“To plant a gar…

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow…” – Audrey Hepburn

It’s about that time again!! Almost time to begin planning and plotting…  to start seeing the potential in that little piece of ground and calling the shots.

Can’t wait!

What are your plans for your garden this year?

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…

Victory.

Victory.

It’s done – all the hardscapes are in, the leftover material is moved, and I’m one tired dude.

Shannon and I have our anniversary coming up – and I did this as her anniversary present. That’s part of the reason why I’ve been busting it to get it in before then, the final piece of that anniversary present is the wad of cash to go down and buy all the primary plants. I ended up finishing a little early, but I’m pretty pleased with it – and so thankful that I have a wife who would rather get something like this than Jewelry…

So Close…

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… but I ran out of compost.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

We got the top compost layer added to the center beds, topped up the gravel in the paths another inch or two to come partway up the rocks that line the pathways, to hopefully hold them in place a bit, then added about 4-6 inches of compost to the beds raised beds, 3-4 inches on the outsides. We made a large rock garden under the Little Free Library out front… We are close.

…very, very close.

In fact – once it’s all in – the final step is handing Shannon a wad of cash and sending her the nursery.

… should I be scared?

Color

I marvel at what a little color can do.

Primaries, secondaries, accents – whether they’re bold and bright or faded and reserved –  it’s all about the contrast. So when we began to near completion of the front yard project hardscape, we just had to have an accent. I also wanted it to be functional, “read: I needed a place to plant my cheeks at the end of a long day”.

Enter the new Adirondack Chairs. Picked up two of the three they had left at Home Depot the other night – got them assembled and put into place – but it was just kind of blah.

It needed something more.

It needed color. So I got busy today and made a beautiful accent piece for the front garden.

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I’m very happy with it, and I’m excited to see how they’ll accent and contrast the remainder of what we’re putting together as we put in the flora over the next few months.

… but for now, back at it – there’s still hours in the day.

Cheers!

June Update

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My apologies for the lack of updates lately – it’s kind of a weird concept now that I have people that are following the blog that aren’t people I know personally, it used to be the only person that read this was my mother, and even then, not regularly and she was my sharpest critic… but now that there are others that follow us, and actually pay attention, I guess I need to be a bit more cognizant of updating this thing more frequently.

School finished up with a bang – and I got my grades done, room clean… had one day off, then boom. Back to work. I’ve been slowly adjusting to the different hours, as well as the different kind of work entirely.

During the summer I continue to work for the school district, but I shift to hourly maintenance work with their structural crew. I’ve done that for a while now, love the guys I work with at the shop, but I hate that it always takes me a week or two to get the glazing muscle memory back. I’m finally starting to get there, and the last couple of days it doesn’t feel like I’m constantly behind and fumbling with things. It’s beginning to become more automatic, and my body is adjusting to the work allowing me to actually have the energy to tackle things on the homefront when I get home.

One of the pluses of the job is the scenery always changes – as we’re mobile, it’s like a field service type position, so it’s not the same thing all the time. It’s always different. For example – this morning, I saw these two as we drove to a school to get a measurement on a window a kid blew out with a big rock. Walking right through Ben Miller Park in Keizer – definitely not a common sight.

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As you might have noticed from the picture, we’ve been a bit soggy here the past couple of days, and not much has gotten done except of course the crops have been watered. Once the heat returns, we’re going to see some things go crazy, which should be fun to see. We’re up to our ears in peas and fava beans right now, in fact – the peas on the on bed we put the trellises on at first are taller than I am. They’re thriving, and Thing 1 cooked up some of the fava beans for dinner tonight with mom’s help. So good.

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I have one set of peas that kicked out the prettiest purple flowers (I need to get a picture). I’m seriously considering cross pollinating them to try to see if I can’t get them producing the purple consistently. Anyone ever have any luck doing that kind of stuff besides Gregor Mendel? I’m pretty sure they’re one of our heirloom variety and would come out true, and the bees would LOVE them.

Speaking of the bees, they’re doing awesome. It’s become clear in the last couple weeks that they are here to stay – there has been lots of activity on the shallow on the top where they originally took roost, I thought they were only one a couple of frames, but in looking at it, it seems more like they have begun going from one side of the shallow to the other cleaning and drawing out comb to repair places it was messed up. They’ve been busy.. as.. well… nope, not going to do it… They’ve been busier than a one toothed man at a corn-on-the-cob eating contest… than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs? Than a one armed man at the opera following the aria??… fine… a bee. Busier than a bee.

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Loads and loads of pollen is coming in, all kinds of different colors… just been a blast to sit and watch as I’ve had the time. One gave me a flyby though when I went out tonight to scope things out – some of the catnip that Shannon planted has come up in their flyway, and I moved it back to see if they have been removing any dead bees and piling them in front of the hive and when I moved it back – one of the soldiers popped out and gave me a “Maverick” style fly-by to say, “Hey Pal… back it up.” Might need to trim those catnip plants to make it a bit easier access.

The front yard is slowly but surely changing – we were in no rush as we planned to have it in in time for fall crops, and as such I’ve got a bit of time left to get it done, but time is running out. I got the two sets of boxes built in the center. They’re 12 feet x 4 feet both directions. With a 4×4 side box. We’re going to bark dust in between the boxes and gravel the pathways as soon as we get the weeds killed with cardboard… but for now, we’re ‘THOSE’ neighbors. Go us. 🙂

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The library has been a HUGE success. People are coming and going with books constantly, new titles coming in, other titles going out – some are even returning home after they get checked out which is awesome! The guestbook has been signed by a lot of folks, who have all had wonderful things to say about it. If you are considering putting one in… do it. I have met more people, and it serves as a great conversation starter (so does our front yard which looks a bit like a disaster right now…) Here’s how that conversation goes.

Me: Hey – good to see you guys. Yeah, go ahead, grab a book.
Them: This is neat – where did you see this?
Me: It’s national thing, we were the third in Salem, and there are others going in all over the place… besides, we were working on fixing up the front yard, and figured it would look cool out there on the sidewalk.
Them: Oh… yeah… fixing it up, well, it looks… um… I see what you’re… well… *AHEM* Look at the time, thanks for the book!! *Flees rapidly*

I know. I know. It looks like Chernyobl… I promise, when it’s done it will look TREMENDOUS! At least, that’s what I keep telling Shannon.

That’s what’s going on in our world right now, I will try to do better about updating semi-regularly. I’m still trying to talk Shannon into writing some posts, particularly as of the two of us, she’s the writer… but she keeps complaining about this ‘motherhood’ thing, and something gets mumbled incoherently now and again about ‘kids’… then she intermittently gets this facial tick. I don’t know, I think she might want to get it checked out…

In Ben news, I will be starting the Couch to 5K program here in a couple weeks after I get back into the swing of things. I will be using that as a springboard to begin running more regularly and depudgifying. I will be blogging about the journey in a different place. I’ll give you the address if you all want to listen to a fat guy whine about fat people problems once we get a bit closer. Maybe this time, the change will stick…

Until next time,
Ben

May 2013 Update

A quick Jaunt around the backyard as May draws to a close – garden is coming along nicely. Chickens are in, more projects on the horizon are keeping us very bzzzzy..

Things are good. 🙂

Got a really cool comment in the Guest Book of the Little Free Library today – a gentlemen from several streets over came by, and borrowed one of the books. On the Guestbook he wrote, “Borrowed Huck Finn. I’m 64 – never read it.”

That absolutely made my day! Made the whole project worth it right there. My wife told me, that a teenager came by today as well, dropped off one book, and took another with him… loving that it’s actually getting used!

The Garden is coming along nicely. Very excited to see it all finally coming together – Shannon has been busting it getting things planted and in and there’s still a little left to do after this sloppy Memorial Day. Will be getting some things planted this week and in before the beginning of June. But we’re in that stage where we get to sit back a bit and enjoy our labors as they grow.

Love that stage.

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Hope whatever stage you’re at – that all is well. 11 more days till summer break!!

Garden Trellis Evolution

Here at the Light Homestead, we have always monkeyed around with the concept of vertical gardening, but to be perfectly honest – we haven’t done a great job of it.

There was our first attempt at holding back peas with small bamboo stakes (4 foot) driven into the ground vertically, and horizontal bamboo poles woven through the vertical poles like a basket. The peas brought those down by season end, and we had a mess on our hands where the peas outgrew the 4 foot poles.

We bought bigger bamboo poles, ran a top pole across the span, lashed it all together with twine, then ran our twine grids, and the peas and beans managed to wreck that too before the season was out, and once again, we had a mess on our hands.

We used the tripod style trellis, but didn’t really like how it worked.

We’ve used the one you can see in the header photo that the pole beans grew up on – we liked it, it worked really well, but it took up a lot of space, and was really difficult to set up initially.

So as we started laying down the plans for this year’s garden, we started seriously thinking – how can we do this differently? What can we do that will provide us with a strong enough trellis that won’t get battered in the wind, that is tall enough and strong enough to allow the peas to grow up it. Not to mention, something versatile enough design-wise to grow peas, beans, our vining heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, etc.. The answer came to us in Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book.

Metal frames – he advocates steel pipe, but I decided ultimately on galvanized electrical conduit.

Thing 2 and I made a trip to the neighborhood Home Depot, and picked up the supplies we needed. Typically we like to scrounge up our parts and try to do it on the cheap, but unfortunately, the peas we’re supporting needed the support now. No time to scrounge.

Perusing the electrical conduit aisle, we found the lengths of 1/2 inch conduit that we needed (10 feet) for $1.95 each – not terrible. The connectors to give us our 90 degree connection though, those were outrageous. $4.45 a piece and we needed 6. BLECH! They were the only 90 degree connectors they had… we picked up the ones we needed to take care of the length for now until we come up with a better system (already got it figured out – and will detail later)

We picked up lengths of 1/2 x 3 foot rebar, and we were off.

We came home and made the cuts to the conduit that we needed to – the top bar to make it equal to 4 feet with the connectors needed to be 45″, so we cut three of those.

Then we trimmed down the pieces we already cut to 6 feet high, leaving us with about 3 inches of waste. Not too shabby.

We continued this process so that we had enough to do a 12 foot run (3 trellises)
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Began to connect the 90 degree connectors to the top bar (notice the two additional garbage cans for potatoes!)

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Once the top bars were all together, all that was left to do was connect the vertical posts on both sides of the top bar, drive the rebar into the ground on 4 foot intervals, sliding the vertical posts over the rebar anchors, and then lash the whole thing together with twine.

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Here the poles are up and sitting on the rebar over the center of the peas, really sturdy – I was pretty impressed by that.

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Once the twine was on them, they were very sturdy, and it should work great for the peas this year.

Here’s the problem.

At $2.78 cents each for the rebar pieces, $1.95 each for the lengths of conduit (took 2), and a whopping $4.45 a pop for the elbows (2 per trellis)… the grand total for a 4 foot length of this frame was $18.36. Even if you had access to lengths of 1/2 inch rebar, you’re still talking $15.00 a pop, which is pretty pricey for a trellis.

So, while these are nice – and I really like how they came out. I’ve already decided based entirely on cost, what I’m going to do for the rest of them in the garden is take 2 10 foot pieces of conduit, bend the last two feet into a 90 and pick up a butt connector for $1.78, that will connect the two together. (Total expense for the remainder of our trellises with that design is $11.78 -$5.56 if I can get 2-3 foot chunks 1/2 inch rebar free – and we get the added bonus of a near 8 foot trellis.) Quite a bit better price overall too – for an exceptionally sturdy trellis which can be removed each season and stored. Might look into putting some sort of nylon grid system on it that will last better season after season than the twine, but we’ll see.

What about you – what kinds of trellises have you used in the past? What has worked well for you?