February 2010



Stats today: 130 seedlings, 12 gallons sap, 1/3 tray of microgreen sprouts, 0 mushrooms (we had technical difficulties and will be starting the mushrooms over this weekend).

I’ve read several books in the past few years.  One was `Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you haven’t read it and are interested in finding out the answer to, “What am I eating?”, then you should pick it up.  That’s a sincere question. I, for a while, wanted to live in denial. I knew animals were killed for my meal, I knew my food probably had cancerous spray on it and that a zillion hands touched it on its way over miles and miles to my table. If you don’t think about it – it is easier to swallow.

While in the bookstore a few years ago, I picked up The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I wasn’t looking for it at all, but the title caught my eye. “I have a dilemma? What is it?” The author takes us through several meals – one meal is from industrial farming where corn is the main ingredient. -either fed to the animals, fed to me in the form of corn syrup (which I find it fascinating now there are advertisements about, “What’s wrong with it? Corn syrup is fine in moderation”) or processed into chemicals. This part of the book really caught my attention. Cows don’t normally eat corn as part of their diets. I know when I eat corn, a lot of it doesn’t get processed by my body and becomes waste (sorry, icky, tried to make that as non-icky as possible). I know we had to switch Daisy’s food to “low residue” food because the other food she was eating made her vomit. A lot. Also, what is corn really, but starch/sugar. Nothing there but filler, really and it was the first ingredient in her food.

Pollan takes us through a few other meals – an Organic Meal, but one that is deceiving – big store organic. The organic salad you’re eating is wrapped in plastic, then put in a plastic box and shipped all the way across the country in a refrigerated truck powered by petroleum. Ooh, you’re saving the world!! (My words, not Pollan’s.) I will admit, we do buy these greens at our grocery store, but everything we’re doing, everything we’re documenting, is to enable us to not do that anymore.

The next meal was a local meal – one type of meal that has caught on recently. Eat local! Buy meat and veggies grown from local farmers using sustainable practices. We’ve been trying to do this as much as possible, going to Farmers’ Markets, buying meat from a local grower.

The final meal was one he produced himself – he hunted, gathered, grew, then cooked, baked and chewed.  When I closed the book, I felt a little lost, I guess I was looking for Pollan to spell out the conclusion – give me the, “Here’s what you’re supposed to do.” He didn’t, but that was smart of him because all I could do was think about it all and what it meant to us and how we wanted to live.

I preached the praises of this book for a while, yet, could not lend it to anyone. I was embarrassed. Here’s why.

We were obsessed with learning how to make the perfect whoopie pie at the time. In the first batch, we got the filling right, but not the cake. In the second batch,we tried a new recipe and liked the cake, but not the filling. In the third batch, we still didn’t quite get the cake right (my responsibility), yet the filling was perfect (Keith’s doing.) I have a reputation at my day job for being a good baker. There was no way I was bringing dinner-plate size whoopie pies to the office. So, we ate the failures.

One day I was reading a section of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Page 299 to be exact, where Pollan was quoting a Canadian historian who has written social histories of American eating, “…that taste is not a true guide to what should be eaten; that one should not eat simply what one enjoys…” It was at this point that Daisy jumped on my lap, startling me so much that I shut the book.  I had been eating a whoopie pie while reading and shut it INSIDE the book.  Now you see why I can’t lend it to anyone – the very large stains on page 299 and page 300.

I laughed for a while at that story. I shared it with others because it was funny. I feel a little bit ok – we made them ourselves. Yes, they had shortening in them, and chocolate isn’t grown locally, but we saw what went into them and made the decision to eat them.

So, am I a hypocrite? Probably, but we’re going into it with eyes open. We may not go completely off the grid and I expect we will still go to the grocery store, and it really isn’t about saving the earth, although that would be nice. It is about doing it ourselves and the feeling that comes with it.


We’ve been busy on the DaisyPatch homestead. The heat mats in the basement are making seedlings pop up very quickly (4 days for the Husk Cherries to germinate, whereas last year it took weeks without that heat mat!) We started some Arugula and Mache microgreens as well as the tomatoes, husk cherries,  peppers, and poppies we started. I look forward to trying those. The sap buckets are 1/2 full and were only tapped 3 days ago. Keith picked up the plastic for the greenhouse and we are planning a barn raising as soon as the weather permits (3 days of freezing rain expected on the Seacoast starting…ok, just looked outside…starting NOW) AND, we have signs of life outside.

Catnip

Snowy Oregano

I may make some Catnip/Oregano tea just to say, “I grew it.” Maybe not, that sounds gross.

Betty the cat ate all the Catnip I picked after taking this picture, then, she slept all day. She’s allowed, she’s 15. That’s not a bad idea. I deserve a little rest, too, don’t I? Small private vow, the first salad we eat from our greens, I’m going to have it with a cup of Catnip tea and then take a nap. Now that sounds pretty nice.


It was 50 degrees yesterday and definitely time to taple the maple tree. Last year, Keith surprised me by all of a sudden being knowledgeable in how to do this. He accelerated from zero to farmer almost overnight. I came home from the day job to 2 taps on the maple tree just outside the front door.

 

Hold my hand as I take you into the way back files and relive my early memories of making maple syrup. Don’t be scared, I’m right here with you.

My parents moved to a very small town (no stop lights and no neon signs allowed per town ordinance) in Vermont when I was one month into my Freshman year of high school. Vermont is Maple Syrup country. These people take it seriously. Any February, as you drive to  and from, you can look into the woods and see, not buckets, but miles and miles of tubing. These tubes are hooked onto the tree taps and gravity moves the sap to a large collection container which is then picked up and brought to the sugar house for boiling.

One year, my Dad decided to tap the sugar maple at the back of our property. The tree was huge and had never been tapped. He gathered a lot of sap. Having just an electric stove in the kitchen, he put the sap in the largest pot we had and put in on the bbq grill and commenced the boiling process. He forgot about it and came to check on it hours later, only discovering a big lump of burned, black sugar, like coal, stuck to the bottom of the pot. I don’t recall if the pot could be saved. It smelled awful, but he got an “A” for effort. Making Maple Syrup experience #1.

Several years later, I was living in Townsend, VT. I rented a beautiful post and beam home from a couple who decided to pack their truck, load up their Husky and travel the country for a few years. They needed someone to watch the house and the Alaskan Malamutes. (To keep you coming back to the DaisyPatch, I will tease you that someday, I will share the story about me defending these dogs from a pack of wild coyotes wearing nothing but a bathrobe and brandishing a Ruger rifle.)

The home-owner’s parents lived next door (which, in this area of Vermont, was a mile or so down the road) and ran a sugaring operation. I got to see the whole process. I put on the shit-kicker boots, hitched the dogs to their leashes and let them drag me to the sugar house. (You don’t walk Alaskan Malamutes, they walk you. Their owner used to have them drag her on a dogsled. I didn’t have the courage to try that while they were in my care, I should have.)

The folks were very nice. The sugar shack was basically a shed with a big-ass wood stove and a large steaming vat in the middle of the room where the sap boiled. My glasses fogged up and my hair instantly frizzed. They had me try sugar-on-snow for the very first time. I would like to get romantic here (dare I say, ‘sappy’?) and tell you that it was at that moment I knew I’d want to make maple syrup one day. Not true. Sugar-on-snow was wet snow. There was nothing special about it. Try as I might, I couldn’t taste the sugar in the sap that was drizzled over a snowball. I was polite, however, and appropriately, “Mmm”ed and “Yumm”ed as they watched my face during my first taste. I remember looking cautiously at the black flecks that had been in the sap and were now sitting on top of the wet snowy mushball they had prepared for me and were now making me eat.  All I could think was, “Bug parts.” Making Maple Syrup experience #2.

So, when Keith tapped the tree last year, I was like, “Eh, whatever.” Now, however, I love it. Keith watched a video on YouTube and did some research to reinforce what he already knew about how syrup was made from sap. When all was said and done, he got about a gallon of syrup. I have to say, it tastes better than any syrup I’ve tasted. It has a maplysyrupy taste, but after you swallow, the finish is very green – fresh – outdoorsy. Like a fresh cut lawn. We gave some away and kept some in the freezer. I had some this AM on my pancakes. I will debate with anyone that there isn’t much better in this world than homemade pancakes with homemade syrup. Making Maple Syrup experience #3 was way better than the other two. Maybe it’s because it’s our trees and it’s Keith making the syrup. A little bit of love always makes pancakes taste better.

So, Roy and Jen came over yesterday afternoon and we made a little ceremony about tapping the tree.

About 3-4 feet up from the base of the tree, drill a hole. Slant the hole upwards a bit.

Roy doing the honors

 Then, insert the spout.

 You can see the hook hanging off the spout. That’s where the bucket hangs.

 Next, pop on the bucket.

The maple tree split at the bottom, so it is basically 2 trees. Jen and I did the next one and we’re going to have a little competition about the guy’s tree against the girl’s tree. Fun with maple syrup.

This was all yesterday. Today, Keith tapped three of the good neighbor’s trees and we’re off and running. When Daisy and I went out today, I could hear the plink plink of sap dripping into the metal buckets. It was a good sound. It meant self-sufficiency, it meant friendship, it meant there were pancakes in our future.


The continuing story of a chicken coop that’s gone to the dogs (please let me know if you catch that Muppet reference, because it made me giggle to myself a little bit and I need to know if I did that alone or if someone shared it. Thanks.)

Here’s the latest on Ms. Cheever and her fight to keep her chickens. http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20100202-NEWS-2020348

Cheever was told that she was in violation of having more than the town-allotted four domestic pets to a residence, as well as a zoning ordinance that requires a farm to be 200 feet from a neighboring property.

Cheever appealed the finding of Building Inspector Richard Mabey by disputing the town ordinance. 

According to the agriculture zoning ordinance, farm buildings that house four or fewer animals that are not raised or kept commercially, but are for family use or pleasure, shall be exempt from the provisions of being 200 feet of a neighboring property, but rather shall not be erected within 50 feet of a neighboring property.

According to her attorney, Richard Clark, Cheever meets the criteria of this exception.

I love this part: If the ZBA does not grant her variance, Cheever has the right to move her case to superior court due to the conflict of state and town law.

So it isn’t even a matter of – which came first, the neighbor or the chicken, it boils down to – which wins, the State or the town. Either way, rooting for Ms. Cheever.

*

On another note, I am not fast enough to take a picture, so sorry, nothing to show here, but for those who know and love him, Mr. Bunny is back. DaisyMae has chased after him twice so far…in the dark. Bitch. Both times, Keith tells me, she’s gotten to a certain point and just stops running, realizing she’ll never catch him.

Hm…I wonder what she’d do if she caught him… Run, Mr. Bunny, run.

*

The replacement grow lights finally arrived in the mail (the 48 hours-to-ship promise on the website was a big fat lie!) and we’re back in business. Keith is keeping track of germination rates, watering, venting, installing lights, etc. I look down the basement stairs on occasion and I type. I am trying to feel guilty about it, I am, but I know that my heavy lifting will come when the weather breaks.

We visited the greenhouse supply this weekend and I felt so grown up. Not because of the plans we’re making, more because it was one of those places where, if my parents dragged me there as a kid, I would have been BORED to tears. Wall displays of seedling trays, different installation mechanisms for attaching the plastic to the greenhouse frame, technical information on heating and cooling the greenhouse, info on hydroponics. I would literally have lay down on the floor in a boredom-induced-fake-death. Instead, Keith was like, “Hey, look at this” and I was, “Oh really, neat! What about this?”

We talked tech with the store manager and will be bringing the plastic home and hope to get it on the greenhouse this week (Thanks in advance, Roy, for helping lend a hand and a truck!) It’ll be enough to cover 2 greenhouses. I am sure whether they get the plastic on will depend upon the weather, as it has been snowing for 11 hours now. This pic is from 6 hours ago.

Greenouse frame in the snow. We know, we have to move the firepit!

I plan on building the low tunnels this weekend, again, weather depending, so I can set out that temp gauge and see what I’m dealing with. Over 35 degrees and the Great Lettuce Experiment will commence. Wish us luck!


I had mentioned in It Ain’t Easy Being Green-House that I would tell you more about tomatoes. Keith had a fantastic tomato crop last year. Well, more than fantastic – he had 2 harvests. Here’s how it happened. He started them under lights in the basement. In January. Yellow Pear tomatoes, Sweet Baby Cherry, Marmande (heirloom) and Plum.

By the time it was ready to move them out in May, we had been eating yellow pear tomatoes from the 8-foot high basement tomato vines. They were in gallon pots and were staked to anything he could find.

Smart guy that he is, Keith cut them down, leaving the roots and about 1 foot of stem and that’s what I planted outside in, what was then, our new garden. They grew up nice and strong and we harvested many, many during the season.

One day's harvest, September 2009

 Here’s what’s growing today!

Basil = pesto = love

Peppers

More Peppers

I just asked Keith to remind me what seeds we ordered yesterday.  Here’s how it went down.

K: Your edamame, some spinach and arugula and Jamaican bat guano. Me: Wait, what? You got what?  K: Guano – bat shit. Me: I thought you were just getting seeds. K: It’s good fertilizer.

All I can do is laugh. God, he just cracks me up. So, we have worms in the basement and shit in the mail. This adventure is getting crazier by the minute. Hang on for the ride.


For several years, now, we’ve been composting. I  have been purchasing bidegradable bags from The Gardener’s Supply Company. They’re called Biobags.  We have a little crock on the counter with a charcoal filter built in the top that I put a bag into.  We put the kitchen scraps in the bag and, usually when it starts to stink and I remember we have something in there, I toss it outside into the compost heap.

Ok, I’ll be honest. We don’t have a compost heap. We have a little hill about 12 steps away from the front door and I just pull the bag out of the crock and toss it down the hill. I usually have to focus, because, as mentioned before, I usually forget about the bag and by the time I’m scrap-tossing, the thing has already started to break down, so it has holes, is drippy and smelly. Pinching the top of the bag, I hold it at arm’s length and run outside, trying to get it out of the house as quickly as possible. (Usually Keith is making some sort of “UGH!” noise in reaction to the smell as I do this.) Then, I sort of bean-bag toss it, trying hard not to swing the bag and send the drips towards me, and try to get it to land underneath the balsam trees. Sometimes, one gets caught on a branch and hangs there, looking from a little distance, like very dirty, ratty underwear (NOT speaking from experience, if you’ve read the other posts, you know I have a very vivid imagination.) If that happens, I grab a stick and do my best from the top of the hill to poke it off the branch. If one were to observe this action, I can assure you, I do not look elegant. The bottom of the hill isn’t visible from the road, but the top of the hill is, so I just can’t leave it there. What would the neighbors think? (I know I mentioned the bad neighbor before – I am sure he wouldn’t think twice about what looks like a pair of ratty men’s underwear hanging from a tree. Slob. Yeah, I said it.)

The pile at the bottom of the hill has the kitchen scraps, the rooty-soil I dump out of the potting containers at the end of the seasons, grass clippings, branches we’ve pruned, pretty much everything. It isn’t really used as a compost heap since I can’t get down there to stir it and the big branches prevent it from breaking down too easily. We’ve been talking about a composting bin, but haven’t been able to find one that is within our budget  – a turning compost bin on wheels is a few hundred bucks!

So, with all the research we’ve been doing, Keith came across an indoor composting design that is low in space, low in smell and low in cost. It involves worms!

I KNOW, I KNOW! The answer is, “Yes, we purchased worms and deliberately put them in our house.” Here’s how it happened.

Keith mentioned it a few times, to which I said, “Mm hm honey, sounds good, sounds cheaper than what we were looking at.  Sounds like a good idea.”  BUT, I haven’t admitted it to him yet (he’ll find out shortly), I didn’t think he’d actually do it.

Start with a bin, drill holes in the bottom and around the top edge.  Stack it into a second bin and drill holes in the lid of the second one. This way, when you put Bin 1 into Bin 2, Bin 1 will drip any liquid (known as compost tea for those in the know!) into Bin 2 and NOT onto the basement floor. The holes in the top of Bin 1 and the lid of Bin 2 will aid in circulation.

Then layer some landscape fabric on the very bottom. This will cover the holes he drilled, allow liquid to drip out, but no wormies to crawl out (just icky dreams about that). On top of the landscape fabric, he put some shredded paper (he told me they were some old bills from our old files, NICE! I like the idea of worms eating our credit card statements. I don’t know why. Eat ’em up!)

Bin 1, holes drilled in the bottom, layered with landscape fabric and shredded paper

He then started the layering…

Bin 1, now layered with dirt, peat moss and more newspaper.

Then came the leftover food.

Salad we didn't eat.

Then the worms.

Our new basement dwellers!

Then more leftovers and some paper towels.
Once all this layering was done, he put the holey lid on. Voila! Basement composter! He gave it a name.

The Verminator!

Vermiculture is the culture of worms. We are vermicomposting…in the basement…mere feet from our chest freezer where we keep our food. Yup. Let’s see how it goes. I mean, what could it hurt? Sure, we could have red, wiggly worms crawling throughout our basement if they get out, but hey, the cats’ll have something to do if that happens. Keith took every measure to ensure that it doesn’t. I found myself filling it several times today – the stems I picked off the cilantro when making salsa last night, leftover rice from lunch, paper towels, my tea bag from this morning.
Dare I say, I like it? I think I do. I like the idea of making our own fertilizer and soil using the scraps from our kitchen. I also like that, by setting this up, Keith has stopped my little game of Toss-the-Yuck.

We’re at a standstill. The grow light in the basement has blown. Keith ordered another and the company promised to ship in 48 hours. We checked a week later – still in the warehouse.  So, he ordered a back-up.  That hasn’t arrived yet either. The seedlings are starting to pop under a fluorescent light which isn’t ideal, some of the hot peppers have already died.

So, we decided to bundle up and get working on the greenhouse. It was 23 degrees on Sunday and we only had the side boards to level and bolt on before putting on the plastic.

Bundle up!

We got out there and discovered the bolts weren’t the right length. Off to Home Depot which, thankfully, is only about 1.5 miles away. We got about 6 bolts on and the bit in Keith’s cordless drill broke. Frustrating (but not too upsetting, I was cold!) So, we went to the bar for some wings and beer. We could have gone to get another bit, sure, but why fight it. It just wasn’t meant to be this weekend.

Meanwhile, we’ve been talking to some of our friends about our project and are getting lots of encouragement. We’re asking local chefs what greens would they want to use, but can’t find locally. I’m all about Mache.  I haven’t ever even tried it, but read about it in The French Laundry Cookbook.

The French Laundry Cookbook

Apparently, Mache is a “microgreen” and is a little delicacy. It also goes by the names, “Lamb’s Lettuce” and “Rapunzel.” I want it just  because of that. “Rapunzel.”  Apparently it grows well in the cold. That’ll work! 

Keith and I went out for sushi the other night and there were some sprouts on top of the chef’s special salad. We think they were radish sprouts – VERY peppery and yummy.

Green Radish Sprouts Photo courtesy https://www.msu.edu

So I’m thinking, can we supply our neighborhood chefs? Lofty goal, I know, but every time I get into something, I always start thinking about how to make it into a business. Mache, sprouts, hot  peppers, lettuce mixes, husk cherries, tomatoes..I can just picture me in an old red Chevy truck, Daisy hanging out one window, pulling up to a local restaurant. In my overalls and checkered shirt, I get out of the truck and pull a basket overflowing with veggies out of the back. I hand it to the chef who has white flour on his nose and greet him by first name. We chat a bit about the weather until Daisy barks, reminding me we have a business to run. I wave to my buddy, the chef, smile as the Chevy door creaks when I open it, and take off to deliver the rest of our garden bounty to our friendly neighborhood restaurants, all of which have “Using Vegetables from The DaisyPatch in North Hampton, NH” on the menu.

Maybe…someday, if the damned lights would show up.

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