Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Science Barge

Here's an inspiring video that illustrates sustainable urban agriculture through hydroponics, wind and solar energy. It has me motivated to dust off my 350 gallon rain tank and start thinking about putting it to good use.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

The great thing about backyard gardening for the health benefits is the often unintentional result of eco-activism. At our house gardening was born from a desire to be sure that the food I serve my children is free from harmful chemicals and hormones but that very inward focused reasoning quickly produced a sense of overwhelming pride and responsibility. We began to see gardening as a means to wean ourselves from depending on large agribusinesses that cared more about their profits than the health of their consumers. With every tomato and head of lettuce we grow we are reducing our carbon footprints and becoming stewards of the awesome gift that God gave to us.

As the economy dips to new lows we are seeing more people turn back to victory gardening to make ends meet financially. I find it so ironic and a bit amusing that such an "earth shattering" event would produce a movement that actually focuses on healing the soils that feed us. So this year I am choosing to spend Earth Day reflecting on the hopefulness that is sometimes hard to find in the current economic state.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dehydrators are Fun!

A few months ago a friend turned me on to dehydrating. Now I can stock up on produce when it's on sale or in season and I have a way of preserving it and having a way to store surplus harvest is a MUST for survival gardening. Also, we are now always fully stocked with easy and nutritious snacks like apple, banana, and melon chips and homemade fruit rolls-ups. They come out of the dehydrator practically weightless and perfect for those who are inclined to go on long hikes. (I have fallen off the horse since having kids but envy those who are brave enough to drag a two-year-old out for an afternoon hike. Maybe I'll get spontaneously courageous this year ;)

I recently scored a great deal at Meijer on organic mushrooms and carrots. I am still new to this so I haven't used them yet but rumor has it that you can use dehydrated vegetables just as you would fresh by adding a little water and cooking as usual. These could be packaged together in different combinations for soups, etc. and sealed in your Foodsaver to stay dry and ready for making yummy meals on the go. Think camping, road trips, and inexpensive lunch at the office.

Anyone have a good recipe that uses dehydrated veggies? I'd love to hear it!

New to this like me? Check out this book:

Easter Eggs "Au Naturel"

It's a bit late but I wanted to make sure to share our Easter Egg "Au Naturel" experience. Maybe it can be inspiration for next year's Easter plans. This is the second year that we've chosen to color eggs using things commonly found at home and for the most part they turned out great. Here's what I used for each color:

Yellow = turmeric

Brown = onion peels

Blue Swirls = red cabbage

Lavender = 100% grape juice

Tan = apple/raspberry juice and paprika

I forgot until after I had already hard boiled a dozen that dying them this way requires boiling them in their dyes so some of them were twice boiled. Oops. But they didn't taste terrible. In fact nobody even seemed to notice a difference Easter morning or maybe they were just being really nice, wonderful people.

Being the very impulsive person that I am there was no measuring. I just filled some saucepans with water and the ingredients above, added a few spoonfuls of vinegar and voila! If you plan to do this next year beware of the stinkyness. You might want to spare your family and wait until you have the house to yourself for an hour or two. And it's not the best system to involve children in since it centers around a stove top of simmering dyes. I did mine after the kids were in bed.

Also, while I was very pleased with the turmeric and onion peels (although I must admit buying brown eggs would be much easier) I won't try paprika again since it didn't dissolve but left a gritty feel to the eggshells. And the cabbage and juice eggs should have soaked in the fridge overnight for more intense color but I am far too impatient for that.

After they had cooled I brushed them in vegetable oil to make them shiny. If the eggs are room temperature the oil isn't greasy at all but when they are cold the oil makes them slippery so be careful when handling them.

I'm no Martha Stewart but I do love how "organic" they look and they were a nice conversation piece on Easter. The process is worth it if you're adventurous in the kitchen and willing to experiment. Try this with anything that has a rich color or that stains your hands when working with it like berries or spinach.

Next year my daughter will be old enough to dye eggs so we'll probably head back to the "good old fashioned" way that I remember from my childhood featuring colored fizzy tablets and wax crayons.

Monday, April 6, 2009

And Then There Were Five

Sexy May died Friday afternoon. It would have to be the only one I was moderately attached to. I was showing the chicks off to some family members who came for a visit and it seems all the excitement was too much for her. Right there on front of the whole crowd she had a seizure and died. Burned in my memory is my two-year-old laughing hysterically at May's bizarre antics while everyone else held their breath. I'm so relieved that she doesn't yet understand the finality of death yet. That conversation will come later.

Ironically and a bit sadistic I broke my eight year meat fast this weekend. Since I had my mom in town we bought a couple 4lb chickens free of growth hormones or antibiotics and she showed me how to dress and roast them. They were delicious! And the leftovers made some awesome chicken soup which came in handy since the kids and I all have colds.

On the garden front we now have broccoli, spinach, arugula, romaine, black seeded simpson leaf lettuce, ringmaster and scallion onions, and cabbage all up and doing well. So far I am very pleased with the square foot system and can't wait to harvest.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Flock

I'd like to introduce our flock. We have 2 golden comets, 2 barred plymouth rocks, and 2 araucanas. Aren't they cute?

The second one from the left is my favorite and the only one I've named. I call her Maybelline because of her sexy outlined eyes. Oh God, did I really just call a chicken sexy?
Here's a barred plymouth rock and an araucana. They already look way different than this. And I thought my kids grew fast!

And here's part of my own flock adoring the chicks.

So far the chickens have been such a great thing for especially Evie. She is learning how to be gentle with animals and responsibility in keeping them clean and fed. My little animal lover is having the time of her life and I'm learning through her that having them around can be kind of enjoyable. Although I think most of my enjoyment will come in the form of delicious fresh eggs all year round. Mmmm, can't wait!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let's Start at the Beginning

If you told me three months ago that I'd be living in a an inner-city mansion raising chickens and becoming a "Certified Master Composter" I'd have thought you were hitting the sauce a bit hard but here I am. It's amazing what crazy twists can come from listening to what God has in store for you and then having the guts to let go of your raft.

The purpose of this blog is to record the process of creating a homestead in the city. So here's where we begin:

My family and I moved from the suburbs into an eight bedroom home in the city to do life with several others. While there are challenges associated with joining very independent lives under the same roof we are becoming a family of choice. Somewhere along the way we got the idea of raising chickens (I still can't remember how that one happened) and on March 22 we rather impulsively picked up our 6 "baby kiks" as our 2-year-old has taken to calling them. Now they are 2 weeks old and getting kind of fowl-like and it has me thinking that maybe we should have done some reading before committing to chickenhood. But regrets are pointless so I suppose we should just get used to the idea of being the neighborhood weirdos. On top of the mansion and the chickens I've gone head deep into organic gardening. The good people at Cincinnati's Civic Garden Center are probably sick of seeing me and I've only lived in town for 2 months. I've logged enough hours learning about compost to certify me as a "Master Composter". What is happening to my predictable little world that used to revolve around snacktime, playdates and trips to the park? Now my time is devoted to poop and worms. To make matters even more ridiculous we've started a square foot garden. Now, the square foot garden thing isn't all that strange but considering the recommended starting point for a beginner is 48 sq ft our 240 is rather lofty. The plan is to grow pumpkins and muskmelons 6 feet in the air. Our upper crust neighbors aren't going to know what to think. Most of the time I barely know what to think!

Thanks for checking me out. Welcome to my world.