Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wonders of the Universe

I'm a sky watcher. I love asteroids and comets, eclipses, Mercury rising etc. Here's a great opportunity to enjoy some wonders from above.

Stellar Meteor Shower Jan. 3

For meteor observers, the presence of an almost-full Moon cast a bright pall on this month's performance of the Geminid Meteor Shower, normally one of the best meteor displays of the year. But for a wild card, another very good meteor shower may be right around corner. And for this one, the Moon will not play a factor at all.

So, get out your 2009 calendar and put a big circle around Saturday morning, Jan. 3.

That's the expected peak date for the Quadrantids, a notoriously unpredictable meteor display. In 2009, peak activity is due to occur in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 3 and will strongly favor western North America. If the "Quads" reach their full potential, observers blessed with clear, dark skies could be averaging one or two meteor sightings per minute in the hour or two prior to the break of dawn.

With the moon setting before the peak, it might prove to be a beautiful site for most of the USA. Bundle up and star gaze!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Canned butter adventure

I'd give credit if I could remember who it was that wrote the post with this idea and a link to Green Apple Orchards blog for the directions on how to do this neat little project. Hermit just canned himself a batch so I felt a little left out ;). Just a 1lb batch of home made brown swiss cow butter in half pint jars for my pantry. I was distracted during the process by hubby who took my kitchen over for a while and the butter cooled down too much to shake/mix so I had to put it in the oven at 170 for a few minutes to fix it. Seals stayed good thru it, I re-shook the jars until cooled properly, all seems as it should be. I'm counting this as a success!

Disconcerting article I found

Hubby is passed out for the day( he works midnites) so while I'm canning my butter, I thought I'd do a little research reading. I found an article, wrriten by an OSU professor that kind of hit me wrong. Maybe I read it with a bias in my mind, maybe not. OSU PROF DESCRIBES EXPERIENCES WITH SURVIVALISTS written 3-6-02

Richard Mitchell, an OSU professor of sociology, wrote the book after meeting with a variety of self-described survivalists at clandestine training camps, conferences, gun shows and the residences of home-based groups. He says that there are bands of self-styled survivalists prepared to arm themselves for action to protect America against domestic threats --- real and imagined.

Now, I don't know why his article miffed me so much because I have never claimed to be a survivalist, I am truly a sustainst, supporting ideals for feeding ones self and taking care of my family without commercial, corporate or governmental support. This man lumps all types of people with these kinds of values in with nutcases like Tim McVeigh and James Oliver Huberty?

Mitchell fills his book with fascinating characters of all sorts. Dentists, millionaire business leaders and other professionals, mix with gun enthusiasts, blue-collar tradesmen, and hard luck characters trying to scratch out a living. Some are sympathetic; others are frightening.

"One retired military officer preaches killing all Jews and overthrowing the government, while a computer engineer buries 42 school buses in his back yard to shelter 500 of his neighbors in time of war," Mitchell said. "And then there's the unemployed construction worker who sells his expensive guns to care for the family's ailing dog."

These are real people, Mitchell says, and they all head survivalist groups. Yet you likely wouldn't know they were survivalists if you ran into them on the street.

Defining what makes a survivalist isn't as simple as it sounds, Mitchell said, but in general survivalists are looking for trouble. "But for them," he added, "trouble also has possibilities."

Since when does wanting to stay safe and fed translate into "looking for trouble"? I do what I do to stay out of trouble! Do people really think about what I'm doing for my family like this? Is this why my neighbors roll their eyes when I suggest that they stock a little food up?

"Survivalism helps ordinary people imagine themselves as extraordinarily useful," Mitchell said.

"Are they always realistic about what they do? No. They buy gas masks, build fallout shelters and hoard food supplies when they know the real problems are with big business, foreign policy and changing morals.

So now canning my own home grown food is hoarding????? What should I do instead... wait in the bread line like a good little sheep with my hands out begging?

Okay, I need a cup of coffee and a smoke. Maybe an aspirin too............

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why heirloom seeds for your garden and table?

A visitor from Aussieland prompted this post by sharing with me that over in Australia, one can save seeds from fruits and vegetables they buy from the store. Makes me almost want to live in Australia!

Commercially grown fruits and veges are generally a hybrid of some type and sometimes even GMO(genetically modified organism). Creating a hybrid tomato that stays ripe without bruising or rotting during it's voyage from California to New York is only profitable when you're the company getting paid. Skins like vinyl, pulp with no taste. But it stays red and firm so you can buy it!

The development of hybrid seed has left seed production to seed companies for the practical reason that it is the most economical way to maintain appropriate inbred lines, and seed production can be isolated from the food production areas of open pollinating crops. But it had also prevented farmers from saving and replanting seeds, making it necessary to purchase seeds every season.

So, if you want to grow anything, you MUST PAY. Who do you pay you ask? Big Agribusiness like Monsanto, of course. Biotechnology has gone a step further and demanded that seed production be restricted to companies even when there is no rational basis for the restriction, other than corporate greed. Hybrids and GM crops lack the diversity required for sustainability in the complex ecosystems of the developing world. What is needed is seed production that takes into account the unique requirements of developing countries, where the farmers rights to save, replant and exchange seeds are integral to food sovereignty and food security. We are already losing that ability here as companies such as Monsanto have bought up seed companies and cornered seed markets around the world.

Ah, you say, but what about F1 hybrids? They make superior, uniform plants that produce spectacular crops of produce. Yes, for that one generation. Saving the seed from your harvest will give you mixed results of both the parent plants of which both might be inferior producers. so, back to buying your seeds every year defeating the purpose.

So, how do you know if the seeds you're buying are heirloom or hybrid? Good reputable seed companies still independantly owned have no qualms about saying up front that their seeds are heirloom or hybrid. There are still very good varieties of plants out there you can buy easily.

Speaking of which, my Johnnys Seed Catalog just came in! Off to gawk at all the pretty pictures!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Growing herbs and such

Big news about a common herb I grow concerns me a bit. Stevia is a natural sweetener. I use it and I think I've mentioned it before here, maybe not. Now that the FDA has approved Stevia for soft drink production etc, you can pretty much bet it will soon become impossible to buy seed to grow your own. Such is the way of commercial business laws like possessing ginseng without a government issued permit or not being able to sell the roots of plants that grow wild without a government issued permit, not being able to buy seed like Cardamom etc...Things being illegal to grow in some states such as the idiotic ban on Morning Glory's or castor bean comes to mind. Here's something to look at, how often have you noticed celery seed for sale on the racks in the spring?

I'm allergic to bee stings so keeping bees for honey is pretty much out of the question. I simply do not have enough land to grow things such as sugar beets or cane. A substantial part of my cold storage/preps is refined white sugar. I will be cultivating my Stevia again this spring only in larger quantity.

Perhaps it's time to review the seed you've saved and include some herbs you can still get seed for that can help keep you healthy, make you healthy if you are sick and make your food more tasty in general.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Calf

A Christmas calf! I'm babysitting a friends' farm for a couple days, milking cows, feeding calves etc and this is what I found this afternoon. A newborn calf. The cow was overdue so it wasn't really a surprise, I knew it could happen but I've not had experience with this sort of thing(cows). Now I have, LOL. Needless to say, by the time I got them both in the barn, I was wore out and muddy. A heifer calf and she's beautiful. I just missed getting to see it, the calf was still wet when I found her. The cow is an older girl so thankfully she wasn't upset over me being so close, she really is a big dang cow and could have stomped me if she wanted to. Glad she didn't :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Ponderings

I'm just messing around today, trying to get out of cooking because there's a pile of dishes needing washed first. I was on eBay looking for a deal or 2 on canning jar lids, none to be found, and under related searches was "survival foods" so I clicked on it. 101 items listed, some were priced reasonable, some not. MRE's, canned chicken, peanut butter, etc. Interesting....

Anyway, my thoughts of the day were about canning jar lids. I've got plenty of jars, most of them full of what my garden produces to feed us. But it struck me that the lids are a one time use item. So, of course, that nagging little voice in my head tells me I need to check my lid stock. Turns out, I've only got about a year and a half of lids! For me, that just will not do. I can't help but feel that the troubles this country is headed for will last longer than a year and a half. So, now I am on the hunt for more canning lids. Easy enough to find but this will still drive me crazy until remedied.

LOL, no rest for the wicked I guess...

Christmas wishes for everyone and thanks to a few more...

Hermit, Degringolade, Pearls, Scout, Bullseye, Scavenger, Chris W, Green Apple Orchard,Survivalist News, Urban Survivalist, Mayberry, Shy Wolf, Ozark Momma, Bison Survival, Andy and Mel, Jeff and Farmergeek...
Thanks for joining me, helping me, entertaining me and teaching me...

Merry Christmas and God bless

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas kittens

There he is, the evil orange spawn and his sidekick in crime... anybody want a kittie for Christmas?

It's still freezing rain here but everybody is tucked up in a barn or in the house. Supposed to be 50 degrees tomorrow, no wonder I can't kick this flu/cold!

The news is real reassuring tonite, isn't it? Global recession, people in Zimbabwe starving, riots in Greece... and at my house, the silent dreams of destructive kittens...

Monday, December 22, 2008

everyday disappointments we have

Life is usually pretty darn good here. We may not be rolling in the dough but we've got food and shelter and family. Our distractions are our livestock and gardens, our weekly skeet shoot, seasonal hunting, you know, farm stuff. Every once in a while, farming is a great disappointment. Today for instance, was a bad day. It was like the rest of the country here last night, damn cold. This morning wasn't any different. I woke up to my pot of coffee and cigarette like usual, looked over at my window garden to see the first stab of the day. Half my garden was kitten damaged. Seems the small evil orange spawn I saved from freezing to death a month ago decided to help me garden. I walked around the corner of the kitchen island and about stepped in a pile of goo. Seems his sister helped him and is now ill. I've spent most the day following her around with paper towels, the poor thing. She bit me good when I medicated her with the scours stuff. They are just 10 or so weeks old so I just can't throw them out and I don't have the heart to kill them. Tip of the ice berg tho. My thoroughbred broodmare decided she was upset about something and kicked a hole in my barn wall. I got pecked by the English Game Cock and one of my buck rabbits didn't make it thru the night. He seemed alright the night before, oh well.

I'm still sporting this flu/cold or whatever it is so I'm not in the best of moods anyway so today was just a bad day all around. At least my bread and venison roast came out good. It's just coming on 8pm and I'm wiped out. Daughter will need picked up in town around 9:30 so I can't put an end to the day yet.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Business as usual

Well, I guess I'm not doing a very good job getting my ideas out to people in my area. I spent 45 minutes in Sam's Club today buying a few preps(yeast and spices I don't grow very well or can't) and I was deeply disappointed by what I saw. The items being purchased around me were flat screen TV's, and high end electronics, etc. The grocery side of the store was almost completely empty of people. I saw 2 older couples besides myself purchasing food.

Marion Illinois is a decent sized city. Across from Sam's is an indoor mall with the parking lots packed with cars. Just as many cars driving around as there always has been full of people that complain about being broke. The Ryans buffet parking lot looked like they were giving something away free from all the cars in it.

I don't understand this at all. Thousands of people right here in southern Illinois are a breath away from car reposession and mortgage default and they're running around burning gas like it's free and eating out? Spending money on big screen TV's and jewelery?

Oh, the cashier at Sam's gave me the wierdest look and asked me if I was out of all those things at home. Of course, par for my personality, I was just mildly rude and said "Ya think?" Geez, I just bought 7 items, it's not like I had a cart full or something.

So, I have officially passed the 9 month mark on my food prep. I can continue to cook exactly like I do now for 9 months for my family of 4 without any other source of food like the garden or the livestock, just counting what I've prepped. I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Nobody tell hubby, but I have a couple extra dollars saved up, I'm going to buy a pound or 2 of gloria Jeans flavored coffee for Christmas. Now, don't get all excited, I love my home grown Arabica, but I'll kill over a cup of Chocolate Carmel Truffle coffee from Gloria Jeans! I'm gonna surprise him with it Christmas morning :) Of course he'll be pleased but he'll say something like, "where's the Arabica?" just to mess with me....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dirty Food

The 5 dirtiest foods

This article is being featured on yahoo's homepage along with a picture of brown eggs. Is this article helping people like me spread the word about self sustained living and feeding ourselves or hurting? Will people get the same point that I did out of this article?
How would you rate your food-safety IQ? I know someone who never washes their fruits and vegetables after bringing them home from the market because he believes that they're washed at the store. Um, no. Read on to learn about what some call the "5 dirtiest foods" and for a food safety wake-up call...

The dirty food list, according to this fascinating piece I found over at AOL Health include the following:

Eggs: While most eggs aren't going to make anyone sick, experts estimate that more than 2 million germy eggs (as in Salmonella infected) get into circulation each year, sickening 660,000 people each year and killing as many as 300. Um, maybe we should think twice about eating that cookie dough (or, judging by our conversation on Vitamin G, perhaps you'd rather take your chances?). How to buy cleaner eggs? Make sure the carton says they're pasteurized and never buy a dozen that contains any obvious cracks or leaks.

Peaches: They're pretty, but that's just skin-deep. Health experts warn that peach skins are doused in pesticides before they make it to grocery store to prevent blemishes. On average, a peach can contain as many as nine different pesticides, according to the USDA. This is one fruit you might want to buy organic (which may have blemishes, but won't have pesticides).

Pre-packaged salad mixes: Surprise! "Triple washed" doesn't mean germ-free say experts. Pathogens may still be lurking so be sure to wash your greens before tossing in your salad bowl.

Melons: Get ready to be grossed out. According to the article, "when the FDA sampled domestically grown cantaloupe, it found that 3.5 percent of the melons carried Salmonella and Shigella, the latter a bacteria normally passed person-to-person. Among imported cantaloupe, 7 percent tested positive for both bugs." Ewww. Your best bet: Scrub your melons with a little mild dish soap and warm water before slicing.

Scallions: Blamed for several recent outbreaks of Hepatitis A, and other bugs like the parasite Cryptosporidium, Shigella and Salmonella, scallions present a food safety problem because of the way they grow (in the dirt) and lack of proper washing. While you can't control what happens in restaurant kitchens, you can give them a super-duper washing at home before cooking with.

Other dirty foods in the article include chicken, ground beef and turkey, raw oysters, and cold cuts. Click here to read 5 more.

The bottom line: Don't be afraid to eat these foods, just be aware of the precautions you need to take before enjoying them. Most food-borne illnesses are the result of hygiene carelessness somewhere in the food chain. Protect yourself!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

feeling a bit spoiled

When speaking with others about my lifestlye, I get the "how do you do it" question all the time and the "don't you miss fast food, etc" line. Well, I'd like to share my weekend experience at the Holiday Inn Express business suites with you. Company Christmas party thing, they paid for the room. I do appreciate that too since it would have been a 75 mile drive home late at night and I wouldn't have been able to do the once a year beer consumption thing. Other than the fact that there is just no place like home, the provided breakfast opened my eyes to how spoiled I really am.

The buffet breakfast that was served at the hotel was something even my DOGS wouldn't eat. Soy sausage should be against the law! Powdered eggs are a travesty of life and fake butter with fake cream should not be allowed for human consumption! There is really something to be said about good old fashioned home cooking. Soft and crunchy crusted fresh from the oven bread with free range chicken eggs and a hunk of the hog I just butchered, fresh cream and butter made from that same cream, that's how I do it and nope, I sure don't miss that commercial pre packaged food! Suffering thru that meal made me appreciate the time I get to spend in my own kitchen and having the opportunity to grow my own foods and butcher my own meats.

Ah, I shouldn't be so hard on poor Holiday Inn Express, at least they serve Arabica coffee! They brew it way too strong but it's still good coffee.

The Christmas party was average but the beer was free. The caterer over cooked the prime rib but we lived thru it. We're good until next year ;)

It's good to be home!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Planted seed of inspiration

This post was inspired by something I read over at the Johnson Family Farm blog. Never thought about posting about soap until Johnson's made some soap using the tried and true melt and pour method. They did a good job, the pictures are great. My last melt and pour attempt didn't come out anything like that. Good job Johnsons!

I started my quest to make soap because my daughter hit puberty and was covered with acne. Store bought remedies were not working and were just plain expensive wastes of time. We tried every kind of soap made and nothing helped. It took around 3 weeks or so I guess for her skin to clear up and she's been blemish free ever since. We've never bought another commercial bar of soap again. Guess it's just one of those things we do and don't think about, like doing laundry or washing dishes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rainy Days

It's been raining and storming since late last night so I'm feeling a little blah today. Too much time to think about things like the economy, politics, the cost of living etc. Enough to depress the heck out of anybody! Thinking about prepping and worrying if I'm doing enough each day to ensure our safety and health- on and on and on.

While we're doing all this thinking and preparing, we have to also remember to live a little. Life is always what happens when we're making other plans. Can't get all wrapped up in a single idea that other ideas or experiences pass us by without notice.

So, here I was this morning, brooding over my cup of coffee and my smoke about what I have and what I need to have and what I need to be doing and my son says to me "Look Mom, there's flowers on your plants". A ray of sunshine in all the gloom. Instantly changed my mood! Forget about the poor economy, the useless auto industry bailout, the idiotic governor of the State of Illinois and just enjoy the small things in life for a while. After all, I woke up still alive and that's something to be happy about!

Now, if I can just figure out how to go coyote hunting instead of butchering that hog........

Saturday, December 6, 2008

gardening surprise, supporting our habits

I received an email from Patrick(thank you Patrick) asking me about something on my profile. I grow my own coffee and tobacco. 2 bad habits I have, one I refuse to live without and the other I just don't want to quit. I looked thru my photo albums and don't have a single picture of either plant growing, hmmm. So, come spring I'll remedy that.

Coffee is an interesting subject! Lots of different strains of coffee you can grow, depending on your tastes. Myself, I prefer the Arabica bean for it's low acid and naturally smoother drinkability. Some types of Arabica plant prefer to be partially shaded, need extra care and attention but there's one or 2 strains out there that grow like weeds. A simple general search on coffee beans will help each person decide what type of plant they want to grow. The seed germination takes a bit longer than say a tomato seed, but once it gets going, you're in business! I started growing my own coffee a few years ago when the price of commercial coffee went way up and stayed up for a while. it's dropped back down somewhat now so stock piling a few cans of coffee while your plants get going is still affordable. It is a good idea to read up just a little on growing coffee before you start, all the help you can get.

Once you get your "cherries", there's a few decent and inexpensive ways to roast them too. You don't have to have an expensive electric roasting machine to get a good cup of coffee. I do mine in the oven. The roasted beans can be ground for brewing in just about anything, even a household blender. The best thing to use tho, is the old fashioned hand crank burr grinder. My preferred choice anyway.

I drink my coffee black but hubby likes sugar in his. Since I am allergic to bees, we don't have a supply of honey here so I grow Stevia. It helps but I don't think he considers it a good enough sugar replacement so we do have a stockpile of white sugar for his coffee.

Now for my other bad habit, tobacco! I've tried to quit just a couple times(thanks kids and the public school system) but I'm just not a quitter. I don't want to quit, I like my morning coffee and smoke. Tobacco is easy to grow, it will grow in just about any soil. The seed takes a little time to germinate but once it goes, you're in business! Think of the money you'd save to prep in other areas if you grew your own. You'll need a bit of space as the plants get big and you'll need somewhere to dry your plants. So, I suggest you read a bit on growing tobacco to become more familiar with the process as I cut corners here, throw up a drying shed at the last minute type thing and everyone will want to do what will work for them.

"Food for thought", if you smoke and drink coffee, your own supply isn't a bad idea!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Seed Saving thoughts

Each day that passes, I find myself thinking more and more about my food safety and the availability of what I need to feed myself and my family. Yesterday, once again I spent 2 hours reviewing the seeds I've saved. A few days ago, I realized I didn't have enough plants producing fresh food in my containers to provide a decent bounty for my table. I started some seedlings. Of course the cucumbers sprouted in 2 days like they always do, the seeds are pretty fresh. The Romas I've been planting are from 2005, the container tomatoes are from 2004 and the peppers are from 2006. Guess I should save fresh.
These little babies pictured here are from 1999! Basil is pretty easy to grow and I've had the same plants going for at least 4 years now. I store my seeds in plastic ziploc bags in coffee cans in the kitchen cabinet. It's obviously working out well because there they are, sprouted in just 6 days. Somewhere along the way, several years ago, I read in a book that when you save seeds, the key to the viability and longevity of the seed is air, moisture and light. Eliminate them and your seeds are good for a long time. I'm not going to suggest that you save and seeds for 10 years like I did, fresh is the better choice for any planting. I guess I haven't allowed my basil to go to seed all these years! Time for some fresh basil seed, guess I can sacrifice one plant.

Seed saving isn't difficult, you simply need to allow a couple fruits or veges on a plant to hit full maturity. You want the amount of good seeds inside to be at the maximum. I simply collect the seeds, wash them in luke warm water if they have plant matter on them, dry them on a paper towel and store them with no air, moisture or sunlight. Good insurance for the future of government controlled food supplies and GMO seeds.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Memories of days gone by

I often miss living in Chicago simply for the food. I grew up in an Italian/Greek/Irish/Bohemian community and did we ever eat! My Gramps had a double lot for his home and the one whole lot was a great big garden. Gramps used to give me a quarter for every rabbit I shot with the pellet gun. I'd go to the corner market and buy ice cream with the money. Grandma cooked those rabbits with gravy and dumplings my brother fondly called "sinkers". Bohemian flour and egg dumplings, they go great with roasted pork loin.

Those foods I can easily duplicate on the farm. I raise the rabbits and the occasional hog. That's not what I've been craving tho. I have the urge to have a big fat greasy Gyros, true Greek style comfort food with the cucumber sauce and onions. One can simply not find something like that in southern Illinois. So, I hunted down a lamb so I could try to duplicate those fond memories of years gone by....

Alas, my search ends at my Amish neighbors' place. He has a couple sheep on his place. He doesn't eat them, he shears them and uses the sheep as lawn mowers! I bartered him out of a lamb and he delivered it to me this morning. The man looked around my farm and said to me "You don't need a lawn trimmer, why do you want a lamb?" Needless to say, he stuck around for the dispatch of the lamb, he did not believe I was really going to eat it. I hope I did as gentle a job as my Scottish Grandmother did. Anywho, I mixed up my ground lamb with a little deer meat and some fresh herbs I grow in containers in my windows. I just pulled the steaming pan of my concoction out of the oven and sliced myself some. Not quite Petes Gyros on Roosevelt in Cicero, but close enough! I even managed to whip some cucumber sauce up from fresh sour cream I made yesterday. Now I need to learn to make pita bread.....

Ah, the fond memories of childhood and the dreams of eating all those wonderful things again on the farm........

Oh, I almost forgot, the recipes for both the meat and the Gryos cucumber sauce came from, it's a great source for good recipes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Snow day

This little gem was grown on my window sill in a miner bit bucket. About a half gallon size bucket, soil from the compost pile. Should be mighty tasty with the fresh made sour cream! It's snowing here today and my attempts to pen the chickens up in the coop were in vain. So, they are running around with the snow flying, free ranging in the fence row, again because I was too slow this morning. I swear, as big as Australorps are, I would have never guessed they could fly out of a 6' fence, but they do. I need to finish the roof! The bunnies have a new tarp up on the open side of their shed, I hope to have kits born in the next week. The horses are all bedded up in the barn for the night and all that's left is putting some round bales out and helping the neighbor milk the cows. I haven't even started my first loaf of bread today, shame on me but it's such a dreary day, everything seems like slow motion. Plenty of stuff to warm up to eat and a few slices of bread from yesterday will have to do for now.

I've been designing some new container growing shelves for the windows but they're on hold until next week due to lack of a lumber fund. Seems like the odds and ends bills keep sneaking up on me. Christmas is right around the corner and I've been sneaking in baking a few cakes and cookies here and there.

I did start a few more seeds for the container garden, the thought of having to spend money on something I can grow kills me. They won't be even started well by Christmas, but they should be producing long before the last frost so it's worth it. I also started a couple new herb seeds I hadn't had access to before. Hope they sprout!