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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Breaking New Ground

I recently complained that we are running out of garden space in the yard. Well, I caved and dug up the last available bed space. Last night we planted beets, carrots, and kohlrabi in the narrow bed. We planted LOTS of beets and carrots, and we're hoping to experiment with storing them both in the ground and in cans for the winter. I used to hate beets, but they're really growing on me. Perhaps its because little homegrown beets are much tastier than the behemoths you often find at the store.

Did you know that beets have more sugar content than any other vegetable?

Bicycle delivery

Inspired in part by the Pedal People of Northampton, MA, I'm looking into starting a grocery delivery service--by bike. The first step is to see if I can generate any interest--there are a lot of rich people in Santa Fe who are environmentally "conscious" but for whatever reasons cannot/will not get on a bicycle.

Might be a fun side gig to help me beef up my savings.

And PS, if you didn't click on the Pedal People link above, do it! They are superheroes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why does it have to be a rooster?

Well folks, one of our baby chickens looks to be a rooster. Technically it's too soon to say, but we're all pretty sure. It's sad--we'll probably have to find him a new home. And he's one of the "pretty" ones--beautiful white and black feathers, and would lay blue-green eggs if only he was a she.

We will keep him until he starts to crow, or maybe until his crowing drives us mad or results in death threats from the neighbors.

Sigh.

Coffee Porter

The coffee porter we started a few weeks ago was bottled today, which means we got to taste it for the first time. Even the warm, flat, un-aged version of this beer is tasty! I think it may be our best batch yet. It has a complex flavor, not too bitter but nicely hopsy, and a rich, coffee-chocolate finish. Yum.

To carbonate the beer, we used a quart of the wort instead of bottling sugar. We reserved it before we added the yeast and kept it in the fridge. We've never tried this method of carbonating beer before, but according to the guy who runs the brew store it works and preserves the beer's flavor more effectively.

Up next...agave wine!

New Laundry Method--The Stomp

We're experimenting with another way to do our laundry without a machine, based on this instructable. It involves putting your laundry in a big plastic container, filling it with soap and water, soaking it, and then stomping on it for awhile to get the dirt out. It seems to work really well, though a washboard is better for scrubbing if you've got something really dirty.

We've been doing this outside with water from the hose, and then watering the garden with each rinse cycle. Plus, it's a pretty nice way to cool down on a hot day!

PS. We're having more digital camera difficulties, which is why I've been scant with the pictures lately.

Friday, July 25, 2008

One Tank A Month Update

So...keeping track of my gas use is proving to be more difficult than I thought. An impromptu camping trip a few weeks ago messed up my count (I'm trying to determine whether, in a normal month, I can use just one tank of gas). We refilled the car yesterday, July 24th, and so I am starting the meter over once more.

Even though I've been having trouble meeting this goal, I think that my gas usage has halved since I challenged myself to use only one tank a month. It's a start.

Fall Crops

According to our local county extension office, it's time to plant most fall crops. We dug a new bed and planted broccoli, chard and radishes. We'll need to dig another bed for root vegetables, lettuce, spinach, etc. Unfortunately we're running out of space AND good soil in our backyard. The fluffy bd we double-dug for the broccoli has settled into rock hard adobe, and we're not sure any seeds will be able to fight their way to the surface. There's only one more spot where we can squeeze in a new bed, but it might make it too hard to walk around the yard.

In both these spots, the soil is so bad that we might not be able to grow any food in them this year. Instead, we could plant a tough cover crop that would help to break up the soil with its root system and that, when cut and turned under, would add nutrients and organic material back into the soil. That might make the soil more habitable next season.

Since it seems we're able to cultivate all the available space in the back yard, we will need to improve our container gardening techniques. Nothing that we planted in a container really thrived this season, with the exception of the cosmos and the zinnias. All of the food we tried to grow ended up stunted, pest-ridden, or washed out. I suspect it's a combination of the fact that the soil dries out more quickly and that the nutrient supply is more limited. Now that we have a worm bin, perhaps some compost tea would help potted veggies thrive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chicken Coop



Our chicken coop is finally complete! We spent about $80 in materials (split between four people) and used a chicken-raising book's diagrams as a guideline. Here's what we started out with:

The finished coop is raised off the ground on cinder blocks to prevent rodents from nesting in the bedding. It has 2 nesting boxes (you need fewer boxes than chickens) with a hinged roof for egg collection. The main coop has a roost for sleeping and food and water dispensation devices. The coop sports a large door for human use (for cleaning and feeding) and a small door for chicken use. The chickies have a ramp to access the coop. Here's the finished coop on opening day:



I'm going to try to get Tristan to make a step by step Instructable for this project--he did most of the work. Thanks to Sarah for the great pictures!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

100 Foot Diet Challenge Update

I've challenged myself to eat as much local food as possible this summer (and I hope I'll be able to continue into the winter). My food choices tend to go in this order, from best to worst:

Food from the garden, dumpstered, locally grown organic or chemical free, locally grown conventional, organic non-local, and then conventional non-local. Basically, I would rather eat pesticides than food that took a lot of fossil fuel to transport, but I'd much rather eat food that didn't use pesticides OR a lot of fossil fuel.

It can be very challenging to eat this way, and I don't always succeed. Money is definitely a concern for me, and I cannot afford to buy lots of food from the coop. That's why I try to make as much as I can from scratch (bread, yogurt, cheese, special treats, etc.) But making everything from scratch is time consuming--that's the biggest obstacle I hear from friends when I suggest taking this route. I'm still learning time saving techniques, like making no-knead bread, but I do work full time and sometimes I just don't have the energy.

That's when I find myself tempted to eat out. This is still a major challenge for me: I love food, and I love eating out (probably because I HATE cleaning). I spend more money on eating out than any other activity, so naturally this is an area I want to work on. I find that when I'm too strict about my eating habits, I burn out and find myself a Late Nite Burger or another local restaurant. Instead, I'm trying to get in the habit of keeping a stash of frozen foods from Trader Joe's on hand. It's not ideal, but at least it's a cheaper way to cheat.

So that's the challenge. Here's one of my successes! I haven't been able to glean whole meals from our garden, but I've come pretty close. Often I just have to add some tempeh or dumpstered meat and a grain to complete a filling meal. We've had a steady supply of greens. Did you know that collards have more calcium than milk by weight, and they are high in protein, vitamin C, and many other vitamins? Also a good source of fiber! We've also had beets in the last week, and some carrots and peas as well. Soon we will be making a LOT of salsa verde, hopefully to can. My tomatillo plants are enormous and bursting with fruit.

As a post-script, I am hoping to have enough surplus from the garden to donate some to the local food bank. They have a great program called "plant a row for the hungry" that encourages home gardeners to donate produce to improve the nutrition of people forced to get their food from the food bank. If you're in Santa Fe and you have a garden surplus, consider donating it as well!

Bikepooling!

My coworkers and I have begun to form a bikepool. Since I began biking to work, two of my coworkers who live in the neighborhood have acquired bicycles and joined me on the road. It's so valuable to have other people to motivate me to get on my bike in the morning. I'm so astonished at everyone's excitement to participate--it is a 14 mile round trip, after all. But not only are people excited, they're sticking with it. Even more impressive: they're not obsessed with reducing their carbon footprints, like I am. They seem more interested in saving money or getting excercise than saving the world. And I can respect that. It just goes to show you that there are a wide range of compelling reasons to ditch your car.

If you're considering ditching your car and riding your bike to work, see if you can get someone else to bike with you! You'll be: saving money, burning less oil, getting in shape, getting to know your coworkers, and if you want, making a statement. You could just make a sign that says "Bikepool" or "Bikepool: X miles to the office". I've opted not to make a statement out of the bikepool because my coworkers really aren't as interested in the politics. I'm content that it seems to be making a big impact in the office. I wouldn't be surprised if even more people joined our bikepool or started to bike to work from their own neighborhoods.

The Sacrificial Garden

Sadly, due to continued problems with our crazy former landlady, we have decided to abandon the first garden we planted this summer. I'm not going to get into too many details, but let's just say that she sent me an email to ask me not to weed around my lettuce, in my garden.

It's sad to have to give up so much food, but we planted it just for fun and we will have a large harvest from our second garden. It was a hassle to drive to the far end of town once a week anyway, and I'm sure the food won't go to waste.

Beer!

Back in Philly, we were really on a roll with our homebrewing. It seemed we always had a batch to drink and a batch in the works. The move(s) disrupted our flow, but last week we started a new batch of beer: a porter. It turns out the brew store in town is less expensive than the one in Philly, AND everything except the hops is organic. We are used to spending about $45 for a 5 gallon batch of beer, but this time we spent $30. Not bad for 50 bottles of beer, eh?

Because it's so hot right now, the primary fermentation happened really quickly (not ideal) and we will rack the beer and do a secondary fermentation in the next few days. We decided to experiment and added some coffee (from the dumpster) to the beer, so we'll see how that turns out.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Worm Mansion

We just inherited a worm farm from a friend! Yippee! No longer will our composting worms be forced to live in a humble plastic bucket. Now they are the proud owners of a Worm Mansion three stories tall! I just transferred the worms to their new home. I will update with pictures as soon as I can find the doohickey that uploads the photos to my computer!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Old Veggie Garden

This morning I went back to our first vegetable garden at our old place to see what I could harvest. The garden is overrun with weeds, but most things are still doing well. I harvested some late peas, carrots, beets, chard, kale, and lots of lettuce. Our potato and horseradish plants are HUGE, and we're going to have another kohlrabi harvest and some cabbage in a few weeks as well. Unfortunately, one of our beds has been a little neglected and our wax beans and onions looked a little thirsty. Can't wait for dinner tonight!

Milking Goats!


(Goat image ripped from the internets.) There is a co-housing community in Santa Fe that has 2 milking goats, which need to be milked twice a day. They've opened up milking opportunities to the community at large, but competition is fierce for a regular milking slot. A friend of a friend managed to get a weekly milking time, and she invited us to come help her last night.

The barnyard is beautiful--they have 2 milk goats, 2 pygmy goats, and a bunch of chickens sharing a space. When Jill opened the door that separates the barn from the milking area, one of the goats rushed out, jumped right up on the milking platform, and allowed Jill to secure her to the platform while she happily munched on oats.

Jill got the goat started, and then let the rest of us have a go. She milks very quickly--pretty much like you've seen in cartoons or whatever. Then she handed it over to Jake, and progress was much slower. The two of them finished off the first goat, and got about 2 quarts of milk from her. Then it was time for the second goat; and for me to have a go. I've never milked anything before, and I was excited to give it a try. It took a few attempts to get any milk out at all, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I think it will take quite a bit of practice before I can milk as steadily and quickly as Jill, though. It takes me a long time to get everything positioned properly, and then I get a good, satisfying squirt, reposition, etc.

We drank fresh goat milk as we walked home (yes, it's in walking distance) and Jill was kind enough to send us home with a quart of the milk. For the record, I've always been a little afraid of raw milk, mostly because I fear it will taste bad. This goat milk actually tasted much better than the milk you can buy from the store. The milk from the store is old enough that it tastes kind of, well, goaty. The fresh milk only has a very subtle gamy aftertaste. Even though we only got a quart, I think we will try to make cheese from our fresh, raw goat milk!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Updates Coming Soon...

Sorry I haven't posted anything in awhile--it's been a busy week or two. But that means I'll have lots of projects to post just as soon as I can. Stay tuned for:

One Tank a Month Update
Bikepooling!
Garden update
Chicken coop design and construction
And much, much more!

You don't want to miss this, folks!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Garden Update!


Gratuitous garden pictures!!!!!






Most things are doing pretty well. I think I planted the squash family things too close together, because things are starting to get crowded. We bought some more starts today, and are going to break ground on a new bed to put them in. We got eggplant, two kinds of chiles, basil, and a morning glory vine to trellis around our doorway.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Backsliding


It's been all of a week since I declared my goal of using one tank of gas a month. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I'm already down to half a tank--I have been indulgent with driving to work or letting Tristan take the car to work. I'm still determined to reach my goal, so I'll just have to redouble my efforts here. No more wussing out when it starts to sprinkle as I'm leaving work.

On the plus side, I'm finally starting to notice some improvement in my strength, both muscular and cardiovascular. When I started riding, I'm ashamed to say I couldn't make it 1.5 miles to the store without having to stop to take a break. Now that trip feels easy and breezy, even when I'm hauling the bike trailer (which has flat tires, I might add). Riding to work is also a snap, but riding home is still a little challenging. I'm wiped out at the end of the work day, and it's hotter than in the morning. I think with a little more strength I'll get fast enough that the ride home isn't so brutal--even now it's a lot more tolerable than my first few attempts.

I'll check in next week to let you know how my gas meter is looking...wish me luck!