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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What To Do With Clay

I think our neighbors would scoff (yes, scoff) if they knew how much I am relying on books to get this homestead started.  For instance, we need to figure out how to get nutrients back to the soil.

But perhaps I need to back-up.  Why is this all so important to me?  I would like to live a more sustainable life.  Ideally we would get all our fruits, vegetables, and eggs from our own land.  And Walmart would get a LOT less of our money.  Further, I want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Which means that I would like to be as local as I can for our needs.

We are failing that miserably at the moment, though.  Right now I am in a moral dilemma of choosing between ideology and practicality.

Ideally, we would use beautiful, home-cooked compost to get nutrients back into our clay-packed soil.  But I don't know diddly about compost.  However, I am a librarian, so I know more than diddly about books!  Barbara Pleasant, has written an amazing, award-winning guide to getting started composting.  In addition to being a very easy to follow explanation of how to compost, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide is an excellent guide on responsible gardening.

Peat moss is a typical additive to get unhelpful soil up to snuff.  However, Pleasant makes an excellent argument for why peat moss is not a sustainable option.  "Peat comes from such very slow-growing, slow-rotting plants that it typically takes 1,000 years for a bog to add 1 yd (0.91 m) to its depth." (Pleasant, 232)

So here is my problem.  I don't want to abuse 1,000 years of lovely rot just to jump-start my garden, and I certainly don't want to encumber the fossil fuels to bring it here to the homestead.  But I don't have any lovely, home-grown compost, yet.  We only moved here about a month and a half ago, after all.  In the question of ideology versus practicality, I think, at the beginning, practicality is going to have to win out.  

That decided, I guess we will be buying a van-load of peat moss and tilling it into our fall garden plots in the next two weeks.  But I have a better plan for energizing the rest of the garden over the winter.  But more on that later.

For now, I need to finish tilling the fall plots, and find out how to balance the gardening ideas, the general household tasks, and the stay-at-home mom stuff, all while trying to maintain my sanity.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Things I Learned Today

Today we finally decided to break ground on our garden area.  We mapped out 9 beds, approximately 5 feet by 10 feet each.  I admit that we were both completely overwhelmed by the idea of turning the ground when it is so very compact and rocky.

However, we got down to business pretty quickly.  Here is what I learned during today's experiment:
1. If you are going to work outside, don't pick a day when it is going to reach 90'.  We had to stop at lunch, and only finished 3 beds. 

2. My husband is a lot stronger than I am.   

3. And is very good with large, outdoor machinery. 

4. Whereas I am not.  And have far less upper body strength than I think I do

(Yes, that us me being almost pulled over by the tiller.  I am not dancing!)

5. I am stubborn.  I eventually got the hang of it, though my husband had to go back over my work a few times because it was so uneven.  Huge surprise!

6. Working the ground with a tiller is that much better than hand tools.  Just look at this result!

7. Finally, when I am tired and stressed, I bake.  Anyone want a muffin?  We have 3 dozen.  Blueberry, orange, and lemon-raisin.

Regular blog posting will return tomorrow.  Look for a book review, or two (or three).  I have a lot to say.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    The Stuff You Need Out Here

    It is a slogan for a chain of farm stores, but "the stuff you need out here" really is an enlightening thought.  When I lived in the suburbs, I thought it was just a clever way to convince people to buy stuff they didn't need.  Now I am a convert.

    When we were house-hunting in early summer we had a hard time deciding between this house and another, newer house.  The other house had less property, but was brand new, and had a happy feel.  This house had almost double the acreage but had known great sadness.  We finally decided the acreage made a big difference, and felt we could bring happiness to it again.  The already existent, hard-wired generator was just an afterthought.

    Funny how the afterthoughts become the essentials.  Apparently even heavy fog can knock out our power, as it did this morning.  But not to worry.  Our wonderful generator really is the stuff we need out here.  We just had a moment of darkness and then with and almighty WOOSH the power was back on and the generator was saving our morning.

    I am grateful to the previous owners for having the forethought to put in it.  At least that is one major headache we have been able to avoid.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Homesteading Without a Clue

    That is what I should have named this blog.  I am beginning to feel like someone who jumped into the country with an idealistic idea of how to live out here, and an inadequate amount of bookish ideas.  As a librarian, I guess I should have known that would be an issue.

    Today's newest concern comes from our apple trees.  We had always planned to plant an orchard on our little slice of land, and were happily surprised to find two young apple trees and two young pears already growing in the side yard.  Today I wandered over there while the 4-year-old and I were on a walk, and discovered something disgusting.  It looks as if the yellow delicious apple tree has decided to grow cotton!  Thank heaven for the internet (and my mad search skills).  Turns out we have woolly aphids.

    Disgusting, but by my brief research, not deadly.  I really need to find the beautiful orchard book my coworkers gifted me before we moved.  I will be you dollars to doughnuts there is a section on aphids.

    Speaking of doughnuts, or rather, doughy breakfast foods.  Don't tell me I can't make bagels, baby!

    Jennifer's very own Everything Bagels!  They were delicious, for a first go round.  I think they weren't quite right, but I think that will just take practice.  The recipe comes from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which comes highly recommended!  I use it way too often, as my waistline has demonstrated these last few months.

    Oh, and it looks like the priorities decision was surprisingly easy.  We bought the tiller.  The garden comes first, and we already purchased seeds from Seed Savers.  Now I just need to learn how to use it!  I am sure there is a book on that somewhere around here.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010


    Common sense, research, and my own experience suggest that the hardest thing about having a family farm or homesteading is getting started.  And I don't think they mean motivation.  Nope, I can say with some certainty that they mean money.  As in what do you pay for first.

    When we knew we were moving, we started saving up and had a plan for it all.  Or so we thought.  Thanks to Dave Ramsey, we paid for the entire move in cash.  But the move was a fiasco (don't ask, I still don't want to talk about it), and in the month since we have had lots of unexpected expenses that have eaten away at our homestead nest egg.

    Ok, so the point.  I can't decide on what to spend our last little bit of money!

    • We need a tiller.  The soil here is hard-pack red clay and I want a fall garden that needs to get planted in the next few weeks.
    • We want chickens, which means we need a hen house, coop, feed, waterer, etc, etc.  Oh, and chicks, of course.
    • I want milk goats.  Guess what we need for those!  (Fence, goat cabin, goats, etc.)
    • And we want to have an orchard.  Which means we need some trees. 

    You get the picture.  And my biggest worry is that we will decide, spend the money, and then get hit by another big, unexpected expense.

    I can't decide right now, so I am going to go try my hand at making bagels from scratch.  Someone told me it wouldn't work, so I am stubborn enough to try anyway.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    The Beginning

    Hello and welcome to my brand-spanking-new blog about life on our little slice of Virginia.

    But first, some background. We recently made the big move from Indiana back to the East Coast so my husband could take up a new position. And since we are so scarred from the move that we have vowed never to do it again, my husband and I are embracing this new, rural life and making long-term plans. We are throwing down roots, baby.

    Jobs for librarians are scarce in these parts, so I am also taking on a new role as stay-at-home mom to our two children. But this won't be a blog about the children! This is the place where I will be explaining, exploring, pondering, and discussing my transition from librarian to small-scale farmer.

    Here you will also find book reviews on the various topics I research to make this new homestead a success. Authoritative ones, at that. You can trust me; I'm a librarian!

    So, welcome. And wish me luck!