This Just In – “Outside” is good for you…

Forest Stream

One of the motivators for us in turning this lot in the city into a homestead was that in our minds – there’s just something not right about living in such proximity to other people. Now, it’s not that I don’t like people. I do. It’s not that I don’t like the modern convenience of being 5 minutes from the store – there is just something about the ideal of country living to me that speaks to my core.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here or not, but my ideal place is on a 10 acre plot, with the house smack dab in the middle of the parcel. No one around you for 5 acres on any side… I like the open green space, and I like it quiet. Here at the Little House on 17th Street – the cacophony of sirens can wear on you, and the constant car traffic at times – can really get on your nerves.

There is something calming and peaceful about life in the country that the city simply can’t offer.

… and now there is scientific proof to back it up. A recently released study by the American Chemical Society has shown that increasing frequency of depression and mental health issues can be tied to increased urbanization, and simply trading your gray backdrop for a green one can make a huge difference in one’s outlook on life.

Imagine that!

That was one of the motivators (aside from the housing market going belly-up) that led us to start this particular homesteading project. It was our attempt at creating something we could be pleased with – that would help to make us happy. Instead of it nagging at us that we couldn’t get to that dream home in the country… and likely never will – we brought the country to us.

There are times however, when even we have to get away. We have to simply get out of the city, get off the paved roads and get into the woods. My favorite places to go are many of Oregon’s rivers and watersheds. I have an intense passion for fishing and hunting, and much of my time in the woods is spent in these pursuits. There is something incredible about getting up at the crack of dawn, walking into the silent woods as the forest begins to awaken around you, the crunch of the leaves under your feet, the swishing of the grasses along the river’s edge… the lacerations from the Himalayan blackberries that are EVERYWHERE, (wait.. that wasn’t so pastoral..) but there is something soothing about getting out and tossing in that first cast into a perfect seam, the anticipation and the adrenaline surge from the takedown.

It recharges you.

I have recently lost some of that charge and my batteries have felt pretty depleted in that department lately. The last time I fished was last January. Yup, 1 full year ago… Life has been so chaotic, and nuts – and it’s not that I haven’t had the time – I simply haven’t made the time, and there’s something seriously wrong with that.

In that vein, I had the chance tonight to attend the ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) meeting where they unveiled to the public their Coastal Multi-Species Plan. Essentially a plan that will shape the fisheries management policies on the coastal rivers of Oregon for the next decade and a half – naturally – I wanted to be sure to be there in order to hear what is being planned, as well as air my concerns with the aspects of the plan that I feel are not beneficial. There was a group of us there, folks that I know well who had concerns, and I feel the meeting was productive overall, but as I returned home this evening replaying parts of the meeting in my head – I realized there were a lot of folks in there fighting for the resource – working hard to ensure that these fish will be around for many generations – yet here I am – and I haven’t even taken an opportunity in over a year to get out and enjoy the resource while it was here.

One of my favorite quotes, by a writer named Edward Abbey popped into my head.

Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive them.”

I’ve somewhat lost sight of this bit of wisdom in the past year… the past year was capped by work, home, more work at home, wasting time, more work… I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a mental health break.  I think it’s time to start focusing on getting my hind end back into the woods, getting down to the river, and creating some memories with the family out in the beautiful wilds of Oregon… perhaps this weekend is a good time to start.

What’s to fear about a little Kefir?

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Shannon and I have taken the plunge.

Nope, we didn’t go swimming – seriously guys, it’s January – no… we have taken the plunge into the world of probiotics.

That little bit of lactose based moonshine-like goodness pictured above is Kefir. (The Adam’s Jar makes it taste better) Recently our neighbor a street over with whom we often share wonderful conversations about homesteady topics, gave us a REALLY good Kefir starter. She’d been feeding it on raw milk for a while, and it had absolutely taken off, in fact was getting away from her a bit, so she split it and gave us a good sized gob of the kefir grains and home we went to experiment, (prancing with excitement) and immediately placed the grains into a mason jar 3/4 full of raw milk… it did it’s thing, one time, two times, and now 3 batches later, the picture above was taken.

Kefir, for those that are not aware, is a fermented milk beverage. The Kefir grains which function as the starter are a symbiotic collection of bacteria and fungus that just so happen to LOVE lactose. They go flat ballistic in raw milk, and in the space of 12-36 hours at room temperature – will ferment the milk that they’re sitting in into a liquidy, yogurty substance.

It’s good – but it is an acquired taste. It’s sour, sweet, yeasty… kind of all rolled into one. One of the primary reason people consume it however is that it is an incredible probiotic, capable of repopulating and fortifying intestinal flora. While yogurt contains anywhere from 5-7 different probiotics… Kefir can contain up to 30+. It’s fantastic stuff for folks that have digestive issues, and even if you’re lactose intolerant, letting the Kefir ripen on the counter for a while allows the microbes to digest most of the lactose giving you a beverage you can safely consume without explosive after effects…

It has been around for 1000’s of years and the peoples of Caucasus mountains produced and consumed Kefir regularly, with anecdotal evidence that it was beneficial to their longevity.

So back to the image at hand.

This is our 3rd batch of Kefir so far and it seems as though the Kefir grains are getting stronger and more effective with each batch. They are just rip roaring at this point. In the picture you can see the divide between the Kefir and the whey. The whey is the clearish-yellow liquid on the top – that can be used in all manner of things, from various recipes, soaking grains in it, making fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, and a whole host of other uses – the bottom stuff is the kefir. You can drink it straight, mix it into smoothies, drizzle it over fruit, etc. in order to get all your necessary probiotic goodness.

I think we’re going to use our whey to make sauerkraut with – since as we understand it, it helps to make a more consistent product each time. If there’s anything that can be said about our sauerkraut experiments thus far… “consistent” would not be one of those things. “Good” might not be mentioned in the same sentence either. We need some help…

We’re having fun with the experimentation process though… seriously, it’s the dead of winter. What else are we going to do? If you’ve never given Kefir a shot – you should give it a whirl, it’s fun to watch it do its thing.

If you want to find out more about Kefir, or want to find out anything and everything you could ever want to know about Kefir – check out Dom’s Kefir Site.

Prost!

You Are What What you Eat Eats…

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You are what what you eat eats. – Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food)

Here at the Little House on 17th Street, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the above quote after finding the neon red honey in our hive in the past couple of weeks.

We’ve come to realize that this urban homesteading experiment we’ve embarked upon – however noble – has the potential to unravel before our very eyes with certain factors that are outside of our control, and frankly, that is somewhat unnerving.

You Are What You Eat

The age old adage is certainly true, you are what you eat… We began this renovation of our home and yard in an attempt to get the adulterants out of our food supply. We weren’t interested in eating food-like substances chock full of all of the preservatives, chemicals and genetically modified components they can cram into them. All of that can be mitigated by simply growing your own and purchasing intelligently. The problem with that concept however is when the surrounding environment – in our case, suburbia – decides to slowly interfere with your plans…

You Are What What You Eat Eats:

The truth is, when you live on an urban homestead – you have no control of what is being done beyond your fence. You don’t know if the flowers that your bees are visiting have been sprayed with insecticide, you don’t know if they’re visiting trees treated with Safari, whether they’re invading the local cannery and drinking long and deep at the vats of HFCS and Red 40. You have no control of where the roots of your plants go – if they leave the boundaries of your fences, and absorb glyphosate from individuals attempting to keep their weeds down in their little corner of manicured suburbia. For that matter, you don’t really know what the previous homeowner did in the soil… you have no idea whether your chickens are eating bugs that have been sprayed at the neighbors house and simply immigrated across the border to our homestead to die…

…things are truly outside of your control.

It’s a strange irony that at the times when you try to control for all these variables by raising your own chickens and growing your own foods, that the foundation you have built your homestead upon can erode so easily with the coming or going of food chain elements, or the past sins and indiscretions of the homeowner… in all honesty it makes you feel particularly vulnerable.

It has also got us thinking – what is truly organic? Can every little variable be controlled for and guaranteed that what you’re buying in the store that is labelled organic is truly organic? Don’t get me wrong – it’s got to be significantly better than what is being done conventionally – it’s not being sprayed directly, it’s not GMO, the list goes on – but it’s kind of scary to think that even if you do wish to opt-out of the conventional industrial farming model – that it may not be possible to keep it completely unadulterated due to the actions of those who don’t wish to opt-out…

Food for thought. You are what what you eat eats…

So THAT’S where Robitussin comes from!

Last week I had a chance to get the bees buttoned up for the winter (read… finally got off my lazy duff and did something I should have done 3 months ago…) 

We had such beautiful weather through the months of October and November, the girls were still out flying, and doing their thing and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what I should do. They seemed pretty happy – so I was content to let them keep doing what they were doing. Then in a space of a couple weeks it got insanely cold, then rained, and I didn’t have a decent day to open it up for quite some time. 

The other problem was – I knew that they didn’t have enough honey put away for the winter, so feeding them was a necessity and I had no idea how I should do that. I didn’t like the syrup option – it would get too cold… I didn’t want to be opening the hive constantly for small amounts of dry sugar, a front of the hive feeder would make the bees come off the cluster to eat – I really needed something at the brood, but was at a loss of what to do.

Until I came across the concept of a candy board with a protein patty sunken inside.

It required a bit of building, but the basics of the principle is this. Think of it like a super shallow ‘shallow’, that is lined at the bottom with 1/2 inch hardware cloth for support. Into this you mix a combination of sugar, water, vinegar, and a little bit of lemongrass essential oil – then pour that mixture into the box – spread it and let it harden. That gives them solid food for the winter.

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The problem I had was my boxes – I have them in a medium, shallow and a deep. The deep is at the top as I was trying to encourage them to move the brood up from the shallow where they swarmed to, into the deep – but they never did. (So I thought). 3 boxes was way too much open space to keep them warm for the winter – not to mention, the main brood cluster was in the middle box of those two and the bees would have to leave the cluster to eat – and that’s no bueno.

So I did the only logical thing a guy should do. Go outside in the cold of January in Oregon, open the hive, rile the bees up and put a candyboard in. Yup. That’s what I did.

Like many things in life, I learn most of my lessons the hard way – apparently beekeeping is no different.

I pulled the deep off – of course splitting the cluster. The bees went ballistic, but I quickly placed the candyboard, then went to shaking off the frames of bees in the deep that represented the top of the cluster. Thankfully that wasn’t brood, just a small amount of capped honey. All in all – I was in the hive less than 5 minutes.

Since they didn’t the honey – I brought it inside for us to taste.

After cutting the caps off to let it drain… well – that’s when things got interesting.

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I don’t know a lot about beekeeping, but I don’t think the honey is supposed to look like Robitussin…

We began to theorize what might have happened, trying to understand where it came from. We went from sugar syrup on a hummingbird feeder, to other possibilities (vampire bees)… then I googled it, and sure enough got a hit – this has happened two other times in the U.S. so far as I can tell that has been documented. Once in Utah – where a beekeeper was feeding his bees crushed up candy canes and the Red 40 got into the honey of his bees, and dozens of other commercial hives costing an insane amount of money… another time – the bees got into the stuff at a Maraschino Cherry plant in New York… the lightbulb went on. We are within bee forage distance from the Oregon Cherry Growers plant… where they manufacture … yup! You guessed it… Maraschino cherries.

So it’s been a bit of an interesting experiment in what the bees bring home. To a certain degree, it kind of defeats the purpose of trying to have organic backyard honey if your bees are getting into vats of High Fructose Corn Syrup and Red 40… the good news is – it appears that this was late season honey. If I pull the honey earlier in the summer – we should be ok. If they want the red stuff later they can have the red stuff.

I’m certainly not eating it…

There’s just something about winter…

There’s something about winter.

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It’s not the cold weather. It’s not the lack of daylight. Ok… it is totally both of those things…

Winter just screams, “HIBERNATE! BE LAZY!!” … and in the interests of full disclosure – man oh man, have I listened to that voice around this house the past few months. School started in September, and it’s been a constant sprint ever since. If you’ve ever run full tilt down a hill, you know sometimes once you’re going, that coming to a stop just isn’t going to happen… that if you even try to slow down, you’re going to end up on your face – that it’s just better to run through the end and naturally slow down on the level ground…

That’s what this school year has felt like to me. It’s been a full tilt sprint downhill, but with a slight pause in the run at winter break – it feels as though we’ve leveled out and I can stop and breathe, and at least post a quick update.

Around the house – very little has gone on. It’s been so unbelievably cold and undeniably winter that we have put many of our outdoor projects on the back burner until early spring. The chickens are self-sustaining for the most part at this stage, we go outside in the morning, open the door and they do their thing. The house is still falling down around us – we have got to remodel and update the exterior soon – but I don’t know where we’re going to find the funds to do that… so until we do, it waits and we pray that it continues to stand…

The one project I’ve undertaken is me. I’ve been working on myself a bit this fall/winter – so I embarked on a bit of temple maintenance this past birthday. October 26th I turned 33. I decided that this was the last year that I am going to spend unhealthy. Period. So I started eating cleaner – a lot lower on the food chain, cut the sodas, cut the junk food – and started working out regularly. On the day after Thanksgiving – my friend and I started a juice fast. We are nearing the end of that now (I’m on day 29 of 40) and am down 45 pounds total since October 26th, but more importantly – I feel really good. Looking forward to eating again, planning for how to deal with this when we’re done with the fast – and planning on growing a lot of what we will eat fresh this coming summer as seed starting season is just around the corner. There’s always a twinge of excitement at seed start time…

The chicks are currently our only real “homesteady” project. We’re down to 3 now – I had to put one down. (which btw was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do). Something happened – and the chick got stuck to Arugula’s belly, and as Arugula freaked out and ran all over dragging the baby with her… Shannon and I couldn’t get the baby free. We actually had to cut the feathers off of Arugula to do it, and by the time we got them seperated and the baby free – the chick’s left wing was destroyed (broken in several places), bleeding, and we just knew it wasn’t good. So… we wanted the farm life… and with the farm life comes doing hard things… Like taking care of issues just like this. So I dispatched it, and then there were 3. Those three are growing like weeds, and I have a bad feeling consist of 2 roosters and a hen – We have friends who want them when they’re ready, we won’t be keeping them – but the mission was accomplished: Arugula got to be a mommy – and hopefully she’ll be free of her broodiness for a while.

We need to get lights installed in the coop – the chickens are currently not laying, (likely due to the lack of daylight) and we’re going to have to trick them into starting up again – so over break I have that on my to-do list. I’m also planning on doing some plastic hoops over the beds in the front as well as the back to allow for a better winter growing season.

I know we’ve done a pretty terrible job of updating this regularly – but I’ll try to do a bit better job of getting on here periodically – I started another blog (to document the process of the personal reboot) which will allow me to discuss topics I come across that pertain to health, spirituality, wellness, etc.. I don’t know when I plan to update it given my lack of updates on here, but a guy can dream right? The blog address is tawhare.wordpress.com

I hope this update finds you well,

Cheers,
Ben

Thanks to those who have stuck with us despite the lack of updates – we really appreciate it!

“Arugula”–It’s What’s For Dinner. . .

So I knew it was time to lay off the “let’s eat Arugula” jokes when Thing 1 wandered into the kitchen while I was prepping a whole chicken (from the store, not one of ours) for the crockpot and gasped, “Mom!  Is that Arugula?!?”

“it’s not Arugula,” I assured him.  “She’s still parked in the nest box–NOT laying. . .But if it was Arugula for dinner, would you still eat it?”

He thought it over, then shrugged.  “Yeah, sure.”

Arugula is our consistently broody chicken.  She’s the squinty one mentioned in the “Pale Clucker” post.  She’s grouchy, pecks at the kids, and looks mangy and half-starved because she’s prepped herself for hatching eggs that don’t exist.  Thus the beginnings of a few “maybe we should just eat her” conversations.  This is supposed to be an urban homestead–where do we draw the line between “pet” and “potentially on your plate”? Granted we want our kids to realize where our food comes from, but we also don’t want to traumatize them by eating a beloved “pet”.  So I started throwing the idea out there just to see what response I might get.  Sorry Arugula.  Once the kids realized we could get another chicken to replace her, AND have chicken dinner, let’s just say they were not entirely opposed to the idea.

While we were contemplating the lot of our broody hen, we ended up spending the weekend with good friends of ours in Medford, who also keep a “few” chickens.  Hearing us complain about Arugula always trying to brood, Les brought in four fertilized eggs for us to take home for her to try to hatch.  Since we got home after dark, we tried to sneak the eggs under her while she was “asleep,” but all we managed to do was spook her back to her perch.  We brought the eggs back inside until the following day when I was able to gently roll them under her.

She spent the next 20-some days parked on those eggs, getting up only briefly to run out the house to forage and get a drink.  We started getting a little worried as the winter temps started dropping (I don’t care how much you “real winter” people laugh at us, 16 degrees F in the Willamette Valley is COLD!!).  Our coop is not heated in the least bit–it is protection from wind and rain and predators, but it will not keep their water from freezing if it gets cold enough outside.  The Girls seem to be doing just fine with it.  Arugula fluffed up in her nest box, the rest lined up on their roost.

Not that we really had much of a plan or set up in place for baby chicks, but checking on them this last weekend, we noticed Arugula behaving differently on the nest, and hadn’t got down to feed like normal.  Ben pushed her aside enough to get a good peck and hear a few little peeps.  Well, what do you know. . . Arugula’s a mommy!  Ummm. . . Now what. . .

We filled the bottom of a Rubbermaid tote with bedding shavings and pulled Arugula off the nest to find three chicks and one remaining egg.  They went in the box and not having a good way to keep everything warm, we put Arugula in there with her babies and brought the whole tote inside our unheated garage.  We did find a heat lamp to place over the top and the chicks seemed pretty happy nestled under “mama”.

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The following day I was able to get a waterer and feeder and chick food all set up in the tote and find that the fourth egg had also hatched.  It’s really neat to see the traits that made Arugula such an ornery “pet” being used in her favor as an excellent mother.  The phrase “mother hen” has all new meaning.  She completely covers her babies in her wings, she talks to them, coaxes them to water, cracks bits of food for them with her beak, then drops it for them to eat. . . Needless to say, Arugula will not be what’s for dinner any time soon.  We’re hatching new plans for her if this little experiment continues to go well 🙂

We’re still Alive! I promise!!

Can’t take long to post today – We are still kicking. We haven’t left, we haven’t moved, the house hasn’t foreclosed… the chickens are still here (thought not laying particularly well… not sure what’s up there), the bees are doing fantastically, but… 

*sob*…

*shuddery breath*… *sob*…

School has started again. *SOB* Kidding – so far as I can tell, I’ve got a great group of kiddos this year. We’ll see as time goes on, but I’m optimistic.

In that vein, life is flat out crazy right now, and when it comes to the important things in life – WordPress and this blog took a bit of a backseat for the last little bit. Once things calm down a bit, we’ll be back to share with you what’s going on on our little slice of Heaven. 

Until then… 

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Cheers!
Ben