March 6, 2012

Independence Days Update—Explaining what I like about these updates

Folks—this started out to be a short post as an update about my garden, and it turned into a novel.  I guess that is what I get for not posting more often!  Forgive the length, and by all means feel free to skim or skip if you like. ;)

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I try to post occasional updates (weekly when more is happening and I’m able to post) on our garden, home projects, and ways in which we try to live more simply.  These posts are inspired by the work of Sharon Astyk.  For a long time, Sharon regularly posted Independence Days Updates, which were a wealth of information.  I learned from people all over the globe what they were planting, how they were preserving foods, and what they were doing in their gardens and around their homes.  She became busier with her new blog and stopped posting them for a while.  I was bummed, but I certainly understood. 

I was absolutely thrilled when I learned that she had resumed her postings with an additional category called “skill up”--

What did you learn this week that will help you in the future – could be as simple as fixing the faucet or as hard as building a shed, as simple as a new way of keeping records or as complicated as making shoes.  Whatever you are learning, you get a merit badge for it – this is important stuff.

Now I understand that Sharon’s work isn’t for everyone.  Some think she’s a little radical, and maybe she is.  I don’t agree with everything she writes or even how she couches it all of the time, but I do appreciate her honesty, her research and data that supports what she writes, and her encouragement of her readers.  I might not have tried as many different types of food preservation if it had not been for reading her posts and giving it a shot, and I certainly don’t think that our utility bills would be as low either!

As I’ve posted the Independence Days Updates on the blog, they’ve become a form of a garden and home journal for our family.  I can go back to them and know when the asparagus first were picked or when I canned peaches.  I can see patterns in when I’m slacking on recycling and composting and what that means in our live (usually illness, travel, or some other anomaly).   For those who read them, I hope that they might give you a comparison that is useful, in particular as it relates to planting and harvesting times.  For example, someone can look at when I canned the peaches and know approximate dates as to when they will be ready for harvest in East TN. 

Perhaps the element that I most appreciate about these posts is that they encourage me to work on becoming more self sufficient.  I don’t know if you noticed or not, but food is expensive.  Organically grown food can be even more so.  However, food that you grow in your back yard is much, much less—a pack of bean seeds cost about $3 for organic.  It will reap quarts and quarts of green beans.  For the same $3 you can buy 3 fifteen oz cans of organic green beans.  The more that we grow ourselves the more food security and less cost we have. 

Likewise, a better skill set also means more security.  Just today I was talking with a fellow social worker about how the issues that relate to food security and poverty aren’t just about money, class, or unemployment/employment.  They have just as much to do with literacy, training, and competency in areas such as home budgeting, food preparation, access to quality foods, awareness of the basics of food storage, and time.  It is one thing to be able to grow food.  It is another to know how to reap higher yields, preserve the extras, tend the garden to build the soil for future years, rotate your food stores so that things do not go to waste, and know how to make that food end up on your table in a way that is tasty enough to be eaten.   

These skills and ideas were something that I grew up experiencing as if it were just the way that everyone lived.  My grandfather’s kisses were always sweaty because if it were daylight he would either be outside working in his garden or fishing.  Some of my most treasured memories are of canning tomatoes or peaches with my dad, the taste of fresh corn that my maternal grandmother had picked from the farm that morning, and of shelling purple hull peas with my MawMaw.  I realized as I aged that not everyone had that luxury, and I’ve tried to pay forward those teachings that so many people offered me—teaching friends how to can, offering classes on making mozzarella and yogurt, and encouraging others to budget and coupon. 

At present probably the biggest group that I hope to make an impact on is the kids that I work with at the church.  Through work at the food pantry and in social services, I know that many times teens are the ones preparing the meals in families who are struggling financially.  I’ve been trying to teach the kids at church where their food comes from, what it looks like fresh, table manners, and even talking to them about how we prepared the foods.  Perhaps those children can teach their friends, or at the very least they will have that basic understanding that they can use later with their families.  I need to add here that many of the kids already have this foundation from their parents and grandparents, but it is my hope that by reinforcing it, we can encourage them to develop these skills as they age.

One more last thought before I go on to the update.  Many of the skills that relate to the Independence Days Updates also help with emergency preparation.  I’ve been reading more about emergency prep and watching more documentaries on the subject lately.  I’m fascinated by the ways that anxiety around disasters and doom can manifest in hoarding behaviors or even agoraphobia, and I suspect we’ll hear more about that as the infamous 2012 nears an end.  Instead of choosing to “go there” in my head, I try to focus on the things that I can control.  We have a good supply of food if we had a hardship (financial, prolonged illness, or even just being busier) and needed to use it to help.  We try to have a car kit and 72 hour book it bag in case we were told to evacuate.  We try to keep up to date with basic survival training if that were needed…  These posts give me an opportunity to update how we are doing on that work.

Now to the update…finally.  If you haven’t yet taken part in the updates, I hope you will.  You can go to Sharon’s site to note a quick update in the comments section of her posts or you can add one here. 

The notes below are based on the last month--

The weather has been crazy in East TN.  Many forecasters are saying that this will be the earliest spring/last frost on record.  We’ve had 70 degree days already that are followed by cold winds and dustings of snow.  And then there were the tornados—don’t get me started on those!  While we didn’t have any damage in our immediate area, those to the south and north of us did.  My heart goes out to those who lost their homes and their livelihoods in an instant.

The plum trees are in full bloom, the asparagus are out of the ground a few inches, and many of the types of daffodils are at their prime.  It is beautiful, but I am beginning to wonder what will be in bloom when it is Easter?

Plant something: I’ve been lax on planting this year.  At first it was because each chance we had to till the garden, it would rain and then it was because I was busier on other outdoor tasks.  We’ll see what happens with the garden this year as a result!  I’ve planted two types of beets (think that the two that I managed to get in the ground were Chioggia and Bulls Blood).  I planted a different type of carrots this year (Inverness).  They are a bit bigger, which I think will make them easier to peel. The stubby ones I planted last year were sweet and delicious but hard to prep.  I also planted about 200 radish seeds in the form of a rainbow mix.  They are coming up nicely, and I can’t wait to enjoy them!  I’ve planted a couple of waves of sugar snap peas, mainly from old seed that I saved from the last two years.  I’ll probably plant one more wave before it gets too late. Daughter and I planted 160 onions, and I have the same amount to plant in both our gardens and my dad’s in the next week or so.  Again, those are a bit late, but since I use them mainly as green onions, I’m not too worried about it. 

For flowers, we planted a flat of pansies and a few candytufts.

We started Bianca di Imola Eggplant inside in hopes that it sprouts and we can plant it in the summer garden.  My dad has been wanting to grow this type since he worked up in Delaware and would pick it up at the local markets regularly.

Harvest something: Flowers!  Hubby pulled the last of the green onions from the 2011 planting and chopped them for the freezer before tilling the garden

Preserve something: Hubby added green onions to the freezer

Waste not: We’ve been regularly composting, and I was happy to see that Hubby had used most of last year’s compost when tilling the garden.  Trash turned into gardener’s gold—love that!  We passed some clothes and toys that were our daughter’s on to a friend who has a younger girl.  We donated some of her books to the school library and others were passed on to her cousins.  A few kitchen supplies were given to the church kitchen for use there.  We have been working on organizing our home, and now have a big stack of goods for a yard sale later in the spring. 

Donated 10 inches of my hair to Locks of Love.  Growing it out saved a ton of money as I didn’t dye or highlight it, and I didn’t have a high maintenance style that required more regular visits to the salon.  Far more of a benefit, though, is knowing that someone out there will be happy to have it for their use. 

Want Not: I pulled out the book it bag, and I did a little updating.  I need to make another one for Hubby, and I plan to work on that soon.  I added a few things to my car kit.  It is used so regularly that I find it needs updating more often.  I added some dried beans, some cereals, and a few cans of tomatoes to the pantry. 

Eat the Food: Since January, we’ve been trying to eat out of our food storage more as a way to rotate those foods that need using before the harvest season kicks into gear.  We plan to purchase half of a steer with friends from a local farmer, and the room that we’ve made in the freezer will soon be filled. 

Build community food systems: This is an area in which I’ve been a little slack.  I still work in the food pantry at church, make meals for the kiddos on Wednesday nights, and help with the men’s breakfasts once a month.  However, I’ve not been meeting up with local farmers as regularly.  I still buy our milk at Three Rivers Market and get my eggs from a lady not too far down the road, but without easy access to the farmers markets, we aren’t eating as many locally grown foods.

Skill up:  Hubby and I are about to do a major overhaul on the master bathroom, and we’ve been doing a lot of research on the best ways to go about that.  By that, of course, I mean that Hubby’s been doing a lot of the research and translating it from engineer speak so that I can get it and understand how to help.  ;)  I’ll keep you posted on our progress and what we learn from the experience. 

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