Plans for Spring

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#1: Wear Carharts on Carharts whenever possible.

#2: IMG_0280. Every fall after I look at the ruins of my garden I think about how much better I am going to plan next year. Specifically I vow to make organized rows and not broadcast seeds wildly around the neighborhood, keep track of where I plant things, and finally, not to over plant squash. This year so far I have not over planted squash, because I have not yet planted any. Last year I had spinach in the ground by late February and was confident it would grow. This year I planted the first round March 22 and am not quite so confident. I put in spinach, arugula, bright lights chard, radishes, beets, and lettuce. I had planned to put in more chard, kale, and some more greens but my hands were freezing. Then this happened:

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This is a major metropolitan area by my office. See those office buildings across the street?

My rough plan is to put early plants in the front beds. Then, when the permaculture babies arrive in late May I can selectively rip out the early greens, plant the perennials, and plant other annuals around them. I may put some additional hot season annuals in the back beds, or I may preserve those spaces for a fall planting of greens as I try to phase those beds out and reclaim some backyard space.

#3: Wear this dress as much as possible. Butterick B5919.

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#4: Make lots of baby hives out of my Michigan survivor stock bees. Knock on wood, the hives my dad and I started this summer are both still alive and buzzing. Since this was the hardest winter in Michigan since 1880 (which, as my mom pointed out, is the year of the Long Winter documented by Laura Ingalls Wilder), the bee conference I recently attended made me feel a sort of duty to propagate this line of bees. Spring, and especially a late and wet one, can be very difficult for bees so we’re not out of the woods yet but I am far more optimistic than before.

I will start the season with one hive (H1). I also have a package coming (H2). At this time I plan to establish these as separate hives at my house. Ideally, H1 will make a swarm cell this year which I can separate into a nuc until the queen is mated and laying. Then, I could requeen H2 with that queen in the fall right before the eggs for winter bees are laid.

I suspect; however, that the package bees will either swarm or supercede the queen right away. Last year I made the mistake of trying to head this off, but this year plan to embrace the bees plan. If they take action to this effect I will let them supercede. Any new queen will ideally be mated to Michigan bees, and hopefully to drones from my other hive so they will have at least 50% Michigan survivor stock genes.

Alternatively, my dad and I are talking about investing (and it IS an investment) in a Buckfast queen (of the prestigious buckfast line, only partially a joke). If I were able to requeen the package with some descendant of this line I would be pleased because then I would be combining the Buckfast line with the current Michigan survivor stock.

However, making plans for bees seems to be rather futile, as it turns out that the bees and I have not read the same books.

What are your plans for spring?

Kitchen Renovation

 

 

 

 

 

I am so excited to show you what we have been doing for the past three weeks! You remember when my kitchen used to look like this?

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Well, it doesn’t anymore.

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This was one of the projects I had been really dreading because I thought it would end up really expensive. However, it actually ended up being pretty reasonable thanks to some craigslisting, re-storing (the act of going to the restore), and slate tile. Some of the most exciting changes:

-painting the cabinets. While I thought this would be a horrible job, it actually didnt take very long at all. I took the doors off and spray painted them in the garage while John rollered the drawer fronts and remaining frames. Now I am starting to think maybe they need pulls?

-the open shelves. While we replaced cabinets with open shelves, we kept most of the cabinets resulting in a net gain of kitchen storage. The shelves are reclaimed cedar that we found on craigslist for about $100. Yes, the storage has to be pretty now, but so far that has been ok. I just need to remind myself that I don’t have to display ALL of my pretty dishes. The shelves also mean we have enough cabinet space to put in a dishwasher.

- The countertops. I found pretty countertops to be super expensive. We followed this tutorial, and it worked really well. Also they came in at $100.00 after a quick trip to the restore, and you really can’t tell they were ever doors.

John thought it was SUPER FUN when I went out and bought paint for the bedroom before the paint on the cabinets was dry. Looking forward to showing off how that turned out….but more than that I am looking forward to being able to blog about my garden again. Last year I had plants growing outside by this time.

My sister in law linked me to this online permaculture course and I am so excited to get started tonight, will let you know how it is.

My Epic Takedown of Greek Yogurt

Hey guys, while I am not a registered dietician (sometimes I think I would have liked that job) I am a bit of a dairy queen and I have to tell you some things about greek yogurt.

First of all, making my own cheese has really shown me that all dairy is on a continuum. There is milk, yogurt, greek yogurt, soft cheeses (like cream cheese), hard cheeses with a short aging period (manchego, some cheddar), and hard cheeses with a long aging period (parmesan, romano, etc). Everything is just milk with a higher or lower ratio of milk fat solids to whey. The reason people (and by people I mean women in yogurt commercials) seem to like greek yogurt is because it has a higher protein content than most yogurt. However, it also has a higher fat content. You know what has a higher protein and fat content than greek yogurt? Hard cheese. But you never see any ladies in commercials talking about how they had a light breakfast of fruit and cheese. This is because in order to compensate for the higher fat content, “low fat” or “nonfat” greek yogurt is filled with sugar, salt, and other fillers.

I am much more solidly on the protein train than I was when we were eating vegan. However, excess protein is stored as fat, just as excess carbohydrates are. It may be easier to get excess  carbohydrates than excess protein, but in my experience those who have never embraced a plant based diet seem to inflate both the importance of protein, and the difficulty in obtaining protein (i.e. plants, nuts, and beans are some of the best sources of protein). Additionally, excess protein, especially from animal sources can leach the calcium out of bones. The idea that consuming milk promotes strong bones was a construct of the milk lobby. 

Furthermore, the only sense in which greek yogurt, or any source of dairy really is a “health” food, is with respect to weight loss and it is only a good food for weight loss due to low fat and nonfat varieties. Humans are meant to produce an enzyme called lactase through the age of approximately four, when it was thought breastfeeding would end. Lactase serves to digest lactose. It was only though a defect in the system which was meant to turn off the production of this enzyme, that any adults are lactose tolerant. This defect became dominant when some populations of humans co-evolved in conjunction with herd animals.

Finally, CAFO farming of animals is an environmental catastrophe in its own right, but greek yogurt specifically is an abomination. When any dairy product is coagulated, its drained of the whey in order to increase the proportion of milk solids to whey. The harder the cheese/yogurt, the more is drained. As such, greek yogurt is drained more aggressively, so it has a higher waste of whey. There are ways to make whey delicious (See whey ricotta, or zeigerkase- my all time favorite) but overall its a waste product and a gross one at that. You would be shocked how much whey comes out when you  make a cheddar, as there are only 8% milk solids in milk. A lot of cheese making techniques such as even curd cutting and slow temperature increases is designed for efficient expulsion of whey. Leaving too much whey in butter for example, can result in it curdling in a few hours. However, there is a huge crisis of whey coming from greek yogurt factories. Since it becomes toxic as it decomposes, it cannot be dumped. Many farmers are being paid to accept whey and mix it in with their animals feed, which is not a natural food source.

And finally, it is not even Greek.

I propose the following solution:

1. Get some (or make some) regular plain yogurt, a bowl, a colander, and some cheese cloth.

2. Put the colander inside the bowl.

3. Line the colander with cheese cloth.

4. Pour the yogurt into the cheese cloth and let drain until it reaches the desired consistency.

5. If you want, you can hang it and leave the “curd” in the cheese cloth overnight. At some point on the continuum it will become “yogurt cheese.” This is entirely up to you at which point you want to spread it on toast rather than eat it out of a bowl. Please see my follow up article, My Epic Takedown of Cream Cheese (yet to be released).

6. Mix in whatever flavoring you like.

and that is how you make greek style yogurt healthfully, at a fraction of the cost, and without creating a poisonous sludge stream of whey.

Ta-Da

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I think Martha Stewart discontinued golden pearl because it smells so bad. I couldn’t find it anywhere! This is antique gold which is almost the same but smells fine. I am really looking forward to doing some old lady crafts while rocking away in this thing. Also, I love spray paint so much I may marry it.

Censorship and Targeted Marketing

 

Since we decided to do open shelves in lieu of cabinets in the new kitchen, I am making an effort to purge some mismatched dishes, and make those that we are keeping a little prettier. One way was this quick and easy project:

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A little chalkboard paint and trader joes (nice glass) herb containers work nicely both to censor Charlize Theron, AND to store dried garden herbs.

Looking forward to getting these little projects done while its cold since spring is coming:

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Just kidding, thats my basement, and further proves that spring is never coming. However, it also proves exactly how wonderful chicken manure is at fertilizing (this is pretty close to Josephina’s jail).

Something else that is keeping me happy until spring:

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When I was studying for the bar I was so miserable because I couldn’t do ANYTHING, so one of the ways I indulged a little was by developing a pretty heavy fancy tea habit (to the tune of…more than $100.00). Since I assume I am literally their best customer, the Republic of Tea now sends me their magazine with a free sample each month. I kid you not, I have bought the full size of every single sample they send. My co-worker suggested they probably talk about me as a success story at marketing meetings. Anyway they sent me this sample and despite my affinity for Downton, the tea is also amazing. And its purple, what more could you ask. The top says “Limited Edition: When its gone its gone!” These people seriously have my number.

In which the weather is so bad Eva and I both spontaneously decide to re-do a room

There has been a fairly solid amount of bitching going on about the weather and the winter around here, but you know things are serious when both Eva and I are so stir crazy we decide to start major home renovation projects on a whim over the weekend.

Right now eva is painting her bedroom the perfect shade of gray while we are doing this:

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Perhaps she can sleep at our house and I can cook at hers? Meals have been mostly this:

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aaaand this is what the living room looks like:

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Thankfully, the home improvement gods heard me say I was bored this morning and Eva and I “rescued” this beautiful rocking chair from the side of the road

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If you have never had the pleasure of living a block away from your best friend you probably should drop everything to do it now, because having someone to run errands with makes everything awesome. Like today for example, when we went to the grocery store and came home with a rocking chair and a slight buzz from the wine and cheese tasting that just happened to be going on. Anyway, this is so nice that I thought maybe someone wanted it even though it was on the curb so if this was less “rescued” and more “stolen” and you know to whom it really belongs, please let me know. We scooped it up into the car and drove away so quickly you would have thought we were professional thieves, or at least garbage women. Eva had the idea to paint it white all over, and do a dip style gold on the legs. Thankfully, I have some of that horrible Martha Stewart gold metallic left over so I can get started, I don’t know…tonight?

What I’m Planting if Spring Ever Comes: Part 2

See part one here:

Sunchoke: Very large native herb, running to form colonies. Produces sweet, nutty-flavored tubers, highly productive. Flowers attract beneficial insects. Cultivated by Native Americans for centuries.

Turkish Rocket: Robust, long-lived plant. Spreads by seed, roots will sprout when damaged. Beautiful yellow flowers, young broccolis are much like broccoli raab – nutty and mustardy.

Eva tells me this is what the british called arugula. This sounds a lot like another perennial arugula, which is good since it is a perennial favorite around here (see what I did there).

Welsh Onion: This perennial scallion forms clumps, which can be thinned for harvest once or twice a year. Mild flavor with just the right amount of oniony zing. Lovely flowers too!

I have been trying to win Anna Hess’s walking onions for two years now. Honestly I think if I didn’t win while I was studying for the bar and refreshing my blogs every 15 minutes, I need to face the facts and admit its never going to happen lol. I think these might be a good (and less invasive) replacement.

Wild Leek (Ramp): Native woodland wildflower, emerges in spring and then dies back for the summer. Leaves have a fantastic onion flavor and bulbs are strong like an onion-garlic mix. Great perennial vegetable for full shade. Popular vegetable for omelets, pastas – the sky’s the limit!

Chinese Yam: Large herbaceous vine with cinnamon-scented flowers in spring, glowing yellow leaves in fall. Produces a large edible tuber after a few years, plus annual harvest of chickpea-sized airial tubers on the vine. These “yamberries” are very good eating roasted with olive oil or boiled and served with butter and salt.

Paradise lot talks a lot about how the first year of their permaculture garden the annuals were taller than the perennials. I suspect this is likely to be true of my garden too, so I am hoping to stuff annuals in wherever I can without crowding these new plants.

I will put lots of greens, radishes, and peas in the back beds between March 15 and May 15, before these new plants arrive. By then hopefully I will be able to see what I have coming up in the front beds. Once it is too warm for the greens, I will rip them out and aspire to put some squash and tomatoes in the back beds in their place. Cucumbers and beans will take the place of the climbing peas. In the front I can put basil, cilantro, beets, carrots, and onions, and garlic (I dropped the ball this fall) wherever they will fit after the frost date (in Michigan May 15). Last year I tried amaranth for the first time and was favorably impressed for a front yard decorative edible.

I also hope to put potatoes in the easement, and have heard that sweet potato vines make great ground cover.

As I’m sure you can tell, spring can’t get here fast enough! Do you have any perennial favorites I’m leaving out?

What I’m Planting if Spring Ever Comes: Part 1

Last year the front yard disappeared a little too late to get a good start on a true permaculture garden. However, we had a pretty impressive annual garden.
Since then, I have been stuffing a lot of random plants into the front yard. I had good intentions of keeping a map and when those fell away I just had the idea to plant in zones, to leave some space free, but then a neighbor generously gave me some bulbs that I had been admiring in her yard and it all went to hell. So, it is probably a good thing that these plants that I purchased today will not be shipped until May 19. I am stealing the descriptions in italics from Permaculture Nursery.
Good King Henry: Perennial vegetable, related to spinach.  Grows well in partial shade.  Medium-sized clumper.  Leaves tasty cooked, very bitter if eaten raw. Low-maintenance. 
This is a shade-producing plant, which I intend to use as ground cover. It contains an acid which is not digestible when eaten raw and in large quantities. However, the shoots, leaves, flowering buds, and seeds are edible. It can also be used as a green or gold dye.
Gooseberry ‘Invicta’Small to medium shrub. Delicious grape-sized fruits, but beware the spiny branches. Does well in partial shade. Tangy fruits great for fresh-eating, jams, baking. 
While the description says this is small or medium, what that means is 3 to 5 feet. I’m hoping to plant this against the front of the house where it will be in full sun, and unable to shade very much around it.
Ground Nut ‘Improved’Medium herbaceous vine, suckering. Native nitrogen-fixing root crop with tasty tubers high in protein. Beautiful leguminous flowers. Cultivated by Native Americans for centuries. This variety has improved tuber size and closer tuber spacing.I don’t know if I would have chosen this plant if not for the nitrogen fixing properties, and the beautiful flowers which are said to smell like violets and are a bee favorite. I honestly don’t even know if I will dig the tubers except later as a means of controlling this spreading vine later. It may be good for near the pine tree or to climb up the chuppah as vertical space can prevent it from taking over horizontally.

Jostaberry: Medium thornless shrub. Tasty cross of black currant and gooseberry. Tart and sweet, great flavor. Fruits well in part shade. Easily propagated from wood cuttings and seed.
While I know both jostaberry and gooseberry will likely take several years to really fruit I really hope I am able to taste at least one of each this year or next!
Pawpaw Seedling ‘Metacomet’: Medium native tree, suckering to form colonies. Large, delicious fruit, sweet and custardlike with a tropical flavor. Delicious in cream pies and fruit desserts or out of hand. Fruit ripens late Septemer into October in Massachusetts. Very pest resistant. Need two for pollination. This variety was bred in Western Massachusetts.

This was a really stupid decision on my part as these are full size trees that I don’t really have room for. By taking out two of the back beds (which I don’t need any more since I have so much room up front) I was able to add the three additional fruit trees I deemed totally necessary this year. Thats right, they are full sized fruit trees which are NOT self-pollinating. And, I suspect I will not like the taste but whatever I guess I will find out in seven years or so.

Perennial Arugula (Sylvetta):
Relative of arugula, strong flavor. Lovely yellow flowers. Self-sows extensively, plant where it won’t smother anything else. Great bee plant. Delicious fresh, cooked, or in pestos. Small perennial bush in warmer climates.
I have heard this is no substitute for real arugula but am excited to try it.
Perennial Wild Bean: 
Small perennial relative of the common bean, native to the Northeast US. Can be cooked and eaten like other beans. Will produce a fair amount of lentil sized beans if many plants are established and seeds harvested in year three. Can grow in some shade, or along a woodland edge.
Again, nitrogen fixing.
Perpetual Sorrel: Clumping leaf crop, wonderful sour flavor. This is a variety that never flowers, so it makes tender greens all season long. Ours comes up under the snow! Great addition to soups and salads (if eaten raw, eat in moderation).
So excited to taste this “sour” green.
Russian Comfrey: Hybrid sterile form of comfrey, doesn’t produce seeds. Great mulch plant and soil builder. Preferred habitat and egg-laying site for many beneficial insects and spiders. Useful medicinal. Edible in moderation. Breaking roots by tilling or digging will result in many new baby plants, choose location wisely.
This is such a bad idea. this spreads so rapidly and can grow an entire new plant in like 3 days. However, it has amazing medicinal qualities (it heals wounds), and I have been told chickens can learn to love it. Additionally, it can serve to fill in some places where we don’t want lawn, want to produce biomass, and have very poor soil. I just need to stay on top of this. My understanding is you top the plant frequently and either compost the leaves or feed them to the chickens.
Sea Kale: Clumping perennial vegetable, suckers if roots are broken by digging. Beautiful honey-scented flowers, fantastic edible broccolis. Ours are more than 10 years old. Shoots also edible in spring, and some tasty leaves can be harvested in fall without weakening plant.
I don’t know if I would have bought this plant except that it was one of the top three recommendations for a starting permaculture garden in Paradise Lot. It is almost like those guys wrote an entertaining advertisement for their company BUT I LOVE IT.
Anyway, since I know this is riveting I will put up another part of my garden plan soon!

A very sad day

Today we had to do something that I thought I would never do. This means that my dad has been right about everything to date except for one. We trimmed a chicken’s beak (Josephina).

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Who would have thought this red ball of fluff would turn into such a bully?

Trimming the beak is a pretty controversial practice. In conventional factories the beak is removed nearly entirely as a matter of course to prevent pecking in unnaturally close quarters. It is not always necessary when chickens have enough room. However, pecking is a self-rewarding behavior so once it starts it is difficult to stop. Our chickens have approximately 27 cubic feet which is much more than is considered humane. It is a balancing act to have enough space for the birds, while maintaining a small enough space for their body heat and the manure pack to heat.

We had tried many solutions including red-kote (which induced more pecking because of the color. Also it made it look like we were running a slaughter house), blu-coat (applied on top of the red-kote turned the chickens purple and didn’t work), sequestering the chickens, and changing their diet. Nothing worked and the other girls are suffering quite a bit. The other day I gave her some treats out of my hand and she pecked at them so hard she nearly drew blood on me, I can’t imagine how much it hurt the other girls who already had open wounds. Also, she looked more and more sad each day living alone in the basement (shades of Blackfish basically). There were no other solutions that didn’t end with her being eaten by someone.

So, we did the deed. John wrapped her up in a towel and I snipped with a dog nail clippers. I think it was most traumatic for me and I made several approaches before I was able to wrap my head around what I was doing. In the end I clipped approximately 1/8 of an inch off the tip on the top only. She may experience some pain and difficulty eating, foraging, or protecting herself. Some of the sites I read suggested she may experience phantom beak like a phantom limb, although I REALLY QUESTION how the chicken was able to communicate that concept to a researcher.

So, this was a real trade off and one I am still not 100% sure I made the right decision on. I’m sure some would argue that the right choice is not to have chickens at all. While I see the merits of that perspective, I really love animals and want to be around them, although as I am learning that seems to go hand in hand with some more questionable practices. A book I am reading, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, as well as many legal scholars, argue that I don’t have the privilege of saying that I want to be around domestic animals. To do so is not to recognize them as an entity free from entanglement with humans. The author also argues that chickens (and dairy cows) are a form of feminized protein, as the food system creates food product from the fruits of a female animals reproductive system.

However, I have also been swayed by the arguments of Joel Salatin from Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice who states that not raising animals contributes to till agriculture. Till agriculture (basically the repeated growth of annual plants such as soy beans and corn) results in monocultures, loss of topsoil, and the necessity of adding more pesticides. These actions eventually lead to the death of wild animals, in the place of those that otherwise would have been cultivated for food. Domestic animals; however, aerate the soil, fertilize it, and create topsoil over time when sustainably managed for food.

So, while I am not about to start eating animals, I think that in the long run 1/8th of an inch of beak may be the lesser of two evils.

I am open to your thoughts! Have you even encountered this problem (by which I mean chickens pecking NOT the inability to handle basic daily tasks without having to basically create a thesis around the morality of doing them. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who struggles with that.)

 

 

My 2014 Word of the Year

I don’t have any photos for you in this post except for one, of my dog, blissfully playing with an onion like its the best present he ever got. photo (16)

Please note how the sunbeam LITERALLY MAKES HIM LOOK LIKE AN ANGEL. Since I assume everyone came to look at pictures of my dog and will now stop reading I will be a little self-indulgent going forward.

I first became aware of the one little word movement after reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I have chosen words more informally in the past and decided this year to really go for it.

My word and theme for 2014 is rebuild. I found it VERY difficult to choose my word. I toyed with a lot of other re- words like restore, revive, recovery. The problem with all of these words is that they imply bringing things back to life. There are a lot of things I have tried, let go of, and no longer want to feel tied to. Rebuild seems to more imply a freedom to take what I like, and build it up in the coming year.

Law school, and especially the bar, wore me out in a whole new way. I am still in awe when I get home from work and can choose what to do. For a while the choices were overwhelming and I couldn’t do anything at all. Now, I am starting to do more things, but am trying to consciously only add the things I really like doing.

In another sense, I am trying to rebuild financially in order to purchase more property next year. It is very difficult for me to be patient and not want everything right now. However, by taking this year to save and plan I am able to be more financially secure, make a better decision, and research things like location and soil testing.

I also contemplated words like gentle, slow, and softness. While these are what would be good words for the next few months, I don’t think they will last a whole year. I just need to rebuild the comfort I have being home and stress free so that I am recharged when it comes time for me to for me to challenge myself again.

I sort of panicked yesterday when I didn’t have a word yet and asked my friends. One suggested growth and I said I didn’t feel up to having growth as a primary goal this year, it was a rebuilding year (like the Wolverines, ahem). So, it turns out I already had my word, I just had conjugated it incorrectly.

With that, I hope you have a happy and safe New Years Ever, and I would love to hear your word if you are choosing one.

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