Saturday, February 26, 2011

End of the Garden Tomatoes (Red and Yellow, Green and Bright, They Are Precious in Our Sight)

Our 2010 Spring garden was faced with much adversity, in that, it was plagued with grasshoppers and overcome by drought. We had very few tomatoes to harvest over the entire Spring and Summer months. But thank the Lord for His graces and mercies: come Fall, the grasshoppers began to die out, cooler temperatures came, and God sent a couple of good rains. We were thrilled when we started to see flowers start to bloom and eventually grow fruit all over our six, overgrown, previously empty, tomato plants:

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomato Crop on the Vine

As Autumn progressed, we started to put blankets over the tomato plants but could tell they were probably not going to be able to ripen on the vine with the prevalent cooler weather patterns. I was able to harvest three large baskets of unripened tomatoes and put them in our summer kitchen building:

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomatoes in Baskets

I knew they would rot if I left them as-is in the baskets, so I spread them out wherever I could find room. Here.......

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomato Crop on Rolling Cart Shelves


Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomato Crop on Another Rolling Cart Shelf

And more here!

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomato Crop on Table

I checked on the tomatoes pretty much daily and grabbed the ripened ones to use in salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Man, there is nothing like the taste of a garden tomato! I had to keep a close eye on them because they can rot when you blink! And if they are touching in any way, it seems the rotting can be contagious. Our pigs ended up eating their share of rotten tomatoes, but at least they didn't go to waste:

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomatoes Ripened in Basket

When I had a goodly amount of ripened tomatoes, I went ahead and preserved them by making some tomato-apple chutney. Yum! For anyone who is interested, here is the easy recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving:

Tomato-Apple Chutney (yields about 6 pints, but you will probably yield more if you are generous with the ingredients)

2 1/2 quarts (about 12 large) chopped, peeled, cored tomatoes (I did not peel or core mine)
1 quart (about 5 medium) chopped, cored, peeled apples (I did not peel mine)
3 cups brown sugar
2 cups (about 1 large) chopped cucumber
1 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 medium) chopped onions
1 1/2 cups (about 2 medium) chopped sweet red peppers
1 cup raisins
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped (I used a jalapeno pepper)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pot. Simmer until thick. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. (Be sure to check for any time or weight adjustments based on altitude)

(Recipe variation: For a milder chutney, remove seeds from hot pepper)

(Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, wear rubber gloves to prevent hands from being burned)

Here are all the ingredients combined and ready to be simmered:

Tomato-Apple Chutney Ingredients Ready for Cooking

And here it is after simmering, ready to be poured into clean, hot canning jars.

Tomato-Apple Chutney Simmering in Pot

I have found chutney is really tasty with rice dishes, as a garnish or topping to meat or anything to which you want to add a sweet/sour savory tang or "pizazz." I am thankful to have found these chutney recipes to assist in preserving many of our garden veggies and orchard fruits:

Tomato-Apple Chutney Preserved in Jars

There came a point in the Winter where the rotting was increasing and the ripening was taking a long time, so I decided to attempt lactic fermentation with the remaining green tomatoes:

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Tomatoes Unripened

I combined the green tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped garlic and chopped green peppers (I think those are all the ingredients I used). You can put most any combination of garden veggies together for lactic fermentation:

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Green Tomatoes and Vegetables Chopped Up for Lacto-Fermentation Preservation

I put it raw in canning pint jars, along with two teaspoons of canning salt in alternating layers, and filled the jars to within one inch head space with water. Then I put the tops on and........that's it! Lastly, I placed them down in the root cellar. Over the course of days to weeks, it develops that tangy fermented taste that is sooooooo good for your gut. It actually makes a great salsa, and we also put it on our salads.

We thank God for His perfect timing in providing this late tomato harvest and for His faithful provision:

Spring Garden 2010 Fall Green Tomatoes and Vegetables in Jars for Lacto-Fermentation Preservation


Friday, February 18, 2011

David's Digest: There IS Another Way

Things aren't as they always have been. We have a tendency to have a myopic view of how we go about our lives. We live in the now, and things are just how they are, and then must continue as they are. But I submit to you that is an improper way of viewing our lives -- that it is possible the way things are is just plain wrong, especially if one considers the Bible as their rule of life.

A change occurred not long ago, one that fed man's covetousness, and man's innate desire to be comfortable. Men were convinced that if through the consumption of products their lives could be made "easier" or they could "prosper" more, then that was a good thing; and they bought the line -- hook, line and sinker. They went from being producers to being consumers, and by doing so, stepped into a world that ensnared them into perpetual consumption and the lives that were required by that system in order for them to maintain in them. Men went away from working the land in freedom to becoming a cog in the consumer, industrial machine.

I submit to you that system is a FAILED system. It is impossible for it to continue perpetually, as it requires an endlessly growing set of consumers; and with them being consumers and not producers, eventually the produced resources get used up. Earnings reports for corporations are an example of this: companies must show continued growth, or their worth goes down. Honestly, can that be sustained indefinitely? Eventually it will reach critical mass, and the company cannot grow. Look at corporations now and the new "global economy": this was a necessary step for the consumer system, because it needs more consumers to function and grow. It cannot go on forever; thus, it is really a wisp of reality.

One other problem about being a cog in the system (ie. worker in the workforce) is that you really are dependent on that system for your sustenance; and quite frankly, especially as Christians, as I've written about before in a blog post questioning who your provider is, that is just not a biblical way of living: your dependence should be directly on God and His sovereign providence.

When this world system fails you, what will you do? Many people today see the writing on the wall: there is much ado about preparedness, in storing water and food, in buying gold, etc. But in the end, will that sustain you? For how long? Is it just a stop-gap until the world (that Christians are not to love: 1 John 2:15) comes to your rescue?

There IS another way. It is a logical fallacy to think the way things are is how they are supposed to be. It is illogical to live with a near-sighted view of life and how things work in the world, because it is possible that view and how those things work are wrong.

Does any of this ring true with you? Does it challenge you at all? Does it upset you? I hope at least one of these is true for your case, if the situation applies to you.

I challenge you to learn more and not just gloss over this. Our teacher, Mr. Michael Bunker, has a new book coming out on March 4, 2011, called "Surviving Off Off-Grid." Do you consider yourself a preparedness person? You need to read this book. Has your financial situation only become worse over time, and are you in debt? You need to read this book. Have you had grandparents or great-grandparents that talked of a different time around the farm? Do you try to eat organic foods and stay away from processed foods? Do you see the world around you as just how things are, and haven't considered it may not be the best for you and your family? You need to read this book.

In "Surviving Off Off-Grid," Mr. Bunker begins by taking you through a history of past cultures, their movements away from the land to specialized societies centered in metropolises, and the downfall of those cultures as a result. Once he's shown in history these failures, and compared them in their drastic similarities to current day, especially in the United States, he offers a solution, which actually isn't a new one: it's back to the old paths (Jer 6:16), how it used to be, how God instituted work: he takes you back to the land, back to an agrarian culture and society.

In it, Mr. Bunker describes how people lived before industrialism. He describes how it is possible to live growing your own food, making your own clothes, and drinking water from your own reservoirs. He covers land and farming methods; preserving food, even without canning; storing food for long-term storage; building various types of buildings involved in sustainable living, like green-houses, living quarters (that are developed according to climate), root cellars, barns, etc.; how to have light and heat without electricity; and other information. At the end of the book, he answers common objections to this life-style and worldview.

This book is not a book detailing specific how-tos -- it deals more with the philosophy and generalities of the how-tos, why living this way should be done, and how it has been done in the past. It is more about engaging the minds of people to hopefully see that there is another way to look at their lives and the world around them.

My prayer is that someone reading this blog post will step back and ponder their lives and how things function in the world around them. And it is my prayer the Lord will use Mr. Bunker's "Surviving Off Off-Grid" book as a means to enlighten those whom He will; and, in the process, bring glory to His name in revealing more of Himself and His will.

Mark March 4, 2011 on your calendars; and then join many others around the world in purchasing this book, maybe even as a gift to someone you know who might benefit from a book like this.

May the God of all creation grant you light, wisdom and understanding.

-- David

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Mulching We Will Go

One thing about living out here in untamed territory is that everything is on the dirt. This makes for dirty clothes, dirty belongings...dirty everything. And then when it rains...well, you know the equation: dirt + water = mud.

Dealing with the mud around here has been an interesting experience. It gets everywhere (like the dirt); we have to park cars up at the front of the land in advance of rain to be able to go to town; and you get to slog around in it sometimes for an extended period, which actually isn't so easy for days on end. Anyway, these things in the end can be a means of revealing a lack of graces in our lives, which should cause us to pray on bended knee for forgiveness and for the proper graces of patience, contentment, etc.

I wouldn't have it any other way. :)

However, from a practical standpoint, there are some things that can be done to help with problems that occur from things like dealing with mud. One thing I did was add gutters to our Summer kitchen and cistern, which has helped keep water from collecting around them -- water which sometimes leaked into the stairway of our root cellar. Also, our barn's North lean-to is actually slanted slightly uphill; and so, when it rained heavily, especially from the North, the whole North lean-to area would flood, which would also leach under the barn's concrete footer, soaking the floor near the footer on the inside of the barn. Well, I figured this could eventually cause problems with those areas of the foundation. But what to do?

Mr. Bunker some time ago came up with the idea of hauling in free mulch that was available from a local town's landfill, and using it for any pathways and areas where people needed to walk in the rain. This was a great idea, as it ended up working very well for him.

And so, I was able to finally transport some loads here (which sadly weren't quite free anymore, but not too expensive) to begin filling in the North lean-to area, and around the Summer kitchen and root cellar:

Landscaping Mulch in Flatbed Trailer

The hay pitchfork worked best:

Hay Pitchfork and Tools for Laying Landscaping Mulch

And here are some pictures of the coverage. This is the beginnings of laying it out:

Beginning to Lay the Landscaping Mulch

Here is the mulch around the root cellar:

Landscaping Mulch Around Root Cellar

And between the cistern and Summer kitchen:

Landscaping Mulch Between Cistern and Summer Kitchen

With the first flatbed trailer full, we filled most of what you've already seen, and started in on the North side lean-to:

Landscaping Mulch Beginning on North Side Lean-to

With two more loads, we were able to complete the whole area under the overhang:

Landscaping Mulch Under North Lean-to Complete

It has worked out really well for us too -- we can walk around those areas now, even when it is raining; the root cellar leaking is much better, as is the inside of the barn floor.

We're thankful to the Lord for granting this idea, and for the provisions for the mulch and help in continuing to improve the homestead.

-- David

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It Was a Little Chilly Outside

So, we usually try to get a blog post out quicker than this; but this last week has been interesting. We just went through probably the coldest weather we've experienced since moving out here 5 1/2 years ago. It was a doozy, for us anyway. It was originally supposed to only last a couple of days, but it stretched out to three full days with temperatures between the upper single digits to lower 20s, with only on day four us hovering around the freezing mark. Also, it was breezy or windy most of the time, and we had rain right before and snow during; and with the winds, the wind chills got to below zero. After our cold weather training trip (see the "Preparation and Education" section of that link) of a few years ago, in preparation for any future trips, I obtained some extreme cold-weather clothing, like polypropylene long underwear, socks, glove inserts and balaclava, and some lined coveralls. Those polypropylene accouterments are the best, and have really helped Sue and me.

Now, while we've been able to figure out some of our own cold-weather clothing issues, some of our animals, and the situation we have available for them, aren't really set up for these kinds of temperatures. We lost a goat in the cold last year; and we currently have just a few-month old chicks, which we've already lost 2-3 because of me exposing them to 20-degree weather -- I thought because they had their feathers they were ok, but apparently not with that much cold. And so, we spent all day Monday preparing for the arctic front that was due to come in that night.


Before I get into the other animals, I have a little story. Two and a half weeks before the cold front, we found our most traditional-looking, original breed Longhorn cow, Amistosa, laying down on the left-over hay on our upper field, where we have been putting their hay bales, and not getting up. The next morning she was still there, and when I brought out range cubes to see if she would come and get some, given she's a range-cube hog, she didn't get up; and then I figured something was wrong. Soon after, she did stand up, but was very evidently hurt in her left front leg, as she almost fell forward into the ground just trying to stand up. We watched her limp around, and saw she was at least able to move, but then found her 60-70 yards away laying down again, this time on the outside of the berm that makes up our pond. I was able to get her to stand up, and then again later that night, with the help of several of the guys. We tried to get her to move with the herd as they were heading toward our upper field again, so that she would be with the herd and nearer us, thus hopefully providing her protection from critters, and away from the pond so she wouldn't stumble in and drown. I wanted to keep watching her that evening, and instead of finding her with the herd, she had headed the other direction, and was in a grove of trees. I brought her some range cubes, and left them, and came back later, only to find her not there. I looked around, and she had moved to a little bit more of a secluded place, between a large juniper tree and some over-growth. And she had laid down again. I tried getting her up, and even with the guys again, but she wouldn't stand up. Well, I figured she knew best where to place herself (as part of her God-granted and sovereignly-directed instinct); and so, we started bringing her hay and water.

After several days of this, with her only switching her body from side to side at various times of the day, I decided to see if the vet would come out to look at her. Like I said, she is probably our best looking cow as far as Longhorn traits, and it was very possible she was pregnant. He did come out, tried to get her to stand up, examined her, etc. To make a long story short, he decided she probably needed some better mineral nourishment, given the grass on the land was eaten down, that she was indeed about four months pregnant, and that it was most likely she wasn't going to get up again, as typically they don't. He also suggested some feed, and just suggested we try to keep her going, if we wanted. With that information, I had to decide if we were going to put more money into her, or just butcher her, and then basically lose the calf too. Given there was hope, I decided to keep going.

And so, we bought the feed, fed her with that, and continued with the hay and water and cleaning up after her. We also bought some loose minerals in case the rest of the herd was suffering from lack of minerals, but apparently they were generally ok, as they really didn't spend much time eating the minerals (all of which I believe goes to show the hardiness of the original-breed Longhorns, even with very little native food).

Fast-forward to Sabbath day, 15 days after the last time she walked, and 3 days before the arctic front was due. I had previously asked some of our Longhorn experts (who figured she was just injured and not suffering from malnutrition), and I had asked our local feed-store guys if they had heard of our situation before, and they had but indicated 99% of the time they don't get up. Well, I figured then that I needed to start trying every time I was around her to get her up, because the longer she stayed down, the worse she was going to get. That midday, I tried to get her up, and she stood up! I thanked the Lord, and called for Sue, who was pretty excited and thankful when she saw her. I coaxed Ami to walk to get the food, and she did, but she was very wobbly, and soon laid down again, although her left leg didn't seem to be giving her trouble. I also got her up again that evening; and then next day, after giving her a taste of the food, and taking it about five feet away, she decided to get up on her own, and go to the food! Thanks to God again!

Step forward to that Monday before the storm. I was trying to think of ways we were going to be able to protect her from the wind and cold, but before I really had to put a plan into action, she was gone! I found her in some other thickets a little ways away, laying down; and when I went to try to find her with some food that night, she ended up finding me. At this point, she was sort of on her own now as far as the weather; and so we prayed for the best.

Again, to shorten things, the next day in the snow, I found her across the property standing; and I think by the next day, she was on the front field at the hay bale eating with the rest of the cows.

Here she is after the storm, waiting for some feed:

Longhorn Cow Amistosa Standing After Laying Down for Over Two Weeks

And so, we are most thankful to the Lord for granting her healing, that we didn't lose her or the calf, and that the Lord granted her to be mobile before the freezing weather. God is most gracious and merciful.

Arctic Weather Around the Farm

Now, God IS most gracious and merciful, regardless of what happens; and it's more evidence of His graces and mercies when He reveals those attributes in some form of grace and mercy He extends us. And He granted many during this storm.

Here are some of the things we did in trying to keep the animals going. But even though we did these things, the outcome was of course always in God's hands:

  • The pure Longhorns are a tough breed, and I figured we didn't have to do too much with them, except make sure they had hay and hopefully water. And so, we put bales out before and during cold for that; and each day I would go down to our pond to try to sledge-hammer through the ice. Here's a picture of how thick it was one day:

    Frozen Pond Ice Thickness

    One night, several of the Longhorns and calves spent the night on the hay area where the bales usually are, which is an open field; and one of our group's milk cows did too. Well, with the below-zero wind-chill temperatures, she didn't fare well, and they sadly ended up having to shoot and field dress her to get some meat off of her before she died, while the Longhorns, even the calves, although shivering, had gotten up and walked away. Again, I believe it just shows the hardiness of the pure Longhorn breed.

  • The pigs we brought a little extra food, and we'd haul out warm water for them to drink. They were often thirsty when I got out there with the water. And they seemed to make it fine.

  • For the dogs, we moved their kennel under the barn overhang in front of the camper; and they seemed to fare very well, and didn't seem to be really cold at any time:

    Border Collies Brodey and Nessa in Kennel Under Barn Lean-to

  • Our big chickens didn't even come out of their coup the first day, so we just kept them in the whole time, bringing food and water. However, we have chicks we're raising right now (which in retrospect was not such a great idea to be doing during the Winter). They are in our mini chicken tractor, which Sue had the great idea to cover with clear plastic, which is what we do when the weather is somewhat normal:

    Clear Plastic Over Mini Chicken Tractor

    For the dangerously cold days and nights, we now bring the covered mini tractor into the barn; and during the days we set up a homemade fat lamp to burn in their little open yard area. Here's a picture of that, which, with the moisture from probably their breath, turns it into a quite warm sauna bath in there:

    Fat Lamp in Mini Chicken Tractor

    We have also had a broody chicken sitting on eggs in the barn for who-knows how many weeks now (we put some new eggs under her a week and half or so ago), and she seems to have not been phased by the cold:

    Broody Chicken in the Barn

  • After spending the first day front-first into the North winds, Gigi, our goose, started hanging out in the barn; and so, we then just closed her in there. It was cold in there too, as evidenced by her water in the barn being frozen; however, with those down-comforters geese wear, she had no problems:

    Gigi the Goose's Water Frozen in the Barn

  • For the goats this time, we had started to feed them a little more feed a few weeks previously, to generally help with colder weather; and during this cold snap, we kept them fed two to three times a day as needed; and for the most part, except to let them out a little at the "heat" of the day (when it was 18 degrees!), we kept them boxed in their sheds. We had replaced all of the hay in their sheds before the cold came, and we also put blankets in the sheds. During the frozen days, we would bring out warm water a couple of times a day; but I noticed with the goats, the first thing they always wanted in the morning was food (whereas the pigs wanted the water). There was some shivering, but thankfully they all made it through. Here are the goats and sheds after the storm:

    Goats and Goat Sheds After Arctic Storm

    We hope to one day have a place in the barn set up to bring animals in as needed for this type of weather.

One thing that didn't go so well for us was the roof-washer parts of our catch water system from the barn that feeds the cistern. With the rain that fell, and the quick freezing temperatures, and me not being quicker on the draw, the water in the roof-washer pipes froze, and split them all apart. Here are some pictures:

Upper Part of Catch-water System Roof Washer Cracked from Being Frozen
Lower Part of Catch-water System Roof Washer Cracked from Being Frozen

One of our other roof washers expanded and popped connectors out, but it survived it seems because they weren't all glued. I think I may try a similar strategy when I put together the new roof washer pipes next time, Lord willing.

We did, however, cover the cistern spigots with blankets, which allowed us to retrieve water from the cistern, even with the temperatures being what they were. These spigots also face South, into the Sun, out of the North wind:

Cistern Valves Covered with Blankets

For our camper, we have a small propane heater, which, for times like this, just sort of takes the edge off, although we often saw our breath; and at night, we'd basically wear our outdoor clothes to bed under the comforters, which actually was quite warm. And William, our cat, spent most of his time inside with us. :)

One of the things we've learned to do for situations like this: the condensation in the camper eventually freezes the door latch, and so we spray it with cooking oil spray (I assume just about any oil would work), and that has helped keep the latch from sticking.

Here are some other pictures of the scene:

Barn Lean-to After Arctic Storm
Field After Arctic Storm

Well, that about sums it up. All in all, it was a rough one, and we worked pretty much non-stop each of the cold days, and not all of the community folk's animals made it. However, we are very grateful though to the Lord for His continued provisions, and His many continued graces and mercies, and for His help through this difficult time of weather.

-- David