Independence Days Challenge: August 31, 2009

Independence Days Challenge is an ongoing experiment in learning to live in a less wasteful, more self-sufficient manner. Here's last week's progress:

Plant something: Spouse doesn't want to haul soil by hand cart for the raised Fall beds, so unless I want to do it all by myself, looks like I'll be renting a Bobcat for a day from one of the local hardware stores. One rental unit has a front loader in the front and a digger in the back, so maybe we can quickly load up the beds with soil and then get to work on digging more holes for Spring tree planting...

Harvest something: Eggs from our girls. Also foraged pears from an abandoned pear tree next to the nursery where I work. The pears, although ripe, are of the firm/crisp variety - perfect for canning. Thinking about using a Spiced Pears recipe.

Preserve something: not this week.

Reduce waste: Used old railroad ties (that a previous owner left on the property) to create a goose pool that butts against the side of the hill. Lined with a pond liner, so no worries about creosote tainting the water. One more goose pond to make, then no more plastic kiddie pools!
EDIT: completely forgot - the nursery is letting me take home any grass I weed for the geese, and any trimmings from their plants for my compost pile. YES!

Preparation and Storage: kinda sorta - reading Extreme Gardening - How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts by Dave Owens. I don't live in the desert, but I do live in a semi-arid region where water conservation is a necessity. I've also contacted a local permaculturist to discuss a consultation for our property.

Build Community Food Systems: ordered local, humanely-raised beef products through the co-op. Also have enough eggs to sell through the co-op this week as well.

Eat the Food: I set aside the medium-sized eggs from our Cubalaya chickens for personal use, and they are very tasty :-). Munched on some of the foraged pears as well.

You can play too! See Sharon Astyk's Independence Days Challenge.

[pic: the free pears]


Goose Pool Project

Spouse and I are clutching our respective backs and groaning every time we have to stand up. Yep, it's been project time! We are almost finished putting in a permanent goose pool against the side of the shady hill. The dogs are constantly tearing holes into the plastic kiddie pools we currently use for the geese, and there's only so much recycling of those darn things we want to do...

The new pool is roughly 6'x3' with 2' available depth for the water. We used some old railroad ties left by the previous owner for structure, staking the ties down with rebar. The pond will be lined with a fish-safe pond liner, and then cement pavers will lay on top of the pond liner so the dogs can't (easily) tear thru it when they play.

A pond filter & pump will go into the deepest part, which should keep me from having to clean out the water every day. More pictures as the project finishes up...


Update on Specklebutt Junior

All's well in the barnyard. Specklebutt's "Offspring" is growing like a weed, and is at the face-only-a-mother-could-love stage where s/he's half fuzz, half feathers. Mom and Offspring are spending more time apart now, but Offspring still likes to hang out close to Mom when Mom is around. Last bit of rain we got, I found Offspring trying to snuggle under Mom's chest while they were roosting in the cedar. Everybody, say it with me: "awwww!"

Offspring has also found a way into Compost Pile #1 (which is ready to be put into the garden). Plenty of bugs to scratch out & eat, and no competition from the other chickens - they can't fit through the fence holes like Offspring can.

As far as the other chickens go, they're all doing well, too. Since finding the out-of-coop laying spot, I've now enough eggs to start selling through the co-op again, which in turn pays enough to feed the chickens. Nice!


Independence Days Challenge: August 25, 2009

For those new to the blog, welcome! A brief review: Independence Days Challenge is an ongoing experiment in learning to live in a less wasteful, more self-sufficient manner, started by my favorite "doomer", Sharon Astyk. Here's last week's progress:

Plant something:
Nope, still too darned hot. Browsed through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, writing down what I'd like to get for the season. The local nursery also has veggie starts available for Fall planting, so may get lazy and just go that route.

Harvest something: Eggs from the girls, and basil from the garden. Girls are still laying all over the place, but found the latest spot: a box that holds rope & bungee cords in a shelving unit on the side porch. Despite taking the eggs, two of the Ameraucanas are still laying in that box. Tempted to line the with an old towel, but I don't want to cause them to lay elsewhere once more.

Preserve something: Not this week. I don't consider kombucha as a long term"preserve something", but will say that the last batch turned out quite tasty. Used a combination of green tea and ginger tea for the base (inspired by Elisa's brews), and started taste testing after four days of fermenting. Bottled on fifth day - didn't need to wait seven to ten days. Think that keeping the house temps at 80+F during the day led to the faster fermentation.

Reduce waste: Took in several weeks worth of recyclables to the transfer station. Was able to salvage some of the goods for re-use at home. First reduce, then reuse, THEN recycle!

Preparation & Storage: Installed more shelves in clothes closet, and transferred canning equipment and supplies out of the pantry and onto the new shelves. Pantry was reorganized, and now has a paper pad & pen waiting for me to do an inventory (ahem). Holy smokes I sure have a lot of brown rice pasta!

Build Community Food Systems: Bought produce at the local Farmer's Market, and saved quite a bit of grocery money. Not much there - other than real food - for impulse buying. And speaking of community food systems: as of tomorrow, I'll be working at the local nursery & feed store, woo-hoo! They sell a goodly amount of seeds and starts, and the owner writes a monthly newsletter on good planting practices for the season. I'm excited and nervous all at the same time.

Eat the Food: I did indeed :-). Currently nomming on a friend's peach/plum preserves.

You can play too! See Sharon Astyk's Independence Days Challenge.

[Pic: one of the Sicilian Buttercup hens]


Back In The (Chicken) Saddle

Modeling the latest in chicken fashion is "Red". Red has a bald spot the size of a quarter on her back with lots of broken-off feathers surrounding, as well some broken-off feathers on her wings. This is due to being gnawed on by the geese. Whereas all the other chickens take off running if the geese come near, Red bops along like nothing's going on. You see, Red thinks the geese are big roosters. Once the geese are close, Red "assumes the position". The geese then set upon Red until Red figures out she's had enough, and takes off.

I ran across the pattern for this protective chicken saddle on-line, and Spouse sewed it up this afternoon. We chose to make it from a wide-weave burlap for air circulation, plus the burlap should still be tough enough to withstand both the @#$!! geese and the @#$!! roosters. Red didn't give much thought to the getup when we put it on her, only adjusting the straps that go around her wing base a few minutes afterward.

I'm already thinking of making copies in different colors and fabrics. Everything in beauty for the girls, you know.

P.S. Your eyes are fine, there is indeed some purple coloring on Red's wings and back. The purple on Red's feathers is from a spray-on product called "Blue Kote", which has an ingredient called gentian violet. It's non-stinging antiseptic for abrasions and cuts.

[If you're not handy with a needle, you can also buy chicken saddles on line. I kid you not.]


The Three F's = FAIL

I'm beginning to understand the contempt so many farm folks have for roosters. Feeding, fighting and fornicating is about all our roosters know how to do. Spouse and I had hoped the roos would keep the bully geese from hassling the chickens whenever paths would cross, but so far, none have figured out that "protection" is part of their job description.

At least Junior is figuring out that the girls are more willing to give him a little leg if he does a bit of wooing, and for this, he might be spared. The rest of the roosters - including the other Barred, Mr. Statesman - are on "the shortlist to the stockpot". They've got a few more weeks to figure out how to better behave before the literal hatchet falls. Bah! Rotten roos!

[pic: Junior, the lucky roo]


"Whole Fools"? Maybe.

So, I shot my mouth off on this blog. Not unlike real life, where if something pisses me off, I'll say and do something about it. As I've matured I've become better at acting instead of reacting, but can still get caught up in drama now & then. Thus my recent rant about CEO Mackey's post in the Wall Street Journal, where he proposed (old, tired & busted) free market solutions to health care issues, based on (old, tired & busted) classist assumptions.

This morning, I read another person's take on the Whole Foods outrage. Wish I had bookmarked the article, but in essence, the writer was of the opinion that all the anger from "the liberals" was because the original organic movement was spurred on by lefties, and so lefties have felt a false sense of ownership in Whole Foods; thus, the feelings of betrayal.

As a lefty, I think the writer had a darn good point there.

When I really think about Whole Foods, they do indeed have an amazing array of organic products, good benefits for their employees, and perform wonderful charity work. But then again:

1. No unions allowed. All those nifty benefits can be taken away on a whim, and there's no recourse for the employees but to "like it or lump it."

2. Whole Foods talks up "buy local" (at least here in Austin), but what they've mostly done is buy out local organic markets and re-brand. They then purchase from farmers & producers who can provide in bulk. Being a nationwide chain will put one in that position - you want to offer a standard product that will be easy to warehouse & track. However, I believe this buying in bulk is contributing to the erosion of organic controls by corporate farms wanting to get in on the profits.

3. In Whole Food's effort to make a good profit and become a one-stop shop, they're offering more & more non-organic goods (some with shifty "natural" claims) to provide a wider variety, but at premium prices.

I was in the process of weaning myself off of Whole Foods anyways when the WSJ op-ed hit the media, so the outrage gave my goal a huge burst of momentum. After reading the above writer's take on the issue, however, I decided to think through once more my reasons to no longer shop at Whole Foods. Ultimately, my reasons for continuing to shop elsewhere are:

1. I want to support small, local farms. It doesn't have to be 100% organic; sustainable growing methods will be just fine. It's my belief that I can trust a local farmer a bit more than a larger/corporate grower because not only is the local farmer working to build trust and good customers, I can also question the farmer directly, and even see the farm if they'll let me. More of my dollars stay in the local community, and recirculate into more local produce grown. [Yes, I am in a privileged position to be able to buy at farmers markets & have access to local goods, but the momentum for wide-spread change has to start somewhere.]

2. I want to support local & humanely raised cattle, chickens and pigs. Pretty much the same reasons as #1 above. Bonus if the animals are free-ranging, grass fed, or pasture-raised. Costs are high, but not much (if at all) higher than Whole Foods.

3. I want to cut down my shopping expenses. Whole Foods is an insanely good marketer of their wares, and it is a tremendous challenge to go in there with my list, and ONLY come out with the things I planned to buy. With cash in hand at the farmer's markets, or through my local co-op - and MUCH less distraction - I can get what I need and more easily keep my budget intact.

Where it's going to be challenging, sans Whole Foods: shopping for gluten-free* baked goods. WF has done a great job in producing their own high-quality, tasty gluten-free products. Then again, with WF charging eight dollars for a six-pack of gluten-free buns, there's even more economic incentive to get off my backside and learn how to bake properly. It's another one of those skills I've been meaning to learn anyway, and the cost savings here will be well worth the time and effort.

When all is said and done, I'd much rather have a positive mindset applied to a task at hand than a negative one. So I'm oddly grateful to Mackey and the above-mentioned writer for helping me rethink & affirm my resolve to no longer shop at Whole Foods. Thanks, dudes!

P.S. to visiting family & friends: don't worry, we'll still take you to the Austin flagship Whole Foods if you wish to go. :-)

P.P.S. : Mackey can still kiss my shiny white hiney.

*I'm intolerant to the gluten in wheat, and possibly barley and rye as well.


Independence Days Challenge: August 17, 2009

Whoa. Sick as a dawg all week, so this is a non-check-in. Got another batch of herb-infused oil started, but that was about it. I'm in the last stages of the cold, however, so as much as I'm chomping at the bit to get all those projects rolling again, gotta sit my backside down and rest. Hope to have a goodly amount to report next week!

As always, you can play too! See Sharon Astyk's Independence Days Challenge.

[Pic: "Mr. Statesman", one of the Barred Plymouth Rock roosters. He and "Junior", the other Plymouth roo, have recently discovered how to crow, and are now throwing their weight around the Leghorn roos.]


Feverish and Fevered

The recovery from the Summer cold proceeds apace. I like to tell myself that I'm giving the immune system a "tune-up" before the Fall cold & flu season starts. Yeah, that's it! In the meantime, here's what's got me gnawing on my keyboard. If you don't want to read about my leftist political leanings, this will be the blog entry to avoid, okay? Still friends? Okay!

The Corporate Co-Opt of Local: where corporations try to hijack the "buy local" movement by either re-branding their stuff to a new name, or talk up how your taxes paid through their business supports the local community. Sorry, but "buy local" means supporting home-grown businesses, craftsfolk and farmers. Corporate double-speak FAIL.

The Corporate Co-Opt of Organic
: hating this. Hating this with the intensity of a thousand burning suns.

Just Added: Corporate Crap Number Three: Oil Industry Astro-turf Rally Plans Against Climate Change Bill. You know, if the concerns are legit, why the astroturfing? Farktards. I'm looking forward to the day when we repeal the law that says a corporation is to be treated like an individual person. Failing that, revoke every one of their @#$!! charters. Now.

Whole Foods CEO trashes health-care reform initiative: Because the free-market has done SO MUCH to improve access to health care. Riiiiiiight. Insurance lobbyists, politicos and corporations are whipping up a media frenzy, scaring folks who might actually have intelligent input on this issue instead into believing such bullsh*t like "death panels", "pull the plug on grandma", and the like. The Whole Foods CEO is free to have his opinion. I am free to shop elsewhere, and am doing so. Great UK spoof on the whole thing: Americans Without Health Insurance Attack Plan to Give Them Health Insurance.

UPDATE: An edit-for-edit comparision of what WF CEO Mackey originally wrote in his op-ed versus what Wall Street Journal posted. I still don't agree with his opinion, but the WSJ edits do put a harder spin on the piece. Dang, just when it was getting comfy on this high horse... (thanks for the link, Karen!).

What else? The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the continued racist bullsh*t directed at the President, the violence at Town Hall meetings (and to think, liberals had to stand apart in "Free Speech Zones" during the Bush era), and to top it off, I saw District 9 today. Good movie, but left me feeling like there's no hope for humanity. We all suck.

This is what happens when I don't get outside enough. I need to go hug my geese. Once I'm over this cold, that is.

[Pic: Dr. Girlfriend and Godzilla, at a time when the grass was actually this color called "green".]


It's August, and it's Still Hot. Call Captain Obvious.

I have a Summer cold & a fever at the moment, and yet it is still cool in comparison to how hot it is right now. 105°F outside. Yikes! I've been wearing a bandanna over my face while doing critter care, so as not to breathe in any further irritants, and (potentially) protect the critters in case there's a chance of human-to-animal transmission.

My ears, throat, sinuses & head hurts *grump*. Ruh-roh, better call the whaaaa!-mbulance!


Independence Days Challenge: August 10, 2009

Forgot to update last week's challenge, but didn't have much to report anyway. This week, pretty much the same:

Plant something: Nope! If I can shake this cold quickly enough, will get raised beds ready this week for Fall planting. Maybe I'll finally get those seeds ordered.

Harvest something: Eggs, of course! The chickens have another non-coop, clutch-in-the-wild going (ahh, the joys of free-ranging chickens), gotta find it else next week's co-op sales will be mighty paltry. Snagged some basil out of the garden to add to the "preserve something" below...

Preserve something: Made herb infused olive oil with basil. Most of the basil was from CSA & co-op orders, but some from our garden.

Reduce waste: Experimented with having geese & chickens weed our small veggie garden bed. Except for the chickens eating the tomatoes, they all did a bang-up job. Made first-ever batch of goat milk yogurt - estimate I'll save over half the cost of store bought, and cut down on all those plastic containers. And it was dang tasty, to boot! Oh, and there was the bicycling to the co-op adventure (see blog entry "Hills Be Not Proud") - although it wasn't a planned event, still saved gas.

Preparation & Storage: Bought shelving for additional storage - will store little-used kitchen equipment on extra shelves in bedroom closet, freeing up more space in the kitchen pantry for canned goods.

Build Community Food Systems: sold eggs through the co-op, and purchased vegetables through same.

Eat the Food: Yep. Last thing eaten was home canned chicken broth. This morning will be muesli that's soaked overnight in homemade yogurt.

You can play too! See Sharon Astyk's Independence Days Challenge.

[Pic: Specklebutt with her chick, seven feet high up the cedar tree. Chick was not amused.]


Herbed Oil

It's a weekend of culinary experimentation. I'm trying my hand once more at kombucha (last effort was naaaasty), canning paste tomatoes, and making herbed oil. I'm using the oil recipe* from A Self Sufficient Life (love the nom-de-plume of the writers!).

One thing's for sure: it takes a heckuva lot of basil to make up 250 grams (per the recipe). Even though I had two huge bunches of basil, it was only enough to infuse about a cup and a half of olive oil. I'm thinking about contacting the CSA to see if they have any bulk basil they're willing to sell. I definitely want to make enough of this oil to give away as gifts this Yule, when fresh herbs are scarce and we all could use a bright taste of Summer.

Some ideas for using the oil: a dip for bread, "caprese" burgers (thanks JMM!), salad dressing base, marinade base, popcorn topper (instead of butter)... lots of cool stuff. It'll be three weeks before the oil is ready to strain & try, but I'll let you know how it goes. The Dirty Boots gang claim the oil can last for a year on the counter, but for safety's sake, I'm going to recommend folks use it up within a few months. I've never known cooking oils - once opened - not to go rancid outside four months. The good news is that this oil can be refrigerated or even frozen! Will keep you posted on how it turns out.

In the meantime: what's your favorite homemade gift to make? Or receive?

* You can find a grams-to-ounces on-line calculator here.

[Pic: the experiment.]


Hills Be Not Proud

I left my car keys in Spouse's vehicle, and he went on his merry way to Houston. No spare key in the house. Nice guy that he is, he called to ask if I wanted the keys overnight mailed. Unfortunately, he called while I was napping, so all I heard was "spare key" (as in "do you have one"), and mumbled "no". "Are you sure?" "Yeah, I'm sure *mumble-mumble*"...

So, no keys.

Today was delivery day to the Bountiful Sprout Co-op. I also put in my first order of other's goods - a produce basket, some ground pork, and five pounds of Roma tomatoes for a small canning experiment. "No problem", I thought, "I'll just ride my bicycle there. It's only two miles."

Nice thinking, Tex. Too bad you didn't consider that #1, you haven't ridden your bike in almost three years, #2 you'd also be carrying extra weight in a backpack filled with eggs, ice, and produce, #3 it's over 100° F today, and #4 you are aerobically challenged.

I huffed. I puffed. I wheezed. They don't call this The Hill Country out of perversity. It's the reason why hard-core cyclists like to train here. It's why Lance Armstrong, for goodness sake, lives in this area. It WAS uphill both ways, I sh*t you not!

I got to the co-op delivery site and collapsed. Water out of the tap never tasted so good. Cindy let me hang out with her in the air-conditioning while the rest of the deliveries came in. As soon as my ordered goodies were available, she let me take them. Then there was the ride home. Oh, gawd, the ride home...

I wasn't completely stupid on the return trip. I got off the bike and walked it up the biggest hills, although I rode for as long as I could.

So, am I proud? Hard to say. Ask me tomorrow after the pain sets in.

[Pic: chickens asking "are you alright? Yes? You have food for us, then?"]


Who Laid This Egg?

To the far left is a size Large egg, from one of the Ameraucanas. To the right of the Large egg is a teeny, tiny egg - see how it compares in size to a quarter? If I'd found it on the ground, I might have mistaken it for a particularly plain-looking quail egg. As it was found in the laying coop, I'm thinking it came from one of our teeny, tiny Sicilian Buttercup hens. These hens are far from mature, but I heard one doing that particular "ugh, I think there's an egg coming through" cluck a day or so ago, so it might be from one of them.

Then again, the Jersey Giants are starting to do that same "ugh!" cluck as well, but since they're as large as the Ameraucanas at this point (despite being the same age as the Sicilians), I'm thinking probably not.

[Pic: the elusive Sicilian Buttercup. It's rare to get a photo of them that isn't a complete blur. They're so twitchy & flightly, you'd think we ran around beating them all the time. Wonder why the Sicilian roosters we had before weren't like this?]

Of Mice and Various Snakes and new Duck Feed Station

As mentioned in the previous post, our region is experiencing a near-Biblical plague of mice. "It's due to all the moisture we had...