This morning when I woke up, I had this blog post already written in my head. As I scanned it while thinking about it, I knew I had to get up and write it down immediately. This is a long post, but important and necessary. I also apologize to anyone who is a dedicated blog post reader and has heard this all before. I think I need to reiterate it to remind myself.
Ever since I was small, I loved nature. I don’t know why particularly, I just did. Growing up, I loved spending time in the country, around plants and animals and anything from the natural world. I took biology and ended up taking Agriculture in University.
Looking at career options, I was not pleased. A good paying job was most likely to be found in a province that I was not willing to live in (for several reasons), so I got sidetracked into a job that kept me in this location, but not really contributing to anything on the nature side of things. I had access to nature, but not a viable way to contribute to it’s health in the form of a career.
The main thing I didn’t want was a commute, which I had done previously for 2 years and which was draining and annoying and can take the life right out of you if done too long. Finally I was able to create a self-sustaining business right here where I lived.
So, now there was the time and energy for nature. I suspect this might have something to do with many people’s lack of interest or ability to contribute to the health of the planet – being tired and stressed from work. Change takes effort and when your effort is going into a job that is energy draining (as most are), you have little left after work for anything but the basics.
Anyway, this year we, Ernie and I, have decided to make a serious effort to live differently. We have been moving towards this for several years and refining our thinking and actions and have come up with many things that we feel will help move us and others towards living more kindly towards the planet. We are also now actively promoting this lifestyle to people (tactfully), hoping that they will make a few changes to their lifestyles to help out and make a difference. We do not lecture anyone, but simply mention things we and others can do in our daily conversations with people in our area.
The following are the things we ourselves are doing to feel that we are working towards the goal of protecting the health of our planet.
- Working towards growing all our own vegetables and fruits. We grow 80% of our veggies but only about 25% of our fruit. Producing our own fruit is more difficult but not impossible. We buy oranges, blueberries in season, cherries in season, and macintosh apples which we can’t grow here. We have our own apples, Saskatoons (Service berry), and raspberries. For veggies we buy cauliflower and radishes, both of which we can’t grow here successfully, and hothouse cucumbers from a different province and mushrooms grown locally. Everything else we grow ourselves and process for winter or do without.
- Reducing the amount we drive dramatically and walk as much as possible. This is easy to do especially in cities where you have public transit and can cycle most times of the year. In the country it is more difficult especially if you choose to live away from a larger centre where things need to be trucked in or you have to drive longer distances to get somewhere or buy something. As society moves towards more digital based commerce, it is likely that most things will be delivered which will save on individual car driving.
- Feed our pets as naturally and with as little waste as possible. Our dogs eat mostly raw meat, with some cooked foods such as sardines and tripe. Meat and eggs are obtained as much as possible from local ranchers/farmers. Sometimes we have to buy meat from the store, but if we do that, we save the plastic and styrofoam meat trays and reuse them for many things. There is almost no waste, where as if we fed dry dog food we would be throwing away big dog food bags, about three larges one a month. These are lined with aluminum and plastic for freshness and are not recyclable.
- Attempting to eliminate new purchases of plastic items and reduce the use of disposable plastics. This is a non-negotiable. I feel this is the most serious environmental issue that needs to be addressed currently. If we have some re-usable plastic, we won’t get rid of it just because we don’t want plastic around, but use it until it is not in good condition anymore. We don’t use shampoo anymore (water wash only) and very few store bought personal products so there is much less plastic waste. This is an area I’d like to reduce even more.
- We RE-USE EVERYTHING at least once. If it can’t be re-used, we will try not to buy it or find an alternative to it that is re-usable.
- Find new uses for most, if not all things that would normally be thrown out. This includes clothing, furniture, wood or any building material etc.
- Composting our waste. There is much that can be composted that people are not aware of, that would reduce the amount of garbage, maybe not useable for food plants, but compostable nevertheless. Cardboard is compostable by worms for instance.
- Support ethical and low-intensity animal farming for meat. We will never be vegan as veganism is not a diet but an ethical position that rejects using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other reasons, like having pets. Yes, if you have a pet you cannot be vegan by definition. I would resort to calling yourself a “strict plant-based eater” instead. I consider myself a plant-based” eater because my diet is based on plants, but I also eat meat and eggs and a very small amount of artisan cheese. I will also not give up my connection with other species on this planet especially dogs. I feel it is a natural way for humans to live, interacting with animals. That said, I do not agree with factory or large scale animal farming. People can eat less meat and we can raise and slaughter food animals better and more humanely. We can live in harmony with animals in our lives and in domesticity. If I can’t have animals in my life because of the beliefs of a few radical people, I don’t want to be here at all.
- We save things from the garbage. There are so many things being thrown out in dumps and landfills that shouldn’t or don’t need to be thrown out. Ernie and other people we know have salvaged many, many things from being burned at the dump, and we have found ways to reuse these things.
- When we buy food, we make a great effort to buy products that are produced in this country, and even better, from within our community. All our meat and eggs come from local farmers and ranchers. It is not more expensive when you eat less. We also eat wild meat, specifically deer, which is low in fat as all wild meats are. For those of you who are opposed to hunting but still eat meat, unless you only purchase meat from animals that are dispatched on the farm and under no stress from transporting, then the meat is not at the highest quality. Wild deer are not terrorized by hunting anymore than they would be if they were being hunted by wolves or coyotes, whereas transporting animals to a slaughterhouse is very stressful on the animals.
- We don’t follow fashion trends. If something is not “trendy” or current in style we don’t get rid of it. Fashion is not really important. That being said, for some people it is important, but it is a throw-away culture. Furniture, knick-knacks, clothing, etc can be kept, saved, reused. Humans do need re-adjustment on the way we think about consuming things. We choose to buy good quality, and yes, more expensive items that last longer and do not give these things an expiry date based on what the current fashion or trends are. If something is in bad shape we simply find other uses for it until it is no more. I like the idea of finding one’s own style without the influence of consumerism. There are some amazing products in the marketplace that are high quality and unique and thoughtfully made. This is what I look for when thinking about a purchase (which isn’t often).
- Houseplants. Or how about just plants in general. Need I say more? OK, I will. I’m obsessed with plants. It’s what I studied in university. I love them. Tree, shrubs, flowers, food plants, houseplants. They are useful (in all kinds of ways) and houseplants bring nature into the home. The more I have the better I feel mentally. Having a few or several in your home is beneficial for you and your surroundings, reminding us even in snowy and cold winters (if you have them) that the plant, and planet, needs assistance to live.
- Writing about what we’re doing. This is a great way to spread information and ideas to assist others in changing perceptions about how we live. Ernie and I don’t presume to know what you do or can do in your own area, but where we live, since the community is small, we can come in contact easily with others to communicate information. Writing and posting on the internet is the same thing. Easy and convenient, and it works. If you think about it, I’ll bet there are several things you could do where you live now to spread the word.
I’m sure there are more things that you and I can and will come up with to contribute in your way to this planet project, which MUST be done now. There is now more fooling around and we cannot go back. We must do this together.
I’m going to address each of the things above in much more detail in regular blog posts starting today (well yesterday, May 1st 😉). It won’t be a daily post, but it will be posted!
Now that I have said all this, I want to emphasize, that this post is NOT a criticism list, to make people feel crappy about how little they are doing. This is a SUGGESTION list, describing mostly what we do ourselves and what CAN be done, and how important I feel this is. We want to encourage you ( I know most of you who read this are already doing this stuff) and show how easy it is to do some of these things, give ideas and to impress upon people how important it is to do these things. That’s it. We’re not saying how great we are, or that you’re a bad person for not doing what we are. Instead, I’m simply giving information. If you feel defensive or angry at some of these suggestions, that is not my fault. It is something for you to examine within yourself, why you feel that way.
Then, once you have done that, take action and do something great for your city/town, province/state, community, and most importantly for yourself and your family!
It’s not spring yet here – far from it, but there are already new plants growing in our house. We don’t usually plant this early but we were ready to see some new green happening here. Being a conserver and a seed saver, I started a container of chives seeds that were saved from our garden, without much hope of anything coming up.
It is nice to see that the seeds were viable and started growing quite quickly actually. These plants will be transplanted and sold at our spring plant sale.
Another planting we made was a DATE seed of all things that I bit down on while eating dates. I did a quick search, which told me that it was possible to grow these as long as they weren’t irradiated. I planted it without much hope – one seed – and it is growing.
This date, if all goes well, will be added to our house plant collection, which is small now but growing, really.
Our lemon trees – two of them – planted last year are doing amazingly well. They love the sun, even in the summer and have thrived all winter in the lower light.
So this experiment on planting seeds has been successful, especially from a conserver homestead point of view.
Plant seeds, any, and enjoy.
This year we have planted some of our starts early. We’re did this because we’re experimenting with growing conditions to see if we can get some early lettuce for one. That is one food plant that we don’t buy from the store.
It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in the sun, now that the sun is stronger at this time of year. Unfortunately, they sprouted faster than I had thought they would and got quite leggy. After several days in the full sun from 9 am to about 5 pm the lettuce plants have thickened up.
We have them on a table that we move from window to window to get the best view of the sun. Our plan was to set up artificial light, but so far we have not done that. The sun seems to be enough. We have east facing in the morning and south facing in the afternoon.
There are several plants that survived the winter, and a few that didn’t. We lost two rosemary plants, the thyme, a pepper and a parsley. I have one pepper left which has aphids, but none have reached maturity because of being squished by my thumb and forefinger and getting regular showers. That’s working very well.
If you compare the picture of the pepper below with the one in the featured image above, it’s clear that there has been quite a bit of change. It’s now blooming. I have hand pollinated it, and now there are small peppers forming. I also pinched a couple of blooms to reduce the number in order to lessen the stress on the plant. As you can see, the leaves are still fairly small.
This week I will be planting our peppers – sweet and hot – for our spring starts sale and to grow for ourselves and for sale. It definitely feels like spring here now.
Last night we had a killing frost. Not that there was much on the garden. Just Brussels Sprouts, Rhubarb, some beans drying, and Horseradish of course.
Inside the house, however, is a different story. Mostly with regards to the tomatoes. In fact it seems that everyone in our area had a bumper tomato crop and we can’t give the things away.
So we’re canning juice, freezing ketchup and plain tomatoes and making soup. We were able to reduce the bags of frozen tomatoes from last year to zero, but we still have over 30 jars of canned tomatoes from last year in the cellar.
We decided to stop processing the tomatoes because we have enough. This is the total of what we put away:
29 canning quart jars of juice
11 large freezer bags of whole tomatoes
10 reused peanut butter jars of marinara sauce
18 pb jars or ketchup
and we have some romas still in the fridge for fresh eating.
and again this is added to the 29 canned jars already in the cellar.
Nuts, I know.
Next year we will not be planting tomatoes. Well, OK we’ll plant a few for fresh fruit but that’s it.
We did have some left and Ernie took them to his sister who doled them out at the Drop-In and to immediate family that needed some. That went over quite well and none were wasted.
About The Garlic
I planted the garlic by myself this year. Ernie was busy with other things so I did all the planting, which is fine.
We bought new garlic seed this year from professional garlic growers. Marino, Gaia’s Joy and Northern Quebec are the names. This garlic is prairie adapted to our area.
We also purchase new seed from the organic vegetable farmer we originally bought from years ago and found out that he buys seed every year from a different province. This means it is not prairie adapted and would likely explain why we are having trouble with it.
We will therefore be reducing the plantings of this variety – I can’t remember what he said the name of it was – in favour of smaller types of garlic produced locally.
Altogether I planted 250 cloves in three different locations. Below is a picture of the new garlic bed. The chairs and pail are to help prevent the dogs from running through it.
Peppers Were Successful
We had a pretty good crop of peppers considering we didn’t plant as many as two years ago. There were enough to put away quite a few containers in the freezer. Peppers are on par here with garlic with regards to importance. We have decided to up the pepper production next year.
We now have a good method of starting, transplanting and increasing speed of production for our area. Pepper tents are a must here and work wonders.
And of course cabbage, herbs, beans, peas were all good this year as well. We left most of our beans to dry and will do that next year as well. Neither of us care much for processed beans, so we will only be eating fresh.
We had trouble with corn since it was so dry and grass bound so they were stunted. But they gave a little produce anyway.
And the potatoes. Well, lets say we’ll be buying in the spring. This year was so dry that we got half of what we had last year. We need to plant in a different location next year as well and make a few soil amendments that I will discuss at a later date.
So that’s it for the garden. Now on to other homestead things like cooking and eating, crafts and art and small town life. And maybe a bit of travelling. And writing…
Over a year ago, I did an experiment of sorts in my kitchen. Using the local Co-op weekly sales flyer, I chose food items up to $10 per day to see if a family of two could feed itself well on that amount.
The problem I have found is that eating “well” is a subjective term. Some people think that eating well means eating at restaurants or buying as much convenience food as they want. OR it could mean a certain quality or price of food.
All this is just avoiding learning how to eat well for less. It can be done.
To remind ourselves from the last post: The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:
Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.
From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments such as ketchup or left over from previous purchases of food you could use those to spruce things up.
At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project.
The point is use what is available.
The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.
Day 2: Carrots, Banana, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00
With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelievably good.
So now you have pasta and soup with some fruit.
We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However, the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower. Eating this canned food is NOT what I would call eating well.
I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well.
The key to eating this way is to learn how to cook. It’s as simple as that, or as difficult.
Cooking for oneself takes time and effort, just like anything else worthwhile. Our society has moved away from that. The focus is on ready made, packaged foods. You get addicted to these and the convenience of them. They are part of the disconnect between how people work and how people live. They are easy and simple – and not nourishing.
I am not saying this to point the finger of blame at anyone or of how people live, just a statement of fact. My goal is to educate people to see that it is not as difficult as they might believe and to encourage a bit more food security into their lives – learning how to prepare their own food. That is the whole point of this blog.
Many people go to jobs daily that suck the life out of them. They are then exhausted and don’t have the energy to prepare good food for themselves. There is a different way.
This happened to Ernie during his working life in the big city. Work was from 7 am to 3 pm. Luckily his commute was only about 20 mins each way, but at the end of the work day he would go home and sleep for an hour before eating a meal or two hours after the meal. When he changed his life from working at this job, his food selections changed as well.
Working at something you don’t feel good about or are not connected with depletes your energy just like eating crappy food. I know, I’ve done both.
If you feel defensive when reading this post you may not be secure in your food or other choices. Please don’t post a negative comment. The intention is not to try and insult you (I am not that much in control of your thinking anyway ;-).
There are people who need help and it is to those people that this post is directed. Thanks you.
I will continue this experiment as planned and post the results here shortly – with a few modifications. Day 3 and 4 will be posted on soon.
Several years ago, we had an almost complete garlic crop failure. At the time, we had been selling some and building up the seed so we could have even more to sell. This also happened to many other people including local garlic growers and organic vegetable farmers, although they were not almost wiped out as we were.
All that disappeared in one winter. The cause: very little snow cover.
Not only did the garlic suffer but most of the plants that usually seed themselves also did not come back. We usually had volunteer spinach – a lot of it – and it all died out. Even the dill and cilantro was reduced in numbers.
But the most severe effect was on the garlic.
Now we have a nice patch growing but there will be little if any for sale. Last year we did have some that we made garlic powder from in our homemade dehydrator. That can go a long way but you always need fresh garlic. What extra we will have is already sold to the first people who asked in the spring this year.
If they miss out, it will be first come first serve.
Most of this year’s crop will go to seed for next year.
I was also able to find some of the small garlic “seeds” among the cloves which I planted in a herb bed. They’re doing amazing and should give us some second year bulbs. There are about 20 or so plants. I had TWO second year garlic bulb which I put in another herb bed and both came up.
This is the first time I have followed our garden plants this closely, so I should be able to keep track a bit better what we have.
The most important thing when planting garlic for yourself (which I encourage EVERYONE to do) is buy good seed and plant in the fall. Many people have called us over the years to ask why their garlic didn’t amount to anything. There are two reasons.
ONE: They are buying garlic from the grocery store to use for seed.
Garlic from the store may be treated with something to prevent germination. If it is not, it is still not appropriate to plant because it is not acclimatized to where you are planting.
TWO: They’re planting the seed in the spring.
This does not give the garlic enough time to come up and produce really good heads. They need that early start, especially in continental climates that have cold winters.
So aside from all the garlic troubles of the past, the garlic that we have is doing well and we are on the way to our goal of restocking our seed garlic and having enough to sell.
We were able to harvest and sell some of the garlic scapes from these plants, which were very nice, and I put the rest of them away for ourselves for the winter. I use them in soups, stews and sauces, omelettes. Just about anything really.
This August we will purchase new seed of a variety that is known to the seller. When I purchased the seed for what we have now, I neglected to ask what the name was, so it is just large purple garlic.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have absolutely NO garlic at all for a year. I don’t and won’t buy from the store unless I know it it local, so hopefully this problem won’t happen again.
Garlic is our most important garden plant.
We have two oregano beds that survived the winter. This plant is interesting because it is obviously not native to this region, yet is survives our ridiculously difficult winters. There is always some die-back and some sections of the beds don’t come back, but they always spread.
Both of our oregano beds have a north facing exposure so this is even more interesting to me. Because this herb is so useful, it is a good idea for everyone to plant a little and dry some for use in the off season.
This year I am planting more because of our venture into market gardening. The old beds needed refreshing so I harvested as much as I could very early. The stems were very short but I pinched them down to the ground.
The second bed has even more to be harvested which has yet to be done. All of this will be dried for our own use. The first batch I dried on an old cookie sheet but the second harvest will be dried in our homemade dehydrator.
The remaining beds will be removed, some good sections will be replanted in different locations, and the dead sections composted. The roots on these plants are VERY tough and difficult for me to even get a shovel into. This must be why they are so good at surviving the winters here.
I use oregano in many different things that we eat like the obvious – pizza, tomato sauce, salsa, salad, etc. but I also put some in my dog’s food – dried of fresh – from time to time.
Some people believe that giving greens to dogs is a not species appropriate but I don’t think that at all. In small amounts this and other culinary herbs are a benefit to dogs. I have been using them for years with no issues. Dogs that are not used to things like this should be started on them slowly using COMMON SENSE.
So I harvested quite a bit of early oregano for drying and now that is something I don’t have to think about for the rest of the summer. We have as much as we need for ourselves so I can concentrate on selling the rest.