ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
I feel exuberant and uplifted in a way that I can't really explain. I guess listening to Joel Salatin's closing remarks will do that. He does have several speeches on youtube. Here is just one. https://youtu.be/rjYG4vm7MZ4

It was wonderful to see so many people working and learning together. The classes were amazing. I took 15 different classes for all of $25. That is quite a deal. I learned just as much from the attendees as I did from the teachers. I found out why my mushrooms failed to produce. I know how to fix it now. I learned all about rocket mass heaters and cobb. I feel confident enough to try it at home. I learned more about solar energy, geothermal, and solar hot water. I fell in love with a chipper shredder. I got to meet vloggers in person. I am buying licorice root from the co-op to replace my toothbrush because I took an awesome class from Mountain Rose Herbals/Teas. All-in-all I had a great time and reaffirmed that what I do to mitigate my impact on the environment is on track. I am not a crazy person for giving a damn about what happens to the third rock from the sun.

The vendors were pretty good too. I picked up two plants that are hard to find. Also seed for the winter garden. There were two small organic seed growers there. Two plant booths, tool vendors, bee keeping supplies, mushroom spawn sellers, cheese makers, chicken equipment people, essential oils, honey, handspun alpaca, jewelry, grow lights, gutter helmuts, worm castings, etc. The Mother Earth News bookstore was fantastic. Everything you need to homestead. It was probably good I had a very limited budget. I found the discussions I had with other like minded people very fulfilling. So wishing you all great homegrown food, wonderful company and a beautiful day to enjoy them in.

I solemnly swear I am up to no good
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
This is mostly to remind myself. How to use a Kill A Watt meter:
1. Plug your appliance into the meter.
2. Allow it to run for a couple of days or longer. Some folks like 12 hours. Note: Freezers and refridgerators use more power in the summer months.
3. What to do with your reading. We are looking for annual consumption. So a meter that ran for 355 hours, reading 26.24 kWh means (26.24/355)*24 hrs *365 days= 647.5 kWh
Which is what my 1992 GE refridgerator is drawing. The newer model uses 399 kWh for comparison. I could get that number down by replacing the seals or just buy a new one for around $575. Hmmm.

647.5 - 399 = 248.5 kWh annual savings * 10.5¢ per kwh = $26.09 saved annually. Includes both distribution and default service support fees. So $575/26.09 = 22 years to pay for itself. No. I will pass on replacing it. If it was under 10 years, I would probably do it. So a new rubber seal may be more cost effective and should last me another 20 years. Of course, that's unless I go with a DC model connected to a battery bank with PV cells.

It was a good exercise. Thanks to Bill Osuch at the Self Reliant Homestead, http://selfreliantschool.com for the help with the watt meter.
ursulas_alcove: My favorite doctor (c is for civilized)
I signed up for a week long summit called Back to Basics, http://backtobasicssummit.com It is half homesteading, half prepping. Some of it doesn't begin to fit our lifestyle while other sessions seem tailor made for us. And yes, I have seen many of the presenters before. Sunday I learned how to make jam with the powdered pectin. I have never used powdered before. Mostly we add currants when we need pectin. But the currants were dug up/moved and are still recovering. I've used the liquid pectin before but not the powdered. It was a bit intimidating because there were no instructions with the pectin. The presentor started with 4 cups blueberries, puréed. Then boil the fruit for a minute, add pectin. Boil for another minute and then add 4 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil for another minute. Use a paperplate to test for sheeting. Spoon jam onto the plate. Place plate into freezer for 30 seconds. Take it out and check for sheeting. Add a knob of butter to keep jam from foaming. She also added a vanilla bean somewhere in there and removed it when ladling out the jam. Pour into hot sterile jars. Process 10 minutes. I need to do this with some mulberries.

Today I got the most out of the bread baking session. I learned where all my mistakes were. I need to knead the dough longer to develop the gluten. To check if its done, use a walnut size chunk and start making a pancake as thin as you can stretch it. If it tears easily, keep working. This is part of why my dough lacks structural integrity. The second part is leaving it to proof too long. Using two fingers, poke the dough. If it springs back, it needs to proof longer. If your poke stays visible, the bread is just right. Generally, my dough when poked, pops and crashes like a soufflé gone cold. So off I went to practise. I used less energy and was done baking much sooner. Great loaf and has structural integrity.

Recipe from Confessions of a French Baker

We've had two days of absolutely clear sky. The pantry was getting a little low. While I was taking inventory, I found a large jar of great northern dried beans. And you know, we've all those tomatoes. Plus we just restocked the molasses. So I got out the solar oven and baked beans. I got a little carried away on the tomatoes and I forgot to add onions, so today I fixed that and made more beans and sauted onions to doctor it up. Not too bad. I made them for the freezer.

Solar Oven

One of the back-to-basics presenters is Paul Munsen. His solar oven (Sun Ovens International) is pretty neat. He also gives a good presentation. He reminded me that I can partially pop the lid, and dehydrate my tomatoes. I also have an alcohol based dye that I do not want anywhere near an open fire, so I've stuck that jar in the solar oven too. Our solar oven is starting to show its age. Its made by a different company, Solavore http://www.solavore.com/contact-us/ I wrote to the company about a replacement cover. We compared the two ovens when visiting Lehman's. Paul's oven is smaller and more portable. Ours is bigger, fitting two pots in it at the same time but it does not travel well. Replacement parts if available, will allow us to work on lowering our electric usage. I really can't afford a new oven. I picked this one up about ten years ago. It took a good tumble in the wind out at Estrella one year. The cover has been damaged ever since. I really didn't want to build one from scratch to replace it.

Another set of presenters today covered how much food to store. Apparently certain religious groups promote this concept and have food calculators to figure out how much extra to store per person. There are plug and play spreadsheets. While I like the concept, we are under too tight of money constraints to buy extra food.

I quite enjoyed the Mississippi farmer who shared ideas/recipes for using all your canned foodstuffs. I think I'd like to try a pressure cooker. Potatoes, corn, meat, all preserve well this way. Despite glass being heavy and breakable, it would be so much easier to grab a few jars for traveling. I have too many allergies to eat out. This would solve a lot of problems. She also covered what to do with aging jellies and freeze drying as well.

I worked on hats today. Orders shipped. But no skeining. I need to get back to winding/skeining tomorrow and let a couple of clients know that their hats are ready. Dyebaths need to be run for Shenandoah Valley Fiber Fest. Too much to do!
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
I started doing some energy research. My thought was to get rid of the big fridge and replace it with something more energy efficient. An under-the-counter model could be housed in place of the broken dishwasher. So I went to the nearest appliance center. I picked up a booklet right before they closed. After reading it thoroughly, I found one energy star model and another than runs on DC, which means solar PV and a battery could run it without an inverter. The idea was that my energy savings could pay for the unit. So today we went in to look these things over in person.

Our host was courteous and took us seriously. That was a good start. The models I originally picked out were no longer available. Okay. A comparable model would run $2085 with a stainless door fascia and handle being an extra $380. If we buy by tomorrow at 4 pm, they will pay the sales tax. Yes, you got it, a glorified dorm fridge is $2500. Our host felt a fridge this size would need to be replaced every three years. The bigger units are built for longevity, ie 10 yrs. The small ones are not. When informed we had a twenty year old fridge, he did a bit of a double-take. Our current GE is actually 25 yrs old. He asked if it was a frost-free type. When I said yes, he shut up. He brought us spec sheets on the Sub-Zero model. Mostly, I was interested in the kwh that the fridge uses. It gives me a direct comparison to my existing fridge, which is currently hooked up to an energy meter. The mini fridge was rated at 406 kwh. How to compare -http://ths.gardenweb.com/discussions/2335024/energy-savings-of-new-refigerator-vs-10-year-old-model

I looked up our existing fridge. In its current iteration/model, it runs for $521 at Lowes. It was the most energy efficient fridge you could buy in 1991. It's current energy rating is 382 kwh, more efficient than the high end dorm fridge at 406 kwh. https://www.lowes.com/pd/GE-15-5-cu-ft-Top-Freezer-Refrigerator-White/50260073?cm_mmc=SCE_BINGPLA_ONLY-_-Appliances-_-SosRefrigeration-_-50260073:GE&CAWELAID=&kpid=50260073&CAGPSPN=pla{ifdyn:dyn}&k_clickID=c42e629b-d682-4449-8e5b-1c9d4fa8bcad

Well, I kinda expected the store was high end and catered to the new subdivisions. There is another appliance store that carries a brand called Monogram. They have a nicer model. The produce drawer is bigger. Yes, still high end, about $1700. http://appliances.monogram.com/us/specs/ZIFS240HSS

We also looked over a propane fridge at Lehman's. It costs extra for venting. Can you imagine an unvented burner indoors in winter? Can you say carbon monoxide? It is in the same price range as these high end fridges, roughly $1200 and another $400 for a vent. Vents are required in Canada but not here. Still not satisfied with anything I've seen so far. Sadly, I have not found a DC fridge to run off solar batteries. They do make them. But I want to actually see them. I don't trust pictures. You can't judge workmanship. I haven't even asked where these refridgerators are made. So no solutions, but I have learned a lot. Models older than ten years, savings could range from $50 a year to $200. You can count on $50 for sure based on technology changes in 2007 but measure yours to be more accurate. Also those $38 a year energy cost on the energy tag can be based on diffent numbers. The fridge at the local appliance store assumed 8.8¢ a kwh. The one at Lowes was based on 12¢ a kwh. So no comparison. Sigh.

More bad news. The PA government has not reached a budget argreement with the govenor. Tom Wolf refused to sign the budget because its not balanced. He couldn't veto because they had enough votes to overturn his veto. So it went into effect without signature. The senate is concocting a way to tax fracking but loosen environmental controls. This has accomplished the lowering of the S & P bond status, caused the government to borrow money to keep running, and will hurt Penn State, Temple and Pitt Universities. Part of the state economic plan is to hike my tax on electric and gas this winter. Helluva way to run a railroad. As for my Senior Property Tax Relief, paid for by the PA lottery, kiss it goodbye. Yes, I learned a lot today. Just remember this state is overwhelmingly liberal but the minority figured out how to gerrymander here first. I'm fed up with both sides. Natural gas has all of them in its pocket. #disgusted
ursulas_alcove: Blakes 7 (intelligence)
Well, it sure as heck has not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. The weather has been the main topic of concern. Although we are inland, Pittsburgh always gets hit by storms starting with the letter I. Remember Ivan? These mostly cause mudslides, flooded roadways, unrooted trees and downed power lines but nowhere near the level of destruction that the coast sees. Harvey to my mind was dangerous because it quickly grew in strength, beyond predictions and right before it hit land. Irma is already humongous. Her track appears to go straight up Florida at this point in time. And then there's Jose right behind her. A good bit of the US could get wiped out. Puerto Rico is already burdened with bankrupcy. I don't think prayers are going to be enough. Hey congress, maybe you shouldn't cut science programs that predict the weather. Just sayin.

I have kin in Florida. I wrote my cousin and offered her family refuge should she need it. Her area isn't under evacuation yet but you never know. Sure it will be disruptive, but it beats living in a shelter. If you have kids, make sure to packs the kids immunization records in case they need to register for school in a new location. What you pack in a bugout bag is highly dependent on the situation. I think Harvey has taught us more than a few lessons. Price gouging is one of them. Gas is going to be scarce. Having extra cash on hand is a good idea. Consider it bribe money to help you safely exit an area.

That all said, for ourselves, we are not very well prepared. The cars need work. We have no cash on hand. Why would we need to bugout? If the electric grid fails, we have a nuclear power plant as well as chemical plants that could blow. Just like Arkema in Houston, Shell has some nasty chemical plants in Beaver. There are also coke plants that can take up to three months to shutdown safely. All the dangerous places are right near the airport. What were they thinking? If you want to be really scared this Halloween, look up EMP (electro magnetic pulse) and what it could do to our infastructure. Scary.

Tomorrow I intend to remedy one problem. The van is going in for work. While I can't afford all the work it needs, I am going to see what it will cost. Poco e poco, little by little. I have a show in Virginia, Shenandoah Valley Fiber Fest, coming up in 16 days. Hopefully the van will be ready. Also, hopefully Jose won't hit Virginia. And just maybe I can get the bent wheel rim replaced on the van. Fingers crossed. Then I'll worry about the rest. Stay safe America. We don't need another Katrina, missing Florida and hitting New Orleans. But at the same time, I'm sure Florida doesn't want it either. Meanwhile, there are two beds and a bathroom in my basement, in case my kin do need to move in. Florida is a big state to have to evacuate. The word bottleneck comes to mind. Stay safe and plan ahead.
ursulas_alcove: My favorite doctor (c is for civilized)
To all the people who buy from small businesses, buy local, buy from artisans, a big thank you! Your patronage means more than you could know. It means bills got paid, food got bought, art supplies were acquired, show fees were paid, basically allowing us to do more of what we do. Vivat!

Autumn is in the air

Today we awoke with Autumn fast approaching, a chill in the air. The storm from Houston has finally arrived tonight. Knowing the weather would soon reach us, it was another long day of weeding, preparing beds, harvesting, and planting. Somehow I managed to get laundry done, start a custom hat, and get a few dyebaths going. Bread even got made. Orders were shipped. Errands were run. Very productive. The rabbit has been my constant companion. I have to be careful not to step on him as I work. We just happen to be one of the few houses without dogs running around. The rabbit is wild. He's been eating clover and fertilizing my lawn, a great addition to our permaculture system. The oregano was harvested for one last dyebath. The cooked remnants were composted. They will be a great mulch. I am also planning a light yellow dye mix with mint, goldenrod, and tarragon. It will be a lovely experiment, fingers crossed.

Wishing you a safe and restful holiday weekend! Be safe. For those of you along the Texas/Louisianna coast, you are in my thoughts and prayers.
ursulas_alcove: J is for jelly baby (pamper thyself)
Gosh, it has been a busy day. Today's focus is on homesteading. Last night I took time to go over planting guides for fall. Stacey Murphy has a great video on that, assuming climate change doesn't totally screw with your frost dates. Ideally, planting for fall should have started right after the eclipse. Some crops should have been started mid-June or mid-July. https://youtu.be/d0LLlcWp3Wk The One Yard Revolution also has a guide for an Eliot Coleman style winter garden. https://youtu.be/4Xe0OOvBvn0 Our earliest frost dat is Sept 21st, with an average frost date of October 4th. The last few years have been so screwy, I don't pretend to know what will happen. I am hedging my bets.

Today I started with bread making first thing. Bread takes a minimum of three hours. It was on our lunch menu, so off to work. I was doing good until I left the bread to rise.The bowl was too warm. Eventually it did rise. I got it into pans. It got too wet from the damp dish towel and then too dry. So two loaves of flat ciabatta-like bread. I need a recipe for a sandwich bread with a little more structure. Still tasty.

After the bread was set aside to rise, I headed upstairs to empty the bathtub water for the garden. Our water bill is way too high so we make all our water do double duty. I got five or six pails for the upper garden which is mostly bushes and some pumpkins. The honeyberries were thirsty. While I was at it, I dragged yesterday's bucket of coffee grounds up the hill. I could really use a wheelbarrow. An entire bucket of coffee grounds must weigh 35 to 45 pounds.

Herb Spiral 2017

My next task is a little weird but bear with me. The mandala garden has a sawdust path. The mailman and our family walk it regularly, helping breakdown the sawdust into something resembling peat moss. It only takes about five months and the earthworms help out too. Sawdust by itself takes about 2 years to decompose, all the while removing nitrogen from the topsoil until its decomposed. Not something you want. So, we put it in the path until its ready. All the walking speeds up the process. I went out to harvest the decomposed sawdust, taking a bucket and an old knife. After a lot of scaping and work, I composted the weeds from the path, harvested a couple of carrots that reseeded there, and got five buckets of new soil. The herb spiral got the buckets of dirt. Nobody tells you just how much the soil goes down in the herb spiral. All the decomposed matter shrinks and the soil mass goes into the plants. The spiral was down almost three brick layers of dirt. Several bricks fell over because there was no dirt behind them. Can't be having with that. So dirt harvest is done.

Digging up the potatoes

Now on to other things. The ground wasps are gone. I think they moved over to the winter savory. There is a crack between boards in front of the savory. Seems a good place to winter. The wasps were hogging the savory blooms today and the honey bees got stuck with sedum flowers. Sedum is not their favorite. The honey bees gave the wasps a wide berth. This finally afforded me the opportunity to dig up my potatoes and get some cover crops planted. We decided on amaranth https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth because it is a great micro-green and it should give the garden a nice pop of color. So I dug the hard, dry ground. Lot of work in the heat of the sun. I found some German Butterball potatoes, carrots, and Daikon radishes. The root crops were volunteers. I added some partially decomposed coffee grounds to help breakup the clumps of clay. Then I topped it off with comfrey leaves. It will be a few more days before I plant this area.

Making slaw

So I have this cabbage in the fridge and some brine from refridgerator pickles. Yup. Time to make slaw.

Planting Fall Garden, French breakfast radishes, beets, kohlrabi

On to planting those fall crops. Since some are going into a cold frame we hope to build soon, I started by making paper pots. Compost mixed with potting soil, vermiculite and perlite was added and dampened with a spray bottle. French breakfast radishes (MI Gardener), Kohlrabi (MI Gardener), and Rainbow Beets (Renee's Garden) were planted so far. I plan to start Kale (Seed Library) in pots as well to transplant in two to three weeks.

Planting Egyptian Onions

Charlotte sent me some Egyptian Walking Onions. I remembered that onions should do okay near cucumbers but not beans. I put them in front of the cucumber trellis. The cukes did okay in this location so I will plant more in the same place next year. So a trellis of cukes, then tall green onions, then rhubarb in front of that. I like that. I will need to find some flowers to fit in between the rhubarb next near.

Planting Laxton Peas #9, parsnips and lettuce

The deer fence around the Asian Pear is no longer needed so we moved it to the front yard. The neighbor's wooden fence is dying. So I put my little portable chicken wire fence along it for my peas to climb. I planted Laxton's early #9 Peas (High Mowing Seeds). I also added some lettuce at the base and some really old parsnip seed. I doubt the parsnip will grow but better there than kicking around my seed box. I gave everyone a drink.

Other things, researched electricity options. Locked in a slightly lower rate by signing up for a two year contract. It only saves $4.00 a month. More work to do. Looking at alternative appliances, both propane and DC, smaller, more efficient appliences, a Small PV system http://realgoods.com/the-weekender-complete-solar-pv-kit , solar oven, and just plain using less. Currently taking measurements of freezer and fridge. More work to do on dehumidifier efficiency research.

Tomato Harvest 2017

Now on to making dinner, canning tomatoes, and bottling rhubarb wine. Break is over. Back to work.


26 Aug 2017 04:16 pm
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
Today I am looking at my family of three's energy usage. Why would I do that? Well, the Public Utility Commission decided to allow a 9% rate increase. For years, our bill was about $35. It slowly inched up to $50. Today's bill is over $80. Our usage is down from three years ago. Going up another 9% to $90 is not an option. We live on a fixed income. Therefore our usage must go down. So how do I cut that bill in half?

Let's look at the usage. The US average electrical use per house is 10,908 kWh a year. Our usage was 6,375 kWh/yr, well below the average. We unplugged the dysfunctional freezer and got it down to 6,090. But this is before the cost of electric went up. So how to proceed?

Analyzing the electrical usage

We have already gone down the road of bulbs long ago. In 1994 I had all compact fluorescents. We did not know then the danger of mercury vapor from broken bulbs. We did recycle the old ones at IKEA. Now we have LED bulbs. So the energy savings went from 13 W a bulb to 9 W on average. Not really much savings there. We saved more than that because several ceiling fixtures have just plain died. I have no light in three basement rooms, the kitchen light is on its last legs, and no light in one upstairs bedroom. But as Paul Wheaton frequently points out, lights were never really part of the problem. This was really about newer technology and a drive to get consumers to fund it. And fund it we did. We are so gullible.

So where then do I start? We experimented again with turning off all the ghosts. Ghosts are devices that draw power even when they're turned off. Things like computers, printers, scanners, the LED on the power strip, the TV, cable, and so on. For about a month, we religiously turned off the power strips at night, shutting everything down. This is probably good for you based on the amount of EMI they produce. Your body just plain needs a break from electronic fields. However, it was hard on the electronics which really weren't designed for this on/off behavior. The amount of money we saved was minimal. Over a longer period and as part of a multiple pronged plan, it could be significant. Start figuring in the early death of modems and computers and it might not be. Have to do more research on that. We did lose a modem during the expeiment.

The big ticket items in this house are the basement dehumidifier, washer, freezer, refrigerator, stove/oven and toaster oven. We also have a food processor and fans that get occaisional use. The dehumidifier is not something we can live without. The basement is too wet. Potentially, a more efficient one could be purchased. An expensive idea was a product called drinkable air, an 8 gallon a day water cooler that pulls drinking water out of the air. It lists for around 3 grand, but is made in the USA. Any money spent is outside our budget at the moment. 3 grand even more so as it does use electricity and not necessarily efficiently. The washer is not an option. It is how we make our living, by felting hats. Newer models do not allow wool to felt as effectively. We have no clothes dryer. Or rather, we use the sun and the furnace in winter. That brings us to the freezer.

We called a repairman and spent $245 on the freezer and the oven last month. The seal on the freezer was reglued into place and the bottom coil in the oven replaced. During the repair, we found out the heating controls on the stove burners need to be replaced as well. We frequently get runaway burners. The repair replaced an oven coil. I believe this will help with cooking time, the amount of time the oven is turned on. This is definitely an opportunity to fix/replace an item that uses excess electricity. The stove looks like a standard 1970s model. But how much will we save? I am going to run a test. If we cook outside on a fire or a Coleman, how much energy will we save per month? Today is not the day to start. It will take time to setup an outdoor kitchen. The Coleman is already on the back porch. The solar oven is not in the best shape but can be used if its really sunny out for baking. I want to set up a fire pit to try out the period clay pot cooking I learned at Gulf Wars. Stay tuned to find out how it goes.

The freezer was repaired but is no spring chicken. I think we bought it in 1990. Replacement parts are no longer made for our model. Ideally, I'd like a propane freezer that sits outside. They use electric until the grid goes down. Then they switch to propane. Lehman's has them as does Real Goods out in CA. Lehmann's is close to here. They serve the Amish community and sponsor a self-reliance podcast. Solar would be good too but I'd need a whole system for that. #Expensive https://realgoods.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=Freezer

For the refridgerator, we are looking at an energy efficient model that is about the size of a dishwasher. We found one at Don's Appliance that we really like. https://www.google.com/maps/@40.2484785,-80.1740857,3a,90y,294.62h,71.82t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1snZkB0TQzsaQAAAQYbJLH_Q!2e0 Again, we are looking at spending about $1200. I just can't afford that. Appliance rebates for buying newer, energy efficient models are only $50. With advent of the pro-coal and the loosening of environmental standards, rebates will probably go away. It is market forces like my rate hike that will drive change now. I find it funny that the effiecient German kitchen of the 1920s and 30s thought that a refridgerator was an extravagance. They shopped daily and had milk delivered so why would you need one? A cool box was probably enough. Food was consumed fresh in the city, not stored. Anyway, we could certainly downsize. Our refridgerator's rubber seal is going too. All the sulfur in the air wrecks the rubber. I am looking at a model the size of a dishwasher, that fits under the counter, not a dorm fridge.

The only other items that could be replaced would be my CRT monitor on the Windows 98 machine. The whole computer would have to be replaced since I do not believe there is a USB port. Not doing another Windows machine. Sorry, you can't pay me enough for the aggravation. And there is one special light bulb in the hood over the stove. Did I miss anything? We don't own a microwave. Power tools are not regularly in use. The business scale is turned off when not in use. The iron broke. I do need a new one. The space heaters are only used to prevent pipes from freezing. That's about all I can think of.

For more Permaculture electricity saving ideas, visit Chris Towerton's youtube channel. https://youtu.be/f71-SYFaGbI

* April was an anomaly. It covers the month prior. My husband was in the hospital and I was at Gulf Wars so very little washing and cooking occurred, only my daughter was home.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
As I was going through my blog list, reading through headlines, I came across "Climate Change is Making Us Weak" http://www.joboneforhumanity.org/climate_change_is_making_us_tired_and_weak

I also follow The Grow Network. Marjory Wildcraft is writing a book called All True Wealth Comes From the Ground. In it, she cites a reference about carrots. When I was a kid, the nutrition in one carrot was so much higher. Nowadays, you must eat 11 carrots to get the same nutrition that one carrot had in the 1960s. Can you imagine? No wonder America is obese and yet starving to death.

I just spent 2 weeks at Pennsic, attempting to eat good food. I spent the last week detoxing from that Pennsic food. I was bloated and felt like crap. I ate commercial food, GMOs and other non-organic food for the first time in a year. While the food was indeed abundant, it had no nourishment. I can't begin to tell you how nice it is to be home and go out into the garden to pick my own fresh food. Food that wasn't bred for shelf life. Food without preservatives. Food without herbicides and pesticides. I still need to eat more greens. I need to plant fall lettuce. But I already feel so much better. All true wealth does come from the ground.

Front yard delights

A civilization is wholey dependant upon its soil. Read Soil and Civilization by Edward Hyams. We have depleted ours. Our bodies need micronutrients in addition to vitamins. You can't get those from the current commercial agricultural practices, who use only N-K-P. Our good top soil is lost each year to erosion. Current agricultural practises are leading us to more dust bowls. We should be mimicking mother nature instead of planting mono-crops and leaving bare fields, we could be planting polycultures, increasing diversity in our foodstuffs, and using animals in rotation to increase the richness of the soil. (See Justin Rhodes -Permaculture Chickens).

Growing cherry tomatoes is like cheating

So for now, the plan is to keep measuring our yield and keep trying to grow more of our own food. We use a no-dig method. My hope is to plant an awesome fall garden. With luck and a bit of work, we will try Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook. His other book is Four Season Harvest. If you head to Youtube, you can follow One Yard Revolution. Patrick has how-to construct a hinged cold frame as well as Eliot Coleman-style winter veggies, growing guides, and a cute cat, named Oscar. https://youtu.be/1qwyFEmTsmM

Meanwhile, I am setting up seed trays for my new aquisitions from the MI Gardener. The rabbit and various other creatures do not need to eat my veggies for fall. Watch for posts in the weeks to come to see how it goes.

Planning a Winter Garden


18 Aug 2017 09:49 pm
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
I worked at the local grocery today, handing out samples of yogurt. Six hours of standing on hard concrete under glaring light while smiling and maintaining a welcoming demeanor. Dehydrated, tired and hungry, I came home rather grouchier than normal. Dehydration muddles up everything. Can't think straight to cook. Numbers make less sense. I get to do it all over tomorrow.

I am also juggling Ursula's Alcove's orders, answering questions, doing receipts, ordering merchandise, and so much more. Have patience please. Keeping multiple peoples' questions straight while trying this juggling act is not easy. See, there is no take-a-number system when dealing with me online. I answer everyone in the order received. Unfortunately, it may appear to you that you are my one and only customer, but there could actually be three people ahead of you. So please have patience especially if an answer requires me to unload a fully packed truck that just came home from a big show. And also prod me in case I owe you information. Notes at large events have a tendancy to get lost. Thanks. I will do my best! As always, I appreciate your business.
ursulas_alcove: My favorite doctor (c is for civilized)
Home from Pennsic safe and sound. The van still needs work. Pennsic was adequate but not enough sales to fix the van. The monthly bills were met, mostly, but the hospital bill is not. The upstairs bathroom is broken. I need glasses and dental work. More work is needed on the house and the other car. Working two jobs later this week with hope that this burden will be shorter. Somehow $50 still doesn't equal $5,000 no matter how I wish. Disparity reigns. Still, during Pennsic takedown, many people found they had food stuffs that wouldn't survive the trip home. I was given so many things, potatoes, apples, sweet potatoes, onions, cheese, lemons, and oranges. So I am thinking preservation for winter. Apple butter could happen. Probably also pie.

Welcome to the Jungle

The garden needs a lot of attention. Paths are overgrown. Potatoes look good, squash, tomatoes, skirret as well. Some newer sections have a very wet clay base a few inches down and a dry, hot top. Those areas are dead. I will be doing a raised bed with a cold frame top for winter over the top of these areas. The compost pile is in good shape. It will provide the dirt for the raised bed. I still need to address the oregano-dwelling wasps. Add that to the ToDo list. I think sun-dried tomatoes could also happen later this week. I am pouring over canning books looking at how much I need. With sun today, I am baking beans in the solar oven. Lots of domesticity.

Front Yard after Pennsic

New seed for winter gardening with thanks to my patrons at Pennsic and online:
Planning a Winter Garden

It is good to be home. Thank you all for your patronage!
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
Planted High Mowing brand sugar snap peas along the driveway as well as beets today. Flipped the compost pile. Wet compost is heavy. Worked for four hours at Whole Foods. Walked to the library. And wound yarn. Lots of standing. Not bad for an old broad. Also planning displays for Pennsic, packing list, a couple of totes packed. Tried on clothes at Goodwill. I am officially a size 16 once again. I needed black pants for the work uniform. The size 20s I had were too big.

Not bad for some extra cash, food demonstrator
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
I will be headed to Pennsic on Saturday. Tomorrow I am working and Friday packing. Things will be kinda quiet for a few days.

40/2 Linen is backordered until the end of August. Irish lace yarn is backordered until January 1st. Mercerized cotton is a long story. The manufacturer has upped the minimum buy to 20 cones (500 g) of each color. That equates to $500 per color. Typically I sell 40 colors and three different thicknesses. That makes restocking a $60,000 proposition. As you can imagine that's not going to happen. My inventory turns are nowhere near that high. What I plan to do is buy natural colored cotton and dye it. That's still about $1500 a year. Yes we live in interesting times. I'll do my best to have something interesting to buy. I may even give Turkey red, a natural period dye a try.

Safe journeys and hopefully we'll see each other soon!
ursulas_alcove: Robin of the hood woodcut (Rock On!)
I spent the morning harvesting. I started with the potato onions. They are called potato onions because they grow in clumps like potatoes. Supposedly they are the oldest known breed of cultivated onion, going back several thousand years. The ones I planted in the Kuiper Belt were very small. The soil back there needs work. Probably more water and sun as well. The mulberry tree needs some trimming back to allow more light in.

Austrian Crescent Potatoes and Potato Onions

Then on to the front yard to examine the potato bed. What were thought to be a late season German Butterball potato turned out to be Austrian Crescents, which are an early potato. Yes, they need to be dug up. No the soil isn't loose. These guys ended up turning green from exposure to the sun, rendering them toxic for human consumption. I will use them as seed potatoes for next year. I thought some of the carrots might be ready as well. No. They were wide but only an inch long. I got the back portion of the bed done. The sun got too hot to do more and the honeybees arrived to do their work.

More onions were planted in the next bed. They were laying on top of the soil, begging to come in from the sun. I planted both potato onions as well as yellow rock onions. The yellow rock onions went to seed. I wasn't happy about that. They were supposed to be regular cooking onions. I may have harvested two onions out of the couple pounds I purchased. All the rest were potato onions. Mostly in clumps of three. Usually they are in 5 or 7. The better quality soil and direct sunlight gave me a usable size. Still somewhat small compared to store-bought onions.

Magic Beans

Green beans were from a very old seed packet from Ferry Morse. They were not an heirloom. Called yard long beans, this is my second year growing them. 2002 seed germinated last year giving me a basis to continue. They are hanging out in Middle Earth with the raspberry bushes. There are not many, maybee three plants. They seem to be growing fine. They like the trellis. The Purple Queen beans are growing in the SE mandala with the rhubarb. They are a small bush bean.The rhubarb had fresh, young and tender shoots which I also picked.

Purple Queen and "yard-long" beans

More rhubarb, still looking good

With the potatoes already dug up, I headed to the backyard where I had planted the rest of the Austrian Crescent potatoes. Sad, isn't it?

Martian Death Ray wipes out garden bed

After some digging, I determined the top soil to be dry and hot. An inch down was pure wet clay. The potatoes had been steamed by the water and hot sun. They were very squishy. This was my Martian death ray. It is turning the squash plants yellow. Too much water in the clay. Next round it will get a mixing of sand and compost to loosen it up. Or else I'm just going to dig up the clay and starts working cob.
ursulas_alcove: Pink petal hat (Peeking flower faery)
As part of a community food program, I am given unique food challenges each month. Last month I ended up with four bags of turnips. No one really wanted them. So many people gave me theirs. They didn't have a clue what to do with them. Turnips have always been peasant food, long before potatoes were a thing. Personally, I still think of them as pig food. I don't have a pig nor the space to get one, even a tiny pig.

June was Turnip month

I found a period recipe for turnip wine. That's one way to preserve them. I already did a post on this. It's coming along. I think it'll be good for cooking. Another is to make slaw or pickle them. Since we have an abundant supply of dill, we have now had a month of daily coleslaw. I am really done with eating this but its still good on those hot days when you don't really want to cook. One turnip started growing in the fridge despite all the anti-growth chemicals they spray on supermarket food. Yup. Planted it for seed.

More turnips from June

July's food challenge is Mangoes. Most people have no clue what to do with them. When they found out we knew what to make with them, they gave us more. First, these are not ripe yet. Second, unripe mangoes contain natural turpentine. A bit of poking on youtube gave us some good recipes. Here's one for Kulfi (an ice cream pop) Condensed milk works too. https://youtu.be/VUQ5yG_NFrI
Chutney is another thing to do. We'll probably make both. There are 13 mangoes.

July is Mango month

Then on to granola. 91 batches of granola are made each year for our 3 person household. That's a lot of granola! Here's the basic recipe. Ingredients can be changed up for a different flavor. Substitions are recommended. If you are traveling and want to turn your granola into bars, I've also included a recipe but with 91 batches, very few go the extra bit of work to become bars.

This is for a 9x13" baking dish:

Mix dry ingredients:
3 cups quick oats
1 cup rice crisps (unless you want a very dense granola)
1 cup (ish) chopped nuts
1/4 cup flour
pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon or other spice

Mix liquid ingredients:
1/2 cup maple syrup and/or honey and/or agave and/or corn syrup
generous 1/3 cup canola oil OR substitute part/all with nut butter
1 tsp. vanilla (optional)

Spread dry ingredients evenly in your baking dish and pour the liquid ingredients over all. You will end up having to mush in the liquids to make sure everything is more-or less coated. Bake at 325 degrees for an hour, stirring and turning-over every fifteen minutes.

Adding chopped fruit:
Since the high sugar content and lack of liquid in dried fruit leads to easy burning, I recommend chopping it to size just after putting the granola in the oven, and putting it in the mixing cup used for the liquid ingredients with a little bit more sugar syrup over it. Place that on top of/near the oven to gently heat. Add the sticky chopped fruit for the last fifteen minutes of cook time.

Granola is made 91 times a year

Once complete the baking dish can also now be reused for:

Granola Bars Syrup

1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c butter or margarine
1/3 c honey
5 c. granola
1/2 c whole flour

Stir together granola and flour. In a saucepan combine brown sugar, butter, and honey. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour brown sugar mixture over granola mix. Stir until well-coated. Press into a greased 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Cool; cut into bars.

The cupboard is woefully empty for this time of year

Food pantry needs a lot more work before winter. So far only black raspberry jelly and marmalade. The applesauce came from the food program. I've not read the ingredients yet. I am allergic to cinnamon so we'll see.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
Who knew I had so many? I need more wool. I've got:

onion skins
lemon balm
blood root
black raspberry
yellow dock
russian tarragon
carrot tops
tomato vines
and even the forsythia will give a color. India Flint uses rose leaves but I've not tried that yet. Come fall, I may try the neighbor's oak leaves. I'm sure there is more. Many of these plants give a different shade in spring than they do in fall. The joy is in experimenting. Some are more colorfast than others. I wonder about the horseradish . . .

And this link turned up http://pioneerthinking.com/natural-dyes
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
First no rain, then lotsa rain. Gardening, food preparation, cleaning, shopping for missing ingredients, and dyeing filled my week. Since the pipes need repair, no hose for us to use. We lugged water every evening to water the five upper tiers of garden, herb spiral, potted plants, four beds in the mandela, and porch plants. The front yard garden has a swale system and was well worth the effort of digging. It did not require any water as you can see.

Growth Explosion

The last week in June, we pulled in a couple of pounds of garlic. I found two more stragglers today. For us, that was a pretty good haul. Currently they are in a brown paper bag because the fruit flies were after them. Normally, they need to dry out a bit before being used or stored. Chronographia made hummus with some in the solar oven as well as roasting some with olive oil.

German Hardneck Garlic

It looks like the peas are almost done. Rhubarb continues to look good and produce. I made waffles this week with a rhubarb compote. Delicious! The Purple Queen beans are coming along nicely in front of the mandela. Skirret reseeded in that patch. I was rather surprised. I had a hard time growing it from seed. Now that we have plants, they seem to have acclimatized. The skirret wants to be a bushy border along a fence or maybe part of an Elizabethan knotwork garden. Pollinators love it. It is as tall as our baby peach tree.

Radishes joined the cabbage, turnips, and carrots from the food bank to make a tasty coleslaw. Tonight we had nettles with lamb's quarters and sauted onions in a ricotta cheese sauce over baked potatoes. Our potatoes are not ready to harvest yet. The Austrian Crescent were the early potatoes. Unfortunately, they were in the Martian deathray section of the garden. I have hopes we can recover something for next year's seed.

The basil and parsley seed from The Seed Guy sprouted and is doing well in the herb spiral. The hyssop is blooming purple but it tastes like French tarragon. It started branching as soon as it was trimmed. It grows bigger and bushier with each cutting. And more skirret that needs to be moved to a better location. We finally found rosemary at the food co-op. The quest was worth it. White yarrow is hiding in the back and doing well. Lettuce is hiding in the shade of the iris. Chives are still growing but not abundantly. Thai basil reseeded from last year. Here is this year's herb spiral.


The window box is a weird assortment this year. The catnip lives there year round but we managed a volunteer tomato and pumpkins as well. This is still the yellow finch's favorite place to perch. He has given up fighting his reflection and sits on top the open window. The second story box has a sunflower in it, making it hard to open the window.


Trimming and weeding are daily chores, giving me an excuse to get out and stretch. Today I pulled a lot of creeping charley, violets, and grass from the front. The butternut is taking over.

Squash takes over blueberry patch

The bees have been in the clover in the grass as well as the borage. The bunny loves the white clover too. He lets us get pretty close. He is itchy and stopped to scratch. No fear.

My new lawnmower

Meanwhile, I have been winding hemp yarn into balls and labelling it. Also skeining wool for dyebathes. Indigo is finished. Hoping the yarn will dry. It turned rainy this weekend. Cooler too. Nothing wants to dry out. Thread weight yarn has been mordanted. Now for the next round, madder. Getting ready for that on Monday. Bookkeeping is up next. Sales tax to file in several states.

ursulas_alcove: Robin of the hood woodcut (Rock On!)
Front yard - Dye plants and Food
More polyculture

A narrow swathe of heat and dying plants while those around them are fine. I've since added a burlap shade cloth. We'll see if it helps. Mulch didn't.
Martian Death Ray wipes out garden bed

Dye Experiments with Barbary trimmings

Barberry in dye pot

Barberry Dye

Thanks to good friends for seeds, madder among the beets
Madder hiding in the beets
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
I did some calculations today. I weighed all our meals today to figure out how much we typically eat in a day. I had heard all kinds of numbers floating around the internet, like 5 pounds per person per day. Nope. We each eat around a half pound per meal. Breakfast here was less, but if you add in a snack later on, its about the same thing. So each person eats a pound and a half of food per day. Not worrying about calories or balanced diet. Just simply a pound and a half. Times three people. 4.5 lbs per day. 365 days per year is about 1650 pounds. Last year our garden yield was 100 pounds, about 1/16th of our food. Hoping to do better this year! We have a ways to go yet. It's our third year of "no till" polyculture. Fifth year is supposed to be the charm.

Rhubarb did well this year as did mulberries and black raspberries. We finally had enough strawberries to actually weigh. There will be more potatoes this year, onions, parsnips, tomatoes, and various squash. No eggplants, but lots of skirret. A lot of the sweet potato slips died. Two or three remain. Enough for stock to start slips for next year but not for food. There is also more Swiss Chard. With luck, I hope to start a winter garden in fall. Lots of greens and carrots. Radishes too. More peas.

The onion bed

There are one or two beans all over the garden. I think there is enough for seed but maybe not for food. Scarlet runner beans, being the exception. They should be a perennial. We have 6 plants on a trellis. Corn is mariginal as are melons. Don't have high hopes. The cukes are blooming at 6" high. Very weird. Radishes exist randomly in many beds. I tried to use them as protection for other crops. I am putting carrot seed in as I harvest plants. We finally discovered what buckwheat plants look like. We've had them for years from our parrot seed mix. Never knew. It's a good cover crop after a bed is through. Easy to mulch. The rabbits ate everything in the cabbage family, cauliflower, some chard and bok choi.

Hanging basket- Rainbow beets and madder are doing well. Started the tail end of store-bought celery growing in a pot outside. Got a couple of meals off it already. Wish I had more. The others didn't take. I have a citrus tree growing in my pot of dahlias. That's gotta get moved. The pot is too shallow. Zucchini in a pot was a crop failure. I got one nettle to grow out of a whole seed packet. That's also in a hanging basket. I put all the extra tomato plants in planters, where ever there was a space. That will be good if we have early frosts because the pots can get moved indoors. They are still little.

Black Raspberry Syrup

Preservation- We have already dried raspberry leaves for winter tea and oregano. Parsley has bee frozen into cubes. Catnip has been cut once so far and dried. I still need to harvest yarrow leaves for winter colds. Some books suggest grinding up comfrey with water and a little flour to make a paste to freeze for sprains. I need to try this. Easy medicine. I will have to look over the lemon balm too. I made orange wine this year from organic oranges at a co-op sale. Also orange marmalade from some Valencia oranges picked at a friend's house in CA. Honeysuckle mead, and turnip wine from the food pantry turnips. And while cool this week, black raspberry jelly. I dried sweet woodruff to make May wine for next year.

Sweet Woodruff

There is an area in the garden that looks like a heat ray killed everything in that section. Dead marigolds, potatoes and beans. Not sure what happened but it is the sunniest part of the yard. It hit the ends of two garden beds. I would never have guessed. I was thinking of a greenhouse there. Maybe one with optional shade cloth for summer. Hmm. Plan for next year. Also talked to one of the farmers at the market. He suggested shopping for meat rabbits at the county fair, buying from 4H kids but asking a lot of questions about age and breeding. Sounds good to me. I will do a separate update on the herb spiral.

So we wait now to see what the total yield is, weighing everything we harvest. We have less than a twelfth of an acre of land. Trying to maximize production.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
Kind of a bizarre week. We got home safely from the renfaire. The gate count was way down. I am re-evaluating my business. Amazon bought Whole Foods. The weather is more severe these days. We missed a tornado while we were away. Politics and the 24/7 news cycle is trying to scare everyone to death, false reports of Russia starting WWIII. What do all these things have to do with each other?

They are screwing with my business. I am still trying to recover from 2008. Let's start with that. It was the start of the "Great Recession". I had too much inventory and bad sales that year which set me on a bad financial business path. I borrowed money from my business credit card firm because the local bank would not cut me a loan. Then Capital One hiked everyone's interest rate to 18% who had used their "special check". They were sued because of this. We won. I got a check for $5.00. I still have an interest rate of 18%. I have called them many times trying to negotiate this rate down. Nope. This is nail number one and I did it to myself. Never, ever trust a bank. They are not your friend.

Books used to comprise about 60% of my business profit. Now we move onto Amazon. Since everyone started shopping online, the book industry is dead. Yes, books are coming back, however, not soon enough. E-books first. I lost several suppliers. Some just quit and retired. Some were eaten by other businesses who then destroyed the product line. It is very difficult for me to requalify with new suppliers and have minimum orders with three companies when I used to buy from one. A minimum order is usually around $250; however some suppliers require a first time buy of $1000. Yeah, it sucks. And no, many of them only have one title I want to buy. Then we move on to customers who buy books. I can't compete with Amazon's prices. Publishers charge anywhere from 60% to 80% of the cover price to retailers. So my profit on a book is not very high. Thirdly, gas prices went high and shipping costs went up. You get the idea. This really hurt my business too. So that's nail number 2. I zigged when I should have zagged.

Now we get to a couple of factors that have the same impact. Wage gap. With the average person's disposable income shrinking, there is less money available in the marketplace. Then climate change. Storms are becoming more frequent and severe. More likelihood that an event will get rained out or a flash flood will block off the roads to a site. Then there is the 24/7 scare-the-heck out of everyone so they stayed glued to your tv channel people. Results, less cash is spent at a show and attendance is down. It still costs me the same amount of money to get there but I have fewer sales. More shows are becoming marginal. End result is that I travel less because it lowers my costs.

Secondary climate change impact: With hotter summers and milder winters, socks are not selling. Wool is not selling. Hats are debatable. As they are hand made and take a lot of time, I don't know what my maximum sales could have been. I can only physically make 100 per year. So I have no upper end metric to compare to.

So I am going to have to think about this real hard. I don't know if I even have a product people still want. It is very likely that I saturated my market or that my market is too narrow or possibly too broad. I need to reinvent myself. Businesses go through cycles just like everything else. Hopefully I can learn a thing or two yet. I will still be around. My product selection may be reduced for a bit while I figure this one out.
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