Thursday, March 31, 2011

Like the Pioneers!

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away... Hm, no, wrong opening. A long time ago in the Big Woods... there we go.

Many years ago, our pioneer forefathers (and sisters and brothers and mothers) lived in log cabins on large farms, trying to stay alive in a subsistence style of living. It wasn't easy, or glorious, and it wasn't nearly as clean as the Little House series would have you think (books OR television). Cleanliness is next to Godliness, they used to say, and since one couldn't be like God they probably couldn't be clean, either.

Have you ever read the Little House description of bath night? I believe it happened once a week during school days, and it always happened on Saturday night so that you could be clean for Sunday morning church. They filled a single large tub (sometimes tin, sometimes wood) with hot water, which they boiled on the fire. First, Pa went. Then Ma went. Then everyone else, in order of age and seniority. Can you imagine what that bath water looked like (and felt like) by the time it was Baby Carrie's turn?


I knew you could.

Right now, the house we're in has a damaged leech field for the septic tank. Over the winter, it meant we had to be somewhat careful about how often we flushed, ran water, and did laundry. Now that spring thaw is here, though, we discovered something wonderful (not): the water that melts into the ground where the leech field is, flows back into our septic tank, filling it. In 2 days. After a complete empty. Which cost a lot of money.

This means that we:

  • can't do laundry
  • can't run the dishwasher
  • can't take showers of the long variety and shouldn't even really take short ones
  • can't flush if it's yellow
  • have to double up on baths as they did in the Olden Days.
Tonight, I discovered just why it was that Baby Carrie went last, not first. See, I was going to shower, until I found out how bad the water situation was. Given a choice between flushing and bathing, I'll take flushing every time. However, the girltwin was in the bath before we had a chance to say much. Well, once the water was in the tub, I figured it might as well get properly used! Once the child was taken out of it, I went in.


The water was lukewarm and filled with a disgusting bubble bath that makes my throat hurt. The bottom of the tub was gritty with kid-dirt. The water was a sort of grey color, reminiscent of the water that comes off a potter's wheel. 

After fishing out all the toys, I settled down to wash. I cleaned all the necessary bits as quickly as I could, then dunked my head and got wet. I scrubbed, and the dirt in the water and on me ate all the bubbles. Bleh. 

I admit, I broke down and rinsed with clean water. I made sure I had thoroughly washed, scrubbed, and spot rinsed everything, then let the water out of the tub. As it drained, I turned the tap on and used the resulting chilly water to do a full rinse from head to toe. It helped. I don't know that I feel CLEAN... but I feel less dirty. And I don't smell anymore.

I really feel sorry for those pioneers....

Seeds and seedlings

Planning this year's garden is a bit different from the last two years. First, we're in a new house. Second, the land there has not been farmed for a very long time, which has both positives and negatives to it. Third, I don't have a tractor with a tiller on it this year. Fourth, starting seeds early has been almost impossible. All these things and more have meant that the creation of the garden has been a little slow in starting this year. Usually by April, I have seedlings six inches tall! This year, they're barely poking through the soil. And I have only a tiny fraction of the seeds started this year that have been done in the past. We won't be planting a full acre of food this year, because we simply don't have the means to do so. It is disappointing in some ways, but also very exciting and full of new life and new expectations. I am hoping to create at least a few squash to contend with this specimen from last year's crop!

 Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to go walk around the land at our new home. I picked out the area where I think our orchard should go, and walked over the spot where I figure the garden should be. I still haven't gotten it into my head how we're going to do this, though. Right now, my personal feeling is that I should make the equivalent of raised beds by having Gray use the backhoe to pull up "shovel wide" (ie about 2 to 3 feet) trenches which I would then use the hoe to pretty up for planting. I'm going to have to figure out how to get truck-loads of manure or well-rotted compost there, because we don't have compost there yet, of course. I doubt I'll have time to do proper soil amendment, to be honest, and so I'm going to have to fake it this year. I figure it'll still be better than the clay and dust we planted in when we lived in Maryland!

So far, the things that I feel are necessary to plant this year (not including orchard stuff), are: asparagus, horseradish, Jerusalmen artichokes, and strawberries (all perennial and so I have to choose well right from the start - I can't make changes once they're in!), and bush beans, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, peppers, radishes, spinach, squash (winter and summer), tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes. I'd LIKE to plant beets, broccoli, corn, green onions and/or leeks, pumpkins, kale, brussel sprouts, chard, and watermelon, but they might have to wait a year. Until I have better equipment than hoe and "get down on your knees and do it the long, hard way," I need to limit what I'm doing. While I'll have the children to help me, and probably friends as well, I am not willing to over-extend myself and get into a state where I can't keep up with what we have.

My current plan, which is subject to change at any moment, is to have those trenches dug and then work by hand and hoe to pile the dirt in a raised bed style of garden. I would have several two- to three-foot wide beds, about 30 feet long (or maybe more - I don't know the length of the area I've picked out yet!). I will let the grass grow in between, because we have a mower which I can use to mow down the grass. This limits the "between the bed" weeding I have to do, which I think is important. I will also be creating as many of the spiral or round gardens as I can, for herbs and perhaps some small vegetables (I think it would look neat to have a lettuce spiral, for instance!).

All the hens and our rooster Rocky will be coming with us. There's a tiny chicken coop already there, although I think it's too small for our flock at present. I'm also planning on adding between 4 and 8 new hens to the flock, as we lost several over the winter to cold and predation, and I would expect the same this year until I've gotten used to whatever critters and weather we can expect at the new house. The coop is quite a ways from the house, which may present a problem come winter, but we'll see what happens. The one thing I really like about it is that, during the day at least, I should be able to let the chickens just wander. Provided we're not overrun with fox or wolves (which does NOT appear to be the case), there is ample space for them to forage (thereby keeping our bug population down and providing lovely fertilizer) and no roads for them to get squished on. Even if they make it to our "main road" it's unlikely anyone would hit them - it's a class 6 dirt road of questionable quality, and therefore unsuited to any speed racing.

To wrap things up, here are some great links to organic, heritage, and open-source seeds for those who like such things!

  • Johnny's Selected Seeds, who we've purchased from several times over the years. They have great seeds, and though their selection isn't huge, they often have Neat Stuff not available elsewhere.
  • Burpee Seeds, of all places, has some great heritage and organic selections now! I used a couple last year, and was very pleased with the results. 
  • Seeds of Change has been around for a while, and is a  good, solid company. 'Nuff said.
  • Heirloom Seeds is not a company that I've used before, but I've heard good things about them on several of the blogs and gardening sites I go to. I think I might order a couple of things just to see how they do!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring's Sprung!

See that? Down in the bottom right corner of the seed tray? That's a baby cucumber! Apparently, some seeds fell out of my packet and the twins found them and planted them. That's the only one that came up (thank heavens... it isn't TOO far ahead of the others), and now it's been joined by its brothers and sisters. I planted a total of 12 of each vegetable, and the girltwin helped me out. It isn't a lot, at least in comparison with previous years, but I'm going to be doing a lot of the gardening by hand this year with no (or very little) mechanical help. I'm trying to keep my enthusiasm down a bit, so I don't overwhelm myself.

What I did was pick up one of these little seedling trays that doubles as a greenhouse for the first little while. WalMart had them on sale, a mere $6.00 rather than the $17 they usually charge. I won't even go into what Agway charges for these things. Best of all, they're refillable, and Agway sells the little soil pucks for a nickel each. I can go pick up a big bag for a few bucks, and when these seedlings are sprouted and ready for something a bit larger, I can put new ones in. It holds 72 seedlings, and I figure for a small garden that's probably more than enough. For this year, at least. I think. Well, for the spring garden. After all, I'll get another 72 plants in there for the summer garden. And then... Yeah, well anyhow...

Here they are, all snug in their little greenhouse, basking in the afternoon sun. That particular spot gets about 6-8 hours of sun when it isn't raining out, and it's warm and cheery. I'm hoping the plants like it there! It's where it was when the other baby cuke sprouted, so I'm guessing it isn't too bad.

Alright, down to dirty business. It's Saturday, March 26th, 2011, and today we planted 12 each of the following:

  • Marketmore Cucumbers from American Seed (that would be what WalMart carries for $0.20), which take 3-10 days to germinate and 60-65 days to reach harvest. These are the same brand (though I purchased them at Agway) that I planted with such success last year. They can't go out until all danger of frost is gone, but that's so late this year that I decided starting them indoors was the only way to go. I'll plant seeds in between the seedlings, so that I have some early and some late cucumbers, as they're a favorite in our house.
  • Agway brand Spineless Beauty zucchini. They germinate in 10-14 days depending on the soil, and are ready for harvest in 50 days. They like a lot of fertilizer, so I'll have to remember to put some compost or manure in at their roots when I plant them outdoors.
  • San Marzano (lycopersicon lycopersicum) paste tomatoes, an heirloom Classic Italian considered to be the world's best. It's supposed to provide us with a plant that, ". . . literally drips with fruit." It takes 5-10 days to germinate, and about 80 days to mature. The soil is supposed to be at 60F before planting outside.
  • Burpee's Heirloom "Bloody Butcher" tomato, which is an early harvest breed. They germinate in a week to two weeks, and have to be in very warm soil with good sun. They are ready to start picking about 55 days after they're put outside, which doesn't happen until the soil warms up out there. 
  • California Wonder green peppers from American Seeds, which germinate in 10-21 days and harvest at the 70+ day mark. These are again a WalMart cheapie special, but at least it let me get some peppers started. Sis and I are rather fond of peppers, and the girltwin has been known to pick and eat them while still in the garden! These ones can be picked green, or allowed to ripen into a sweeter red stage.
  • And lastly, American Seeds' iceberg lettuce, which germinates in 10-14 days and is ready for harvest after 65 days. Lettuce is a cold weather crop, and if we get into our new house by April 15th, which I sincerely hope we do, I will put them right outside. Lettuce tends to bolt once it gets too warm out.
There. That's what I have planted. I have flower seeds for out front of the new house, and I have lincoln peas ready to plant as soon as we get something dug up for them at the new place. They'll go in the ground as soon as I can get out there to work it and set up the pea fencing! They like colder weather, too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day One - Exodus

No, not a religious title. Well, not Biblical anyhow. We're moving to a new place within the next four months, and with luck it'll be the place I posted about previously. Keep your thoughts on the gods for us, please.

Lately, we received notice from our realtor that we need to prepare the house we're currently in to be assessed. Now you might not think that's such a difficult thing. However, what if other people living in the house are not helpful? What if, in fact, they seem to be doing things that go counter to the cleanliness aspect? What if they're actually doing stuff that appears to be detrimental?

Yes, well... I have a lot of work to do. Sis works full time. Gray is working full time currently, though he's working from home and taking what time he can to schlep boxes for me. I'm the only one left. I'm beginning to see a pattern here... I find us a new house, then do a lot of the packing because I'm the one home (not an unreasonable thing, really), and then I do most of the unpacking because I'm the one home. The problem isn't that I am doing these things... it's the assumption on other people's parts that really gets me. If someone had just said, "Hey Ally, we have to get this done quick. You're great at this stuff - please help get it all done in time?" I could have handled that. I just sort of resent the assumption.

Even that, though, would be alright I suppose. I expected to be doing most of the packing, both because I'm home and because I'm pretty good at it. The problem is that a) I'm sick and on antibiotics that leave me feeling like dog puckies, and b) I have about 10 days, tops, to get it done.


I figured I'd aim for a room a day. I just have to get "most things" packed, not everything. Day to day use items like toothbrushes and clothing and well-loved children's toys are allowed to be left unpacked. But I have to get the rest of it done in a little more than a week... plus clean the house. Without the positive appraisal, we're stuck here, and have basically been told that the other half of the financial partnership is not only willing but *has plans* to abandon ship and leave us here, ruining their own credit but doing so in order to also ruin ours.


It's been a long day. I'm pretty messed up physically and emotionally right now. I think I'll go have a minor breakdown.