One definition of hope is a confident expectation. When I stand on the porch and see the sun rising just at that utility pole, I know that Imbolc / St. Brigid Day is close. Very close. I have a confident expectation that Winter is waning — no doubt, it will still pack a punch in February though.
This is the time when I feel the urge to clean everything starting at the top the wall and working my way down, every book, every knick knack, every baseboard. This time of cleaning reminds me to hold my possessions lightly and to be prepared to part with anything that I don’t know to be beautiful or useful.
This is the time when I go over the seed list and garden plan one more time. I put dates beside seed names so that I remember when to start seeds indoors, when to start putting them on the porch to get used to the great outdoors, and when plants and seeds can go straight into the ground. I have a confident expectation that Spring will come and food will be grown once again.
I have a stack of Herbal books I am hoping to read this winter. The herb garden planning is coming along nicely with ideas for the beds, pots, fencing, flooring, etc. I am compiling a pretty good list of seeds and plants that would be helpful and that grow well in our area. I am thinking about how to grow those plants that need protection from the cold weather.
One thing I am considering is a small walled garden inside the larger herb garden, likely as one side of the garden. There are many herbs that do well in cool, shady conditions. I could even put some mushroom logs in this area as well. I am beginning to suspect that this herb garden project will take multiple years (5 years, maybe) to come to completion.
The first book I read was The Green Witch Herbal. It was a pretty good introduction and included things like indoor plants, cooking, cleaning, hygiene, and then remedies. She reminds us that most herbs are both culinary and medicinal. I created a list of herbs, spices, and essential oils that she recommends. I really liked that she laid our an herbal medicine cabinet and a traveling herbal kit. Very handy information!
Our current chicken ark faces due west and is open on that side. I have rugs that hang over the opening, leaving a little gap for the girls to go in and out. Outside the ark, but inside the fence, is an area about 4 feet by 4 feet. This is where we keep their water.
In the summer, I hung an old sheet on the western fence to give them some shade. I was debating about what to do as winter approached. I didn’t want to rebuild this ark since they will be moving into a new coop this Spring.
As the guys were splitting firewood an idea occurred to me. I asked them to stack the firewood around that open area outside the fence. It has created a wonderful windbreak and the girls really seem to enjoy a space without wind. It is convenient for grabbing logs as they are needed too. We have a couple more months of cold, wood burning weather, but hopefully the wall will last until either the bitter cold is over or the new coop is ready for occupants.
I did not take the picture above. I haven’t been to Wales (yet), but I wanted to use it to focus my thoughts on 2021 and what I hope to accomplish. I don’t make New Year resolutions. These are the same four areas I work on every year in some form or fashion.
Wellness — At 54 and on the other side of menopause, I am quite content with my body and my body image. I am not going to diet or work out like a fiend. I am not going to shame myself by using a scale. I am not going to reward myself with food. Been there, done that. Older and wiser now.
There are a few things I would like to change this year to help with my auto-immune anemia and lupus. One: I will be going no coffee, tea, chocolate, and gluten and instead will learn to love turmeric latte, peppermint tea, and homemade gluten free scones and cookies. Two: I have been learning Qi-gong and practicing the 8 Brocade every morning. I would like to continue that and add 22 minutes of additional intentional exercise (following RBG program of 5 minutes HIIT, 8 minutes strength training, 5 minutes HIIT, and 4 minutes stretching). I will still walk, but it doesn’t count as exercise anymore. It is something I do because I love it.
Simple-ness — At 54 and with medical debt, a mortgage, and a credit card, I am not content with this situation. So I am planning on not purchasing anything this year except to replace what breaks and cannot be repaired, books for my Welsh study, and my Spiritual Companion Group. There are some farm projects that will be carried out using stimulus money and our tax refund. I have a budget and a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. The thing with an autoimmune disorder is that you are always going to have medical bills. Always. So I need to be at peace with that and just do the best I can.
I had debated stopping our Washington Post subscription, but it is sanity in a world of Twitter news. So instead, I am maximizing it. I am removing news from my twitter feed — what’s left, not much. I do like to keep up with what my Members of Congress are doing (never anything good) or I would just delete the whole thing.
Favorites —I am planning on a reread of my favorite books, listening to my favorite audio books, and rewatching my favorite tv show — Rosemary and Thyme. I don’t enjoy watching tv or movies very often anyway. I am sure if there is a movie I absolutely must see, Hannah or Michael will make sure we see it.
Welsh tuition will continue because — JOY!
Garden / Herbs/ Animals— I have a stack of Herbal books I borrowed from Hannah and I hope to study them this winter. I’d like to add a fenced in herb garden this year. I saw a really cute design that I think would work well here on our farm. Building it will be my big project this year.
The vegetable garden will get the first four raised beds this year. We’ll be growing potatoes in them as a way to create the soil we’ll need to fill them. I do have a lovely pickup bed worth of homemade compost that we will alternate with chicken bedding in the potato beds.
We will finish a couple more chicken yards so they can be rotated during the grass growing seasons.
I think we’ll add another rabbit too. Ours are both getting a bit old and it might we wise to get ahead of the age game. Their manure is absolutely priceless here on the farm. I’d like to put the new rabbit on the pasture system, so that will need to be built before bringing one home.
Four areas to focus on as you consider your personal carbon footprint: 1) how you move around, 2) what you eat and how it is grown, 3) how you use natural resources in your home, and 4) what stuff you buy and how you get rid of it.
How You Use Natural Resources in Your Home — I am defining natural resources as fossil fuels (and their derivatives), water, wood, minerals, etc. It is a loose definition, but it makes it easy for me to remember. First let’s talk electricity. In my area coal is what most power plants use and therefore it is what you are using when you plug something into the wall. My part of Indiana is 38° north. That means we have four true seasons. I am also in a hilly area with inconsistent winds. Passive solar works pretty well on sunny winter days in the rooms with south facing windows. Solar panels on the roof should, theoretically give you sufficient power on the sunny days. The key to that being true is to minimize the amount of power you require. I read a report that there is enough “power” for each person to use 48 kWh per day.
Our family uses an average of 300-500 kWh per month and we buy green energy that comes from a cooperative of solar fields, wind turbines, and methane burning from landfills. At this time we don’t have solar panels on our home. The start up investment is just a bit much for us right now. Our biggest electric users are hot water, the refrigerator, and in winter the heater (when we use it). Our hot water heater is on a timer so that it runs during non-peak hours and that really helps lower the amount we use. The tank is very efficient and will keep the water hot for 12-15 hours. To keep our usage low we do things like: keep the lights off when not in a room, use smaller & more efficient appliances, got rid of most of our electric appliances (like the washer, dryer, air conditioner, dishwasher, etc), hung insulating curtains in all the rooms (closed during summer days, closed during winter nights, open during winter days, open during summer nights). These are just a few examples. We don’t use any natural gas, propane, kerosene, etc to cook or heat our home. In the winter our favorite spot in the house is beside the wood stove. We burn down/dead wood and never take down a living tree. Our woods typically have 3 or 4 down trees a year and that is sufficient for our heating needs. This year we are not using the chainsaw at all and are carrying up all the branches we can find. So far we haven’t used the wood stove at all, but we have had to run the heater on days when the high is only in the 30s (about 10 days so far). We must decide what to do about getting a new chainsaw for next year.
Let’s see, water usage has already been chatted about a few times. So I guess that is about it for natural resources. Although in some respects, what we buy
What youbuy and how you get rid of it — For me, I try to choose natural materials first. I want everything to either be reusable (to infinity . . . ) or compostable. This eliminates a lot of stuff.
Sustainability > Carbon Footprint > How You Move Around
The Climate Crisis is so big and so multi-faceted that I do not (and could never) claim to be an expert. What I am is someone who cares deeply for this place and therefore for the whole beautiful place we call Earth. I have been making real efforts to reduce our personal carbon footprint to below 50% of the average American since 1997. Since 2020 began, I have been working to shave off a bit more each year hoping to be carbon neutral in our own home by 2030. Along with these personal actions, I also write and call my Members of Congress regularly and speak to my community whenever the opportunity arises.
Four areas to focus on as you consider your personal carbon footprint: 1) how you move around, 2) what you eat and how it is grown, 3) how you use natural resources in your home, and 4) what stuff you buy and how you get rid of it.
How you move around— We’ve all seen the science on driving and flying. I am not here to rehash that. Right now, even if we all drove electric cars, there still is the problem of how the electricity is generated. Living in a rural area means even fewer options until they come up with a better battery (which I know is in the works), a charging station system, and a clean way to produce and distribute the needed electricity. So for now we drive a vehicle that gets good gas mileage, keep it maintained, and plan for errands along the route that is between workplaces and home. For my part, I don’t ask for stops that are off of that route, and I do not drive at all. Secondly, I am transitioning to doing as many errands as possible in the small village that is within bicycle riding distance. I can ride there and back with no issues and plans are in place to allow me to carry a larger load. I don’t travel anymore either. I am content to stay home or close to home.
The average American uses 500 gallons of gasoline / person / year. In 2020, I used 5 gallons. In 2020 , we used 15 gallons to cut the grass. In 2020, our commuters used 1000 gallons. So — 51%
In 2020: I walked — 1040 miles and I biked — 250 miles.
What You Eat and How It is Grown — I feel like I have talked and talked about this piece here on the blog. However, I realize that I’ve talked about how we grow our food and what I prefer to eat. I haven’t really been clear about what I look for when purchasing food. For me, organic is really just the beginning. When purchasing meat I look for organic, grass fed, and humane slaughter methods. This makes meat quite expensive. That is ok with me. I am happy to pay the true cost so that my local farmers are encouraged to use regenerative agriculture methods. We eat eggs that our hens lay or we do without. I cook in a manner that stretches the meat as far as possible. For instance a whole chicken will make 2 pot pies (=8 servings), 1 pot of soup (=12 servings), and a pot of broth/stock (=24 servings). Where I need to do better is with grains and beans. I hope next year to begin growing more of our own dry beans. It will probably take several years to get a system in place and actually meet our needs. It is doubtful that I will ever try to grow our own grains. I can get organic, but have yet to find a regenerative farmer that sells in small bulk quantities.
If you have any leads on the grain front, please leave me a comment.
The weather shifted from far too warm for March to dangerous in the space of just an hour. I could see the storm front pushing in and did what I always do: move anything that could blow around into the shed, tuck the animals into their homes and hope for the best, and check my emergency bag.
Being an USAF wife taught me to be ready to leave my home in 10 minutes if the alarm sounds. I have never been able to set that bit aside. So I always have an emergency bag packed — just in case. It came in very handy on March 2. My. Emergency bag isn’t the kind you could live out of for three days, it is the kind that will give you some comfort while living out of the 72 hour kit.
My Emergency Bag contains: my sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a USB powered fan, a solar charger, a spare charger for my phone, spare glasses, important paperwork on a USB drive, a Turkish towel, and a spare leash/collapsible water bowl for Jasper. My backpack sits ready for any adventure. It carries (in an emergency) a water bottle, snacks, purse, Welsh stuff, Kindle, flannel robe, and my 3-1-1 kit. Oh, and I always grab my yoga mat. I can be out the door in 5 minutes with this set up.
MySecondary Bag — The majority of my seasonal clothing will fit into my travel duffel. My garden seeds also fit in this bag. If I am given an additional 5 minutes, this bag can be packed and out the door too.
Family Kit — One thing I would like to do is to pack a family kit into plastic tote. I think it would work well to pack the tote like a camping kit. That’s a pretty easy way to think about what should go in it. I may start working on this one after the new year.
I have compiled a comprehensive and ever-changing list of the things I consider essential to my living a very small, very good life. I edit it about every three months. It doesn’t number the actual possessions, it just gives me a feel for the “rightness” of my surroundings. I fully adhere to the view that “the root of war begins in our quest for more.” — John Woolman.
Living at Home
Bed: frame, mattress, bedding, duvet in winter, cotton blanket in summer, throw blanket for extra warmth or napping, 2 pillows
Dresser: cabinet my dad made with 3 shelves + baskets for underwear, bras, socks, Fountain pen supplies, home only clothes, and movement clothes.
Closet: wooden hangers that hold all clothes, tote that holds off-season clothes, and other tote that holds my duvet + cover and coat in the warmer months).
Bookshelf: 2 shelves of my favorite books, 1/2 shelf with farm resources, and 1/2 shelf with Welsh books.
Fan — cannot sleep without the white noise
Chair and sheepskin . . . Where I can be found when I’m sitting down.
Schwinn GTX3 with Ibera rack and trunk, bike helmet, cable lock, tire pump.
As I wrote before: I think houses should be smaller so gardens and lawns can be bigger. I think we need less time indoors and more time outdoors. I believe everyone should have a right to hang their laundry outdoors and grow food. The other advantages of a small and simple home are: easier to keep clean, less chemicals required when you can hand scrub surfaces frequently, less electricity/oil/gas/wood needed to heat the home, less furniture (and other stuff) to off-gas into your lungs, less stuff in general, and . . . I am not convinced that we all need super large ovens, stoves, refrigerators, freezers, hot water heaters, washing machines, dryers, etc. I think we should choose the smallest size that works for us, even if that size is not to have one at all.
Our household is four adults sharing a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, with a common kitchen, living room, and laundry facilities, 1400 square foot manufactured home. At times it feels much too large.
My perfect home would include:
12 inch exterior walls, with large southern and eastern facing windows, with small and high northern and western facing windows, working shutters, greenhouse attached to southern wall, and next to it a screen porch with benches for removing and storing shoes.
Rain water harvesting system: roof, tanks, pump, and manual pump delivering water straight into the kitchen and bathrooms. Solar hot water tanks. Overflow pond.
Gray water wetlands and composting system for composting toilets. Septic for black water.
Small kitchen, large pantry. Solar food dehydrator, outdoor bread/pizza oven and grill (wood, not gas or charcoal), root cellar system.
Small solar energy system (or bio-digester). Transitioning to fewer electrical items so the system can be small and affordable. Solar battery chargers for small electronics.
Heat sink/ masonry by southern windows for winter passive heating — maple trees planted in front of house for summer passive cooling. Small rocket stove for heating and cooking in the cooler months.
The coming years will be filled with mini-experiments with each of the above systems. It will allow us to grow accustomed to the ideas and practicalities of working with these systems. In the meantime, as things break I have to ask myself, “Is this what I want in the future? Is this sustainable? Is this simple?” If the answer is yes, then I repair or replace it. If the answer is no, I let it be and we begin putting an alternative in place.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a flowering plant in the mint family. It grows quite well here in Zone 6b. I just have a couple of plants, but they produce quite enough for our needs.
In the late summer, when it is flowering, and late in the day I go out and pick the leaves. I am always careful to leave the youngest leaves and enough leaves so that the roots are fed and ready to survive the upcoming cold.
The following is how I use horehound. It should not construed to be medical advice.
Use 1: You can dry the leaves and then steep 1 tsp of leaves in hot water for a sore throat.
Use 2: You can mix a leaf with honey and chew on it for a sore throat or cough.
Or Use 3, which is how I prefer . . . Horehound cough drops
Make no mistake, this is not candy. It is quite bitter, but it is an effective cough drop. You can suck on it, like normal, or let it dissolve in a bit of hot water, add honey and drink.
1 cup fresh horehound leaves
2 cups water
Let boil for 20 minutes
Let cool and then strain out the leaves, I squeeze the leaves to release all the oils. I normally get about a 1/4 cup liquid.
Put liquid into a sauce pan, add 2 cups of sugar, and boil to the candy stage. ( I test by dropping a drop in a glass of cold water, if it stays together, it is candy stage. You can also use a thermometer.)
Put a silicone mat in a baking sheet and pour the horehound mixture onto it. Place in refrigerator until solid. You could also use small candy molds (and those are on my wish list for next year)
The next day, remove from tray (or molds), break into pieces, wrap in wax paper, and store in jars.
I keep most of mine in the freezer, but leave a jar or two in the fridge.
Sometimes while learning Welsh, I stumble on a word that just makes perfect sense. Usually it is one of those words that you really can’t simply translate. It means too much. Cyenfin is one of those words and it fits so perfectly with my whole being.
Cynefin: belonging to place, a place to “stand”
Cynefin comes from and leads to understanding that the earth is animate, all life is sacred, and harmony is found in living in the rhythm of cycles and seasons.
Related words are ‘cyfenw’ which we translate as surname, but it really has the meaning ‘place name.’Also ‘cyfeiriad’ which is address or ‘place you are.’
If I own it and wear it, it is one of these colors.
The reality of my pre-Covid life was that I was at home six days out of seven, go to church (where we dress casually), run a few errands, and a book club meeting two to three times a month. The reality of my mid-Covid life is that I am home except for the very occasional trip out. When at home, my tasks fall into a few categories: farming, walking, learning/reading, cleaning, and sleeping.
This makes it pretty easy to keep my wardrobe simple and small.
Rain coat, parka, gloves, sun hat, winter hat, scarf
puffer vest, farm boots, farm coat (at home only)
As you can see, my wardrobe is super simple, super casual, and super comfortable. I have a couple of options that are specifically for dressing up. Honestly though, I avoid that as much as I can. Weddings, funerals . . . That is about all I am willing to be fussy about.
I believe that if we each just took “enough” for our needs then their would be “plenty” for all.
Clean and beautiful environment — Our shared home is truly a marvel. We all have a right to enjoy her beauties. I believe Federal, State, and Local parks should be funded by taxes and free to visit. I also think we should be expanding our park system and striving to provide green spaces and community gardens in every urban environment.
Clean water supply — There are calculators out there that will tell you how many gallons of rain water your roof can “catch” per inch of rain. Combine that “catch” with your average annual rainfall and you have a number for the maximum amount of water you should use in a year. Some of us live in reliably wet places — for instance we average 48 inches of rain per year here, although lately that number has been more like 60 inches of rain per year. If you choose to live in a desert area, it will be harder. This is one reason why traditionally very few people live in actual desert conditions. Our modern exploitation of ancient waters and an intensive use of electricity is the only thing that allows for so many people to live in desert areas.
A clean and balanced diet — To quote Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” To quote myself, “Eat what you grow and grow what you eat.” Local, organic, fresh/frozen . . . The sliding scale of best choices in my opinion. Michael Pollan also defines food as 5 ingredients or less, food your great-grandmother would recognize, and with words any beginning reader could pronounce. That is a guideline that is easy to remember!
Basic clothing — Clothing appropriate for your weather, your job, and always ethically sourced. I maintain a very small wardrobe, in colors I like, and most importantly are comfortable. I also choose natural materials.
A simple and small home — I think houses should be smaller so gardens and lawns can be bigger. I think we need less time indoors and more time outdoors. I believe everyone should have a right to hang their laundry outdoors and grow food. The other advantages of a small and simple home are: easier to keep clean, less chemicals required when you can hand scrub surfaces frequently, less electricity/oil/gas/wood needed to heat the home, less furniture (and other stuff) to off-gas into your lungs, less stuff in general, and . . . I am not convinced that we all need super large ovens, stoves, refrigerators, freezers, hot water heaters, washing machines, dryers, etc. I think we should choose the smallest size that works for us, even if that size is not to have one at all.
Basic health care —If Covidteaches us one thing I hope it is that we all deserve adequate, accessible, and affordable health care. All. Of. Us.
Simple communications — At a minimum a functioning Post Office, a phone with texting ability, and internet even (and especially) in rural areas. I also think if we all said what we meant and meant what we said, we’d be a lot better off. I have stopped reaching for showy words when I write and instead choose the word that accurately and easily says what I mean.
Well-rounded education — Reading, writing, maths, and logic at a minimum. Free public libraries, teachers paid well, resources and skill sharing libraries . . . But also an understanding that a degree does not mean you’re smarter, wiser, kinder, or a better person than the less educated neighbor.
Many of my choices have already been made: I will remain on this land (stability) and I will take care of this land (sustainability). That already narrows down so many choices like “Shall I buy the cheap chicken grains or the organic chicken grains?”
If I am staying here and taking care of here, then I can only buy the organic grains. Why? I want my chickens to be the healthiest they can be, I want any grain that sprouts to be a true seed (not some hybrid that won’t breed true), and I don’t want to introduce any pesticide or herbicide residue into my soil.
So my first two vows make my third vow easier. Then taking my previous post about cycles and rhythms, you can see that I don’t have to make too many choices about my days. The rhythm of the year and the day will lead to a simple day. I move through my days without thinking too much about “should I’s”.
My main choices these days are about how to use our resources when bringing things onto the property or removing things from the property.
A Case Study — The Laundry. The washer broke on 5 September 2020.
Fact 1: We already made the decision not to have a clothes dryer.
Fact 2: We already have a clothesline (for outside) and drying racks (for inside).
So — we are used to thinking outside the standard American box for laundry.
Query: It is 25 days to payday. Do we go to a laundromat ? Do we hand wash the small things and save heavy items for the laundromat? Do we put a washer on credit?
Considerations for Query: In 2012, an EF-4 tore our house apart and pulled the utility poles straight out the ground. We were without a washer for 3 weeks while we waited for the electric to be reconnected. I did laundry in a bucket. It was not so bad, just chaotic because, no roof, tarps for walls, etc. . . .
Considerations for Query: How much water and electricity does the washer use? How much water and electricity will it use to do laundry by hand? How much will a load cost at a laundromat? How much will a new washer cost? Are there non-electric options or low-electric options I am comfortable with?
Exploration: I did laundry in buckets for one week. It was not bad. I even was able to do sheets and jeans. Sweatshirts would have been more difficult and autumn and winter are on our doorstep. The biggest issue was wringing out enough water before hanging. In this summer-y weather, I could simply carry them out and hang them on the line. They watered the grass. In cold weather, they would have to drip all over the house. Not great.
Exploration 2: We purchased a small “spinner”. Washing the clothes continued as we’d done for a week. Wring out the clothes and place them in the spinner. Each spin cycle takes about 2 minutes. No dripping mess and clothes that could hang indoors in winter.
Exploration 3: A basket in a bucket system for washing, a second basket in a bucket for rinsing, and the spinner.
Conclusion: A mostly non-electric system that can handle all our laundry, takes 5 gallons to wash a day’s worth of laundry, takes 5-7 gallons to rinse a day’s worth of laundry, and 2 minutes to spin each load. It is an easy system, and it is a pleasure to use.
Conclusion 2: The old washer was taken apart. The metal will be used for roofing either the chicken arc or a new rabbit hutch. All other usable parts were cleaned, labeled and store. The things that can’t be reused will put in our garbage for the week. It will nearly double the week’s garbage, but it could be worse.
Financial costs + energy costs:
Spinner (a gift)
First Levario/bucket + basket (a gift)
Second Levario —$130
Water per day — 10-12 gallons. This is a savings of 30-60 gallons per day.
Electric usage — Our daily usage dropped 6 kWh/day.
My washing system:
I begin by putting less than a Tablespoon of soap in wash water. Into the basket, I place clothes that go next to the body and are relatively clean. The basket is closed and “agitated” 15 times, then the clothes soak for 10 minutes, then they are agitated for another 15-20 times, then the basket is removed from the water and left to drain for 10 minutes. Then I squeeze out as much water as I can by hand.
I do 1) relatively clean clothes that are next to the body, 2) relatively clean clothes like sweaters, trousers, and hand towels, 3) kitchen towels, 4) dirty stuff. Potty wipes are soaked all day in a bucket that lives in the shower. Those get washed in their own bucket.
Meanwhile, I have gathered 5 gallons of clean water into the rinse bucket. The load is then moved from washing to rinsing bucket. I agitate it 20 times and leave it soak for a bit. Then I lift the basket out of the bucket, drain, and squeeze.
Finally, things are layered into the spinner. It takes just 2 minutes per load for them to be “indoor hangable.”
If Harmony is my abbey then stability, sustainability, and simplicity are my vows. — Me
I define simplicity, in the context of my vows, as the quality of being plain, beautiful, and slow. It means a life where I am living in a rhythm with the seasons and daily rhythms of prayer, work, reading, and rest. It means a life where I am not fatigued with so many choices. It means a life where I have identified the essentials and eliminated the rest. In the words of Austen Farrer, “Simplify your life, do fewer things, and do them well.”
Living a Life in rhythm with the seasons — Being privileged to stay home and tend the farm, animals, and home means that I have freedom to tailor my year to the seasons with ease. Our seasons look more like Celtic seasons — the solstices and equinoxes are more the center of the season rather than the start of the season — and generally mark times of transition. The Autumn Equinox has passed. The six weeks following the equinox means the garden harvest is winding down. It is time to think about cleaning up the garden beds, mulching the bare soil, cleaning the seed starting pots and garden tools, and winterizing the rabbit hutch and the chicken ark. It is time to visit a local orchard and get our yearly supply of apples. By November 1, we will have switched to checking on the food we have stored so that we can use the things that aren’t keeping well. We’ll be busy in the woods carrying sticks back to the house for kindling. Meals will be more soups and stews and less salads and raw foods. Winter, for us, starts when laundry can no longer be dried on the clothesline, sometime in November, lasts through December, January, and much of February. We are hunkered down with blankets, candles, and fires. March 1 brings a flurry of garden preparations: seeds must be checked and reordered if I wasn’t able to save enough, tools must be checked and sharpened, seed starting soil must be sterilized and put into pots. The Spring Equinox is when I start some seeds in pots under a makeshift greenhouse. April 1 is the real start of the gardening year because greens and brassicas can go out in the garden. Peas too, as soon as it is mild enough. May, June, July, August, September, and October are all the furious rush of gardening season. I try to keep the Solstices and Equinoxes and the Quartering of the Year days as mini-holidays. Days to remember, days to observe, and days to be grateful for a chance to step outside of the normal work.
Daily Rhythms of Prayer, Work, Reading and Rest— My daily life follows a rhythm. I move from task to task, alternating between physical and mental work. I rise before the sun, do some stretches, recite my morning prayers, and then head out for a walk. Breakfast follows the walk, as does a tour of the house and the yard/garden/orchard as I assess what needs to be done that day. In the warm months, the outside work gets done first, in the cool months the inside work gets done first. That work is followed by Welsh time. Lunch follows along with strength exercises, the indoor/outdoor work gets done, and then some time reading non-fiction, and then fiction and then some more Welsh. Dinner time is followed by Evening prayers, a short spurt of evening tidy up, a short walk, and then more time reading or chatting with family. I try not to use lights in the evening so that my body is ready for sleep. I am early to bed, with an audiobook, and early to rise.
This path, this revolution of belonging, necessarily entails accepting our responsibility towards our own places and communities. It might be impossible to save the world all in one go, but it is possible to protect, guard – and yes, even save, when necessary — our home places and our communities. If we have to do it little by little, one place at a time, then now is a good time to begin. Each of us sewing just one of the squares which contributes to the vast, growing patchwork quilt of the world’s renewal.” ~Sharon Blackie
I read that somewhere, years ago, and it was probably John Jeavons. Jeavons’s gardening system is unique in that he has you using a good bit of your space to grow compost. Or rather, to grow things to be composted.
All in all, it is a very necessary thing to consider. When you eat from your land, you are only eating as healthfully as the soil is healthy. If you are lacking certain minerals in the soil, you will end up lacking them in your body. This is one reason why my family doesn’t strive to be 100% eating from this land. We know there are gaps —I mean, it was an industrial agriculture corn and soy field.
Growing soil: We compost religiously — I have already done a post on that. We don’t walk on the soil — I have mentioned that. We don’t till or plow the soil — I have mentioned this too. We have permanent garden beds — I have mentioned this too. We have grass paths between our garden beds — yep, already talked about this. We plant trees so they can pull up deep minerals. — I want to talk about this. We have animals for their manure — I am going to talk more about this in a minute. We try not to leave the soil bare — but we need to do better with this one.
Trees for the garden: I love trees. Plain and simple, and I would plant them for no other reason than for the simple joy they bring me. These beauties sink their roots deep into the earth and pull minerals up into their leaves . . . And then they drop those leaves, conveniently, within my reach each autumn. And so, I thank them, marvel at their beauty and thoughtfulness, and then gather up about half the leaves. I leave the other half to return minerals to the soil that is supporting the tree. The leaves I gather are added to the compost pile or tucked up around other plants — like the hibiscus, or a new little tree just getting established. Since we also heat our home with wood, the ashes are added to the compost as well. The ashes are another source of minerals for the soil.
Animals for manure: We have, in the past, had animals that we intended to eat (chickens, goats, sheep, and cows), or milk (cows and goats), or collect their eggs (chickens), or harvest their wool (sheep).
I have to tell you, I can’t do it. I can’t raise a creature, love that creature, and then kill and eat that creature. So I choose to be mostly vegetarian
The second great revelation was with dairy animals. I can’t do that either. First of all, you need a male (or have access to the male). Then you have to decide if you are keeping all the babies, if you don’t you’ll have to sell them or find homes for them. Babies come with tiny little horn buds. Some people have no problem burning them off with a very hot iron. I do have a problem with that. So I let their little horns grow. But most people don’t want an animal with horns. And finally, we learned that our family is highly lactose intolerant. So no more dairy animals.
My favorite animals (other than rabbits and chickens) to have on the farm are sheep. I adore them. After learning to card wool, spin wool, and knit — I also learned that I am very allergic to lanolin. Like in, it looks like I took an acid bath. Not good. So we sold my beloved sheep.
After all these experiments and failures, we decided on keeping animals for what they can add to the soil. And what they can add to the soil is POOP!
We have a hutch of very spoiled rabbits whose sole duty in life is to poop. Michael collects this poop and adds it to the compost pile. I couldn’t honestly even tell you for sure if our rabbits are boys or girls. That’s because their sole duty is to poop not repopulate the planet. Our rabbits all have names from Watership Down.
We also have a handful of laying hens. These hens have two duties on the farm. The first is to eat our scraps, our lawn clippings, and our garden weeds, and scratch through it repeatedly while pooping to speed along the compost process. Their second duty is to give us a few eggs a day. Really, this is just a bonus. Our chicks are named after Ogham trees, although really their names are “the ladies.”
No Bare Soil: This is an area where we have lots of room for improvement. What we will strive to do better with next year is succession planting — which means I need to start seeds in containers that can be put into beds when another crop comes out.
I also need to spend time this winter learning more about mulching techniques for the garden beds. This autumn we started mulching the bed with grass clippings from the chicken yard. The clippings have been scratched at for several weeks, so no seeds, and has a little bit of manure in it. So far I’ve covered about half the beds and they seem to be staying pretty weed free. We’ll see how that turns out.
It is really hard to get clean straw around here so I need to do some reading. I have _Practical Permaculture_, _The Resilient Farm_, _How to Grow More Vegetables . . . _, and _No Dig Organic Home & Garden _ queued up and waiting for cooler weather.