Saturday, October 31, 2009

Am I ready for this?

My freezer is full up with enough food to participate in the Dark Days Challenge.  The winter garden is going strong and the cold frame has been planted.  I'm ready.

Especially since I just ordered my Heritage Hog from Farmer Allan at Fresh and Local CSA

Last year I bought a 1/2 hog from him and when I asked him what kind, he said it was a Large Black Hog.

This year, it will be a Tamworth Hog.

I was a vegetarian for over 20 years so I try not to announce to everyone how much I LOVE pork these days.

Today's harvest

From my garden today
Freshly dug carrots

Cleaned carrots

Assorted Greens: Radicchio, Arugula, Wild Mustard, Oak Leaf Lettuce and a guest slug

Up close of slug.  Squished after photo shoot

Curly mustard from my neighbor's plot. He's in France and told me to pick whatever I want

Friday, October 30, 2009


I was asked recently my motivation for preserving food.  This summer, I went a little crazy with pickling, canning, dehydrating and making jam.  Growing up, my family lived in a house that had several peach, pear and apple trees along with a very large garden.  My mother canned/froze/preserved everything.  I did not eat peaches for years because of the memories of being covered in peach fuzz from helping her freeze them.  We knew the cupboards were almost bare when mom would break out the apple jelly for our sandwiches (I never liked apple jelly).   There really isn't any economic reason to can these days since if you add up the ingredients and time, it's cheaper to buy pickles in the store.  Preserving food is in my genes, I guess.

There was a message on the local listserv from a woman cleaning out her parent's house and she was giving away all their old glass canning jars.  Lucky for me, I was the first to respond so there are now dozens of beautiful old glass Kerr, Atlas and E-Z jars, along with zinc lids, and the canning pot,  in my basement.  Unfortunately, it is no longer recommended that one use these types of jars for canning.

 The book that I used for most of  the pickles was the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

According to, bread and butter pickles are named such because during the Depression, they were as regular a part of a diet as bread and butter. The difference between bread and butter pickles and sweet pickles is just a few ingredients. Sweet pickles use cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in a vinegar-sugar brine. Bread and butter pickles are made with turmeric. mustard, and onion in a vinegar-sugar brine.

Here is the recipe for the Bread and Butter Pickles

Traditional Bread and Butter Pickles - makes about 5 pint jars

10 cups sliced trimmed pickling cucumbers (I planted Alibi pickling cukes but I think I threw in some regular ones too)
 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pickling salt (I used kosher but have since obtained pickling salt)
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbps mustard seed
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp ground turmeric

1.  In a glass or stainless steel bowl, combine cukes, onions and salt.  Mix well, cover with cold water and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.  Transfer to a colander placed over a sink, rinse with cool running water and drain well.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.

3.  In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds and turmeric.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Stir in vegetables and return to a boil.

4.  Pack vegetables into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar.  Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding more hot liquid.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

5.  Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars and cool 24 hours and store.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Acrylic sheep

Is knitting really considered a sustainable craft anymore?  Have you been to a local yarn store (LYS) lately to check out prices? Maybe if I made my living raising sheep.  This summer my kids and I visited an alpaca farm in Bethel, Maine.  The farm owner had run out of her yarn from her herd as the demand was great but I don't think people were buying her yarn to make socks because store bought were too expensive.

I am a knitter although not the type of knitter who just buys up yarn to have it and awaits inspiration on how to use the skeins.  I see a project, I buy the yarn, I knit the socks or blanket.  Mostly it's a way to keep my hands busy while watching TV.  Serious knitters have a project with them to take advantage of any waiting time that might arise.  I don't do that but I confess during my university's recent faculty retreat, I was knitting while the president and provost were speaking.

Here is an afghan I completed when I was in college.  If you look closely, you will see that it is single crochet, Chevron pattern.  This is why it took me years to complete it.

It's made out of acrylic and looks brand new. It is 27 years old and to this day I wonder "why brown and yellow?"  My mother taught me how to knit when I was young but my Aunt Parma started me on this blanket when I was in high school.  She was married to my Italian grandmother's brother.  My brother and I grew up spending a lot of time at my aunt's house in Bristol, CT as she was our primary babysitter.  No matter what time of the year, when we would visit, she would descend into her "cookie cellar" as my brother called it, and come up with a plate of Italian cookies.    The pepper biscuits were my favorite. 

She helped me to start this blanket and I didn't finish it until years later.  Since then, I've made several blankets for friends and family.  My favorite knitted afghan is 47 years old and packed away. It's one my mother made before I was born but it now really too worn to have out.

Here is one I made for my son.  It's from the Learn to Knit Afghan Book by Barbara Walker.  Each square is a different stitch.  This too is made out of acrylic and should last forever.

This one is my daughter's.  The pattern is from a knitting magazine and the squares are mitered.  This is made out of wool.

Here is the latest blanket.  This one is for my honey and the pattern is Flying Goose from the Mason Dixon Knitting book.  This is out of wool too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tool Sharing

Tool sharing is a great idea. There was an update in the Washington Post Magazine recently about a woman who tried to start up a similar idea in California. There are many specialized tools that would be useful but only for specific purposes. Not enough use to justify buying them, such as the chipper. No homeowner here in the city really has use of a heavy duty shredder. Maybe I can find several like minded souls to cost share. Or that one person in the city who has one and I could trade pickles for the use of the shredder. My mother is a lawyer and she once bartered her services for a year's worth of hair salon services. If I owned a shredder, then in the dark of night, I would chop down the junky trees that overhang my yard, growing from the rental property adjacent to me. The rental property next door has every crappy tree and invasive vine growing into my yard. That is a rant for another time.

Here is an article from Mother Earth News on tool sharing. (I like this magazine but they seem to be obsessed with chickens. Every issue has something about raising chickens)


I want one.  Not some little fussy machine that eats a few leaves.  I want a heavy duty chipper/shredder that will eat all my stalks (sunflowers, joe pye weed), little branches (butterfly bush) and big branches (silver maple).  One I can take to the community garden to mulch up those tomato plants and okra stalks that are NOT supposed to go in the community compost pile.  Do the community gardeners listen about what to put in the joint compost?  No they don't, so there is lots of stuff that won't break down in there.  If I had my heavy duty chipper, I could be the hero of the garden.

Now is the time the neighborhood is raking and piling the leaves on the street for the city to collect.  It is a mystery to me what happens after that.  Apparently the city composts the leaves and makes the resulting product available for city residents but where and when? I have never been able to find out.  My solution would be to roam the neighborhood and shred leaves.  We occasionally have an older man come around the neighborhood with his truck, sharpening knives, scissors and what have you. He announces his presence with a bell on the truck.  When I hear the bell, I grab what I can and run like the wind out the door to catch him.  I could do that with my chipper.  Just the roar of the machine would let the neighbors know I 'm coming and to have those leaves and other cuttings ready.

Oh baby

Monday, October 26, 2009


Because I just can't get enough of fresh vegetables, to supplement my own harvest, I belong to a CSA.  Farmer Allan Balliett runs the Fresh and Local CSA out of Shepherdstown, WV.   He delivers in my neighborhood but even more convenient, he delivers on the university campus where I work.   A couple of weeks ago he asked me if I'd like some Stevia plants.  Huh?  It is a South American herb used as a sweetener and is many times sweeter than sugar.  He delivered a few stalks and then the fun began to try and figure out what to do with them.   I found some recipes from herbal related sites that suggested steeping the flowers and leaves in an alcohol mixture, then adding water and boiling it down a little.  I took a mason jar, stripped the plants of leaves and flowers and put them in the jar.  Added some lemon balm from my herb garden.  I had a small bottle of vodka, left over from making pasta sauce so I added that to the jar.  It wasn't enough to cover the leaves and since I didn't want to buy another bottle, I called my honey, S, thinking surely he will have vodka.  He didn't but for some reason he had an unopened bottle of grappa in his freezer.  Holy moly, I'll take it!  The next day with grappa bottle in hand, I poured enough of it over the leaves/vodka mixture.  Steeped it for a couple of days after which, thanks to the lemon balm, the mixture was now a gross looking green.  Strained the mixture, added a couple of cups of water and then simmered for a while to reduce it.

The idea was to use it to sweeten homemade ice tea.  I made lots and lots of iced tea because my son and I love it.  I made the tea the usual way (boil 4 cups of water, add 7 tea bags and steep for 5 min.  Strain, pour into pitcher and add 4 cups cold water.  I usually add sugar to the hot mixture after straining).  Instead of adding sugar I added 2 teaspoons of the stevia mixture.  IT IS DELICIOUS!

Now what do I do with the rest of the grappa, sitting in my freezer?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

wildlife in the city

Last night while I was puttering around in the kitchen a noise came from the back porch. I turned my head to stare into the face of  a possum.  He or she was licking the rinsed black bean can that was sitting in the recycling bin.  The bin sits adjacent to the door that leads to the porch so we had a perfect view of each other.  Mr. Possum then spent a few minutes exploring the porch and then wandered down the steps into the night.

There are birds, squirrels, mice, rats, raccoons, possums and who knows what else in the back yard.  The squirrels don't bother me as I don't feed the birds and don't plant tulips.  There are 2 that make their home in the silver maple tree, a gray one and a black one.  They are very amusing chasing each other all around the yard although these days they are busy burying the bumper crop of acorns.

Last summer a young raccoon played with our hammock.  He swung it back and forth, amusing himself and me and the kids.  There are camel back crickets that winter in the basement.  They scare the daylights out of my son but don't bother me.  When I'm feeling particularly unwildlife friendly, I will put down duct tape to catch them.

This year we saw a red-tail hawk in the maple tree and on the fence, separating the rental house with mine.

All of this activity is probably partly my fault as I compost. 

These are the two bins used.  You don't need store bought bins but there really isn't room in the yard to have a simpler system.  At the community garden, the bins are built out of pallets and scrap wood.  These bins were bought at Gardener's Supply in Vermont.  I love this place - some day the bins will be upgraded to better ones but for now, they suffice.  I am a lazy composter and just layer all the ingredients and at some point, a year later, empty it. There is occasional turning but not much.  Kitchen scraps are saved,  junk mail shredded, dryer lint, coffee grounds, some newspaper strips.  I save many prunings from the yard but not heavy duty plants with stacks (I pruned today butterfly bush, cosmos, boneset, sunflowers - they don't go in the compost).  The bins are emptied once a year, usually August or so and spread around the yard.

 Here is the inside of one of the bins.  Something chewed it.  I don't want to know.  I used to have screens on the bottom of each bin but even those were chewed through.  So I claim ignorance of what is happening in my bins.  My next project will be worm composting for inside the house.  That will be in another post.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Clothesline rebel

After I hung out my first load of laundry, my neighbor called me to tell me how surprised she was to look out her window and see clothes hanging.  After the call, I thought, uh oh, I didn't clear this project with my neighbors directly next door.  There has been stories in the news about home owner associations banning clotheslines and I was afraid that there might be some block ordinance about hanging your unmentionables out for all to see.  For the record, no undies are hung out in plain sight.  They are hung on drying racks, discretely hidden on the back porch.  When I finally did see my next door neighbor, she assured me that no one cared.  Hurray!

Clotheslines stage a comeback

Death and Gardening

The matriarch of my community garden died last week.  She was 85 years old and the last time I saw her was about 6 weeks ago. She was sitting in her chair, in the middle of her garden plot, directing her daughter on how to weed.  Her memorial service was yesterday, at St. Albans.  A number of gardeners attended and we all told our "Ruth stories" after the service.  When I first moved to DC, 9 years ago, I was walking home from Turtle Park with my children.  Friendship gardens was sitting at the top of the hill, across from the park.  We took a detour and walked through the garden.  I asked someone who was working his plot how to obtain a plot. He gave me Ruth's name so when I returned home, I called her.  She called me back a couple of months later to tell me she had good news and bad news.  The good news was there was a small plot available but it overgrown and needed work.  The bad news was I had to pay a one time fee of $10.  I took the plot and paid the fee.  Over the years, Ruth offered me bigger plots as a reward for being a tidy gardener.  When I finally made it up the hill to the large plot adjacent to hers, she and Marina (another gardener next to me) welcomed me by saying "we are so happy to have you up here".

My mother lives in rural Maine.  In Maine, there is a cemetery plot on every little road.  Several years ago, my mother bought two plots in the cemetery that is on her street.  Her partner asked her why she bought two plots and she replied "I thought Stacey would want to garden on one".  I tell my kids whenever the opportunity arises that they are to dig a hole on one of those plots, throw my ashes in and plant a tree.  I'm not a religious person but there is something spiritual about the thought of fertilizing a tree.

Black Bean Soup

my daughter loves black bean soup so tonight I am going to make some for her.  She won't be home until tomorrow and by that time the flavors should have melded.  I don't have a recipe per se but this is what I am planning on doing

Saute some chopped onions, celery, red pepper and carrots in olive oil,  Then add some water and 2 cans of drained black beans.  I use Minor's Soup Base so I think I'll add some vegetable base and some roasted red pepper base.  Simmer until everything is soft, then puree in the blender.  Season to taste.

The carrots I pulled from my garden today.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Solar powered drying

In other words, a clothesline.  Here is mine.  It connects from a pole on the porch in the back, out to the silver maple tree.  I've wanted one for quite a long time, in theory.  So when I talked about it in the spring to my boyfriend (there must be a better word.  I'm in my 40's for goodness sake, isn't there an adult word for boyfriend), I thought I was engaging in a "wouldn't it be nice to have..." exercise.  The problem (oops, advantage) of mentioning something like this to S, is his mind starts to think.  And think.  And think some more.  For the next couple of months all I heard was "let's draw a design" or "let's go to the hardware store" or "let's do some measuring". I was focused on other things like my vegetable garden so I finally threw up my hands and told him to run with the project.  So here it is, my lovely clothesline that works like a dream.  It's become more important in my household because the dryer has broken.  Not that it was used much but sheets and towels are just not the same unless tumbled dry.  The dryer still sits broken while we use scratchy towels.

In the words of my wise 12 year old daughter, E, when she saw me hanging out my first load of wash "Mommy, you have turned into Grammy".  Grammy is my mother and I have never received a higher compliment.


My friend wants me to post things about knitting.  Should I do that even though I'm not raising the sheep and shearing the wool? 

Water Audit

Yesterday, a representative from RiverSmart Homes paid me a visit.   They are a group from the District Department of the Environment and are committed to reducing storm water runoff.  My yard is already water friendly, but I thought, well, let's see if there is more that can be done.  They offer reduced prices on rain barrels and shade trees and provide grant money to have rain gardens and bayscaping installed in one's yard.  The only thing my yard qualified for was rain barrels.  My front lawn has already been replaced with garden beds, concrete walkway removed and replaced with pavers and the backyard is still used by the kids.  The rain barrels hold 150 gallons so they are much bigger than the one that is currently in my yard.  I'm going to order 2 and and maybe try to convince my neighbor to install one in our common area. 

Rain barrels are nice in theory and they make everyone feel good but in fact, they don't collect that much water.  One hour of a rainstorm and they are full.  They service my needs to hand water my containers plants  but I can't count on rain barrels to get me through the summer watering.  2 more huge barrels will help but really the next step is to have a cistern dug into the backyard.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why can't we be a normal family?

Those were the words of my 9 year old son, B, when I told him we would be getting our milk delivered from South Mountain Creamery  The thought of drinking milk that came straight from a cow put him over the edge. He's refused to drink the milk ever since although if it's hidden in a milkshake, he asks for more.

I live in Washington, DC and decided to try my hand at blogging about urban homesteading. Over on Facebook, my friends know I spent the summer tending my vegetable garden and preserving the harvest. I'd like to share thoughts about farming in the city and trying to live green (within reason and budget).