The Past 20 Months

I’ve been trying to figure out what the “next chapter” of this blog would be, while I also figure out how to balance all of the aspects of our lives with a child in it. I realized it will be what it always is, a mix of homesteading and humor, just with a kid involved now. The truth is I don’t post his face a whole lot on Instagram, so it probably won’t be posted on here full-out much either. It’s a personal choice and absolutely no judgement on individuals who choose differently.

Here’s where we are now, 20 months after welcoming an incredible, super fun, sweet, intelligent and energetic boy into our world.

  • We have a child who will be referenced as “E” here on the blog. So, that’s huge.
  • The dogs are now seniors. Winnie is ten years old and Rosie will be ten in April. While it’s difficult watching them age, they are still up to the same antics they’ve always been up to, and it both makes me mad and warms my heart.
  • We still homestead as much as we can. We’re getting back into the swing of things now that E is a bit older.
  • I still have a full-time career in the communications field. As always, I save the writing/grammar police for my job and don’t worry about it too much on here.
  • I still run Green Barn Soaps on a primarily seasonal (October-December) basis. The website is up year-round, and I do ship year-round, but at this time I very rarely make product before August.
  • To decompress I do yoga and run; though I’m just getting back into running. Yoga has been my saving grace for years at this point and I love it. I particularly love going to studios because I do what they tell me, relax, retain nothing, and go home and forget how to do any of it. Just how I want it.
  • Also, to decompress, I sew kids clothing for friends/family and the occasional custom order when I have time.
  • I’m in my final year of graduate school and expect to graduate December 2018. You have no idea (or maybe you do) just how relieving this is.
  • The other big change since I left writing here is that while we dabbled in it before, we now eat a primarily whole-foods, plant-based diet. This has meant removing oils from our house, reducing salt, reducing intake of highly processed foods, and no animal products with the exception of a very rare occasion and even then it’s a super minimal amount. That might sound restrictive, but it leaves a bountiful amount of food left in the world to enjoy including grains, flours, egg-free pastas, roots, squashes, beans, lentils, peas, fruits, veggies, etc. Yes, our child is raised this way, we aren’t nutrient deficient, and friends and family leave our house full with warm bellies. We feel, for our family, a WFPB diet is best for us and our needs. Recipe posts in the past that contain animal product will stay up, but new recipes will not contain animal products. I think it is important for me to genuinely say with respect that our choice to do a WFPB diet is not an attack on other food choices of other individuals and their families. This is just our journey. If you’d like to learn more about a WFPB diet, www.nutritionfacts.org is a great place to start.

xo,

Heather

Photo courtesy of Lucharelle Photography

It’s a Shiit(ake) Show Around Here

It was just another day at home when Andy and I, for some reason that now slips my mind, decided we needed to grow mushrooms on our property for four reasons:

  1. We can
  2. We enjoy tasty food
  3. We enjoy growing tasty food
  4. We enjoy growing tasty food that is easy and we don’t have to weed/constantly tend to

After a brief discussion, and for reasons listed in bullets 1-4 above, we settled on shiitakes. I finally bit the purchase-the-spores-bullet when I was walking around the indoor farmers market at Fort Andross Mill in Brunswick and came across North Spore Mushrooms. It seemed like as good of a time as any other to go ahead and buy some shiitake plugs. Then, they sat in the house for about a month before we finally inoculated the logs this weekend.

The guy at North Spore Mushrooms told me to read the website on how to properly inoculate mushroom logs. So, obviously, I didn’t.

I’m normally on top of this type of stuff but not this time. This time I read the general process and off we went. Here is our process. It is, by all accounts, only partially correct. Our best guess is that we’ll still end up with some shiitakes. We’ll probably end up with some other kind of fungus too if we’re being completely honest. Should this go well we will likely do some more logs in different types of mushrooms because you know, we’re wild and crazy.

Shitake Innoculation (2)

Step 1:

Cut down a fresh oak tree that is crooked and being crowded out, thus giving the bigger trees more nutrients and room to grow that are not longer being taken up by the tiny crooked tree. Don’t take any photos of this process because you’re at Target and have no idea the process has started .Pat yourself on the back in hindsight, even though you had nothing to do with it, for supporting sustainable forest management. 

Step 2:

Cut tree into 2-4 foot log segments. Again, do not take any photos because you are now driving home from Target still completely unaware you are about to walk into a mushroom inoculation activity.

Step 3:

Realize you don’t have any beeswax on hand, but hey you’re a soap maker so you must have something you can use. Candelilla wax is a good substitute. Except that it gets super hard, super fast, and will probably just crack off all together in the cold weather. Regardless, melt a bunch of candelilla wax in a double boiler – also known as a cheap pot and a tin can you were going to recycle.

Shitake Innoculation (3)

Remind yourself to purchase cheese wax so you can go back outside and recover all of the plugs. Promptly forget.

Step 4:

Drill a bunch of holes, completely randomly but at least 3 inches apart or so, into the logs to a specific depth and width that you should probably know, but you don’t. In turn, rely on your iPhone and your husbands handy skills to know how to do it based on the size of the mushroom plug.

Shitake Innoculation (5)

Step 5:

Place a plug in each hole and hammer it in. Make sure the plug is flush with the log or even counter-set just a little bit.

Shitake Innoculation (7)

Step 5:

Go in the house and get your wax. Carefully bring it outside while trying not to tip the tin can over and get melted candelilla wax everywhere. Swear to yourself once again to remember to buy cheese wax. Forget within thirty seconds. After your wax is at the site – where it should have been from the beginning – start trying to put wax that is rapidly hardening onto each plug with a paint brush. Give up with the paint brush and start putting it on with your fingers. Try to find all of the plugs before the wax completely hardens, instead of waxing over as each plug went in so you knew exactly where they were. Plugs blend really well with bark as it turns out.

Shitake Innoculation (8)Shitake Innoculation (9)Shitake Innoculation (1)Step 6:

Crib those logs up. Shitake Innoculation (10)

Step 7:

Wait and see what happens. Remind yourself while writing this to buy cheese wax and go fix the issues. Make a mental note not to forget the mental note, but do not proactively actually write it down.

Now, just wait for science to take over. Thank God for nature and it’s processes, because it clearly has it’s shiit(ake) together way more than I do.

xo,

Heather

A New Porch, A Garden Downscale, and A Kitchen On The Way

Last year Andy cut down cedar on his mom’s property for the porch we needed to finish. We then brought the cedar home, milled it out, stacked it, and turned it into decking. I’m of course using the marital “we” because it was 99.99% all Andy.

Here’s the kicker, I took photos of Andy turning the lumber into random width, plantation grown, decking. I cannot for the life of me find them though. So what you get are finished photos instead.

June 2015 House Updates (3)June 2015 House Updates (5)It’s a pretty great view, and the porch creates a little wind tunnel from the field to the road. It’s perfect for sitting on because the almost perpetual light breeze helps keep the black flies and mosquitoes away. We’d call it intentional, but it definitely wasn’t. We’ve already had a few “porch parties” with small family gatherings on it, as well as dinners outside etc.

Andy really wasn’t sure if he was going to start the kitchen first or finish the porch, and I have to say that I at first pushed for the kitchen. Once again, Andy had it right. Having this porch is SO nice, and it’s going to make a nice retreat when the kitchen and everything else is completely torn apart.

Speaking of “completely torn apart” we are getting there on the other side of the house. The windows have come in, and the siding…well, it looks like this:

June 2015 House Updates (2)Propped up is the new door that is going to the right of the current door, which will lead into the new mudroom. I don’t really have much else to say beyond that, so let’s awkwardly segway into the last big to do here…

..we’re not growing a garden this year.

I know, I know. This is hard to even wrap ones head around, let alone mine. Essentially it came down to three factors, first and most important, the soil needs to rest because it became too weedy so it’s now covered in black plastic for the summer; two, we’re renovating; three, I’m in graduate classes until August. Between the soil needs, and our schedules, it was one of the hardest calls ever not to grow the majority of our own food this summer.

Thankfully, we live in Maine where CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are rampant. We’ll be getting one this year through Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, Maine. We’re looking forward to see what comes our way, and we’re hoping it will help keep our diets on track while the house is ripped apart. We have a new grill (you can sort of see it on the deck in the photo above) that has a side burner as well. The plan right now is to cook up big batches of rice and beans at the beginning of the week, and then grill veggies all week long. This will allow us to have quick, delicious and healthy dinners which will help both our budget and our waistlines.

If you thought we weren’t growing ANY food however, you would be wrong.

June 2015 House Updates (1)Troy did indeed come out this year once again. We tilled a small patch behind our blueberries and planted some butternut squash, summer squash, zucchinis, and cucumbers. Then, behind another stone wall we planted basil. In the garden area we do have about 100 feet of garlic, as well as our asparagus. That’s all we’re doing for vegetables, but we have more fruit going this year. We expanded our blueberry and strawberry beds because they are getting large and spreading fast. It’s perfect! We even added some more blueberries this year, two more grape plants, and six elderberry plants.

Then there are the herbs. Like I’m going go go through a summer without a sufficient planting of herbs. Knowing we didn’t have anymore planting space, I bought a huge planter and now my herbs are right on my deck.

June 2015 House Updates (6)Overall it’s been a good spring and summer, now if I can only remember to keep my camera on me. If I ever find the photos of Andy turning the lumber into decking, I’ll post it here. As you can imagine, it was a load of work (understatement), and I’d love to be able to show you all how it went!

All for now,

Heather

Letting The Garden Fallow

I thought this post was scheduled to go up last week, but it wasn’t. This is what happens when vacation brain kicks in. Without further ado, a new post.

—————

August is a big month for us around the house. It’s my last full month before another graduate class starts, but it’s also the month we harvest a significant portion of produce from our gardens and start planning next summers garden.

2014BlueberriesExcept, next year, there won’t be a garden. At least not in the same format that we’ve had our six gardens in the last seven years we’ve lived here. Here’s why: the soil. I’ve found the most important part of gardening is learning to read the soil. This is something I’m still learning every year with every garden we have. It’s a science and an art. The soil tells me just about everything I need to know about my garden, and this year it’s screaming for mercy. We do crop rotations (i.e. planting a nitrogen fixer where the previous year was a nitrogen feeder) for both insect infestation control and soil management. I care a lot about our soil as it’s own living structure and don’t believe in perpetually placing synthetic petroleum based amendments, or even organic, to force it to continue to produce when it’s so clearly needing some rest.

This year we’ve had a pretty intense weed struggle, more so than any other year to date. The weeds are OUT OF HAND.

DSC_1249-01This is the same side of the garden we had the worst trouble getting anything to grow before the weeds announced themselves. Take a look in the bottom left corner. Those are basil plants. It’s the one area I’ve managed to keep a little bit weed free. Those basil plants should be double the size they are, and they almost haven’t changed size at all since being planted. The other side of the garden also has basil plants which are doing fabulous. Along with the better basil, the rest of the garden is growing healthy and with minimal soil pests, so we’re happy about that. Still, the weeds need some serious control throughout, not just in the horrendous “I give up” patch above.

DSC_1247-01After six gardens in the same (but slightly expanding every year) plot, we’re going to do a controlled fallow of the garden. Our plan is to use black plastic to starve most of the weeds, but we’re still going to plant some items through the black plastic like garlic and potentially tomatoes. We’ll be building a bean fence or tent somewhere else in the yard, and we’ll use another 2×40 ft bed we have to grow squash, cuc’s and some greens in. We’ll figure out the rest for the things like cabbage, radishes, broccoli, basil, etc. Perhaps raised beds somewhere else, perhaps another garden plot, who knows.

Here is, more or less, the proposed fallow plan:

  1. Prior to tilling the garden this fall, take soil core samples and send them to the University of Maine for soil testing to get an accurate reading. This has needed to be done for years. It’s about time.
  2. Spread manure and compost on the garden and till the entire plot.
  3. Cover the entire garden in black plastic.
  4. Cut slits in the black plastic and plant garlic in the side of the garden with the least weed damage.
  5. Early spring pull up the black plastic over the asparagus patch and heavily mulch with mulch straw or second cutting hay from the previous year.
  6. Hope for a hot spring and cook the garden until late May, early June.
  7. Repeat for a second year if needed.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a large beautiful garden filled with food in the back yard. However, taking care of the soil is vitally important or there won’t ever be food growing there again in any kind of quality or quantity. It will be nice to get more of our land into production anyway, and this is the perfect issue to force us into it. As for right now though, this beautiful August month in Maine, we’re going to keep harvesting, weeding, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

DSC_1228-01Heck, worst comes to worst, we join a CSA for the summer to supplement our smaller garden. We’ll get to try veggies that we potentially don’t grow yet while also supporting a local farm. I’ll call this a win-win.

xo,

Heather

 

Oscar and the Cedar’s

“Oscar and the Cedar’s” sounds like a band that might open for Mumford and Son’s, but I am much more literal that that. I’m heading back to this blog after a month hiatus, with an update on the cedar we sawed from my mother-in-laws property this winter, which you can read more about here. Oscar, our sawmill, is making an appearance this round.

DSC_0992I should start by saying that on the day we skid the trees out of the woods, I not only forgot my good camera, but I had neither my long-gone-missing point and shoot (found on the Fourth of July in my tackle box from the previous year) or my cellphone camera since my phone had long since lost all battery power. This is not a complaint in the least, more just to let you know that I have absolutely zero photos of the skidding process (getting the trees out of the woods) with our logging winch and tractor, loading the logs onto the trailer to bring home, or driving the logs over two hours home. I indeed totally failed on this front, but I had a great weekend so that counts for something.

That aside, this cedar is going to be the planks for our porch. It’s pretty fun being able to take a tree from standing to finished decking without any third party, or second party. Each board is five-quarter by six rough. The finished size will be approximately one by five for each deck plank. Here are some shots of Andy processing the cedar we brought back home.

DSC_1103 DSC_0979 DSC_0988 DSC_0993 DSC_0995 DSC_0998 DSC_1010 DSC_1019 DSC_1021 DSC_1095 DSC_1093 DSC_1062 DSC_1097 DSC_1108 DSC_1100 DSC_1024 DSC_1023 DSC_0986 DSC_1110Andy has laughed and told me I haven’t covered this nearly as intensively as I should be, and he’s totally right. I may never live down completely not getting any footage of the initial skidding.  We will likely be cutting, winching and skidding a few more out though so I should be able to redeem myself.

Until I have that chance, maybe I can distract you with photos of cute dogs in a field. Here’s to hoping.

DSC_1053 DSC_1004

xo,

Heather