Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goat's Milk Woes

I inquired about goat's milk and was disappointed with the outcome.  The goat farmer I contacted does not sell goat's milk, just shares of a goat, which then gives you a specific amount of milk during the times that she's giving milk and leaving you fresh out of luck when she's dry.  The monthly fee is more than it costs me to buy organic cow's milk at the supermarket, and I prefer cow's milk anyway.  So, I guess we won't be taking the goat's milk route (thankfully - I was dreading that one a bit).

I know we don't need any more contributors to the world of ranting bloggers, but I must at least say that I'm not a fan of the "buying a share approach" to Community Supported Agriculture.  I would much rather support community agriculture by going to the farmer's market and purchasing the local produce that my family chooses.  It doesn't strike me as sustainable that we all pay a monthly fee to get a basket of what the farmer chooses, regardless of what we might choose. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why?...or...Why Not?

Someone recently asked me why I am raising quail. I've had similar questions about why take the extra time to hang up clothes instead of just throw them in the dryer. The funny thing is, I usually find myself somewhat at a loss of an answer to such questions because my reasoning does not fall precisely in line with any specific ideology that dictates such actions. I suppose the easiest answer is that, although these things may be time-consuming, they are also very life-giving to me.

I'm not completely comfortable with industrialized agriculture and the many practices involved. I desire to show respect for the Creator by respecting His creation. I don't believe, for example, that this looks like placing chickens in cages that allow for no movement and focusing on the sole result of the most efficient egg production. Nor do I believe this looks like keeping created beings in overcrowded facilities where they do not see the light and cannot interact with any of the rest of creation.

I am also uncomfortable with the amount of steroids, antibiotics, and God knows whatever else getting pumped into our food for the sake of low-cost, efficient, and blemish-free production. While I don't find researching and debating the details of what the exact extent to which all this affects us physically, I do prefer to take proactive steps to cut back on the amount of chemicals being pumped into my body and the bodies of my family. In my house, this looks like everything from eliminating the use of plastic more each month to growing things organically in my backyard.

Finally, I value moderation of consumption. I enjoy cutting back on energy and water usage. I enjoy cutting back on utilization of centralized systems. And I enjoy saving money. I find it somewhat absurd that in the same day we use money and electricity on running both a device to pump out hot air (the clothes dryer) and a device to pump out cool air (the air conditioning), so I use the Creator's outdoor heating device (the sun) to dry my clothes).

That's the best I can give you for my "why." Really, it all comes down to that I like it. It feels right. It connects me with natural processes, teaches me spiritual lessons, and brings me joy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Learning More About Quail

I believe this one's female, based on my research.  :)

Today’s job has been learning more about my quail.  Here’s what I’ve found:

     1. My quail are Coturnix quail, also known as Japanese quail.
     2. Quail have cannibalistic tendencies when under stress or living in too little space (very good to know…should have researched before losing one in pecking battles).
     3. Quail need 2 sq. ft. per adult male.  We have close to that but probably a little under, so we will need to increase their space now that they are maturing.
     4.  Nobody in my area carries game bird laying food.
     5.   Sometimes quail hide their eggs in the bedding (that should be fun!).
     6. Ways to sex quail (determining gender):
1.     Look at their breast feathers.  Males will have a rust color to their breast feathers while females will have distinguishable spots on their breasts.  (This does not work on the white ones.)
2.    Males crow, and females do not. 
3.    Males have an extra bump on their rear that secretes foam – don’t think I’ll be using that method to determine my males if at all avoidable!
4.  Separate the suspected male to see if he lays an egg because we all know that males don’t lay eggs!

I suppose my to-do list has now expanded.  Over the next week I will be sexing my quail and expanding the enclosed space available to them (they will be the dinner of predators and fly through the neighborhood without the space being enclosed).  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Updated To-Do List

Now that I have my edible landscaping well underway, I feel like I have come to a standstill on moving further down the path toward Learning to Live Local on Less.  Thus, I think it is time for a new to-do list. 

    1.  Contact a local goat farmer and inquire about switching to local goat milk as our milk source.  (If I had more space, I’d sure love to have my own goat!)

    2.  Research quail to learn how to better care for them and make this a sustainable egg source.  (We are currently dealing with some in fighting, likely, because some are males.  It is very difficult to tell the difference from male and female quail when they are babies, so we will need to figure out which are the males as they mature and trade them for females.)

        3.  Plan and prepare planting for a fall harvest.

        4.  Test soil from close to the foundation of the house for lead and asbestos to    see if it is safe to add edibles along the edge of the house.

          5.  Investigate growing grains or finding an affordable local source of grains.

I suppose the above list includes enough next steps to keep me moving in the right direction.   I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How the Garden Grows

Cantaloupe vines climbing up the fence.
Yellow squash with onions in the front.
First fruits.

French Runner Beans.
Sweet Potato Vines


Plant progress picture day!  Due to the drought, I have more empty dirt space than I'd like.  New plants just can't keep up in the record breaking high temps and lack of rain.  At this point, I am going to wait until late summer to plant some more things for a fall harvest.  Forgive the haphazard layout...Blogger doesn't handle multiple pictures well.

Challenging Peppers.

Herbs...lemongrass tea = happiness.

Tomatoes will be ready soon...

Delicious Peaches
My healthy grape vine...
...in desperate need of pruning and training.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Brick Paths

My backyard layout was inspired by some British garden photos that had brick paths. I was committed to not spending much money on the paths but still had my heart set on brick. Well friends, I have good news, it is possible to make brick paths for free with good friends, craigslist, and the patience to live with a mess while you wait for the right materials at the right price. I was able to salvage many bricks from the messy side of a friend's yard, for which they were grateful that I cleaned out some "junk." Then, another person getting rid of paver bricks found my wanted ad for bricks on Craigslist.  He was also happy to have me take bricks off his hands for free. Just as I was losing steam and sitting around with mostly filled, wobbly paths, yet another friend called to see if we could use some extra sand they had leftover. So, we took the dirty sand out of the boys' sandbox and spread it around the brick paths. This stabilizes all the bricks and turns them into nice paths - I will do a how-to post of the process when all is finished. Then, we took the new sand and put it in the sandbox.  As you can see from the photos, we are still living with some mess, but we are getting closer every week.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quail Adventures

There has been much discussion at our house about whether or not to let our quail have free range of the yard while we are outside to keep predators away.  Currently, they have free range of their pen.  The issue that stands in the way of allowing them free range of our yard is figuring out how to get them to go back into the pen for their own safety when needed.  Thus far, we have had trouble getting them still enough to clip their wings so that they can't fly out of the yard.

Take today, for instance.  I admit that I still have not found a great way to clean the quail pen.  I moved the lid off of one corner, just enough to be able to scoop out the dirty wood chips with my shovel.  It wasn't long before one flew out into the yard and calmly hid behind the pen, so I ignored her for a time in the interest of finishing cleaning without losing any quail.  Within minutes, I had another escape out of the roost and fly over the fence into our neighbor's apple orchard (thankfully, a friend).  We managed to track her down, catch her, and clip her wings.    However, in the course of finishing the cleaning of the pen, we had a handful of others escape around the yard (including hiding in the doghouse - bad decision), and one more fly over the fence into the orchard.  Our trusty bird dog tracked it down and sent it into our forsythia.  Everyone is safely back in the pen now, albeit somewhat traumatized, some with clipped wings.  It was a fun Saturday afternoon distraction, but I must come up with a better system for cleaning the quail pen! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gardening Shoes

How does one replace a faithful pair of gardening shoes? These shoes have served me well for years and years. This week, however, pieces of rubber have started to fall off in the garden while I work. So, what do I do? Purchase a new pair of shoes to immediately immerse in dirt? I am very finicky about my shoes. Crocs or some other such "gardening shoe" simply will not do! I need athletic shoes to support me while I go about the work of gardening. I can't use an old pair of athletic shoes because the support is completely worn out by the time I am done with them, and thus, they do not provide the support needed to garden without pain. Hmmmm...stayed tuned.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day to Day Sustainable Living

I think I owe it to my readers to show the not-so-exciting days of Learning to Live Local on Less. So many blogs and magazines out there are full of the excitement...the planting, the harvesting, the new goat endeavor, and the latest advancement in biking for transportation...that we don't ever have images of the author picking weeds in 90 degree weather and cleaning the toilet (naturally, of course). So I am here to tell you that this blogger is unglamourously getting up early to clean the berry patch before the heat kicks in, nearly passing out hanging loads of laundry in the squeltering sun, and vacuuming the house. Nonetheless, it is all very life-giving to me. I once read a quote in the book "Living More with Less" that said something to the point of: if living simply weren't so fun, I wouldn't do it. The concept has stuck with me. Thus, while I await my sourdough to rise, I blog while looking out the back window at my kids playing in the sandbox and my laundry blowing in the breeze. Sometimes I think the boring days are what life is all about.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sustainable Urban Living Inspiration

Steve's pup has found a nice shady place under the tomatoes.

 We all need someone who shows us that what we read in books and magazine is possible.  Steve Fry is that person for me.  He makes it all happen right here in Muncie, Indiana and has been a great source of inspiration, encouragement, and practical help.  The problem is that Steve is so busy gardening that he doesn’t spend time on silly blogging endeavors, so I will have to brag on his behalf.

Steve's Outdoor, Solar-Heated, Water Heater
When I first met Steve, he was living a block from me completely off-grid and raising enough produce for a small army.  Last spring he moved to a little bit larger house, but he is still in the heart of the city on an average sized lot.  I remember him going to work immediately on making the yard into gardens upon relocating before worrying about the shape of the inside of his fixer-upper.  I was away this spring, and when Steve came by to welcome us home, he was excited about our backyard transformation and full of encouragement.  He said we must stop by and see his progress.  This is what met me upon entering his gate (remember, he just moved in last spring): 

An unbelievable, edible backyard oasis!  He followed us the several blocks back to our house and helped make some repairs to our rain barrel system, leaving us with a bag of produce since we got a late start planting this year.  I suppose this means I should get back to work!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sourdough Part 2

Hopefully yesterday’s post has given you the confidence to give homegrown sourdough culture a try.  I tried raising sourdough on my own before but wasn’t confident enough to stick with it until a dear friend gave me some of her sourdough culture that had been in her family for decades along with a batch of recipes.  She was so generous that I want to extend the favor. 

Feeding the sourdough (the good kind – if you want just water and flour starter, google it!):  add 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, and 1/3 cup sugar. 

How often, you ask?  If keeping it on the counter – daily.  If keeping it in the refrigerator – weekly.  Now, you may recall that yesterday I said you can keep it in the fridge for up to 6 months without feeding it.  This is true, but you do not want to consume it immediately after an extended period of stagnation, without first feeding it for a few days straight to freshen it up.  It will not taste good, and your belly will hurt.

My favorite website for sourdough bread recipes is sourdoughhome.com.  You cannot not rush the rising times.  They seem very long, but that is the nature of good sourdough.  Be patient.  It will be overly dense and won’t rise well if you rush it.  The sourdough culture must have time to work its way through the entire dough. 

The above website doesn’t have recipes for cinnamon rolls, pancakes, and muffins.  Basically, for those, you can throw a cup or so of sourdough starter into your favorite recipe while adjusting the other ingredients to maintain the right consistency for the added probiotic benefit and flavor of sourdough.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


While we’re in the kitchen, let’s talk about sourdough.  Now I’m not talking about store-bought sourdough that is made with packaged yeast and has a touch of sour flavoring added.  I’m talking about homegrown sourdough culture that uses healthy bacteria to rise.  Our bodies need good bacteria (I’m sure you’ve heard the probiotics buzz).  Sourdough is good for your intestinal health and is not as difficult as you might think to maintain and use.  It only requires one thing:  patience – that dirty word!

Thoughts to calm your fears (based on things misconceptions that found me giving up on sourdough my first few tries):

     1.  My sourdough starter can last up to 6 months in the refrigerator without  being fed.
     2.  I use it for more than just bread – pancakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls…mouth watering yet?
     3.  I do not find myself dumping extra starter down the drain, nor do I bake   with sourdough daily.

Now, I must confess, my sourdough starter is not the traditional flour and water starter.  It is a flour, milk, and sugar starter.  Sure, I’m not a purist, but it makes for delicious outcomes, and I still get good bacteria in my system.  I’ll share more details, proportions, and how-to’s tomorrow.  If you’re in the Muncie area and want some of my starter, let me know. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Homemade Granola

For those of you who follow this blog regularly, I promised you a granola recipe would be in a future post, so here it is.  Making granola is a great way to cut breakfasts costs without giving up the convenience of pouring cereal and milk in a bowl and being done with it.  Below is the recipe I use, based on a recipe from a favorite restaurant, Mezza Luna, which has since closed.

Combine: 6 cups rolled oats, 1 cup coarsely chopped almonds, 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon nutmeg.

In a separate bowl, mix:  1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 cup honey, 1 cup water, 2/3 cup oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Add wet mixture to dry mixture.  Spread onto two baking sheets at 300 degrees for about an hour.  Stir every 10-15 minutes.

I change the types of nuts to vary the recipe.  You can also change the amount of sugar to match your taste/health preferences.  I also often add 2 cups total of some combination of dried fruits.  The fruits you choose is completely adaptable to your preferences and budget.  Or if it's fresh berry season, leave out the dried fruit and top with fresh berries...even better! 

Make it whenever you have time, and once it cools, throw it in a container until breakfast.  Enjoy!  (I'd add a picture, but this recipe doesn't even last long enough to snap a picture of it in my house.)