Update with Pictures

It’s over 90 degrees here. The bees are so hot they’re bearding across the front and sides of their hive, and reaching to the back. One hive is strong–the other I don’t think will make it to winter, let alone through winter.

I was proud of how well our garden was growing until I saw a picture of a friend’s garden. A few months ago I gave them some pepper plants that are now heavy with peppers; our own are wilting and the leaves falling from the bottoms. I’m not sure why, but some 6 of the bell pepper plants are dying, the rest struggling.

Still, life goes on and things grow. Continue reading

Consumption Society: Food

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? After birthday celebrations, drama, and just keeping up with the homestead, I’ve been too exhausted or have had no time to check in. I have lots of pictures to share and posts on anything from my first incubation (with pictures and hopefully hatches starting tomorrow), the difficulty of fitting into corporate lifestyle, a backlog on the chicken “acquisition” process, updates on the chicks and chickens, an overview of the homesteading days weekend from a few weekends ago, and the garden. Whew!

But for today I’m just going to blog about something that’s been bothering me for a while, and that’s food consumption and food waste. Our society (at least the general American public) is so incredibly wasteful. People who leave piles of food on their plate at restaurants, who when their dinner is done throw it in the trash. Who take a bite of something and throw it away, who scoff at sharing. Who see a worm on their peach and throw the whole thing out.

And that’s not even taking into account the estimated ~20 pounds of food each family throws away because it goes bad.

Sadly? I’m just as bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I will use food that most people find questionable. Shelf-stable items especially will stay on my shelves long past the expiration date (really, does Jell-o go bad? I doubt it). I have some apples that are wrinkled in the fridge, but still perfectly fine. I’m stubbornly holding on to them to make a few jars of applesauce. If cheese has mold on it, I cut off the moldy bits and use the rest.

But, unfortunately, I still throw away more than I want to. I forget about the spinach at the bottom of the drawer and it wilts and gets slimy. I have a hard week with 10-12+ hour days, and the turkey sits in the fridge for a few days too long. We have leftovers but struggle to eat them to the bottom of the tupperware. I want to drink the orange juice, but can’t finish a carton before it’s done.

A few weeks ago I cleaned out my fridge and the amount of food I threw away was atrocious. Probably a pound of turkey, too slimy to eat. A few ounces of blue cheese that had started to smell. Asparagus with white rimmed around the sides.

Honestly, with the chickens and the compost finally going strong, it’s been easier. Food that I may not want to eat but which isn’t bad goes to the chickens. Vegetables that have gone to mold go to the compost. It doesn’t fix the problem with the meat, but you know what will?

Stop being so wasteful.

If you have the same problem I do (and I’d like to think I have it to a smaller degree than most of my neighbors and friends), try to make a vow. Don’t take something out of the freezer or pick it up at the store/farmer’s market unless you plan on cooking it that week. If you’re picking from your garden, get comfortable with selling, canning, or consuming immediately (this isn’t a problem for us–yet). If you have leftovers at restaurants, take it home. If you’re comfortable enough with your tablemates who would throw their food away, take it home. I did this a lot in college with a good friend of mine–she got a good laugh out of it, I got free food, and it didn’t go straight to the trash can.

Below are things I’ve been doing either my whole life or only recently, slowly getting better at reducing our food waste. Note that these are not recommendations based on health, just my experience with my food and as far as I’m personally willing to let it go. It’ll save our wallets and save a lot of trash:

  • Meat that isn’t vacuumed sealed must be used within a week.
  • Meat that is vacuumed sealed only has a few days after that.
  • Better yet–cook up all meats for the week on a Sunday night and heat them up for dinner that week.
  • If I find I’m running out of time for food, cook big batches of food on a Sunday and freeze it.
  • If last night’s leftovers aren’t being eaten fast enough, freeze them for quick meals in the future.
  • Throw out table scraps to the chickens (they especially appreciate the little meat left on apple cores and watermelon rinds).
  • If you open up a can of tomato sauce or any canned item, use it quickly, even if that means pasta a few times a week. Opened pasta sauce in the fridge will go bad, and often long before it would have gone bad sitting unopened on your shelf.
  • Put all moldy fruits and vegetables in the compost bin. It’s expensive compost, but it’s not trash.
  • Compost everything that can safely go into the compost rather the landfill.
  • Be more conscious of when your food goes bad and use it before you hit that date.

Do you notice yourself wasting food sometimes? How do you keep your food waste down? Are you getting better or worse at it?

Gardening as an Adult: Part 3 – The Beginning

I have so many things to write about and catch up on that I don’t know where to start. But for now, I want to close out the gardening as an adult thread. Not because I’m going to be any less adult or because I’m going to stop gardening, but because that’s it. I’m caught up. I’ve given you the extent of my solitary gardening experiences, unless you want to count the beans I planted in high school and placed in dark cabinets.

I didn’t think so.

In the three years that we’ve lived in this tiny little hillside house, this is how it’s been:

  • Year 1: We had just moved in and our garden was 50 miles away in another county. Even if we wanted to garden, the place was so overrun with pine trees that any plants would have died for lack of nutrients and sun. You could barely see the house, let alone the ground.

View from above. The legacy is a 5.2 pH level

  • Year 2: We were finally tearing down the trees. You could start to see the yard and that there was space to work with. We were pulling down the honeysuckle bushes going across the back fence and tore out some invasive bushes in the backyard by hooking them to the tow hitch on Mike’s truck. The worst part, though, was the water problems in the basement. This meant the careful landscaping was torn apart and the loosely tended azaleas in the front yard were dug out. But we needed a dry basement.
  • Year 3: We wanted a garden. We wanted to grow our own produce but started too late, so we bought 6 large pots and 6 small ones. We filled them with potting soil, blueberries, tomatoes, strawberries and peppers. We watered them and tended to them. We yelled at Huck when he plucked strawberries off the vines and blueberries off the bushes. And then, all of a sudden, they died. Our garden was over and our lone apple tree provided us with 5 apples–the European hornets hollowed out the rest.

Late last year, or perhaps it was early this year, Mike and I were talking about where to put the garden. We could build a 10 x 10 area in the backyard and fence it off, he said. “But I can’t grow anything,” I said. “All those plants last year, they died. I can’t keep a plant alive.”

That’s when I learned that he got eager, wanted so very much to be sure they were healthy that he fertilized them. And he either fertilized them too soon or too often, but either way, they were burned. And as sad as it is to say, I was happy, because it wasn’t my fault. There was still a chance.

Early this year I learned more about heirloom tomatoes and about purchasing non-GMO foods where I could. And I learned of Baker Creek seeds, and once I saw their pictures it was all over. I went crazy, and bought seeds on a hope that perhaps I could grow and nurture plants.

Turns out I can, and I have 60 extra plants in my car port to prove it.

This year will be the true test of our gardening abilities. We’ve gone from 0 to 60, but that’s the type of people we are. We have 13 blueberry bushes, 4 apple trees, 12 raspberry and blackberry vines (I call them sticks), a three sisters plot, the nightshade garden, two raised beds, a front bed for tomatoes and a long 40 x 2 bed for lettuce but which will be its pumpkin patch. We plan on putting 2 peach trees in this weekend.

So there you have it. The big adventure. The big gardening adventure that makes my fingers itch to plant because there’s nothing more satisfying than trying something and seeing it flourish from seed to maturity, and I can’t wait to see everything bear fruit.

Why I Always Get Extra

I’ve had a lot of people look at me funny when I tell them that I have over 100 tomatoes and peppers in the ground and in pots. And then I get to, “Oh, but I have extra–would you like some?”

I could talk to you about how I’ve learned that I can grow things as long as I put a bit of effort into it, but that’s not what this post is about. No, this post is about why when I want 20 chickens I get 30 (count for losses, you know), and why when I want 100 plants, I need to start at least 200.

I’d rather have extra than not enough!

And oh boy is there extra. When I sowed over 200 cells with seeds, I was expecting 85 to maybe show up and survive long enough to be planted. I spread the plantings out over weeks until it came down to my last tray. 49 seeds lovingly sowed a bit late. 5 different tomatoes and one pepper. So small that I never even got a chance to pot them up.

Then the other day they looked so sad. So starved for water, sunlight, and attention.

So I soaked them and tossed them under the Jeep tire for the long weekend. It would provide some shade, but let them get plenty of sun without getting soaked if it rained.

When I checked them yesterday, they looked beautiful. Ready to transplant up, happy.

When I checked them today–

Oh.

That’s right.

They were still under my tire.

That’s right. This morning I was running late and walked right past the car that I could have driven, jumped in the Jeep that was out of gas, and ran right over my precious plants.

I didn’t realize my mistake until long after the damage was done. On my way home I hoped maybe the tire missed. Maybe I moved the plants. Maybe Mike moved the plants.

No such luck, but I did what I could to salvage them–I buried them deep and I buried them 2-4 a pot. They’ll get crowded if they all grow, but I’ll take that risk in hopes they’ll grow at all. These were the Peche, Livingston’s Gold Ball, Ananas Noir and Red Zebra tomato varieties.

Such is life, and such is why I like to overdo it. You never know when blind stupidity or a bad morning will mess up your plans. (In addition to forgetting that I could drive the most fuel efficient of our vehicles today and running over our plants, I left the door wide open, yet locked. Come on in!)

And here, for good measure, a few pictures of the chickens since I say I have them but never post pictures.

In Summary: The To-Do List Just Got Longer!

This long weekend unfortunately turned out to be less productive than we were hoping. Had things gone according to the original plan, we should have at least gotten some progress on the chicken coop, finished planting everything, and maybe cleaned up the house. Instead, we only got a little bit crossed off on our to-do list and still have a pile of dishes in the sink. Saturday threw a wrench into things, and we used that as an excuse to run errands for most of yesterday and today.

But, we did get some things done and I wanted to post some updates on that! So here’s our progress from Saturday and Sunday. Today the only thing we got done was to pick out a caterer for the wedding (mmm, barbeque!). It just means this week will have that much more for us to get done.

Continue reading

Memorial Day Weekend To-Do List

I’m trying to post and get dressed and get things done all in time to make a cake tasting at 11am.

Not much is getting done, I’ll tell you that.

I want to post about the chickens, and the garden, and the fact that holy crap, I can grow things!

But instead, until later this evening when I can update about the bees (please let there be no swarm cells!), my to-do list for this weekend will have to suffice. And it’s pretty long. List behind the cut. Continue reading

Gardening as an Adult: Part 2

Mike and I were on our second year of being together. We were considering buying a house. I was secretly living with him, and not-so-secretly changing and showering at the gym before work. We were going out to happy hour on Thursday nights, and working day jobs, and were exceptionally fit–much healthier than we are now, unfortunately.

We were still living in the suburbs but I decided I was going to try my hand at gardening again. This time, we’d do his yard.

So sometime in May (probably late May) we borrowed my dad’s tiller and tilled up part of the backyard at Mike’s house. We bought some t-posts and wire fencing, and a pile of tomato cages. We bought all started plants this time, except for the cucumbers that never did grow.

We were ready.

Tomatoes, jalapenos, sweet peppers, rosemary.

I feel like I tried to plant onion and potatoes, but I can’t be sure.

We watered. We halfheartedly weeded. We drove around looking for houses.

Sometime in July, the peppers started producing quite happily. I feel like the tomatoes must have been producing by then too, but all I really remember is a big metal bowl full of bell peppers and another full of jalapenos.

I never had the patience to wait so almost all of them were green.

What was a girl to do? Why, make mounds of stuffed peppers, of course!

And oh they were good. Peppers stuffed with meat, and cheese, and bread crumbs. Peppers stuffed with more peppers. They were a hit.

The plants had just started to kick in gear, and although you had to wade in to get the goods, it was worth it.

And then we moved.

At the heart of the season, when the peppers really started going, we moved.

We moved 50 miles away to an overgrown place with no peppers and tomatoes producing. And our lovely garden was left behind with Mike’s siblings, a nineteen-year-old boy and a twenty-year-old girl.

They never picked them, and we never went back, except for the one time when Mike visited and said it was so overgrown it wasn’t even worth walking into and risk getting bit by a snake.

Oh well.

Lessons learned: Weed your garden. Make a commitment and stick with it. Peppers stuffed with peppers taste just lovely.

Honey, I’m home!

I couldn’t help myself, but the bees arrived! Two packages of just tickled pink Italian Honeybees arrived on Sunday. Mike was worried about them all day Saturday, and made sure we were hours early to pick them up on Sunday.

I bet the gentleman who sells the bees (in Damascus, Maryland) has a lot of fun and laughter to see us newbie beekeepers get their hives, get their bees, and on the field day. I say this because Mike talked his ear off for 10 minutes about what we’ve done and what we’re doing and what’s he’s seen the “Beeman” (his new favorite beekeeper) do.

But I can’t judge him, as it’s an exciting adventure and it’s something he’s excited about. And let me tell you, there are few things that Mike is visibly excited about. Beekeeping appears to be one of them.

So we picked up our bees (buzzing in the back of the car and making me nervous!) and went home. Of course, 10am was a little chilly this Sunday to install bees, and he had lunch with the neighbors and house chores to do, so it had to wait.

Finally, hours later and only once our neighbors admitted to having to lunge their horses and stop socializing, we went to install them. Mike did most of the heavy work as I participated from afar, but I did hold the queen cages while he shook the packages in. That helps, right?

Continue reading

Gardening as An Adult: Part 1

The first time I planted a garden was at my parents’ house. I had graduated college and was living at home and, like all good kids, I claimed a part of the yard for myself.

You see, my dad had always gardened when I was a kid. This was back before the deer in the area were little more than “wild pets.” My mom was healthy, my dad was healthy, the garden was exceptionally healthy. Irises, gladioli, azaleas (split from my grandmother’s hybrids), daffodils. A giant holly bush I suspect my dad just never wanted to get rid of. Plus, the hanging baskets all around the carport. But that doesn’t count the raspberry bushes, cherry trees, apple trees, zucchini, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelon, beans and cucumbers. Growing up, we had a lot of fresh produce in the summer–but this was back when I said I hated flowers and couldn’t grow anything.

So when I came back home I realized I wanted a garden of my own.

I cleared out the old area where the tomatoes used to be (the only spot that could be fenced away from deer) and cleared out the beds where the cucumbers and beans could trellis. I bought my plants and I bought my seeds: tomatoes, peppers, chives, corn, beans and cucumbers.

I was ready.

At the beginning, it was going great. I weeded, albeit not too well. I made sure they were watered. I watched the cucumbers and beans, just waiting.

And then I turned back into a twenty-two year old girl who spent her time running around town with her friends and 0 time sleeping at her parents’ house.

The next thing I knew, my carefully constructed garden was overrun with weeds. Two-foot tall weeds. The corn looked sad (I only planted 2 rows) and I honestly can’t remember if I ever got a tomato off there. By the time I went to clean up the weeds and pick some of the fruit, it was too late. There was a den of baby bunnies living in the back, and by then my dad said, “Leave them be.”

So I did.

I got maybe two bowls of beans and a handful of cucumbers that year, plus glimpses of adorable baby bunnies.

Lesson learned: Weed your garden.

Work to be done!

Well, with two days (you read it–two whole days) off work, we’ve been hunkering down and trying to get stuff done. To be honest, we’ve spent a lot of time driving to Home Depot, then Lowe’s, then Southern States, then the Farmer’s Co-op, then Tractor Supply Company, then Wal-Mart…. Repeat. And don’t forget the trip to Giant Eagle to get gift cards to make it doubly worth it!

I think Mike likes what we’re doing not so much for the chickens or the plants that will hopefully one day go in the ground. No, I think he likes it for two reasons:

  1. He’s excited about bees (field day for the short course we took is tomorrow!).
  2. With as many projects as we have going on, he finally has an excuse to buy a lot of tools he never had.

So far between today and yesterday we’ve:

  • Almost finished the chicken coop! There’s very little left–mount the door, mount some trim, vacuum/clean & caulk the inside……. And that’s IT! Until we get to the run.
  • Put up a bird house (this is a big deal–we’ve been waiting to do this for weeks).
  • Built and filled two raised beds for spinach and kale.
  • Transplanted up 61 plants

With the bulk of our project done (chicken coop), here’s what’s on the menu for tomorrow and Monday:

  • Create our strawberry holder
  • Plant spinach and kale
  • Till the lettuce bed and plant that
  • Reorganize the firewood
  • Create our newest compost area
  • Create a roost for the chicks
  • Start to build the chicken run
  • Plant all of our blueberry and raspberry bushes
  • Start to build the beehives
  • Transplant up another 72 pepper starts
  • Plant another 72 tomatoes/peppers–seed starts! Let the germination begin.

There’s plenty more we can and probably should do, but that’s the start of it. And boy, that’s a BIG start. The chicken coop’s half the battle, though I suppose before we start to put the run up, I need to find a place to hide the rabbit hutches–picked up for free on Craigslist the other day!

This was a dry post. I was going to talk about my inside garden tool (a fork), but I’ll save that riveting story for another day. Now–now it is time for bed.