoholic, not too sweet, hint of blueberry flavor. Success! I understand they don’t always work out so I’m pretty excited that the first one did. We’ve been collecting bottles and if we don’t drink it all out of the jug, we’ll  save some and see how it ages. While we were waiting,we started a batch of true mead that will be ready at the end of October. We made a tea from gorgeous lemon balm growing on our patio and this time added a packaged champagne yeast. There was no mistaking the activity in that brew!

I’m hooked. Not only is it empowering to make your own wine, I know exactly what is in these homebrews and how they have been handled.  I can’t wait to start my next batch. T’ej or Mead? Hmmmm….And after that I’ll be ready to read the medicinal beer book I just received.

Wheatgrass: More Stacking Functions by Carol
July 31, 2011, 10:39 am
Filed under: by Carol | Tags: , ,

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Photo credit: Cecily Anne

One of the side effects of studying permaculture is that its concepts tend to permeate many aspects of your life.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one) :)  I’ve written before about stacking functions which basically means that the elements in your design (life?) are chosen to serve more than one function. This concept is just irresistible to a lifelong optimization geek. Sometimes I have to stop myself from finding them everywhere.

But Wheatgrass growing, for us anyway, is a pretty juicy one. (Oh my, I am on a bad pun roll). In the Sprouts post, I mentioned that we grew wheatgrass along with an array of sprouts. The health benefits of wheatgrass are well documented and growing it is easy. What has been fun is to discover its many uses. Once it reaches maturity we harvest it, keep it in a green bag and juice it about every other day. Function one. The juicer produces a “waste” product of dry grass which we often chop up to feed our worms. Function two. Once we cut it, it acts much like grass in your yard and regrows. That second growth is not as nutritious as the first but one of our cats loves it and so we put it out on the patio for her to graze. Function three.

As it grows on the patio, it provides an awesome “hedge” behind which both cats can stalk birds visiting the feeder. Function four. Note that the feeder is safely hanging behind a glass wall where the cats can’t actually get to it. Finally, the second and subsequent growths become ever more gnarly but when harvested, provide an ongoing source of mulch for our patio garden. Function five. Once we have gotten all we can from a tray, we swap it out with the new tray we’ve had growing in parallel and start the process over.

At present, we have no compost pile as we live in a condo. But there’s a future function six when we can return the remains of the tray back to the soil, via the compost pile, to further enrich it. SIX FUNCTIONS??!! Gosh I love this stuff!