Mountains in winter
Reveal their bumps and bruises
Like a crone’s elbow


Getting Figgy With It

Yea! We’ve got figs growing! We have two Brown Turky fig trees outside that are bundled up in hay and coverings for the winter. They are supposed to be incredibly hardy.

Fig with fruit

Inside we have a Celeste tree and ‘she’ is bearing fruit! Apparently we don’t need any special pollination and this tree will produce on its own. The fig fruit is a flower with both the male and female flower parts enclosed in stem tissue … meaning the flower is inside the fruit! This is known botanically as a syconium. We’re excited to see the fruit actually developing (in our kitchen)!

The Skinny on Skinning

Just like the structure of our house (straw-bale, slip form, poured concrete … finally to ARXX blocks) the outside required a series of changed minds before we could land on a solution. Still attracted to stucco and stone, we had intended to skin the whole structure in stucco and stone. But there are lots of places where the stick frame and the blocks meet that are challenging. So then we considered putting board and batten over the plywood parts and dealing with the transitions that way. After a lot of research about what woods would work best we found that the locals recommended rough-cut hemlock (which would shrink, but it is used on lots of barns around here) or cedar that is impossible to get. Then as we were deliberating and looking at other structures, we realized that it wouldn’t be a low maintenance solution.

Metal siding and first coat of stucco

We are trying to build a low-cost structure that is easy to maintain and also satisfies our aesthetics to some degree. And, to be fair to us, every stage of this involves some sort of work-around or compromise due to the work that came before it.  So we landed on a solution that will work for us. Some of the building will be skinned with Galvalumed roofing that is a close color match to the stucco. It allows us to do the difficult parts (especially the parts that require scaffolding) with an easy substrate. Our Mennonite source offers an awesome price per foot and cuts it to size. And we can get it done even on cold days. We’ll still have plenty of stonework and stucco to make us happy but our house will be skinned in the near verses distant future!

Another List

Looking back on the last few years, we like to give ourselves some positive perspective by reminding ourselves what we didn’t know a few years ago. On the Nature Bats Last blog, Guy says when he embarked on his project he could barely distinguish between a “screwdriver and a zucchini.”

Ruminant Saki who now lives at Orts farm. Everybody is happier, including Saki and Poki.

While both Ed and I came into this with some gardening skills and a few carpentry skills, we now know we had barely scratched the surface. I won’t even get into the new skill sets we have acquired here or the new tools (the right tool means everything!!). The vocabulary we have gained is telling. In my former life I had no need to know what classified as a brassica  or what juglone is or the difference between a brush-hog, skidder or bucket loader. If you had asked me what an indeterminate tomato was I would have said a tomato that can’t make up its mind. I wouldn’t have ruminated about what a ruminant is … never giving much thought beyond distinguishing carnivores, omnivores and herbivores, much less what kind of herbivore!

Baby Its Cold Outside!

I feel like it has been winter for a while already. Mentally it begins for me in November even though we had some wonderful weather then. And again some wonderful weather in late December. But now the really cold weather is here and we are anticipating some minus 7 degree days. Stuck inside, we try to be productive anyway … writing, researching and planning.

Tree in Snow

Ed has ordered an unimaginable number (in terms of me imagining planting them) of new seeds and plants. Most of them are medicinal perennials and we are busy learning more about them. I’ve posted a complete list of plants we use/hope to use that are now on Lucky Dog, either in seed form or already growing. Some are wild things that we keep discovering. A surprise to me is all the uses that goldenrod has. It is plentiful here and I enjoy the bright flowers, but I also pull out a lot. This coming season I will have more of an appreciation for it and may try some of its applications.

Passing Stuff On

I just received two specially rescued and rejuvenated (just for me!) books from my friend who has started a project called Bequeathed. From the site … “Bequeathed is an experiment and social outreach project designed to reintroduce vintage, small, culturally relevant items to the world.” You’ll have to check it out to understand the project, but it caused me to revisit the idea of What Do We Really Need one more time. Down-shifting our lives to be able to live self-sufficiently on the farm also meant that we had to do a great deal of down-sizing of possessions. The most major down-size came this past spring when I moved to the farm full time. I had an apartment filled with leftovers from both of our past lives. Some of it I had been dragging around since high school just in case I might need it or I might want to see it again. Giving all that stuff up required a tectonic mind shift for me and I have to give my daughter great credit for helping me muddle through it.  But once the shift happened, it became really fun.  It comes to mind because of the philosophy behind… “passing stuff on.” Instead of my things continuing on in stasis in my storage boxes I began to see them as things people might really be able to put to good use.

Ripe, JPM

Three decades of costume making and collecting, plus extra sewing materials were delivered to a delighted Shakespeare company. Craft materials dating as early as my high school days and as late as my daughter’s high school days went to a youth program along with games. Piles and piles of books went to a bookstore that gave me store credit for some and delivered others to the local prison. You get the idea. The list goes on and on. Craig’s list was a lifesaver! It connected me with people who allowed me to part with, among other things, my favorite purple couch, a hard-to-transport but much-loved curio cabinet, my electric piano and several paintings by my daughter and I. Their enthusiasm for their “new” things made my grief at losing them disappear. Grief is a strong word but I was grieving until I realized what fun I was having passing the stuff on.

Eggplant, MAM

To say that I made a completely clean break would be an overstatement. I kept plenty of things that I really don’t need and eventually they’ll find a home, or maybe even a new purpose here. Everything in stages! Meanwhile, check out what rediscoveries are happening at!

In Defense of Corn

I was never much of a fan of growing corn. I had the impression that it was a big soil depleter and space eater and the effort wasn’t worth it when we can get all the sweet corn we like at $2/dozen. Then Ed discovered a book on a fellow blogger’s website (explore links below) that busted some myths about growing corn as well as giving masterful instruction about the different types of corn  and how they are best consumed.corn kernels

The author, Carol Deppe,  of the Resilient Gardener eats a gluten free diet and is all about self sufficiency so she has done a bunch of experiments growing corn. Apparently there are three types of corn and we typically are provided with meal or flour from “flint” corn. The best for baking is actually flour corn (and much corn flour is NOT made from that) and the best for boiling is flint (polenta, mush, grits). The third type is dent which has a diversity of tastes and uses depending on which variety. These are the author’s generalizations, but she claims to be able to make bread from flour corn that is really simple and is a good sandwich bread without artificial additives or binders.

She makes growing corn sound fascinating and we’re going to give a few varieties a try. We already grind our own corn and wheat for cooking so it will be fun to see how the different varieties work. We happen to be in a good spot for growing corn as the locally grown (GMO) corn is fairly far away and downhill and downwind from us. Otherwise cross-pollination happens and that contaminates the seeds we would save for the next year. At least we thought we were in good shape until our neighbor across the street said he was thinking about putting corn in his field (which formerly supported either cows or fourwheelers)! We think it still may be OK as the pollination times may be different.

Deppe also makes quite a case for potatoes which got me re-enthused about growing them too. Neither of these are crops that we will sell. We just grow these items for our table and generally have enough potatoes in storage to get us through the year (same with garlic and onions). We’ll see how it goes with the corn!