Monday, April 25, 2016

New Tricks for This Old Dog

My garden over the past few years has been disappointing, at best. It's probably one part operator error, one part plant choice (probably could also be classified as "operator error":)), and one part nature. Whatever the reason, it hasn't produced well.

Under the heading of operator error, I keep harkening back to that time that I had 180 lbs of Hubbard Squash volunteer, and I'm not very conscientious about weeding, because I keep hoping that one of those "weeds" will be my bumper crop. That, and some of the weeds we actually eat. It's just disappointing to plan and plant and (sort of) tend, just to have a weed overtake the intended crop. But it's also hard to pull a weed until I know for certain what it is. It's something I struggle with. I'm working on it, and the best answer will probably be to pull anything that's not my intended plant from the garden bed, and just trust that the edible weeds will grow elsewhere, and then, we can have both.

In addition, I've been plagued with squash bugs for the past two years, late in the season, because before August, I have broiler chickens who are keeping the bugs in check. I'm not very good at pest control, either, apparently, and I've always depended on nature to balance the scales - often to my detriment. My answer to this dilemma, at least this year, is that I won't plant any squash here. I might rent a spot in the community garden, and plant the Three Sisters over there.

Then, there are the dogs and the livestock that too often kill parts of my garden. I've finally admitted that I, simply, can not have a garden in the same part of my yard where the dogs and chickens might be able to reach it. The reason I've been so slow at learning the lesson has to do with how my house sits on my lot, and the fact that the space where the chickens and dogs have to hang out also happens to be on the south-facing side of my house - which is where the garden should be, right? *sigh*

This year, I'm trying something new. Straw bales, for one. The other is that I will just have to separate the animals and the garden and hope that the westerly facing expanse of lawn will suffice.

In years' past, I've tried to maximize the gardening space by using more of the yard. This year, I will try to maximize the gardening space by using different techniques.

The straw bales are set and ready to receive some compost starter. In about a month, we can start adding the heat-loving plants I plan to put in them.

In the meantime, we planted some peas, radishes and lettuce in planters ... and they're sprouting!

Hello, Springtime!

Lettuce sprouts

Happy Radishes!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Compare Your Consumption

Many years ago, when sustainability, resource depletion, and Peak Oil were constantly in the news, we could find calculators that would allow us to compare our usage to other people.

Back in 2010, I often wrote about our usage. For those of us here in the US, we always came up on the heavy end of usage. In fact, regardless of our lifestyle choices, just revealing that we lived in the US added negative points to our overall sustainability score, which irritated me, sometimes, but I understand. Just calculating the transportation factor alone (given that most of us in the US have and heavily rely on our automobiles - especially in rural states, like Maine, where everything is so spread out) increases our usage compared to places that have a mass transit infrastructure.

I haven't heard as much talk in the news or around the web these days about personal usage, and so, when I saw
this article on Der Spiegel, I was excited to try it out.

Some of the answers were a bit skewed, because we don't purchase meat from the grocery store. We raise our own chickens and rabbits, we eat wild meat (deer, turkey, fish), or we purchase a meat share (pig, cow, lamb) from a local farmer. With the way that our meat is packaged by the butcher for our family of five, we end up eating about 1.4 lbs of meat per person per week.

We also don't throw away food. Whatever food waste there is either goes to our chickens or goes in the compost pile, but I still put a number in there, because, maybe there are times when something gets put in the garbage that should have gone outside.

The electronic waste question was also a difficult one. My house is full of electronics. Everyone one of us has a laptop computer, and we all have either a smartphone or a Kindle. The thing is, however, that we do, as suggested in the article, repair instead of replace. Deus Ex Machina still has the first smartphone he ever purchased, an iPhone 4. One of the buttons no longer works, but the phone itself is fine. He wouldn't have gotten the smartphone when he did, except that none of the cellphone carriers in our area could support his old razor. We've replaced the screens on my daughters' phones on several occasions when they cracked. As for computers, we rarely replace those, either, because if it works, it works. Why get a new one? And we're just as likely to figure out what's wrong with the old one and replace a part (like putting in a new hard drive, which we've done) as we are to purchase a new one - and even then, the new-to-us computer is just as likely to be a refurb.

The clothes question was an interesting one, because many of the clothing items I own were purchased second-hand to begin with, we tend to wear our clothes until they can't be worn anymore, and when the clothes are no longer fit to wear in public I keep them so that I can make them into something else - like oven mitts, cloth sanitary napkins, bath mats, or surprise clothing items.

I estimated that 10% of my wardrobe consists of things I don't wear often, but that number is, possibly, misleading. I have lots of sweaters that I don't wear at all during the summer. I have some dress clothes that I only wear when I'm ushering at the theatre.

It's been a long time since I filled out one of those calculators, and we've changed a lot in our lifestyle habits. With regard to answers on this calculator (which, I believe, assumed I was German and so I wasn't automatically dinged for being an American :)), we're not doing so bad.

How do you compare to the world?

My answers:

Your consumption in comparison with the world:

  • Your spending: 26 % – People in in Botswana. spend a similar amount on food as you do, measured as a percentage of total expenditures.
  • Your meat consumption: 0.6 kg – Your weekly meat consumption is 0.8 kilograms. That is comparable to the weekly per capita amount available ****.
  • Your household of 5 person(s) throws away 0.5 kg food – At 0.1 kilograms per person, your household throws away less food than those in all European countries for which data is available.
  • You're responsible for 5.4 kg electronic waste – You are responsible for roughly the same amount of electronic waste as people in the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I have this pair of jeans that I really love. They fit better than any other pair of pants I own, and despite looking everywhere, I haven't been able to find a comparable pair - one that fits and feels like this pair that I found at Goodwill a few years ago.

Part of my lifestyle over the last several years has been all about being frugal - partially to save money, partially in the interest of being more "green." We purchase most of our clothes and household goods second-hand, because it's kinder to the Earth, and in most cases, cheaper.

But finding clothes second-hand is, actually, a chore. It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - one never knows what one is going to get. As is the case with my jeans. I've found, exactly, two pairs of jeans that I like and wear at Goodwill. The first pair are now designated "work" jeans, because they not only have holes in them, but they are also covered in paint. The second pair are now getting threadbare, but I just can't part with them.

Recently, the fabric gave way, and now there's a hole. It's time for a patch.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Will Work ... for Free

I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook the other day. This friend is an anti-capitalist, which can be interesting. I learn a lot.

In this particular conversation, he was sharing some thoughts about housework. In particular, he was sharing articles and essays by Silvia Frederici, who seems to be saying that women have gotten the raw end of the deal when it comes to capitalism. I didn't read further into her writing, and it may be that she is very politically motivated and promoting a different political-economic system than capitalism.

But that's not where my conversation with my friend went.

Where it went, at least for my part, was to concentrate on the reality that our society views housework as valueless, and by proxy, people who engage in it, are considered less valuable than those who do paid work. Mostly women fall into this category, and again, Ms. Frederici, a feminist, may be ranting against this patriarchal system that has, again, dumped on our more gentle sex.

The comment that prompted me to comment to him at all was that he said something about kept women (not to be derogatory, but as a label that is often applied - unjustly - to those who are homemakers).

It's, unfortunately, a truism in our culture, and as a long-time stay-at-home Mom (and I usually qualify that I'm also a work-at-home mom ... see? I'm worth something, because I HAVE a job that actually pays money), I have, personally, been subjected to this stigma.

My thought, though, and that of greater thinkers and writers than I (like Sharon Astyk and Amanda Soule), is that we, the home-makers, may just be the ones who save us. We can all see that our economy is in trouble. The world economy is in trouble. In the past thirty years, the economies in Russia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Argentina, Greece, Venezuela, and Japan (and perhaps others I haven't mentioned) all collapsed, catastrophically. No jobs. No money. No supplies, including food.

We, housewives (at least those of us in the middle class sphere of housewifery) have been creating a, sort of, informal economy, where we, often, barter our services and/or goods - usually without even thinking that that's what we're doing. I'll teach a workshop and get "paid" with bread and fresh produce. I'll babysit for my friend and she'll pet sit for me. I'll give my friend a rabbit (because she wants to try it), and she'll give me cheese and grass-fed beef from her own cows.

We've learned to reuse stuff that those who are working for money would simply throw away. If I had a full-time job, I probably wouldn't spend much time making my own panties or a bath mat out of old towels and some leftover fabric scraps. There aren't a lot of gardens in suburban neighborhoods, because most two-parent families have two jobs, and gardening isn't on the priority list. Most people don't line-dry their clothes, because it can be a time-consuming choice. Most people don't heat with wood, even if they have a woodstove, and if they do supplement their heating with wood, they don't cook on their woodstove.

It takes time. It takes effort. It takes thought and planning to do all of those things, and when people work full-time, the last thing they want to do is extra work. It's just easier to pay someone else to make panties and bath mats, deliver the heating oil, produce the electricity for the clothes dryer that someone somewhere manufactured, heat up the convenience food that someone else prepped and froze (or canned) in some facility out west somewhere.

Here's the rub, though. When our economy buckles and those conveniences are either no longer available, or only a little available, we'll all be doing more for ourselves.

Or we'll need to hire a housewife to do it for us ... because we, housewives, will be the only people who know how.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Routine ... not Rut

Things here on our suburban nanofarm have gotten pretty routine. There's growing season in which we prepare our garden beds and plant the seeds - starting with peas, as soon as the soil can be worked. There's gathering wood for winter season, in which we begin the process of hauling, splitting and stacking firewood. There's pre-winter, when we start clearing out the gardens and putting away tools and repairing and moving animal enclosures. There's winter.

And, then, there's SPRING. Sometimes winter feels like we're holding our breath for spring, and when it gets here we start the process of finding the tools we'd left in the yard before the first snow. We rake leaves that were left on the lawn. We turn the garden beds and the compost pile and repair the raised-bed surrounds. We order chicks and seeds and start getting ready for both to be raised through the warmer months. We hang out our first load of laundry in the bright, warm sunshine, and we stand bare-armed in the warming breeze, eyes-closed, face-raised to the clear blue sky and the earth-warming sun.

And we tap the trees.

This past weekend, we boiled our first quart of maple syrup.

While Deus Ex Machina was in the yard boiling the sap, our new neighbor stopped to chat. When he saw us tapping the trees a few weeks ago, he was inspired to try it on his own, and he purchased some spiles and buckets. He also purchased a bundle of wood and used it as a (completely unnecessary and unexpected, but incredibly appreciated) barter. A bundle of wood in exchange for Deus Ex Machina helping him to find maple trees that he could tap.

The neighbors have several young children. We hear them outside playing all of the time. I'm very excited for the life they are going to have living on a three-acre wooded lot with parents who are interested in being outside and learning skills, like maple sugaring.

Sometimes the bounty of my life overwhelms me, and I am so thankful, every day, for how blessed we are.