I am really itching to get started on my garden so I did what all gardeners do-- I looked through the seed catalogs. I even ordered some seeds. They arrived this week. Those little packets represent so much hope. I am going to try some new crops this year. I've got a few different chinese vegetables. See how that works. My boys are home for Christmas break and they made me some more wooden squares for the new beds I'll put in. I know it wasn't that hard, but I really appreciate it. They have been wonderful about building things for me. Last year they built the chicken house.
This was a fun cake to make. My daughter, the artist, helped with making some of the figurines. They are all out of gumpaste. The blanket is fondant and the frosting is whipped cream. The whipped cream frosting makes a more amateur looking cake, but it was delicious. The cake celebrated a baby shower for two sisters, the Crapo girls.
Dressing means soaking the deer hide in a oily solution. I used ivory soap and olive oil. Wringing is getting the excess water out of the hide. It is amazing how much torque you can force on that baby and it doesn't faze it. Softening is pulling (and pulling and pulling) the hide until it is dry. The theory is that if you pull it while it is drying the mucus within the hide's fibers will dry without attaching themselves to the other fibers, hence a much softer hide. Honestly-- it didn't turn out perfectly. I'm not sure what went wrong. About a four/five inch perimeter of the hide is very nice. The interior is too stiff for garment use. I'm not sure if I messed up on the graining or on the softening. It is a bit discouraging. The parts that turned out nice are heavenly.
The next step in the buckskin processing didn't deserve a photo. I rinsed it. I threw some vinegar in the water to neutralize the bucking solution (alkaline) and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed in clean water. Then I let it soak in a mild acid (vinegar) solution for a while. The next step was membraning. It is like graining, except easier to see and not as important. That is what I'm scraping off in the picture. Then I just let it dry. It is really tough, like rawhide. The deer hides are pretty strange looking right now. They dried in whatever position they were laying, in this case on top of some buckets. I'm letting it sit around until I have time for softening.
I'm worried about my chickie girls. It is in the teens and they stay huddled together most of the time. I wouldn't want to live like that. I've been reading and trying to get advice on free-range chickens in cold weather. Seems like half the people say they'll do fine in cold weather and the other half suggest a heating lamp of some sort. I've got a bit of a shelter set up against the house, so they can still be outside, but they seem to prefer crowding against the back door most of the time. It is pretty pathetic. Only got two eggs yesterday.
I've got the deer hides grained. I'm not at all sure I did it correctly. One of the hides I'm pretty sure I got it all, but the other one the grain was really, really hard to find/see/remove. They are rinsing now. Since I don't live near moving water I've got them in a tub in the bathroom and I've been changing the water every few hours. It looks good. I'm never doing this again in the winter. This is SUCH an outside job.
Snow day today. My two girls attending public high school have (literally) been praying for school to be canceled. They are thrilled. Nothing sends joy throughout a household like waking up to the announcement "No school today."
These are pictures of me graining a deer hide. Graining means removing the grain (and the hair and the epidermis). I've been soaking two deer hides in a bucking solution for about a week. I used hydrated lime for the solution. I'm a beginner and I sure am learning a lot. Notice I'm wearing a plastic poncho. That was smart, but it just wasn't enough. It was so cold and wet I eventually moved the entire mess indoors. First thing I've learned-- do buck tanning in nice weather. I'm not positive I'm doing this correctly. I didn't have any luck at all removing the grain on the first hide; I ended up removing the hair and throwing the hide back in the solution to soak for a few more days. On the second hide I figured out graining but there were pink, uncooperative spots. So that one got thrown back in, also. So I guess I'll just be doing this all over again in a few days. The thing the girls noticed was "dang those deer have a lot of hair!" It was laying all heaped up on the ground underneath the scraping beam.
Yesterday was our homeschool Christmas party. I love our homeschool group. I sure miss some of the people who used to be in it. We have about six families right now. Some years we have more, some years less. The best part of homeschooling is the field trips. When my kids start public school in high school they miss the homeschool field trips the most. The women yak; the kids play. Yesterday it was very simple. We shared finger food and we had a gift exchange. There wasn't much to it, but everyone had a wonderful time.
This didn't turn out quite as good as it was in my mind, but it's was ok. I'm still learning. It is a chocolate cake with white frosting and white chocolate "needles" all over. The red ribbon looks like red licorice, but it's not.
This is the first step in turning deer hide into buckskin. It is called fleshing. The word pretty much describes the process-- remove the flesh (and fat) from the "inside" of the hide. It looks truly gory doesn't it? It was pretty interesting once I got going. This is definitely outside work, but when it is 20 degrees outside I wimp out. I did do it in the basement, not the kitchen. Notice I'm wearing Randall's old sweatshirt. I didn't want to nastify my clothes. After I fleshed two hides I put them in the bucking solution. I'm using a solution of hydrated lime, but there are lots of other ways to "buck". I was planning on doing it with fire ashes, but I managed to burn all of our big logs on a breezy day (maybe I should call it Gone With the Wind?), so I had to go buy hydrated lime for bucking. Anyways they are soaking in the bucking solution for the next few days. I love learning how to do new stuff.
678 eggs. That's the count from when they started laying in August up to the end of November. 56 1/2 dozen eggs! Pretty good for a bunch of backyard chickens who spend most of their days entertaining us. They are such fun pets, pets that actually give me something eatable!
After Thanksgiving we had a free sale up at church. A free sale is like a garage sale, only no money is involved. It is staggering how much extra we have. The free sale is a chance to share. We set up every table we could find (and the church has a LOT of tables) and we filled them all. We had stuff lining the walls of the gym, we had clothes piled deep on every table. We had over two tables thick with Christmas items. And craft supplies. Toys. Kitchen goods. Furniture. Books. ETC. And do you know the most amazing part of all? About half of the stuff was taken. Almost more then the things that were taken I'm proud of the people who admitted they had plenty and were willing to share their extras. I don't know why so many people are pack rats, but I'm convinced it is a dominate gene. I've got the recessive gene; I like throwing things away. A lot of pack rats got brave and gave (at least some of) their excess away.
I feel like I was at church all day yesterday. I love church. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. Can I still whine that it was an awfully long day? There were just so many things happening one after another and it just took a long time. The rest of the family was able to go home for a few hours, then come back. Randall was sweet and brought me up some chili for dinner (I was stuck at church the entire time). Oh well. I'd rather be a hobo in the kingdom of God than be a ruler anywhere else.
I've been cooking a lot lately. There are two sides to this urban homesteading stuff. One side is that you do everything yourself. The other side is that you do everything yourself.
Late last night I was dumping old jars full of bottled food into the compost pit because I wanted to save the jars. I have no idea how old this food is. I'm guessing the late 70's. A friend died and her daughter asked me to come over and take all her canning jars. About half of them had food in them. Like most blessings this was good and bad. The good is that I have a lot more canning jars for next year's harvest, the other side is that I was out in the dark dumping ancient food (because I didn't want my chickens eating this old food, but I was too "green" to just throw it away and I had to bury it deep in the compost pile without the chickens knowing it was there, which meant I had to do it while they were roosting, which only happens when it is dark) and having to clean everything up before I went to my evenings meeting because I didn't want all that food caking on all those jars. I am a glutton for punishment.
All we hear is scary news about the economy. There is another way to looking at it-- I like the idea of living lower on the totem pole. Too many people are whining. When I drive down the street I see an awful lot of green lawn and very little garden. We have opportunities right at hand. We still have thrift stores, we still have libraries, we still have health. This year my DH is going back to school and we're going back to poverty. I'm good with it. I think the kids are a little freaked out. It'll all work out. I'm looking forward to it. The reason DH can go back to school is because we've always lived pretty conservatively and paid off debts ASAP. We have no house payment, no car payment, no student loan payment. Nothing. Of course we are going to be diving back into student loans (HATE THAT), but we don't have that back load of debts hanging over our heads. DH can hardly wait until 2009, he's so anxious to get back in school.
We took a drive along the river and the fall colors were just beautiful. We climbed up to a bluff and saw the entire countryside. Long ago the Indians used that look-out as a burial spot. I can see why. It felt holy.
We came home and gave the lawn its last mowing. The chickens have been moved to their winter place. I stacked bags full of straw and leaves all around their house, I hope it helps keep them warm for the winter. I feel like I am getting ready to hibernate. The next morning it was below freezing and a friend saw snow.
Now is the time my garden is perfect. Next year's garden never has problems with the weather, or bugs, or water, or pests. The garden I plan in the winter always produces heavily and every plant thrives. Winter, snuggled up with a seed catalog, is the best time to garden.
This is a buttercream transfer cake. The kids were very impressed with it. It is easiest to do with a cartoon image; Sponge Bob qualifies. The nice thing about buttercream transfer cakes is that you can copy just about any simplistic commercial image and it looks perfect. The image is made of buttercream, not plastic, or fondant, or anything like that. You can eat the icing but the main ingredient is Crisco and I don't eat it.
I'm so excited! I got my first deer hide. I've been wanting to learn how to make buckskin for over a year. Last hunting season I asked every hunter I knew for their unwanted deer hides. I didn't get one. Although many assured me I could have the hide none of my friendly hunters bagged a deer last year. I went through the same process this year and so far I have one in my freezer and one waiting for me at someone else's house. I can't wait to get started. Buck tanning deer hide is a fascinating process but I've only read about it. Now I get to do it. I LOVE learning how to do things myself. I love to spin and knit and weave and sew. I just love learning the basic processes of making things.
This is a typical square in my garden. I have nine this year, I'm making three more for next year. I'm basically using the square foot system. You can see the concrete blocks surrounding the 16 square foot garden space. The actually feet are marked with nylon string threaded through a wooden frame. The frame is sitting inside the concrete blocks. There is rebar at each corner of the block. To the left the rebar helps to hold up some electrical conduit, to which garden netting is attached. The rebar allows me to wrap the square with chicken wire and protect my plants from my chickens. Theoretically I can make a tent for the square and protect it against bad weather, but I haven't done that yet. All of my garden beds are either concrete or wooden squares. I really like having my garden organized into feet. It forces me to make better use of the small space. In our backyard it is very obvious what is garden and what is not so I do not have problems with anyone walking on the soil and compacting it. The soil is fabulous. I am very spoiled, we have a regional compost facility a few miles away. Every spring I go over and pick up a truck load of compost (for about $12 a load) and the soil you see is mainly compost from my friendly neighborhood composting facility.
I worked as an election judge yesterday. What a day! It was incredible seeing the number of people who wanted to have their say. As a poll worker it was a long, BUSY day. When I showed up at 5 am (to prepare for the 6am opening) there was already a long line. It was astounding. At one point I had to run outside after a woman who left something and I could see the line stretch into the parking lot and round the building with no end in sight. I hope someone took a picture because it was truly amazing. Once we processed the voters and ok'ed their eligibility, we offered them the option of marking their paper ballots as they stood, leaning against the wall or against a table (instead of in a privicy booth). As a result there were wall to wall people voting in the room, but we did process them through as fast as we could and I only knew of one compliant all day (other then the drunk we had to call the police to eject from the building at closing time). Overall it was a really good experience and one that I very happy I won't have to do again. Only presidential elections are this crazy and this was a record breaker for presidential elections.
This picture of #2 daughter was taken shortly before the frost. You can see almost all of my garden space. I've got some of the front yard devoted to different fruits, but the backyard is for the true gardening. Since this picture was taken I've pulled off the chicken wire and trimmed the weeds down around the squares. I'm in the process of building three more wooden squares, which means three more gardening spaces. Since there isn't much of anything going on in the garden I can use my time getting ready for next year. BTW isn't Pippin (the cat) cute? She loves to drape herself over our shoulders and take a nap.
I have been homeschooling for two decades. The best part of homeschooling is the field trips. Recently we took a field trip to the oil refinery. I felt like I was on another planet. The planet had white steam whooshing from long rusty pipes and flames spurting from long tubes. This planet was constructed of concrete and metal. This planet had intertwining layers of pipes stretching and bending past my view. It had tall towers surrounding squat towers. It did not feel like the earth I know. I spend so much effort digging in the soil, watering plants, feeding the chickens, making compost, harvesting vegetables, cooking food; doing things that feel like they are connected with the earth. The oil refinery was a different earth, one of pipes and flames and steam and towers. Yet I use gasoline. We were guided around that alien planet by two wonderful (and recognizably human) tour guides and it was a fascinating, if disturbing, field trip.
Well, it's overdue, but had to show up sometime. The first frost. I keep forgetting 35 degrees can still mean frost. Microclimates are fully functional in my garden. And, no, I didn't cover anything. I haven't surveyed the damage yet, but the garden was awfully tired no matter how you looked at it. I'll look around and see if I can salvage any of the beans and tomatoes, but it's time for the garden to go to bed for the winter.
This was a totally edible cake. Isn't it fun? The skeleton is royal icing, the tombstones are candy dipped graham crackers and the tree is chocolate. OK, there is a lollipop stick to hold up the tree, but other than that the entire cake is edible.
These are my fall green beans. It'll be a miracle if I actually get any beans before the first frost, but they are a gorgeous green and look healthy. The onion-looking plants are garlic. First attempt for me. I planted them in the fall at the end of September and they won't be harvested until June 09. I bought some planting bulbs from a gardening catalog and they cost five dollars a bulb. After I planted all the cloves I still needed more so I bought a few bulbs at the grocery store for one dollar each. Both the planting bulbs and the grocery bulbs are doing equally as well (at this stage of growing). I was warned grocery bulbs wouldn't sprout, but they obviously did.
My chickens the day I brought them home AND me and the girls hanging out (last spring). If you treat farm animals like pets they act like..... pets. I have the friendliest chickens I've ever met. They came in the mail the day after they hatched and I've been holding them and feeding them and enjoying them ever since (and cleaning up after them). They are also the happiest bunch of chickens I know of because they spend most of the day running around our yard. They catch bugs, eat grass, scratch for seeds and root through the compost pile for treats. They also lay eggs. Their eggs are fabulous. Very yellow, almost orange, yolks. Most days all of the girls lay, so I have such a surplus of eggs. We're getting creative about using a lot of eggs in our cooking.
I tried. Is that enough for this year? I tried to extend the garden well into the fall. Overall gardening was lousy this year. Most years I assume I did something wrong but since all the gardeners say it was a bad year I assume it was the weather. I'm still getting a few tomatoes and peppers, but they are about done. I tried planting peas for a fall harvest and while I have eaten a few off the vine (yummy) there weren't enough to feed them to the family. I have a very late crop of beans blossoming, so I might get a few beans before we get our first frost. This is the first year I actually tried to plant for a fall garden. Oh well, there's always next year. As Thomas Jefferson said, "I am a very old man, but a very young gardener."
My first ever attempt at growing sweet potatoes and today was harvest day. I started these sweet potatoes last February by buying two big ones from Whole Foods market, burying them in moist dirt and letting them sprout. Only one of the potatoes sprouted, but it did it vigorously. In May, when the ground was quite warm I stuck the slips in the dirt and proceeded to ignore the patch for the rest of the summer. I had no idea if they were growing anything, except leaves. Plenty leaves were being produced! Our average first frost day has past and the weather has been getting quite cool. Sweet potatoes should be harvested before the first frost so I decided to uncover my buried treasure today. I got 23 lbs out of 16 sq feet of garden. The pictures were taken a minute apart. Before-- leaves After--sweet potatoes
What does cake decorating have to do with urban homesteading? Well, this is my blog and I do cake decorating. I do my thing, I take a picture, it gets a place of honor at a wedding (or shower or whatever), it is eaten and it's gone. I do not have to find wall space to display it. I'm not doing this as a business but I get enough paying jobs that this craft pays for itself.
I live in the most car-centric city I know of. My street doesn't even have a sidewalk! A year ago our family had three cars. Today we have one. I like it better this way. We have made very few sacrifices other than sacrificing constant car repair bills, regular insurance payments, and high gasoline prices. My husband and I share the one car we have. I use it twice a week and he has the rest of the time. When I have the car he takes the bus to work. When he has the car I ride my bike. I know which days I have the car so I can arrange doctor visits and "big" errands around those days. The only place we go regularly that doesn't fit into our bus/bike arrangement is church. Someday we'll move closer to church and solve that problem. If you are interested in learning more about living car-free or car-lite read "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car" by Chris Balish. He not only writes well, he writes something worth reading.
These are my "girls." The blonde is a Buff Orpington, the red is a Production Red and the black and white striped is a Barred Rock. They are so much fun! I have nine, three of each, and they are all laying. Most days we get nine eggs. My daughter is getting really creative with using large amounts of eggs in her cooking. The lemon chiffon cake was heavenly! A couple of months back we made a you tube video about the girls. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ma9caUHRbVg
I grew up wanting to be a pioneer. I am, but I never thought I'd be doing it in the city. My family and I live in a small house on a tenth of an acre and I am learning to be an urban pioneer. I hope this blog will a be a chance to discuss urban homesteading. Please share what you are doing!