Day in the Slow Life Round-Up

Thanks so much to everyone who’s been sharing glimpses into what living more simply and sustainably really looks like.  Calling life “simpler” is a bit like calling life “slow”–not necessarily reflective of reality!  But the chorus that this is a more rewarding, richer, more satisfying way to live is loud and clear.

It’s inspiring to see what all of us manage to do in each of our own unique circumstances, and in so many different places and climates.  I know I’ll be “borrowing” all kinds of great ideas from my readings, and I’m so glad to have found so many new-to-me blogs!

Here is the list of participants that I’m aware of; if I’ve missed anyone, let me know.  And it’s not too late to add yourself to the list if you’d like to share–just add your link in the comments.

Happy reading!

Sandi@ 10yrchallenge

Stacey@ Yarnsalad

Laura@ TheModernVictoryGarden

Heather@ Heather’sHomemaking

Daphne@ Daphne’sDandelions

Annette@ SustainableEats

Laura@ NatureGirlintheCity

Rachel@ HoundsintheKitchen

Laurie@ CommonSenseHomesteading


MrH @ SubsistencePattern

Heiko @ PathtoSelfSufficiency

OhioFarmGirl’s Adventures in the Good Life

Just Use Your Imagination


What do you see?

This is the back right corner of the deer-fenced portion of our property.  It’s been a little…umm…. neglected this year.  Well, I’ve pulled the morning glory/bindweed off the apple trees and shrubs a few times.  That counts, right?

What you’re looking at is, I think, the overgrown remains of a butterfly garden.  This is a triangular area about 50’x30’x40′ or so, and it has apple and hazelnut trees lining the fence, and then dense plantings of daylillies, crocosmia, irises, milkweed, peony, poppies, comfrey, sedums, sea holly, thimbleberry…the list goes on.  We let all of this grow out this summer so that we could see what was there, but what we discovered is that none of these perennials look like they have been divided over the last 10 years.  The flowers are so ingrown that they are knocking each other over and generally getting in each others’ way.  And did I mention the weeds?  Mother nature has kindly provided a groundcover of creeping buttercup and horsetail.  According to my books, this means we have heavy, wet, clay, acidic soil.  Yup, sounds about right.

So this is the patch that I’ve been contemplating and observing over the last couple of months.  It’s a big area with lots of possibilities.  I’ve considered turning it into more vegetable beds, considered planting more fruit trees and creating a full-on orchard.  I’ve considered sheet mulching the whole thing to improve the soil and to smother some of the weeds.  I’ve considered going with something completely low maintenance and planting poor-soil-loving perennials like lavender and rosemary, and I’ve mapped out potential pathways to create accessible flower beds.

It became clear, as I reflected, that I need to deal with the soil quality and the weeds before I worried about future planting.  I also spent some time thinking about the property as a whole, and what needs we would like to meet from it.  What functions are we still looking to fill, and how might this space help us meet them?

We are pretty clear that our highest priority in our garden is to meet as many of our food needs as possible.  We want to put our time and energy into the food plants and beds; any ornamentals need to largely take care of themselves.  At the same time, we love colour, riots of flowers, cottage style gardens, and that aspect is what drew us to this property in the first place.  We don’t want to lose the beauty and whimsy in favour of a strictly functional space.

We also, we decided this fall, are up for having a few chickens and ducks.

Chickens and ducks have many benefits in the permaculture garden, beyond their obvious value as providers of eggs.  Ducks eat slugs.  Chickens eat all kinds of insects and are especially helpful as clean-up crews under fruit trees.  Both produce awesome manure for the veggie garden.  They eat weeds and our leftovers (including some things that shouldn’t go in the compost), and what weeds they don’t eat, they scratch up regularly so that particularly pernicious weeds can’t get established.  Hurray for chickens and ducks!

As with anything, though, moderation and planning are key.  Too many birds in too small an area can mean: 1) the humans have to provide for all of the animal needs, which can be expensive and time consuming;  2) that precious manure overloads the area and becomes a smelly toxin rather than a source of fertility; 3) the landscape becomes a moonscape from scratching and eating and has no time to recover.  These issues lead to heavier responsibilities for humans, and unpleasant living conditions for all involved.

So I started looking at space requirements.  Chickens and ducks can be free-range animals that largely look after themselves.  Great!  But there are some downsides: they become prey for raccoons and other predators; they lay eggs wherever they want to and poop wherever they want to, leading to rotten eggs and messy decks; and they lay waste to veggie beds, defeating their “garden-helper” purpose.

How to balance these issues?  I found the most helpful and inspiring information on Paul Wheaton’s permie forum: the paddock system.  In this system, chickens and their coop are rotated every week or so through 4 different paddocks.  Each paddock gets a week of scratching and manure and weeding, and then 3-4 weeks recovery time to benefit from it.  The chickens forage the rich section which is still laden with plants and bugs, and meet many of their food needs naturally.  Sounds awesome!

Then I returned to my own patch of the yard and ran into a few obstacles.  1) this section has no level ground for a coop and is full of trees–paddocking will be difficult. 2)  Was this section big enough to rotate 3-4 chickens through? 3) Was it big enough to not have to rotate them at all? 4)  Could the chickens and ducks be housed and forage together in the same area? 5) I have to dig up the overgrown perennials.  I will, at the same time, pull up many of the weeds (hopefully).  What kind of groundcover and/or shrubs could I plant that would feed the birds and be durable in a short time frame? 6) Would it be better to let the birds have the whole yard and to just protect the veggie beds from them?

After MUCH (metaphorical) digging, questioning, reading and considering, here are some of the answers we have come up with.  1) For chickens to have only a positive, sustainable impact on the landscape and not need to be rotated, they need a LOT of space.  The recommendation from the Earth Care Manual is about 1 chicken per 600 square feet.  2) Ducks and chickens are reasonably comfortable companions, but they don’t live together well in close quarters: ducks like things wet and they are messy; chickens need homes that are very dry.

Protecting the areas we don’t want the birds in and giving them the rest of the yard is a possible option down the road.  But the stories vary, and I think it would be best for us to get to know our birds and their habits first, and we can always let them out to roam periodically.  There are some inspiring photos and experiences of this method here.  We are around our property a fair bit everyday, but we do work, and there will be days when we are both away for much of the day, and we worry about the predators when we’re not there.

Here’s what we’ve come to, in the end (or I guess it’s a beginning?).

We will build a chicken coop just a little ways from this area, next to the compost (convenient!).  It will be attached to a reasonably sized run that will be predator-proof where the birds can hang out during the day in safety and comfort.  The run will be attached via a closeable walkway to the area in the photo above, which will become an orchard/ foraging paddock that they will have access to as often as possible.  I may divide the orchard into 2 paddocks for rotation; we’ll see.

The ducks will be housed in the orchard, and we will put in a little water pool for them on the highest ground.  The house and that pool will be contained in a predator-proof run.

The whole area will get a couple more fruit trees (plums!), it already has comfrey, and I will add some shrubs and groundcover (still working on that!).  It will get 4 foot or so–hopefully attractive–fence surrounding it, and we will choose breeds that won’t fly over that height (Indian Runner ducks for sure!).  At the top end of the area, the fence will run inside of a cherry tree we just planted, which will create a 4′ wide bed that runs the length of the orchard.  I’m very excited about this!  The bed can be irrigated when we empty the duck pool each day, and my plan is to take cuttings from our delicious tayberry bush and grow more of them against the fence.  I’ll also transplant our rhubarb to this section where it will be in full sun and well fertilized.  I’m considering leaving sections for squash or potato crops or other large annuals; another option is to keep it in perennial veg: sunchokes, artichokes, etc.  It would also make sense to grow chicken and duck forage here: some oats or millet, or just kale and other hardy greens for their winter diet.

In terms of permaculture solutions, I’m very happy.  Multiple functions: orchard, forage, pest control, fertilization, people food, happy animals, functional fencing, waste products become resources…

Can you see it?


The Permaculture Garden

It’s been a busy week!  Along with the busy-ness at work, the canning and preserving, and the continuing fall garden clean-up, the Skipper and I have also been reflecting and observing our property, and contemplating the changes we want to make over the winter.

As I’ve been thinking about various options, the principles of Permaculture have been on my mind once again.  I read the brilliant Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway just after we moved onto our property, and I knew I had found a model for developing our home and gardens.

Permaculture covers a lot of ground.  It’s a design system for developing landscapes that will serve human needs in ecological ways, by using patterns and associations that are based on how plants and animals interact in natural ecosystems.  Permaculture has been around since the 1970s and has developed some commonly used techniques that embody this principle.  One almost iconic technique is the so-called herb spiral: by using stones in a spiral pattern, one creates a small planting bed that rises from ground level to a little peak.  The different areas of the spiral then have slightly different micro-climates (some get more sun, some more shade, the top of the spiral is drier, the bottom moister) that suit different herbs.  Another common technique is the key-hole garden: a garden bed that’s a circle with one path that runs into its centre provides more growing area and less pathway space than similarly-sized rectangular beds.

But permaculture is much more than a series of techniques.  Permaculture is a set of principles that enable us to approach any problem from an ethical, ecologically-based point of view.  Although there is no concensus on THE principles, one of permaculture’s founders, David Holmgren, developed 12 that are commonly used and continue to evolve.

The 12 principles revolve around 3 core values: Care of the Earth, Care of People, and “Fair Share” or equitable distribution of resources globally.

I am always moved and inspired by these core values.  They seem simple and straightforward enough, but I find that they remind me of a couple of things that I often forget in day to day life (and that I think are often missing even from discussions around environmental issues).

First, Care of the Earth is a version of “leave the place better than how you found it.”  What inspires me about this is that permaculture believes that our human interactions with the environment can improve the environment.  It assumes that it is possible for our human impact on the earth to be a positive thing!  Now that’s revolutionary.  So much of our discussions these days seem to be full of the doom and gloom of how everything humans touch, we ruin.  That the world would be better off without us.  I find myself often stuck in the mental loop of recognizing that we cause impact wherever we live, trying to minimize that impact, and failing, because to live, we need to impact the earth!  Permaculture reminds me that, yes, impacting the earth through our lives is inevitable, but that it can be a positive: that our impact can improve biodiversity, life, soil, etc.

The second value, Care of People, reminds me that it is also part of the natural world to care for people and to meet our needs as a species.  We are part of Nature; we’re not going anywhere, and so we need to take care of each other.  We need to design our landscapes to meet our needs, not try to create an untouched wilderness which then forces us to meet our needs through damaging industrial systems.  It is an ethical principle to try to meet our human needs through the properties that we live on.  In fact, the more we can do that, the less impact we may need to have on the much larger tracts of wilderness where we don’t live.

Of the design principles that come out of these core values, some have also been particularly compelling for me over these last couple of weeks.  The first principle is “Observe and Interact.”  Don’t jump in and try to change things right away; observe for a while.  And interact with the space and its current inhabitants, because in doing so, we learn more deeply about it.  We’ve been observing and interacting with our property now for just over a year, and we are clear on how we want to change some areas.  But there’s been one section that I have found challenging, and I have been focussing my attention there for the last couple of months.  I keep coming up with ideas, then heading out to look at and commune with the space.  Then I change my mind. 🙂  Then I come up with a new idea based on my observations.  Still not taking action.  More contemplating…

In my plans, I’m trying especially to realize principle #4, Obtain a Yield (definable in a number of different ways); #5, Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services (“Resources” refers to all resources, including my own time, energy, money, etc); #6, Produce no Waste (waste doesn’t exist in the natural world; the waste from one system is the resource for something else), and #9, Use Small and Slow Steps.

Permaculture is about, literally, thinking outside the box.  Stack uses, imagine how waste from one process could be re-used somewhere else.  Mimic natural systems by never leaving ground bare, by planning for multiple uses and biodiversity.  Try to make sure that doing so creates a renewable, sustainable, benefit for the people and creatures using the space and resources.

This week, I’ve been looking at every physical structure we’ve inherited here: the house and all of its exterior walls, the exterior walls of the greenhouse, the gazebo, the shed.  I’ve been thinking about how all of the many fences are used so well as growing spaces, and imagining where new fences might go and how they might be used.  We’ve been discussing rainwater collection options.  And mostly, I’ve been looking at my overgrown, weedy, perennial flower bed that’s framed by a few fruit trees, and thinking: “orchard for chickens and ducks!”

Next: more on the permaculture plan for new critters on the homestead!

Moosemeat Stew

As a tradesman, the Skipper is a bit of an unusual breed.  He’s gained quite the reputation amongst his crew over the years about the food he brings in his lunchbox.  There are always lots of dried and fresh fruit and nuts, and some oddly-coloured vegetarian lentil stews and curries and soups have been eyed with concern by his peers.

His work mates unpack some predictable snacks and junk food, and they are largely meat and potatoes kinds of men.  They are generally not adventurous eaters and the Skipper gets lots of ribbing.  But there’s a twist.

Most of the meat these men unpack from their lunch boxes looks familiar on the surface: burgers, pepperoni, salami.  What’s not obvious at first glance though is what kind of meat it is.  Most of these men hunt and fish for a considerable portion of their food.  The burgers and steaks are elk (and occasionally bear), the pepperoni and sausage are deer or moose.  The Skipper used to claim to be a vegetarian, but he found those elk burgers hard to resist!

Though they may be meat and potatoes guys, and as far from hippie leftist environmentalists (like me! 🙂 ) as you can reasonably get on this coast, they are often deeply concerned about where their food comes from too, and they can be highly suspicious of factory farmed meat.  Many of them raise (or have raised) their own chickens and turkeys for meat birds, “so we know how they’re raised and what they’ve been fed.”  And some of their wives are AMAZING cooks (and just plain amazing women!).

When we get together with these families, we steer clear of politics and religion and other touchy subjects, but we can all talk for hours about food and the stories of how we caught it, grew it, cooked it, enjoyed it.  Anthony Bourdain argued recently that it’s meat in particular that brings people together in these communal connections, but I think food in general can do it.  These men know I’m vegetarian; it’s just one more way that I’m a little quirky.  But that’s ok.

Which brings us to the moosemeat.

So the Skipper has a friend and colleague who was headed off moose hunting recently, and he tried to talk the Skipper into taking some home.  A moose is a huge animal, and there would be more meat than any one hunter can manage without help!  The Skipper was more than happy to take some, but he wasn’t sure how I’d react.  He brought home 4 steaks and cooked up two on the first night.  One was for me!  I had a bite or two to taste it.  It was fine, tasted a little like liver.  It’s incredibly lean meat–almost looked like a kidney in colour!  But usually when I taste meat these days, I think, “meh”.  It’s ok, not repulsive or anything.  Intellectually, I’m fine with the idea of eating meat from these kinds of sources.  But when I taste it, I certainly don’t think, “where has this been all my life and where can I get more!”

So the second 2 steaks sat in the fridge for a couple of days, and I didn’t want them to go to waste.  I started thinking about moosemeat stew.  I thought, if I made a big stew with lots of veggies, then I could happily eat it, and I’d leave the meat in chunks so that they would be easy to pick out and send the Skipper’s way.  I headed to google for recipes.  Believe it or not, I’ve never made any kind of meat stew!  Sarah Palin’s name came up a lot in the google lists.

I dredged the cubes of moosemeat in seasoned flour and browned them in butter.  I took them out and carmelized an onion in the fat that remained.  I deglazed the pan with some wine, added potatoes and carrots and some thyme all from the garden, some crushed garlic cloves and a bay leaf, some rosemary.  I put the meat back in and covered it all with veggie stock.  It simmered for an hour or so and then I added a few diced roma tomatoes and checked the seasoning.  Simmered the stew for another 45 minutes or so and called up the Skipper to test the meat.  It was ready, so I made up some dumplings and added them to the pot, closed the lid and simmered another 15 minutes.  Done!

It was AWESOME.  I’ve made a lot of vegetable stews in my day, but you just don’t get that flavour right.  There wasn’t that much moose in it, but what was there was delicious and added a ton of flavour.  I told the Skipper (half teasing) to go back to his friend and tell him that he was allowed to bring home some more.  🙂

I have to say that this was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve made.  It was rich with flavour, memory (of stews of my childhood), and human tradition.  It is still a unique feeling to me to cook a comfort food meal like this, one that people have made for uncountable generations, with almost no ingredients from the grocery store (butter, flour, salt, pepper).

Moments like these still feel a little strange.  I feel deeply connected, unexpectedly, to my ancestors–both immediate and ancient–as I meet these food needs more directly and outside of the food chain that I’m so accustomed to.  It’s wonderful, but also unfamiliar.  It feels like change.  And it’s addictive.

The Paradox of Slow

Deb’s comment on my “Slow Life” post got me thinking.  What does it mean to live “Slow?” I think we’d all agree that a slow life isn’t really slower in terms of labour or tasks in the day.  Or is it?

Slow Food developed out of protest against “fast” food: mechanized, highly processed, void of soul or nutrition food that was/is (?) making inroads in Europe and attracting people away from their rich traditional practices.  Slow Food became so popular as a movement that folks began to figure out ways to apply the philosophy to all other forms of their lives: money, sex, music…life.  In the last 10 or so years, Slow Food has become the Slow Movement.

I haven’t considered myself part of a slow movement, per se, even though I’m happy to have joined Slow Food Vancouver Island this past spring.  The slow food movement is deeply involved in the issues that concern me: industrial food systems, the politics of food, as well as an investment in preserving traditional food cultures around the world, which, in light of the first two can be a highly political act.

When I got the idea for the “Day in the Life” meme, though, I thought about what kind of life I should name.  I didn’t think it was fair to call my life “Sustainable” or even “Self-Sufficient” as yet, and “A Day in the Transitioning to Sustainability Life” was a bit of a mouthful. 🙂  So I thought “Slow” might be a better fit.

Slow means, to me, that my rhythms of life revolve around our human-scale relationships and tasks.  Our time is devoted to meeting our needs in the simplest, most direct way possible, within the bounds of our current society.  This is a hard thing to describe!  Life is not “pre-industrial” by any stretch of the imagination, nor is that really a goal.  I am wary of nostalgia for “how things used to be”, idyllic dreams of which do permeate the environmental movement as they did the Back to the Land movement in the 60s and 70s.  At the same time, I am drawn to the vision and appeal of a time when the scale of life of life was still human and community-based rather than caught up in a mass-mechanized, petroleum boom.  I look back regularly to techniques for how people used to do things when they had no choice but to them themselves, and I work to make sure that knowledge isn’t lost.

But, of course, Slow does not mean easy or relaxed!  Meeting my needs more directly is clearly more labour and time-intensive.  BUT, I now understand that time and labour is what we have in our lifetimes and we use it up over our years on earth one way or another.  The question for me is not about saving time or labour, it’s a question of making sure that my time and labour are used in ways that I believe in and feel deeply connected to.  I would argue that the dream of leisure time for the masses was a corporate schtick designed to get the masses to buy more stuff in the post-war boom (while understanding that some of these labour-saving devices did enable women to enter the workforce in numbers that revolutionized their rights and recognition–a post for another day!) But I realized long ago that for me, simply trading my time and labour for money in a corporation was not a goal I could strive for.

My life is not slower, in the sense that it is full and busy.  But it definitely feels slower, because I am not multi-tasking at every moment, stuck to a crackberry, spending my day on the road, with little time and energy left over to do anything but crash out on the couch eating frozen food in front of the tv.  The point of “A Day in the Life” was precisely to illustrate that, in fact, if you’re looking to change your lifestyle, it is possible, rewarding, soul-restoring, and, truly, more full.

Which sometimes translates as busier.  But somehow, spending all day in the kitchen processing tomatoes doesn’t feel “fast”.  I grew the tomatoes from seed, and my relationship with them spans months.  In June, it felt like they were taking an eternity to grow!  And now that I’m watching them die in October, I’m aware of the months that will go by before I can plant them again.  As I develop my planting plans for next year, kicking myself for not planting more to get us through the fall and winter (!), I’m both wondering how we will ever accomplish everything we want to before then, and savouring the winter ahead as the time to relax a little and enjoy this part of the seasonal cycle.  And that is the paradox of Slow that I seem to be living at the moment.

So happy fall and Thanksgiving (if you’re in Canada), and here’s hoping you too get a few slow moments here and there.

A Day in the Slow Life

Tag!  You’re It!

I’m attempting a blog meme/hop to encourage those of us striving or transitioning to more sustainable lives to share with the world what a day in our lives looks like.  So many folks out there are longing to make changes in their lives, but I think it can be hard to visualize what life might actually look like if you did things a little differently.  You know, those who are wondering, “what would I do with my time if I didn’t watch TV?” “I don’t know how to cook!”  “Making jam must be really hard and complicated!”

I’ve noticed that since we moved and started on this journey toward a wee homestead, we are busier than ever.  The slow life is intended to be the antithesis of the “fast-food life”, a life lived in alignment with human-scale values and activities.  But in our experience, this life isn’t really slow!  We have a long list of projects and ambitions and are constantly looking for time and money to pursue them as we juggle our other responsibilities.  However, we are also happier than we have ever been. I think that sometimes in our frantic, modern world we equate busy-ness with stress, which is often true when the busyness comes from being pulled in too many different directions, some of which feel like obligations rather than joys.  The busyness that we’re experiencing these days comes from a deep sense of how we WANT to spend our time, where we WANT to put our energies.  We pack in lots of activities because we love them all so much we just keep trying to fit them all in.  It’s a very different feeling.

So what does it look like to live this life?  Here’s my day yesterday:

6:25am The alarm goes off, and I give myself a few minutes in the pale, not-quite-dawn  light to listen to the news and enjoy the warmth under the covers.  The Skipper’s kissed me goodbye a half-hour ago and headed off on his commute (his job starts before 7:30am.  Ouch!).

7:00am I’m showered and dressed and savouring my Scotch cut oatmeal with raspberries I picked yesterday from the garden.  The red ones are almost done, but the golden ones are still producing nicely.

7:20am I’m on the road to the university where I teach, about a 45 minute drive away.  As I’ve written before, these commutes are the least sustainable parts of our lives, but for now, they enable the rest of the things we get to do, so we accept them gratefully.  I do this drive 3 days a week until early December; in January I’ll be teaching at the campus just 10 minutes away.

12 noon I’m eating lunch at work: simple leftover pasta with a fresh and chunky garden sauce: onion, garlic, peppers, lots of tomatoes, lightly sauteed, and then tossed with a little pesto and feta cheese.  Yum!  I made enough last night to give us lunches for a couple of days.  We take our portions to work in glass containers that are slim and easy to microwave.

12:30pm I’m back on the road to meet a friend at home that I’m doing some work for.

1:30pm We meet and enjoy a chat and a cup of tea, then get to work at the computer.

5pm The Skipper gets home.  My friend and I aren’t quite finished, so he offers to go and haul the crab traps while we finish up.  We work for another 20 minutes or so, and then part with another chat and a warm hug.  So good for the soul!

5:30pm The sun’s peeking out from the clouds of the day, and I haven’t been out for a walk yet.  I put on my jeans and running shoes, and start off down the road to the marina.  I’m smiling as soon as I walk out the door, watching the sun and shadows move over the cows out grazing in the farmer’s fields as I walk down the hill.  When the Skipper passes me, headed home with the day’s catch, I’m having too good a time to hop in the car.  I keep heading down the road, and then turn around to watch a spectacular fading sun on my walk home.

6pm Time to think about dinner.  We’ve got leftover pasta for another day’s lunches, so I don’t need to think big.  I take a mental inventory of what’s in the fridge and the garden.  I suggest a simple meal of toast (from the bakery in our little village), cheese, scrambled eggs (from the farm up the road), and some steamed swiss chard from the garden.  Sounds good to the Skipper!

6:30 Dinner is served!  We sit down to all of the above, plus a few other treats:  some leftover mashed potatoes got refried, there was a ripe avocado that needed eating, and I had the brainstorm of the English-style fried tomato (slice a tomato in half and just let it sizzle in hot butter for a few minutes.  Flip over if you like).  The tomato is so good we agree it will need to accompany every meal from now on!  We enjoy a bottle of white wine from the vineyard around the corner over the course of the evening.  The fresh caught crab have steamed on a back burner while I made dinner, and now they are cooling nicely.

7pm We have 3 types of grapes growing in the garden, and the green table grapes are ready.  I picked the juicy bunches yesterday so that we could start some grape jelly tonight.   After dinner, we strip the grapes off the stems and drop them in a big pot.  The pot goes on to boil and we mash up the fruit periodically.  After its simmer, it will be strained and put in the fridge for the night.

We shell the crab: 2 caught and cooked yesterday and the 2 from today.  The meat gets vacuum-packed and frozen, the shells I’ll bury in the veggie patch tomorrow.  As we work, we chat and listen to the radio, talking about our days and our ideas, big and small, and comment to each other about what we’re listening too.  We talk about the week ahead and the long weekend coming up, and all the things we would like to do…  The evening is busy and calm at the same time.  We feel a world away from our jobs and stresses, but also prepared for the next day.

9pm We’re beat!  We do a minimal tidy-up and the Skipper heads off to the showers.  The bird feeders are stocked up for another day, the gold fish in the small pond are counted and given treats, and we check the forecast for the week.

9:30pm We’re not to bed this early EVERY night!  But there’s a good program on the radio, so we snuggle down and the Skipper’s out within a few minutes.  I don’t have to rush off in the morning, so I listen to the program.  After the 10pm news, I turn off the radio, and call it another day in my slow, striving-toward-sustainable, life.

So that’s me!  Are you willing to share a snapshot of a day in your life as you move toward self-sufficiency?

I’m tagging:

  • Sandy over at 10yearchallenge–because she’s been at this for a few years and I’d love to hear more about her experiences and
  • Andrea at Locavore, who’s knew at this farming thing too, and has been jumping in with both feet!
  • Stacey at YarnSalad is working numerous jobs and is too busy to call her life slow, but she and her husband are living a simple life on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and they are big canners and preservers.  Tell us more, Stace!

Once you’ve shared your days-in-the-life, tag 3 more of those at your favorite sustainability blogs, and let’s keep learning from each other!

October Harvest Reflections

I am very, very proud.

It’s October 3rd, and we have met 95% of our produce needs since June.

This has been our first year on the journey towards food self-sufficiency; a project we embarked upon purely by gut instinct, with no real plan or even with a clear sense of objective.  No “within 5 years we’ll produce everything we eat” or complex rules about what we would be allowed to purchase and under what circumstances.

I have great admiration for those who have been able to do any of these things; we just have been juggling moving communities, jobs, learning about our new home and land and what plants are even already planted, and I wasn’t really interested in outlining a specific project on top of all that quite yet.

But we did buy this place with the recognition that it came with a lot of established food plants (apples, kiwis, raspberries, currants, blueberries, tayberries, blackberries, grapes) and a ton of potential to expand them.  Growing a lot of our food has been on our list of dreams for some time.  And I knew I might not be working this past summer, and so I did get serious in my garden planning.  Books tend to say sensible things for beginners like “start small” and “master a few veggies and square feet before expanding” and “I wouldn’t advise going bigger than 200 sq ft the first year.”  I decided instead to read about how much I might need to grow to sustain us through the year, trying to get a sense of how much I could produce from the space we had, and even wondering if it might be possible to produce enough from our backyard to earn some extra income.  In other words, I dove in headfirst!

For the last 4 months, despite many ups and downs, including a not very good year for growing many things, we have eaten almost exclusively from our backyard garden.  We bought some cherries and nectarines, and bought a few extra veggies when I cooked for a couple of potlucks and wanted special recipes, but other than that, nothing except some garlic.  I’m actually amazed at how straightforward it’s been!

Now I’m starting to look ahead, and wondering how long we might be able to keep this up before I have to resort to the winter supplementation.  I know in the long run growing enough year round and storing a few crops is doable, but it won’t be this year.  At some point, I’ll have to break down.  But when?

One of the MANY things I’ve learned this year is the importance of disciplined succession planting.  To really provide a constant supply of food, I need to come up with a planting schedule and, more importantly, stick to it.  I’m a great planner.  Not always a great follow-though-er.  At the moment, I’m eyeing my fall/winter garden plot with a tiny bit of concern.

I still have lots of chard, kale, and tomatoes going strong.  The tomatoes will keep going until frost (in eating quantity if not preserving quantity), which around here shouldn’t be for another month at least.  The chard and kale will keep going well beyond that.  There are 80 lbs of potatoes stored, which will keep us for a while, and at some point I’ll bring in the non-ripened tomatoes and apparently we can keep ripening them indoors as long as they hold out–often Christmas.  We’ve got a few pole beans left on the vine, and a few raspberries are still going too.  The grapes I’m going to start harvesting today, and they’ll mostly become jelly.  We’re hoping to meet all of the Skipper’s jam needs for the year ahead, and between the berries, the grapes, and the currants, it’s looking promising, although the final tally isn’t in yet.

We will have some spinach, lettuce, carrots, beet greens, and new kinds of kale ready for picking in a couple of weeks.  We got so much salad out of one planting this summer that I got lazy about re-planting, and as a result, I miss salad!  All these tomatoes and no lettuce to eat them with. 😦  I know I could go spend the .99 at the Farmer’s market on a head of greens, but it’s the principle of the thing!

At the beginning of August, I virtuously planted out fall, winter, and overwintering brassicas: brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.  I haven’t had any of those all summer either, and I can’t wait!  Unfortunately, the first plantings all got eaten.  I went to the nursery and bought seedlings, some of which have done well, others of which were likely too root-bound by the time I picked them up, and don’t look so good.  But I figured we’ll just eat whatever they come to, even if it’s not much.

Later today, I’m hoping to plant my garlic, and the weather’s been so good (finally!) that I might try a small patch of gai lan and maybe some more corn salad.  The Skipper’s also been suggesting that I try planting some lettuce, etc in pots/trays in the unheated greenhouse to see if they will last a little longer.  If I’m feeling really organized, I’ll give that a try.

There’s lots that I’ve learned, mistakes that I’ve made, and our mantra around here these days is “next year will be different!”  But next weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada, and I know that one of the things I am grateful for is that we have had much food and that we will continue to have food for another couple of months at least.  Not the most varied diet we’ve ever eaten, but that’s ok.  Next year will be different!  🙂