A Modest Proposal


On August 18, 2020 women in the United States will have had the vote for one hundred years. I propose that from now until then and including the presidential election in November of 2020 that no woman in the United States should vote for a man…for any office at any level. If women run for office at any level…and I suggest that they do, women should vote only for them.

Our government has been run by men mostly for the concerns and businesses of men and women and children have been sidelined over and over. Programs that benefit women and children have a hard time getting enough money to run properly. Women still do not earn what men earn for the same work. Single mothers are not encouraged to attend school. I could go on but the clincher is that women are denied birth control and abortions in their insurance policies. (Viagra is covered, sort of like arming the enemy).

It is time that women stopped pretending that men are doing a good job as clearly they are not. They have squandered whatever moral credit we have had in the world and turned us even more into users and ruiners in the eyes of the world. What have we given the world lately except war, munitions and more and more death. It seems that the only answer to the world’s ills men can conceive is death and destruction.

In view of the policies of the current administration which will harm a great many people and benefit a very few I think it is time for all good women to come to the aid of the people. We are dealing with ruined ground water from fracking, ruined farmland from disastrous farming methods, pollution from myriad unchecked sources like coal plants and manufacturing, gasoline exhausts from many sources, epidemics of diseases that no one is willing to admit might just be caused by the pollution of our food, air and water, medical costs that have remained ruinous (but not in other countries), unlabeled GMO foods constituting the biggest unexamined nutritional experiment of all time, the extinction of species here and elsewhere and, dare I say it, Global Climate Change…and not for the better.

Not too many people think about this but the most important thing we do each year is harvest our crops. The climate change already here is making that less likely. Last year we lost the apples, peaches, cherries and plums in New England due to a warm spell that swelled the buds and a bitter cold stretch that froze them. It has already been very warm here in NE and losing the crops again is a real possibility. We cannot depend forever on Peru, Chile, and Central America to fill our shopping carts, New Zealand is very far away. Climate change has already hit some of these countries hard and as the glaciers melt water sources as old as human history will be gone as has happened already in parts of Peru.

All this has happened while men have run the world. And it has happened while good men have tried to do the right things and have been thwarted by the self interests and greed of other men. I just think it is time to give women a chance to tidy up.

I have the hope that women will run the nation like the good home makers they are, cleaning up after themselves and others, making sure dinner is on the table…for everyone, seeing that everyone gets to the doctor on time, being fiscally conservative since after all, money does not grow on trees, and in general seeing to it that needs are met, the world’s people are treated fairly and nobody gets to put their filthy boots on the sofa.

So, in honor of one hundred years (Only) of Women’s Suffrage I implore you, if the dog catcher position is open in your town run for it. If a select(man) position is open, run for it. If there is a spot on the school board, run for it. If there is any city, county, state or federal position open, run for it. Perhaps our slogan should be, “Run For Our Lives”.
We need to get into office and start making sensible, sustainable, suitable policy.

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Back to Clio’s Garden

Its been a long time since I wrote in this blog….the world was too much with me and other members of my family…but I am back with my fingers tickling the keys.

I have not been idle, however. Eric and I have been ramping up our gardens as we defeat those vicissitudes and we planted as much of our garden as we could. We have been working on renewing a large garden by our willow that years ago we tried to grow raspberries in…they hated it. (Later I heeled in some raspberries in the grape garden and they loved it and have to be hacked down all the time but that is another story). We left the willow garden to the weeds and a fine crop of thistles grew there which alerted us to our foolish neglect. Two years ago we planted beans there and were delighted that the actually grew. This year, after amending the soil using what we call ‘nutrient density protocals’ we planted some squashes. OMG, as they say. The vines reminded me of that old story’ “The Quick Running Squash” and the picture of the boy  atop the huge squash as it took off down the road trailing its vine behind, heading for who knows where. ( MyBook House books, edited by Olive Beaupre Miller).  We grew Waltham butternut and they were shockingly huge: twenty inches and ten or more pounds. Altogether we grew five hundred pounds of squash. Friends, family, Loaves and Fishes, its their duty to consume.

I buy onion plants from a place in Texas (Dixondale) because I run out of space for my seedlings and….gosh, its just so easy. This year I planted red candy ball, which are sweet enough to eat like an apple but don’t keep, Alisa Craig which are huge, sweet and don’t keep but very yummy, white cippolini and red cippolini which sometimes keep and my all time favorite, copra….which keep until Kingdom Come.  In the past my largest copras were the size of baseballs but this year they were the size of softballs. I have never seen the like. Four and a half bushes resulted and reminded me once again of the willing partner Mother Nature is if one treats her well.

We had drought conditions this summer past and because we have a well we could water as much as needed. I think those onions liked the dryer conditions and the deep watering. But they also liked the amended soil. This is something that is quickly gaining acceptance in the farming and gardening world. There are certain strains of bacteria and fungi that, when added to soil, are symbiotic with most plants. (Cole crops, broccoli and the like, don’t react with them). Simply put, the fungi form mats which connect directly, and sometimes within, the roots of plants. Plant roots can grow just so far and fast but when the fungi attatch to them the plant receives nutrients from the soil beyond their reach. At the same time, the plant is collecting nitrogen and carbon from the air and sending nutrients down into the soil.

I just finished reading, “Teeming With  Microbes”, (Lowenfels and Lewis) and it is a short course on what is happening beneath our feet. I also recommend, “The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Acheivements of Earthworms”, (Amy Stewart), which I am reading now. In the world under our feet earthworms are giants, one could think of them as huge whales burrowing through the earth. And, if you have the patience for it I recommend reading Charles Darwin’s book on earthworms, “The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms With Observations on Their Habits”. Why patience? Because he describes all of his years long experiments in great detail but I assure you, for the fastinated it is a compelling read.

Here is an image for you that will turn your head around….plants have their heads in the ground and their, well, their regenerative organs in the air. When you look at pretty flowers you are actually looking at…how to put this…ah!…their privates! Think on that the next time you stick your nose into a fragrant rose.

And with that shocking revelation I shall close, because this missive is just to get in touch with all of you again. Eric and I are attending the Bionutrient Food Association sponsored Soil and Nutrition Conference at Kirpalu in the Berkshires in the first week of December. I’ll write some about that and perhaps entice you to attend the next one.    And, to come, some information about the Grange and its activities.


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Canning, Freezing, Fermenting, Dehydrating, Root-Cellaring…

After all the planning,  planting, watering, weeding, spraying, praying, and eating now is the time for preserving.  Gardens large or gardens small, they all have a tendency to produce more than we can eat at one time.  Prudence dictates that we don’t toss all that extra bounty onto the compost heap but what are we to do with it?  The answer to that, alas, is far too lengthy to address in a post.  In August I taught what was supposed to be a six hour class on home food preservation that lasted seven hours and twenty minutes and I barely scratched the surface.  Not because I wasn’t talking as fast as I could but because there are so many methods of putting food by that it simply wasn’t possible to cover them all  in depth in that time.

Summer’s bounty ready for the basement….

There are some books, yes, always with the books, that will guide you along the way…

The Ball Blue Book of Preserving….less than $10 dollars is the best place to start if you are interested in canning, either water bath or pressure. Every one who cans should own this detailed and lucid book. I have the $.69 one I bought the year after I got married and several copies after that in an effort to keep up with the latest USDA data but also to see how the books change as the preserving climate has changed.  My first copy emphasized what to plant in order to preserve it, the later copies don’t and I am guessing that the assumption is that people would not be growing the food but purchasing it. I am interested to see what will happen now that people are growing their own again.  During WWII back yard gardens produced 40% of vegetables and fruits in the US.

A note about canning…. please use only a water bath canner when canning high acid fruits and vegetables.  Two other methods are suggested but they are not adequate to the task of heating full jars all the way to the center and keeping them hot for the entire length of the canning process. One of the methods is canning in the oven using a high temperature. Air can get very hot in an oven but air does not transmit heat effectively.  The other method is using a ‘steam canner’ on a counter top.  This appliance heats water in the bottom and the rising steam heats the jars above.   http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/newsletter/No__002.pdf   This document explains the pros and cons of steam canners…to my mind they are much fussier and less safe than water bath canners and they are used for the same process.

Pressure canners must be used for low acid foods, most vegetables–everything except tomatoes (actually fruits), all meats and seafood without exception, and….mixed tomato and vegetable sauces, salsas, relishes unless you are using a tested recipe that insures high enough acid to be safe. Do not try to put pumpkin or winter squash through a canner.  These are very low acid and very dense and it is impossible at home pressure canner temperatures to get the center of the jars hot enough for long enough to completely kill the botulism bacteria.  You can freeze squash and pumpkin safely or you can just store them in the basement.   Buy the Ball Blue Book and follow the directions.

Putting Food By and Stocking Up are similar.  They cover pretty much all the methods of preserving food.  Most booksellers have them and the on-line sellers have used copies. Either one is good to have around for reference.

Wild Fermentation is Sandor Katz’s best book on fermenting food to keep it fresh. Most of us don’t think about how diligently and continuously bacteria work for us by transforming our food from something that rots to something that is stable and delicious at room (actually colder but not refrigerated )  temperatures. Fermented foods include beer, wine, cheese, natural pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt and sour cream, tempeh, bread and hundreds of other foods eaten all over the world.  It is one of the oldest forms of food  preservation, probably second only to dehydrating. And of course, we are a fermented food also since much of our nourishment comes from the bacteria in our guts breaking down what we eat.  Sandor Katz makes all clear and easy.  Just last night I put up four quarts of sauerkraut in less than an hour using cabbage from my garden. I also fermented, or started the fermentation for, a quart of tomatillos.  Nowhere could I find any mention of fermenting tomatillos but be assured, you can ferment just about anything except ripe tomatoes which turn to mush and greens, also mushy. To ferment food is to engage in a practice thousands of years old, present in every culture and…..very inexpensive.

People always ask me where they can store the food they have preserved, especially  if they live in apartments.  Since canned goods need to be stored in the dark (or dim) they can go in the backs of closets, under beds, under sinks, in high cupboards.  One woman I know makes and cans soup (in a pressure canner only!) when vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive and stores the jars under her bed.

You should all know that I always advise people to put food away for security reasons.  We do not know when snow, ice, wind or rain will shut down supply lines.  One town over people were out of power for two weeks because of snow breaking tree limbs, Canadians were out for up to six weeks in that ice storm a few years back. Remember, every person in your family needs approximately 2000 calories every day and they have to come from somewhere.  Better to have some of them stored in your house than have to count on the grocery store…especially if you cannot even get to it. So….my perennial admonition, dried beans and rice if you will have some way to cook it, canned meats, veggies and fruits, dried fruits and nuts, boxed cereal and powdered milk and so on. A camp stove and bottled water will go a long way to making a long power outage comfortable. But don’t use camp stoves inside-porches only because of the fumes.

Preserving food is fun and easy and rewarding.  You will all do it right the first time.  Imagine bringing your own peach cobbler to Thanksgiving Dinner….not only do you amaze your friends and family but it is delicious.

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The Pressures of Gardening

Yes, that’s right, the pressures of gardening, not the pleasures… The warm weather this spring has given me a small but constant case of the anxious willies.  I started seeds that needed an early start a long time ago but I thought I had all the time in the world to start warm weather seeds like cukes and squashes.  I didn’t start them early, however, and the weather just kept getting better and better: sun, plenty of rain but not too much, soft breezes, no really bad storms, and I have been trying to catch up for several weeks now. But…normally I would not be planting most of these things until now anyway!  In thirty years I don’t think I have planted my canning tomatoes before the first of June, it just hasn’t been warm enough. The USDA has moved my town from zone 5A to zone 5B and we are just down the road, literally, from zone 6A.  The most significant difference is in the first frost date which is weeks later.  For several years now surviving the first frost has meant almost another full month of growing time.  Terrible snow fell last October and crushed so many beautiful trees and landed on all sorts of still growing vegetables, not just cabbage family but tomatoes and beans as well.

All of my transplants are in, more carrots, beets, more corn, slicing tomatoes, many peppers, eggplants, all the cole crops, the sweet potatoes are in,  we have around 375 feet of potatoes (food bank supplies), and three twenty by three foot beds of onions, five kinds.   I put in a twenty-five foot row each of Milano plum and Amish paste tomatoes for canning, all squashes, and  melons are planted in holes on newly cleared ground and I am getting flats of carrots, kale, beets and other crops ready for a July planting to harvest late fall.

Hog Panel Greenhouse Frame

Greenhouse made from Hog Panel
Picture from Mother Jones Magazine

Galvanized Cattle Panel Tomato Cage

Tomatoes growing on hog/cow panel. Photo from Southern Living by Ralph Anderson and Laurey W. G

Recently I visited family in Arkansas and we were shown a nearby garden where I was introduced to the wonders of hog/cow panels. The panels are sixteen feet long and about fifty inches high and are very tough.  Two people can bend one into an arch and metal stakes zip tied to the edges go into the ground to make a sturdy  arch.  Set up with metal stakes the long way, one gets sixteen feet of trellis for all climbing plants.

Tomatoes can also be tied to the panels and the panels are strong enough to support the entire sixteen foot row. Of course, it helps to have beds longer than the panels but they can be cut with wire cutters and strong hands.  Now I wonder if putting two panels together  about six or eight inches apart wouldn’t let the tomatoes grow up between  the panels without having to tie them at all, just train the fronds through the wire.  This would eliminate dealing with those pestiferous wire cages that have to be secured with a metal stake anyway.  Normally, I let my canning/paste tomatoes rest on deep mulch (the entire garden is mulched year ’round) which I add to as the year goes on to keep it fresh and clean. The tomatoes grow over this mulch and rain passes through so it stays relatively dry and disease free. This is a good system, considering how many plants I have but what would happen if I grew the tomatoes between two of the panels?  Too late now but I’ll try it next year…

In the top picture you can see the panels being used as a greenhouse.  This looks like a permanent structure but plastic could be secured over a panel set into the ground on stakes and held down outside with boards or bricks.  Ends are always a problem and you can see the zipper in the end of the one above. This would not be a good solution for the short, the dumpy or the no-longer-young but two pieces of plastic could be fixed to the ends and held together with clips.  We put up a panel in an arch and it occurred to me that the arch could be used as a temporary greenhouse to warm the soil in the spring for an early crop of beans, used as a trellis for cucumbers in the summer and then remade into a greenhouse to be placed over some tomatoes and peppers to carry them past the frost. We got our panels at Ag-Way but any farm supply place should have them.

In a recent post I mentioned the fifty meat chickens we acquired. Gosh! They were so cute! Now…they are half grown and feisty, they eat a tremendous amount of nice organic feed, they mock fight all the time and need constant attention and care.  We have two water cans going all the time and we fill them morning and night, we have a large feeder and fill that every other day and we check on them several times during the day just to make sure nothing is going awry. No one should do this unless they are sure they are going to be home while the chicks are growing.  Our next decision is if we are going to process them ourselves or send them out to be processed.  In the former case, we will have to spend money on processing equipment, especially a chicken plucker, and in the latter case we will have to pay each time we need chickens processed.  Make no mistake, by ‘processed’ I mean slaughtered, scalded,  plucked, gutted, washed, wrapped and frozen, after which the problem of disposing of feathers–compost pile, and guts–garbage?, bury?  will need to be solved.  We can spend the money once for equipment and do the work or we can spend the money over and over and have someone else do the work. Hmmm. Any suggestions?

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Transplant to Save Seed and Time

This last January I attended an all day seminar with John Jeavons wherein he delineated his system of bio-intensive growing.  One of the things he talked about was planting seeds in flats and transplanting the seedlings into the garden.  The photos he showed us were of very small seedlings, some with just two leaves and they barely fit into his fingers. Mr. Jeavons told us that he transplanted beans, corn, even carrots.  Someone asked him if it didn’t take a long time to do all that transplanting and he said, “Well, it’s a meditation…”

I clicked into You Tube and sought ‘Jeavons’ and watched some of the videos there which explain his methods. Transplanting was recommended there, too.  I have been growing my own for decades and transplanting into my garden but all these transplants were large, six inch tomatoes and peppers, squash plants that already look like they are going to take over the world. Mr.Jeavons plants were so small they gave me pause.  So, I decided to try it.

First I planted a flat of carrots because Mr. Jeavons said that it was easier than seeding the garden.  Carrots seeded in the garden need constant care; they can take two weeks to germinate and they have to be kept evenly moist the entire time. I recalled spending all those hours gently watering and worrying about my carrots until they raised their little sword like cotyledons above the soil and feathered out. I was willing to try another method.

A friendly carrot from my garden….

I planted a flat of carrots (yokum, napoli and yaya) and when they were much larger than the ones Mr. Jeavons showed us, I planted them out.  They had two and three sets of feathery leaves and many had more than one stem by the time I set them out.  I watered them in then and the next morning and again the next day but they didn’t look like they needed that last watering – all of them were alive and well. I had some golden beets in a flat as well and transplanted them, too.  Sadly, on the way out of the house with them I spilled the entire flat onto the rug in the front hall and only seven of them survived.

The carrots were so easy I planted another flat of napoli and I’ll plant them out at an earlier age. As soon as they are up I’ll put them outside so there will be no hardening off problems.  I also planted a flat of  red flint corn and that will be planted when it is five inches high.

I have a plant stand with grow lights and it was very easy to plant those seeds in the house and easy to monitor and water them. It took very little time and I used many fewer gallons of water.  When I planted them I spaced them optimally so there will be no need to thin.

Corn seeds say to plant at one inch intervals and thin to a foot apart. This makes no sense at all.  If germination rates are above seventy five percent then three out of four seeds will germinate and many seeds would be wasted.  The flat I planted in the house seems to have near ninety percent germination, probably because the conditions are so stable.  When I transplant the corn it will go in at the proper spacing and, again, no thinning, and I will be able to mulch the corn immediately because I won’t have to wait to see where it is or fear smothering it.

Transplanting seedlings does mean that you are going to get down and dirty but if you have mulched your garden paths it won’t be too bad.  I have a ‘no bare dirt’ policy in my garden. It keeps the weeds down, the soil moist and the worms like it.

I have always planted beans directly into the garden so this year I will plant some directly and transplant some just to see the difference.

We are so accustomed to transplanting peppers and tomatoes as large plants that we don’t think to transplant the little ones. This method saves seed and water but it also allows us to fill in empty spaces in the garden when other crops are harvested.  When the early peas come out a row of beans can go in, or even a short season corn.  I usually harvest my onions from one end of the raised bed to the other so by the end of June I should have several square feet of space empty.  I wonder what I can put in there?

Planting seeds in flats inside and transplanting also allows us to get a jump on the season.  Normally corn would not be planted until all danger of frost is past, the same with beans, but a week or two can be added up front and the plants can be hardened off during the day and be ready the moment frost is past.

The warm weather we had has had an odd effect on gardeners in my area and on me as well.  The impetus to get out there and garden has been overwhelming.  I was planting peas in the middle of April when I have never gotten them in before May.  I had all my onions in a full month earlier than usual and set out kale, cabbage and romaine in April when I often don’t get them in until the middle of May or later.  Other gardeners have reported the same.  This is a far cry from the years we can’t get into the garden until the end of May because of rain and chill and I am interested it what will come of it at the end of summer when crops are in early.  Will my onions still store well if they are harvested in August or will they continue to grow and get bigger and bigger until they all become prize winners?

Every year brings something new to the garden, new plants, new bugs, new information, new methods and isn’t it grand?

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Backyard Chickens

Living with poultry has been an illuminating experience. Turkeys are friendly, smart and curious. Ducks are flighty creatures, easily spooked but very industrious in their search for food.  The two ducks we have left lay one egg each per day and these are delicious.  They are larger than chicken eggs, very tasty and are great in baking.

Two years ago we got some adolescent chickens for eggs and they quickly settled into the enclosed lean-to off the shed and soon were laying enough eggs to supply several branches of the family.  Recently we switched to all organic feed and are paying a premium for it but sometimes it costs to do the right thing.  Not to be too preachy but organic starts in the field and doesn’t wind up down stream polluting the rest of the world.  The eggs are wonderful, fresh and I don’t want to know if they cost more than we would pay in a grocery store for the same quality.  Even if we did buy organic grocery store eggs they  wouldn’t be as fresh. Many days the eggs go from coop to frying pan the same morning.

Mother Earth magazine did a seven month study on eggs some years ago and found that unwashed and never refrigerated eggs will last on a counter top for several months, under refrigeration for many more months. Eggs  can be pickled and last for years and they can be coated with paraffin (petroleum product) lard, or veggie oil and will also last a very long time as long as they were unwashed and never refrigerated. There is no way to tell how truly fresh grocery store eggs are.  Local eggs can be quite fresh and the eggs can be sold for four weeks after the ‘pack date’ or ‘Julian date’. This is put on the carton as the number of days since January 1, so ’32’ would be Feb. 2. The sell by date is four weeks after the pack date.

It also depends upon how the eggs were handled. If they stayed at room temperature for several days before packing they would not be  as fresh as eggs that were refrigerated the day they were laid and packed cold.Commercial eggs, no matter if organic or not are subject to certain regulations about washing and it is important what is used to wash the eggs and even what temperature the washing solution is. Generally, the runnier the egg white, the older the egg.  Really fresh eggs are very perky.

The real miracle is that so many eggs, 75 billion per year according to the American Egg Board, are delivered safe and fresh.  Well, mostly fresh.

Are these chickens a lot of work? No, not really, but they do need to be tended at least twice a day.  In the morning we prop open the door to the coop against any breeze that might blow it shut, replenish water and food if necessary and collect eggs.  The ducks roost with the chickens and all of them pile out of the coop in the morning tumbling in their haste to get out and forage for tasty tidbits in the yard.  They especially like it after a rain when the worms come up to breath.  We collect the eggs and either eat them or put them in the fridge and some go out to children and neighbors.  When the sun hits the top of the trees the chickens gather by the door of the coop and when it is  a bit lower they all go in to roost.  The ducks would happily roost on the lawn but that is not safe.  Mostly the ducks go in but they get shooed in if not.  And that’s all there is to it!

Except for cleaning out the pen….. We use a deep litter method for our hens. This means that we do not obsessively clean the pen. When it looks like it needs it, when the litter is packed down but not quite wet or totally befouled with droppings, we put another layer of litter on top of the old one. We continue this all winter and a deep layer builds up with the bottom layers composting where they are.  The ducks make a clean nest in one corner where they lay their eggs and the chickens lay in the nest boxes, mostly in just two of the six we provided.

Cleaning the pen is my job.  I am short and can get into the coop easily.  I use a rake and a shovel to pull the litter into the center of the coop and then Eric and I put it into trugs and haul it out to the garden. In the past we have just put it on the raised beds but this year we have a brand new, three bin composting system that is just begging for some chicken litter.  I take a shop vac into the coop and plug it into the handy socket Eric put in there, (which also is where we plug in the water heater for the winter) and I vac all the spider webs, dust and what-all from the beams and ceiling. We repeat this in the late Autumn.

We use a variety of litters, hay, old saw dust from my brother’s workshop (so we know where it comes from) and purchased wood shavings.  We start chicks on wood-shavings from the feed store but we switch to hay.  If the hay is kept dry until it is used and is not moldy it is fine to use.  Many people say this is a bad idea and only straw should be used but straw is expensive in the East where we do not have a wheat growing industry.  We do have a hay industry and good local hay is available throughout New England.  So far, we have had no problems at all with our litter.  Harvey Ussery in his fabulous and comprehensive book,  The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and other Fowl… ,  says that the deep litter method is the best, even for chicks.  In fact, he says that if you  are starting chicks in a pristine pen and leave the litter for the second batch of chicks, the second batch will do better.  The immune systems of the chicks must be challenged in order to develop fully, just like humans.  We are challenged by organisms that like to live on and in us and it is the same for the chicks.

We just put in fifty meat birds called Freedom Rangers. They will be raised in the pen on organic feed and in the field in moveable pens later on.  We don’t yet know if we will process (slaughter) our own birds yet or not but we have some time to think about it.  More on this later.

Erma Bombeck, a comedienne of yesteryear once said, “The trouble with having a baby…is that then you have it.”  The same is true of chickens, as it is for the family dog or cat. Someone has to be there to feed and water the animals every day except for cats which can be left for a day or two.  Unless you have a trustworthy and totally automated system of doors opening and closing, shunting food and water into the pen, some human is going to have to tend those birds—no exceptions!  This can be a neighbor’s child if they have been carefully taught, it can be a local 4H kid who does chicken sitting for cash, a family member who knows the drill, but it must be someone.

Freedom Ranger birds ranging freely…

Many people are now keeping a few chickens, city folks, too.  Small pens can be purchased or build for little money and  chickens will happily make their home in your back yard. If they do not range on grass you can toss them greens and that will keep them happy. We have found that we really like living with other species, it livens up the place.  Good luck to all who venture into the coop!

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Got Calories? Or..What’s in Your Pantry?

Since nearly everyone diets we all know what calories are…well, we think we know.  There are ten or more different kinds of calories, but the two we are interested in are the small calorie and the large.  The small calorie is the amount of heat necessary to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius (1.8 F) and I include it only because scientists use that one frequently. In the USA we more often use the large calorie which also goes by the names kilocalorie, dietary calorie and food calorie and is usually written with the symbol, Cal. This Cal is the amount of heat necessary to raise one kilogram (2.2 lb.) of water one degree Celsius.  It is also the method chosen to determine the amount of food value or food energy provided by the food we eat. Naturally, we have to consume calories to live and the United States Dept. of  Agriculture has determined that we need about 2000 calories each day. Babies and small children need around 700, men digging ditches by hand need upwards of 4000 and, unfortunately, women of uncertain age need around 1500.

That is the lesson for today, now for the fun part.  If you look into your pantry, what will you find?  Most of us will have boxes, cans, and plastic bags of food: back stock used in the creation of those tasty meals that miraculously appear on our dining tables each night. Unless you eat out, in which case you are eating food from someone else’s pantry.  If you looked into the pantry and there was nothing there and you couldn’t go to a store or restaurant to buy food, where would it come from?

But, you protest, I can go out and get more food!  Usually that is true but when it isn’t the effect on family morale can be cataclysmic.  The 1998 ice storm that hit Ontario and New England left people without power for up to a month and a half.  In December of 2009 the Northeast was hit with another ice storm and the repair crews took from 4 to 16 days just to get into some areas and assess the damages, never mind repairing them.  Ice storms occur when a layer of warm air is between two layers of cold air.  The snow falls, melts in the warm layer and freezes again in the cold air layer at ground level.  These storms are going to become more frequent as the climate fluctuates.  Heavy snow fall, hurricanes, deliberate destruction of infrastructure and acts of God can all close down supply lines.  We passed peak oil in 2008 so in the future we will see heavy increases in the prices of all that imported food, all the fruit and vegetables that come from New Zealand, Chile and other exotic climes.

We can do without many things that we normally think nothing of buying: clothing, housewares, lawn care items, the list is endless; but we cannot do without food.  Maybe we might try to fast for a day or two to jump-start one of our endless diets but after that we want breakfast, lunch and dinner, thank-you very much!

As you stand before your pantry ask your self how many calories are there, how many meals?  If there are two adults and two school age children you will need a minimum of 8000 calories…..each day.  If you could not get more food for a week could you all make it? Two weeks?  We have all seen grocery stores empty of perishable foods, milk and so forth and shelves empty of canned goods before a predicted large storm.  These shelves don’t fill up again until the roads are clear all the way back to the distribution centers.

As you inventory all the two pounds of rice, one pound of dried beans and assorted canned goods, crackers and bottles of soda, think about the meals you might make from them. With a little bit of planning you can have several weeks meals awaiting your expert touch.  Canned tuna and other meats can become casseroles, dried beans make a soup, pasta lasts a very long time when kept dry.  Dehydrated soups can flavor rice and beans, dried fruits can be cooked into oatmeal.  All it takes is a bit of creativity.

Water is always at hand when the power goes out.  You have an entire hot water heater full of it.  You can use it by opening the spigot at the base of the heater and settling and straining it if there are any particles in it.  Toilet tanks are full of fresh, clean water.  Don’t use it to flush the toilet!  If we are warned of a storm coming that has the potential to shut things down it is a good idea to have some fresh water stocked in kettles and water containers before hand.  Remember, you can’t rehydrate a package of dried food or cook pasta or rice without it.

If you have any heat at all, say a wood stove or fireplace you can plan to be able to cook with that heat. A propane stove or outdoor propane grill also work as long as you have full tanks of gas.

We have gotten off lightly this year but other parts of the world have not.  Next winter we might again be hosting snow and ice and we all have plenty of time to make some reasonable preparations.  It isn’t really necessary to count all those calories but we need to be aware that the need for them is relentless and they absolutely have to be available.  Adults can go without food for days without harm but children must eat.

Emergencies bring a host of problems but you can buffer the hardship by making sure you can feed yourself and your family until  workers have gotten in to repair your power lines, plow the streets, remove downed trees, and restock grocery shelves.

Next post, some thoughts about harvests.

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A Bit About Biointensive

Scientists now are finding genetic markers that suggest that humans have been planting and harvesting crops for possibly  tens of thousands of years longer than previously thought. Our long ago ancestors had to deal with the same factors we do, climate, rainfall, insects, vermin, storage problems and even raiding from neighboring tribes. But when they put seeds in the ground they grew. We don’t think about it much but this bit about seeds growing is one of the great gifts Earth has for us.  There would be no civilization as we know it, except the most primitive, if all of us had to go out and scavenge, hunt  and fish for each days food. There wouldn’t be seven billion of us on this planet either, because the carrying capacity of the earth wouldn’t allow it. By the time the Chinese were terracing their hillsides and the Egyptians were building their pyramids agriculture was already ancient. Archeological evidence now suggests that some Peruvian irrigation canals are eight thousand years old and the Americas were populated only recently.  Irrigation canals that old suggest that it wasn’t a new invention even then.  The beginnings of agriculture are hard to pin down because the very nature of the act destroys the evidence of previous years.  I would not be surprised if people a hundred thousand years ago had some sort of agriculture, even if it was  a nomadic tribe harvesting the produce which sprang from the seeds they dropped the last ten or a hundred times they visited that particular watering hole.

Agriculture confers a host of benefits to the human race and allows us to elevate ourselves beyond mere subsistence by producing enough food for some of us to  contribute to society by doing something other than either scavenging or farming. Agriculture is so efficient at producing calories that just about any system used will support more people than are needed to perform the farming tasks.  That lets some of us become doctors, dancers,  crafts people, chefs, even tax collectors and politicians.

The production of food has been under intense study for all of recorded history.  Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse, postulates that civilizations rise and fall on the back of agriculture and those that do collapse, do so because they exceed the carrying capacity of their land and over-farm or over-graze it which deteriorates the soil to the extent that it will no longer sustain the people of that region. From medieval times on we have an extensive  pictorial record of farming practices in Europe and both the Chinese and the Egyptians recorded their farming practices in from several thousand years ago.

Cloche jar, a "mini greenhouse".

One method stands out from the others because of its ease, low cost and productivity.  We call this method biointensive and it has the benefit of producing the most food from the least amount of land.  Simply put, biointensive gardens are small, the soil is exceptionally good, plants are grown optimally close together, and often single plants are given special treatment like putting a cloche over them at night . This works best in small areas but the fact is, a small area is all you need when caring for your soil and plants this extensively. I won’t go into the particulars here but Wikipedia has a good, short article on it.  No one knows the origin of this method but it was refined in Europe after the population explosion during the Medieval period and incorporated into a number of different growing systems.

John Jeavons has written a number of books on the subject, the most notable is, How To Grow More Vegetables – than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine. My edition is from 1995 and it is the 5th edition.  A new edition is available but I have not seen a copy.  This book is comprehensive and will teach you everything you need to know.  Jeavons has a slim volume out called The Sustainable Vegetable Garden, which covers the same information much stripped down and very accessible. One of the hallmarks of this system is double digging which means removing a foot of top soil and loosening another foot of soil below that one in a moving trench across your garden bed.  One picture is worth a thousand words: this Wikipedia article has a little moving diagram which is sort of fun and you can Google “pictures of double digging” and click into a whole page of photos and diagrams.  Other aspects of his teachings are close plant spacing, using compost, planting so the plants enhance one another and creating a whole, interrelated system of growing. He says that when asked, gardeners will say that they produce “most” of their food  from their gardens but he finds that this is actually only 5 to 10% of their vegetables during the growing season.  His book will tell you how to grow the other 90% as well if you have the land and desire.  Again, if this were your only gardening book you would be able well able to feed yourself and your family depending upon the land you have available.

I won’t try to summarize his methods here, they are somewhat detailed and done much better by the man himself.  So far, this is the best method of growing a lot of food in a small space that we have.  For instance, Mr.Jeavons tells us that in India just one copy of his book became a textbook for a gardening program and has evolved into a national biointensive  program. Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines all have training programs teaching this efficient, labor saving and inexpensive way to grow food.

Biointensive garden in Mexico

I have many gardening books and each is valuable in its own way.  One more is notable for its lessons on how to actually build a garden in the easiest manner possible. This is Patricia Lanza’s Lasagna Gardening.  She teaches how to build garden plots where you need them without a rototiller, without digging up sod, without breaking your back and without breaking the bank. If you are just getting started or if you need to expand this book will show you how.  With a bit of extra work you might even have a garden ready by summer.

Next post will be about those calories we each need every day, just some stray thoughts.

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Ostrich or Turkey?

Before I raised a batch of White Midget turkeys I wondered why Benjamin Franklin wanted our national bird to be the turkey instead of the eagle, now I know.  Turkeys are friendly, smart, curious birds. They come when called, follow me about the yard, stand companionably around munching on bugs and converse with a semblance of intelligence in peeps, chirps and trills.

The ostrich, a large bird originating in Africa, is now found world wide because it is good eating and tastes more like beef than the ubiquitous chicken. This large bird captures the imagination because of its size, its inability to fly, its great speed and the myth that they dig their heads into the earth thinking they cannot be seen giving rise to our phrase: “Hiding ones head in the sand”, denoting a deliberate ignorance of the facts. Continue reading

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Welcome to Clio’s Garden

I have written many sermons, many articles and book reviews, but this is my first blog. It is my hope that the ideas presented here will encourage you to cultivate your own gardens–and by that I mean the ones where you dig in the dirt and grow actual food and the ones in your mind where you consider an idea and it stirs you to action. Here you will find book reviews and recommendations, interesting web sites and links to articles, comments on the passing scene and, occasionally, a short sermon.  Because growing food is the most important thing I do there will be actually quite a lot of information on how to grow the most nutritious food you can, in the least amount of space, in the shortest time possible while regenerating your soil using techniques from the most knowledgeable people around. Continue reading

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