A Rising Proposition

In lieu of mulling further on the current political situation–which is, by any measure, an absolute mess of a joke–I decided that this week, I’d revisit a topic from ‘way back: bread.  Staff of life.  You know, the tasty stuff that (along with beer, although in no particular order) probably is responsible for much of what we now call ‘civilization.’

When last I mentioned it, I believe I talked a bit about sourdough, and “catching” a culture.  I still recommend that as the way to go, if you’re going to do the bread thing; it’s simple and inexpensive, and there’s nothing like the flavor.  All you need is flour and water, a container, and a bit of time.  To recap the “catching” process:  make a flour/water slurry, in a 1:1 ratio.  Let it sit, loosely covered, for about twelve hours (let’s call it overnight).  In the morning, scoop out half of the mix, and replace it with an equal amount more flour/water mix (still 1:1).  Repeat in the evening, and again for the next day or two.  Assuming your house isn’t a refrigerator, you’ll start to see the mix get bubbly.  Voila!  You’ve got a starter culture.

To bake with it, there are any number of sets of instructions on the internet.  Experiment, play around, and find a set that works for you.  Alternately, you can hit your library for a book or two.  I recommend The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Jeff Hertzberg; the basic procedure there includes getting a culture going.  For something just a touch more advanced (but also more in-depth, and certainly not the least bit unapproachable), my new favorite is Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish.  Along with the Perfect Loaf blog, FWSY has inspired me to finally learn the Baker’s Percentage, and really get serious about my bread.

How serious?  Well, it being the equinox, it’s about the perfect time in my area for planting winter grains; to that end, along with my barley, I’ve got some hard red winter wheat to plant.  (A complaint: all the guides suggest waiting until the “Hessian-fly free date” to plant wheat. They suggest that my local extension can tell me when that is–but they seem blissfully unaware.  I’ll have to talk to one of the local master gardeners, I suppose…)  Come spring, I’ll also be putting in some spring wheat (again, hard red) along with the spring barleys.  With luck, by next autumn, I’ll have flour from my own grains with which to make my bread!

I’ve made a handful of loaves, thus far–my baking slows significantly during the summer, when it’s hot as blazes without adding oven heat–and I’m liking the direction things are going.  Practice does, after all, make perfect.  But even if I don’t quite have the crumb exactly where I like it yet, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into a nice crusty slice of bread, knowing that I made it myself.

In other farm news, we’ve been able to discourage more hawk-strikes, without losing any more chickens.  One of this year’s batch of chicks has turned out to be a rooster, and we’ve found a home for him (don’t need him, ourselves).  So we’re at 31 birds; come spring, we’ll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.

The bees are doing fine; they’ve been gathering nectar from the local goldenrod and asters.  The experienced keepers described the “unique” scent that they produce, processing goldenrod nectar; there’s not really a way to adequately prepare for it, though.  I’m hopeful that I can get the colonies overwintered, and maybe expand a bit in the spring.

How are things going in your gardens, and on your homesteads?

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A Few Quick Thoughts

We’re not there, yet, but now’s as good a time as any to get down, in writing, a couple of thoughts that have been rolling around in my head, on the right to vote.

It’s a basic thing, it seems–very simple, and a fundamental part of our government.  Lots of folks take it for granted.  More than a few have never exercised it.  And there’s a large number–a very large number, indeed–who would like nothing more than to tell you exactly how you should use it, or else keep you from doing so.

No matter what anyone tells you, you cannot “throw your vote away,” except by not voting.  (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if legally you can vote, go out there and do it.)

I consider it immoral to bully someone else into voting for (or against) one candidate or another.  Do I have my preferred candidate?  Yes.  Will I give you my rationale, if asked?  Yes.  Will I try to persuade you, one way or the other?  If I think you’re persuadable, yes.  Will I try to force you to vote the way I want you to?  No.  (Will I disown a relative who does such a thing?  Yes; we have done so to my mother-in-law, who was frankly bullying my nephew–a first-time voter–into voting a particular way during the primaries.)

You don’t like either candidate?  Not surprising; rarely are either one (or, gods above, both) paragons of moral purity.  I won’t even try to sell you the platitude that you don’t necessarily have to vote for either of them, you can vote against one or the other.  No, what you–what we all–really need to do is look at the candidates that are running.  Take off the rose-colored glasses, and give them a good, hard look.  Ask yourself: Which of these candidates do I think, given their record, will most likely do what is best for the country?  Then vote for that candidate.

It’s important, that last bit of the decision process.  For the country.  Not for yourself.  Not for your family, or your city, or county, or even your state.  That’s not the President’s job.  The person who gets elected has to look out for the country as a whole.  Unfortunately, that means they’re probably going to tick off one or another chunk of the electorate.  I consider that a price worth paying, if it’s for the general good.  (Consider: The Normandy invasions in WWII were certainly not beneficial to any of the souls who died on the beaches, and a number of their families were probably [rightfully] angry.  But overall, that sacrifice benefitted the majority, if not the entirety of the rest of humanity.)

I could probably rant on like this for hours.  I’ll spare you–while leaving open the possibility that I’ll go off again before the election.  (I make no guarantees what I talk about afterwards…  That’s in part up to the electorate as a whole.)

On a happier note, how are your fall preps going?  It’s not here yet, but it’s right around the corner…

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201st Post

I meant to do something special last time, for my 200th post to the blog, but completely forgot.  Instead, in celebration of the 201st posting (this one), and partly due to a ridiculous degree of sleep deprivation, I’ll be leaving a link for good reading material down below.  My experiences in many ways were different than Mr. Wright’s: I stood up to a few of the bullies of my childhood, which got many of them to back down.  I was fairly apolitical until about halfway through my military career–by which time it was already apparent I was much more liberal than conservative.  But much of my reasoning behind many of my opinions and assertions are similar enough that I can say I agree with him wholeheartedly.  So, here’s the link.  And I’m going to get some sleep.  Enjoy, and I look forward to chatting with you next time.

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Hot Enough For You?

We here on the East Coast are looking at another brief heat wave, with temperatures reaching into the mid- to upper-nineties, and humidity doing the same. (I very much envy you Southwest Desert types, with your dry heat.  The desert part, not so much–nor the inherent fire risk.  You pick your place, you pick your disasters…) Normally, I would just ‘lay low’ for the heat of the afternoon, but there were chores to do: I had to be out in the sun, the better to pull the honey supers off of my bee hives. This being their first year, there’s no actual honey–it’s mostly “syrup honey,” from the sugar syrup I’ve been feeding them. But the comb is now mostly drawn out, so they won’t have to do that part next year, hopefully increasing my yield.

Other afternoon tasks included getting a live-trap set, to catch the raccoon who’s been stealing feed from the chickens–before he decides he’d rather steal a chicken. I saw him and ran him off the other night, and I’ve been putting out feed and seed spiked with Flaming Squirrel Seed Oil (capsaicin oil), which puts him <ahem> off his feed for a night or two.  But it’s time to step up to slightly longer-term measures.  The jury is out as to whether it’s a trap-and-release program, or if capital punishment is in order; I’m ordinarily loathe to kill things needlessly, but a bit of “preventive maintenance” is perhaps called for.

Another achievement reached is the assembly (finally–it’s been waiting for almost two years) of a solar generator: two 100-watt monocrystalline solar panels, a charge controller, two 105 amp-hour deep-cycle marine batteries, and a 1600-watt inverter, all mounted on a modified wagon.  It’ll run any of a number of tools or appliances–and if it’s “just” keeping electronic equipment charged, it’s a bit over the top.  (The main thing we’re worried about, really, is the well pump; the inverter’s just not enough for that, unfortunately–I’d need to bump up to something over 4000 watts, not to mention more batteries, and ideally another couple of solar panels.) The generator is really more of a learning tool, though, so I can figure out what I’m doing with solar, before I bite the bullet and install panels on my workshop/barn.  It’s early days, yet, but thus far I’m liking it…

All of this, and I’m keeping a weather eye towards fall, which is fast approaching. I really ought to take some time in the next week or two to put some fall vegetables in the ground–carrots, one or another (or several) of the brassicas.  And my patch of ground for grains needs to be dealt with–it’s gotten far too overgrown; I’ll have to mow it, then give it a light tilling.  In a perfect world, I’d be able to mow and till it twice, leave it unplanted, then rinse/repeat a few times in the spring, in the hopes of having a decent patch next fall/winter.  But there are only so many years…

How are your ‘steads faring this summer, readers?  I’d love to hear, and compare notes!

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I Normally Eschew Predictions…


Especially in light of the s**t-show that was the Republican Convention last week, and looking where I feel far too many people in this country want things to go…

This is probably far more accurate than I really care for.

(As an amateur historian, I have to agree with pretty much the entire article.)

I’ll let you chew on this; comments are always welcome!  (I’m also “cheating” my way out of writing, but I’ve got family visiting.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

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The Other “L” Word

No, not that one.  Or that one, either.  The word I have in mind is “Lists.”

Lists will first chain you, and hold you down.  But then, eventually, the lists will set you free.

The homestead is in a curious state of flux, at the moment.  I, as usual, have my “day job,” which pays the bills and puts food on the table.  Being summer, the children are vacationing with my sainted (if occasionally somewhat misguided) parents, to return when extracurricular activities start before school.  My wife, meanwhile, has a temporary job, sitting in for a friend who should, by the time this gets posted tomorrow, be meeting her first child for the first time.

All of which leaves a good six or so hours of daylight, every day, when no work is being done around the homestead because we’re all away.  (I’m not worried about security at the house; the dogs are quite protective of it, and the four of them collectively mass about 450 pounds…)

So how is anything getting done?  Organization, mainly.  My wife and I sat down, late in the spring, and discussed what big projects we wished to complete over the summer. These were broken down into their component parts, and each of us made a list with our portions thereof.  The various daily household chores were divided up, based on timeliness, ability, or personal preference. (I let the chickens out before I leave for work in the morning; being relatively mosquito-resistant, I also put them up in the evenings. That sort of thing.) Then, we each added the smaller, more personal things we wished to do.

Hey, presto!  Lists.  It can be difficult, at first, getting things accomplished.  It is, after all, a very big list, and things keep getting added to it. Yak shaving is alive and well in this household–you start to do something, but to do it, you’ve got to do that thing over there, for which you have to accomplish x, y, and z…  (I’d fix that bit of fenceline, but the roll of wire fencing is in that spot next to the barn that got overgrown, so I have to mow to be able to get to it. But the lawn mower needs a new fuel filter, new air filter, and new spark plug, so…)

Then there are the things that break, requiring sub-lists so that you can fix them or work around them.  And there are things that daily get added to the list, as you think of them. (You do add things to the list as you go, right?)

But after a while, as you get things done and checked off the list, you start to revel in that little sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a task.  (If you’re really good, you can revel in it several times a day!)  And getting more things done becomes something of a game.  How many can I get checked off today?  Can I make the list shorter, even including the things that (inevitably) get added to the list?

All of this is good practice in planning and organizing–excellent skills to have, both before, during, and after any sort of an emergency.

My list today had several things added to it, but it got a little bit shorter.  How did yours do?

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Miscellaneous Thoughts

An odd jumble of random thoughts and notes from the homestead:

  • Some days, it’s hard to be a civilized, adult human being.  Most of us manage it fairly well; a surprising number of us–not so much.
  • If ever there was a skill I didn’t have, and didn’t want, but needed, it would be small engine repair.
  • Berries always seem to taste best fresh off the bush.
  • When the dogs start frantically barking at 1am, go ahead and see what’s set them off: if it’s something after the chickens, you need to take care of it now.  If, however, it’s a branch falling from a tree, you can probably try to get more sleep.
  • When the homestead is your “fun” job, and you’ve still got a 40+ hour a week “paying” job, you never feel like you’ve got enough time for either.
  • Tools always seem to gather together into piles of similar tools–and they do it right when you realize you need one.  And they do it at the other end of the homestead.
  • There has never been a bee that wanted to sting you.  If it went to that extreme, it was provoked.  (Even killer bees–they just need very little provocation.)
  • The more I see on the news, the more convinced I am that I need to step up my disaster preps. Not because things are going to hell–rather because a sizable chunk of the population seems intent on sending things there.
  • Baby chicks are fast.  And cute.
  • Protip: Every time you walk past your garden, pull a couple of weeds.  Just two or three.  After a week of this, the difference will amaze.
  • Watering the garden is a better way to ensure rain than washing the cars.
  • It’s tough to beat relaxing at the end of the day by quietly, contemplatively, watching the sun set.

That’s it for this week–it’s summertime, and there’s a million and one things to do around the homestead. I hope you all enjoy the holiday weekend, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

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