Self-Sufficiency Series

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Plastic bags

We live a green lifestyle, as green as we can make it. We use very few disposables, work at home, recycle, etc.

And for years I dutifully used reusable grocery bags as well.


But about two years ago, I stopped using reusable bags and instead embraced the ubiquitous plastic bags once again.


Why?

Because I knew good and well these bags would eventually be banned, since they're so destructive to the environment. News came today that California just did that. They're also charging customers ten cents a bag if they use paper bags.

I have no doubt this kind of ban is on the horizon everywhere, so I'm saving every single plastic bag we get. I roll them up tight and stash them in a bag hanging from a hook in our washroom. When the bag of bags gets full, I tie it off and store it away. Plastic grocery bags are useful for any number of things: sending garden surplus home with neighbors, bagging up messy things like chicken carcasses or dog droppings, or bagging up a tankard at a show.



In fact, here's a true story from the sales show I do in Portland every year. I usually bring a "bag of bags" with me in case customers want a bag to carry their tankard purchase. Portland, I believe, has already banned plastic bags, so the offer of a plastic bag with handles is always received with startled gratitude.

At the end of each day, I pack down the booth before leaving and put anything of value into the car -- all stock, all financial accouterments, and anything else that might offer temptation to a 2 am thief.

One Saturday morning I got to the event and began setting up the stock for the day, but noticed something was missing from the back of the booth: the bag of bags. Yes, thieves had come into my booth in the middle of the night and stolen my stash of plastic grocery bags. Their scarcity in Portland is now making them valuable. (This past July, I put the bags in the car every night along with the rest of the valuables.)

I have mixed feelings about the ban on plastic grocery bags. I understand the environment destruction, but I must admit they're very handy devices. That's why I'll continue to stash away all plastic grocery bags I can lay my hands on -- until they're not available any more.


I know a valuable commodity when I see one, LOL.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Canning carrots

I've been plumping out my canning closet lately, canning things I'm short on in order to have a more fully-stocked pantry. One of the things I wanted to can were some carrots.

Canned carrots are wonderful for adding to dishes (casseroles, soups, rice) or by themselves as a side dish. I canned some up several years ago and we were getting low. We don't go through canned carrots terribly fast, so it took us this long to go through the previous batch

I planted carrots in the garden this year. I got the seeds in late, but they've yielded a beautiful crop.


However after some thought I decided to leave these in the ground. We can pick some as we want them for fresh carrots (they'll actually overwinter quite well) and next year they'll yield seed, since carrots are biennials.

Besides, I came across a great deal at the wholesale grocer where I often shop: a 25-lb. bag of "juicing" carrots for $4.50. Hard to pass up a bargain like that!


I guess what constitutes a "juicing" carrot is anything too weirdly-shaped, spindly, broken, or otherwise not conforming to the classic "carrot" shape to be sold individually or in bunches. I didn't care. A carrot is a carrot and it will can beautifully regardless of shape.


So I peeled and sliced my way through the bag.



I filled up one large bowl and started on a second.


I ended up with two large bowls filled to capacity.


My canner holds 18 pints, so I only washed and filled 18 jars for the first batch.


I scalded and put on the Tattler lids (some are pink from a breast cancer promotional the Tattler folks did awhile ago).


First batch in the canner.


Out and cooling, late in the evening. Carrots must be processed for 25 minutes (pints) at 10 lbs pressure, adjusted for altitude (I go for 12 to 13 lbs of pressure).


The next morning I processed the rest of the carrots.


Altogether I got 30 pints of carrots from the 25-lb. bag.


Except for my time and a bit of propane for processing, this comes to about $0.15 per pint. Bargain!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Harvesting corn

This year we had a successful corn crop for the first time in ages.


Growing corn has been a huge challenge for us. Our short growing season means we often can't get seed into the ground before early June, and we can often expect the first frost around September 15 or so. Assuming we plant around June 5 and assuming the corn will germinate by about June 10, this leaves less than 90 days for corn to grow, achieve its stately height, pollinate, tassel, and mature. Oh, and it also has to survive the rip-roaring winds we often get here on the prairie.

In years past, we grew the faithful Golden Bantam. At least, we tried to. But Golden Bantam (despite its name) grows tall, over five feet. It also had a germination-to-harvest time of 78 days. In theory this is plenty of time to get a decent yield in north Idaho.

In reality, we had spotty success. Not because the corn didn't grow well -- it did -- but because it often got damaged by the high winds and had difficulty reaching maturity before frost.


It was also late pollinating and therefore forming ears. This photo was taken September 1 of last year -- about two weeks before we could conceivably expect our first frost. Meaning, waaaay too late to form mature ears before the growing season ended.


Bottom line, last year we got about ten or fifteen ears of corn out of nine tires. NOT a good yield.

So this year we tried a new heirloom sweet corn variety called Yukon Chief. Developed at the University of Alaska in 1958, it promised 55 days from germination to harvest. Based on these promises, we planted twenty tires on June 6 of this year.


It promptly sprouted and grew vigorously. But it never grew tall.


This corn is tough. We had three violent thunderstorms during the summer which flattened it first one direction, then another. All three times it's sprung back upright (well, mostly). That in itself makes me admire it.


When the corn started tasseling at no more than two feet in height, at first I thought there was something wrong with it. But no, that's just the way it is. It puts all its effort not into height, but into early production. We didn't realize until later this is a huge advantage for us since the corn never got high enough to get irrevocably knocked over by wind, like the Golden Bantam corn did.

And my goodness, did this corn produce.


The ears were mature well before September 1 -- bliss!

On August 29, Don, Younger Daughter, and I (Older Daughter was away from home) went out to harvest the corn. I drew up twenty circles (to denote tires) so we could keep rough track of how many ears of corn we got per tire. We went out after the sun had set to avoid the heat of the day.


Despite the short stature, the ears were abundant.



We each took a tire, and counted ears as we pulled them. We pulled both big and small ears (though "big" is relative -- the largest ears were only four or five inches long).


We brought Lydia into the garden with us where she had a grand time exploring.



The tubs we brought were soon overflowing...


...so we just tossed the picked ears into piles between the tires.


As we filled in the worksheet, it became apparent we were averaging about thirty ears per tire.


By the time the corn was picked, it was too dark to do anything else, so we left it overnight. The next morning I pulled the corn into dedicated garbage cans (by "dedicated" I mean we keep certain garbage cans for garden use only, not garbage)...


...and brought all 600 ears or so closer to the house so we could start shucking.



Needless to say the chickens thought this was a terrific idea.





It took a few days to get it all shucked...


...and we had help all the way.


All those ears -- reduced to two bins.


What we didn't eat fresh, we dried.


We'll save some for seed, and the rest we'll try grinding and see what kind of cornmeal it makes. I won't bother canning any because I've got so much corn canned up already.

I don't know if we would have gotten higher yields from a different breed of corn. I don't know, because nothing else would come to maturity or withstand the high winds we get. So if I can get 600 ears of corn from 20 tires with this short-season heirloom, you can bet your booties we'll continue to grow it.

We had vague hopes that we could grow enough corn to rough-grind and feed to the chickens, but I realize now we'd have to have at least an acre of corn to do this. However we'll still double the number of corn tires we'll plant next year. It's so nice to have success at last!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A whole different set of vices

Recently I read a book called Give It Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less by Mary Carlomagno on how she tried to simplify her life by giving up a particular vice every month.


It was a mildly interesting book, but not one I could particularly relate to. It took me awhile to figure out why.

The premise of the book is to give up one vice per month (and then resume the vice the next month). Here's what the author gave up:

January -- Alcohol
February -- Shopping
March -- Elevators
April -- Newspapers
May -- Cell phones
June -- Dining out
July -- Television
August -- Taxis
September -- Coffee
October -- Cursing
November -- Chocolate
December -- Multitasking

The reason I couldn't relate very much is because I don't suffer from any of these vices.

I should explain that at the time the book was written, the author was a single woman living in Jersey and working in New York City. She was an admitted partyer and felt the need to reduce some of the things that were costing her a lot in terms of time, money, and health.

Now it's hard to compare a single urban childless woman to a married rural woman with kids, but nonetheless here's why I couldn't relate to the author's particular vices:

Alcohol -- I have a glass of wine about four times a week. I drink boxed wine. Who can afford bar drinks?
Shopping -- A minimum of an hour's drive away, no spare money, and most of our shopping is done at thrift stores. Besides, I hate shopping.
Elevators -- Virtually unknown in rural areas. I'm lucky to see the inside of an elevator twice a year.
Newspapers -- We don't subscribe to any.
Cell phones -- Even when I was in high school, I hated talking on the phone. Same now. I own a very basic cell phone model and have it on only when traveling. It's not a "smart" phone and even though it will take photos or allow texting, I don't have the faintest idea how to use those features. In short, I use my cell phone perhaps five or six times a month.
Dining out -- Rarely do it. Hate spending the money. Plus nice restaurants are an hour's drive away.
Television -- No reception.
Taxis -- I've been in a taxi once in my life, around 1984 or so.
Coffee -- I hate it. Can't get it down at all. I can't stand coffee ice cream, coffee candies, or any other coffee-flavored concoction. Yuck. (Tea is a different animal.)
Cursing -- I used to let an occasional four-letter word slip, but I've made a conscious effort to clean up my language in the last five years. I have kids, after all.
Chocolate -- Not my favorite flavor. Given a choice between chocolate cake and yellow cake, I'll take the yellow every time.
Multitasking -- I don't think my version of multitasking is the same as the author's.

I hope this doesn't imply that I'm flawless and without vices because that's FAR from true. It's just that my vices differ from the author's, in large part because our lifestyles are polar opposites. I don't care for chocolate but I love sweets (as my waistline will attest). We don't have television reception but I'm on the computer more than I should be.

So this got me thinking -- since rural people face different issues than urban folks, what are twelve vices we could give up over the course of a year?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Valued visitors

For the past couple of weeks, Don and I have spent every spare moment cleaning up and tidying the outside of the house, barn, and shop.

This is our normal fall routine when our busy season is over and we can attend to neglected projects and chores, and hopefully complete them before the snow flies. But this year we had an unexpected motivation. We were expecting valued visitors.

These visitors were Dave Duffy and his wife Ilene. Dave, for those unfamiliar with him, is the founder and publisher of Backwoods Home Magazine, which I write for on a routine basis.

When I learned Dave and Ilene planned to be at the Sustainable Preparedness Expo in Spokane on September 21, I immediately invited them to our place for a visit.


They graciously accepted... and then the rush was on to get the place tidied up. You know what it's like when you're expecting people you want to impress.

I should first explain that Dave and Ilene are among the most laid-back easy-going people we've ever met. I know for a fact they wouldn't care less if the place was a mess.

But WE cared. And so we organized, tidied, and cleaned.

Since the Duffys were driving from Oregon all day Saturday to attend the Sunday expo, we agreed to have them over on Monday morning for brunch, a farm tour, and a nice relaxed visit.

The girls and I attended the Expo on Sunday for a few hours. We hung at the BWH booth, chatted with some of the visitors, reviewed the vendors, and listened to what speakers we could (acoustics were bad to the point of inaudible).

Nonetheless every speaker spoke to a full audience, sometimes standing room only.


Here's Dave and Ilene.


The Expo was packed. I took this photo during a brief break in the crowds.


This is the booth for the event organizers, centrally located and very classy. They even had a seating area with videos for tired patrons.


Then it was home to continue tidying and preparing for our guests this morning.

One of the things we wanted to do was serve a brunch consisting of as much home-grown food as possible since, of course, we couldn't feed them just any food. Not the Duffys! So this morning at dawn (which these days is around 6:45 am) I went into the garden and dug up some potatoes.



The Duffys had their two youngest sons with them, strapping young men, so we needed a lot of food. I filled the bowl to capacity with potatoes which I then diced, spiced, and baked.


We had fresh eggs and a fruit salad made of fruit we had either grown or canned from outside sources. The only store-bought item served was pork sausage. I even put a tablecloth on the kitchen table to hide some of the stains and scratches.


Well my goodness, we had the loveliest visit. These people are a host's dream guests -- interested in everything, easygoing, fun to talk with. Between tours of the garden, barn, bull pen, and house, we yakked nonstop for two or three hours.



Younger Daughter's parrot, Lihn, was a big hit. Here's Sammy Duffy holding her.


Dave and Ilene toured (one at a time, since it's so narrow) my canning closet, which Don remodeled from an unused bathroom. (Don't worry, I'll be giving a Virtual Tour of the canning closet shortly.)


One thing I found heartwarming: As I toured Ilene around the upstairs, she looked at some wedding photos of Don and I hanging on our bedroom wall. Turns out she and Dave have been married only five months shorter than Don and I, and we'll both be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversaries this upcoming year. And we both agreed that we are lucky, lucky women to have the men we do.

The Duffys departed amidst a flurry of well-wishes. I look forward to seeing them at future events.

If you've ever wondered about what magazine founders are really like, rest assured the Duffys are the Real Deal. Great folks.