Saturday, October 11, 2008

Steps toward self sufficiency

Mr. G is on an e-mail ring for self sufficient minded folks and one fellow remarked that his family had gone to kerosene lamps in an effort to reduce their electric bill and he was pleased to report that they'd reduced their bill by $200 a month! Now, I know ours won't drop that much (our whole bill is nowhere near $200) and I've already reduced it a lot by washing our clothes in cold and not using a clothes drier. Anyhow, we're going to give the kerosene lamps a try and we'll see how it goes. Kerosene was $4.20 a gallon and that's a little bit discouraging, to say the least! Here are our 2 beauties. The one on the right hangs above the kitchen sink and then after the supper dishes are washed it hangs in the livingroom. The one on the left is hand blown and it's heavy!

Then, on the wood cutting front......... Aleks has wanted a crosscut saw for a long time, we've made do with what we had up until now. Today Mr. G went to the flea market and found a great 1 man crosscut saw for $20! It can have a second handle put on thus converting it to a 2 man if need be. As soon as Aleks saw it he pulled it out of the trunk, got out his file and began sharpening it. While he was doing that we checked the bees; the "A" hive is doing fine but the "C" hive will need to be fed this winter to survive. I'm not thrilled about feeding them, but the choice is either that or they'll starve to death.

Monday, September 22, 2008


We go pick up apples at a local orchard every year and dry them or press them into cider. The owner lets you take for free all that you want of the windfalls. Today was the first time we went this year and this is what we came home with. The orchard owner told me the varieties but I've forgotten; there are 4 different kinds anyway. We will go again on Wednesday to get some Grimes and more Yellow Delicious and maybe press some, although I was going to wait a few weeks. Those apples will give about 10-15 gallons of cider and we *love* cider so the temptation
is great to get these pressed, but later apples make better cider. We'll see.

I really love the Autumn. How it smells and how it looks. It makes me happy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Making pickles

Well, my sewing machine died. *Right* in the middle of sewing Rebekah's birthday pinafore that I need to have done by Sunday. No local repair shop could get it fixed by Saturday so I drove it to Walnut Creek which is 22 miles away. They will have it done Saturday morning. I have a back-up machine but it too needs adjusted, so that's no help! Since my sewing is derailed I decided to make more pickles; this brings my total to 30 pints. I'd like 50 which is very do-able since there seems to be about 4 metric tons of cucumbers in the garden just waiting to get big enough for me to pickle. This is my own pickle recipe, if you'd like to try it. We'll call it...... Pastoral Pickles in honor of our farm.
Slice up your cucumbers into a 1 gallon container and add 1/2 cup of salt and cover with cold water overnight. In the morning drain and rinse. Pack into jars and place in your oven or dehydrator on 145 to 180ish. This is so they aren't stone cold and will seal better. Then put 3/4 cup water with 2.5 cups vinegar in your blender or Vita-mix or what-have-you. Add 1 medium onion and 2 cloves of garlic and whiz until pulverized. Pour into big kettle and add 4 cups sugar (I never said this was healthy), 1 t turmeric, 1 T pickle spice, 1/2 t celery salt and 1-2 T dry mustard or 1.5 T dijon mustard or pretty much whatever you have. Bring this to a rolling boil and pull your jars out one by one, fill with sauce, remove air bubbles, wipe rim, put on lid & band, and can for 15 minutes.
I have also been dehydrating my green beans. I've got almost 2 gallons so I'm pretty pleased with that. We've got potatoes too, but I haven't canned any yet. Yes, I can my potatoes; we can't store anything in our basement.
I guess that's it for now. Have a good evening!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Downward and backward for a better way of life

This July 4th weekend we attended Horse Progress Days here in Mount Hope, OH. This event rotates amongst the major Amish communities and won't be back in Ohio for another six years. We were thrilled to be able to have such a wonderful event so close to us. I tend to forget that a lot of people don't have the same experiences and lifestyle that we do and they haven't come to the same conclusions that we have. So, that being the case, I'll list some reasons why we think animal power is the best choice for a sustainable future.

  • There is nothing sustainable about tractors using fossil fuels. Not only is the use of fossil fuels going to drive food prices sky high, but what about folks that aren't living here in the U.S.? What about folks in, say, Uganda? Gas there is $6.00 a gallon but unlike us, they earn around a dollar a day. At 3-4 gallons to plow an acre with a tractor they are taking advantage of animal power because they have so few options. Assisting them is a group called Tillers International. Tillers' mission is: To preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the sustainability and productivity of people in rural communities. Tillers' Vision is: To create an international learning community in which we seek understanding of local conditions, encourage an attitude of experimentation, and give promise of sustainable productivity for generations to come. We strive to preserve low-cost, historical rural skills; to find contemporary refinements within low-capital constraints; and to share this information with those interested in small farms, both in America and around the globe. They teach a variety of classes from "post and beam construction" to blacksmithing. The oxen team shown below is one of the two teams that they brought to Horse Progress Days. It was hard to get a good picture of them out on the grounds so here you see them resting in the barn. Don't they make you smile?

Farms powered by draft animals have to be a manageable size, a family size. You can't farm 2,000 acres with a team of horses. Agriculture has an innate culture to it, agri-business, however, doesn't. Animal husbandry can't be relegated to a business model that is interchangeable with a hardware store or a Wal-Mart.
  • "Modern" farming is actually more of a hobby than any of the draft powered ones that I'm familiar with. Modern farmers can't make it without Government handouts. Their methodology is so far removed from reality but yet they persist in the same tried, true and failing methods relying on farmer welfare to make up the difference. I don't know about you, but it goes down hard with me to have tax monies spent on bailouts to folks who just don't seem to get it. Want to see what the farmers in your area are pulling in via their own special welfare? Go here.
  • Did you know that ground can be worked earlier in the spring and after rain with draft horses? That soil compaction is a big problem with tractors? A horse not only reproduces itself but also fertilizer adding to field fertility; a tractor doesn't do any of these.
  • And finally........ though I titled this post "downward and backward", I don't really believe that a return to Christian agrarianism is anything but progress in the purest sense.
  • A horse powered treadmill. Another nifty idea from Horse Progress Days.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Fanning mills, leather soles & the local economy

    We're pretty excited about our new farm purchase. We bought a circa 1850 fanning mill. The principle of a fanning mill is to separate the wheat from the chaff or whatever grain you're growing. The grain is poured in the top and then the handle is cranked which works the grain down through progressively smaller screens. Inside is a big wooden paddle wheel that provides the "fan" to blow away the chaff. We're pretty thrilled with it! The children all wanted to crank it and see who could really get it going, it is mesmerizing!

    On a different note, I left a pair of boots to be re-soled this past week and picked them up on Friday. We have a local Amish run shoe shop and Melvin does the typical repairs that people in his trade used to do back when a pair of new shoes was a really big deal and people thought they were worth repairing rather than just buying a new pair. My Mom, who was born in 1931, said that when she was a girl people would put canning jar rubbers around their shoes to keep the soles from flopping when they were loose. Can you see somebody doing that today? Anyway, I told him that I wanted all leather soles, he said that he could get it done in 2 days and I'd have to pay....... 10 bucks! I was happy with that, needless to say. I watched him sewing new soles onto somebody's boots, he has this hand cranked machine that he winds up and it sews for a while and then he has to crank it again. It reminds me of our phonograph player. We buy almost all of our shoes and boots from Melvin. Melvin has a family and you'll often see his children and sometimes his elderly father out in the store. Toward the end of August he runs his back-to-school sale and gives the children pencils and stuff. It's a big treat. The re-soled boots are high top black leather boots that have gone through a few children. No holes but worn out soles. Our girls wear these all winter long, they look good with their winter dresses and everybody wears them for reenacting. I feel good when I buy things there. I've contributed to someone's livelihood. Someone with a face who cares about his customers and community. It's the same with our local hardware store. We shop there a lot. They are nice, friendly people who really appreciate our business. I don't shop at Wal-Mart for this reason. Wal-Mart destroys communities and it seems like people just don't get it, if there isn't any other competition (because Wal-Mart undercuts and drives them out of business) then it's Wal-Mart that dictates what you buy. I think a thriving local economy is well worth the extra money to let these folks stay in business. The same with what food we actually buy, it's all locally grown or at least purchased from a small, family-run business.

    I'm loaning my pressure canner to my friend Anna to put up her corn, so before it goes I want to get my baked beans canned. The recipes I saw were all too tedious so I thought I'd wing it and hoped it would work out. Well, it did! There's no sound quite like the satisfying "ping" of a jar sealing. ;-)

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    Lawn mowing and scything

    We have a reel lawnmower that our Amish neighbors had gifted us quite a few years ago. It was patented in 1885 but I'm not sure when it was manufactured. The handle has been in rough shape for a while and it finally broke completely so we began searching for a replacement handle. Many of these old fashioned tools are being sold for scrap, exported to China, melted down, manufactured into something else and sold back to us. Well, we had no luck on the handle so we decided to check out the local flea market. We found 4 reel mowers there and brought the best one home. We spent $25 dollars on a beautiful piece of history that will never need gas and best of all, it's quiet! That is a major criteria for us; a machine's noise can be what helps us make the final decision about whether a thing furthers our goals or not. I can't stand noisy things. One exception to this (unfortunately) is my grain grinder, it is horribly loud. I have a love/hate relationship with it, I love grinding my own grains but I hate the ear shattering racket it makes. The one I really want costs $800 though so I'll just have to make do with what I have. Our other recent purchase was a scythe at a farm auction. It is really beautiful! Mr. G is sharpening it so that we can put it to use. Our two pigs, the Admiral and Sophie, are in a poor pasture so we cut grass for them twice daily. The other four pigs have a better pasture so they cut their own grass.
    On another note, Mrs. R's bees left for Wisconsin last evening and arrived safely this morning. I'm glad the move went well and am happy that she can begin her bee keeping in earnest.