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Rocking Hugelkultur Beds

Uncategorized By May 2, 2016 1 Comment

Hugelkultur inspired raised beds for the small suburban homestead

This spring one of our big homestead projects were permanent, raised, hugelkultur beds. Hugelkultur is a German practice of basically burying a whole tree in a garden bed. Generally it’s done by digging a shallow trench, putting in the cut up tree parts in there, and then burying them in a 6′ mound. It creates a large berm in which you plant. This is great for a big property, but it doesn’t work so well for small suburban lots like ours, so I had kind of ignored it until a peer in my Horticulture program showed me the hugelkultur raised bed he made. That’s when I started looking into it more.

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Organic context: what do I mean when I use the word “organic”

Uncategorized By March 21, 2016 No Comments

Clearing up confusion over my use of the word "organic"

I used to get really annoyed when I heard or read people saying things like “The word organic is really vague. What does it even mean?”

The farmers who have organic certifications probably don’t feel there’s anything vague about it. I would think. And that’s true. Organic, in the context of food that you buy at the grocery store, has a very specific meaning, and there are very detailed, very strict standards that the person producing that food has to meet in order to be given a specific organic label, such as USDA Organic. But now that I’m writing about gardening and homesteading frequently, I can understand where some of the frustration comes from.

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MIA

Uncategorized By April 1, 2015 No Comments

I have not been posting much because I have been super busy with school, the surrogacy, spring, and general life stuff. Also, I have been horribly sick. But I am learning so much in school and have big plans to put that knowledge to good use around the Rocking Homestead, so stay tuned! I actually do have a lot to write about.

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Where the leaders are

Uncategorized By February 9, 2015 No Comments
Bill McKibben, marching in the Forward on Climate rally in Washington DC, Feb 2013.  Photo obtained at 350.org.

Bill McKibben, marching in the Forward on Climate rally in Washington DC, Feb 2013. Photo obtained at 350.org.

What the climate movement needs, I am often told, is a single, strong leader, like Martin Luther King Jr. or Ghandi.  Then it will be a force to be reckoned with, but until then it can’t really do much.

This sentiment frustrates me to no end, and often I just write it off as the person saying it’s excuse not to get involved and take any real action. Certainly, this belief does prevent people from getting involved, but whether or not it is spoken in a conscious attempt to avoid action is debatable. A cop out isn’t always conscious, sometimes it is based on beliefs that have been instilled in us from outside sources.  And these are beliefs, not facts.  Social movements do not need, nor do they always have, a single, strong leader.

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Local resources in solidarity with Ferguson

Uncategorized By December 6, 2014 No Comments

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know how I feel about Ferguson, about Eric Garner, about this whole mess with institutionalize do racism in this country. I haven’t said anything about it here, maybe because I’m too busy reading all the amazing stuff that other people are writing about it. I don’t know how much I have to add to it, except to state my agreement and support. But I want to say a few things about it, just to end my silence on this very important issue.

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On saving the suburbs

Uncategorized By November 18, 2014 No Comments

When I’m writing about homesteading, I think it’s important to talk about the fact that this is not the only way to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle.  In fact, it may not even be the best way to do it, at least, not for everyone.  I mean, sure, it reduces my carbon foot print to try and produce as much of my food and personal goods here as possible, but ultimately, it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to do this, nor would it even be the best thing for the planet even if it were reasonable.  There simply isn’t enough room, let alone resources, for everyone to do this.

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A look back on this years garden

Gardening, Uncategorized By October 28, 2014 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

Although my garden is still producing armfuls of kale, and a few tomatoes here and there, garden season is pretty much over. It was a pretty good run, the best I’ve ever had In this house, but it’s over now. All that’s left to do out there is spread compost and plant some bulbs. I need flowers in the spring. I need them.

This was, by far, our most successful year gardening in this home, but over all I’m still disappointed. For having planted 15 tomato plants, we got remarkably few tomatoes. I got a whopping 1 squash, a spaghetti squash, none of the rest of my plants (which included 4 zucchini, 4 summer squash, 3 spaghetti squash, and 2 pumpkins) ever even produced a female blossom. I only got a tiny bit of lettuce, one cabbage, a few cucumbers (although I consider that a victory given how late in the year I planted cucumbers), and no spinach – it bolted too quickly.

This yard is very hard to grow in. The sun exposure is just not very good. Everywhere we can put plants is either too shady or the sun is too intense. It’s hard to find balance.

Jeremy suggested building a couple of raised beds in the middle of our back yard, where we get the best sun, but since we are likely going to be selling our house in a year or two, I don’t want to do anything that’s going to mar up our lawn too badly. This is a white bread house in a white bread neighborhood and if we want to sell it, it’s going to need to appeal to white bread buyers, which means pretty lawn. That’s why most of our garden is currently in containers.

But I can’t deny that our garden is going to be severely hindered by current conditions, so after a little bit of research, I decided that a straw bale garden would be a good choice for us next year. It would kill the grass under it, but when the time comes to sell, it’s easy enough to reseed or lay down a few rolls of sod.

Generally, I’m a big believer that food should be grown in soil. Preferably soil in the ground. Things like containers and hydroponics systems are cool and do produce plants and harvests, obviously, but I’m not certain they really provide the plant with everything it needs to produce optimal food. There is so much we still don’t know about what’s going on in soil, and food, for that matter, that I don’t think we can really know with confidence that we are providing everything a plant needs in a liquid or bagged formula. Also, the set ups are expensive and complex, especially hydroponics, which makes it not super accessible.

Straw bale gardening has a lot of these issues. You aren’t growing in soil, and you’re relying to a large degree on store bought fertilizers. But, you are growing in composting straw right on top of the soil, which probably puts it pretty close to soil nutrition wise (microorganisms and whatnot from the soil can move up into it as it decomposes), and I can do much of the fertilization with my own compost, so I’m going to give it a try. It’s also cheap, so why not?

Now that it’s (essentially) winter, our homesteading doesn’t stop, it just shifts gears. The garden is no longer my focus, instead I’m focusing on fermentation, soap making, bread baking, sewing, quail care, and probably some winter gardening. We do have cold frames I’d like to try growing greens under again. Last winter I was not terribly successful because I forgot to water them. Jeremy will have home improvement projects of his own.

Winter is not really a slowed down time for us. It’s just different stuff we are doing. What kind of homesteading/self sufficiency stuff occupies your winters?

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Embracing fear

Uncategorized By October 18, 2014 1 Comment

I’m not a big fan of fear.  I don’t like how fear has the power to isolate us from our communities, and be used to manipulate us, and drive us to act in irrational, shameful ways.  Fear has been a driving force behind most human innitiated atrocities, and the fuel that allows them to continue, despite many knowing they are not right.  I am no innocent when it comes to this.  Further, I dislike how innundating ourselves with fearful, gruesome, and violent imagery desensitizes us to it, so that we are less horrified by horrible things, finding them to be mundane and predictable, the natural course of things.  This of course strengthens the notion that the world is a terrible, scary place (because horrible things are mundane and common place), further isolating us and making us susceptible to manipulation by more powerful entities (corporate marketers and government authorities, for example). It also makes it easier to ignore it and not care when we see it happening.

It’s for this reason that I don’t like most horror movies, I don’t watch gruesome and scary tv shows, and I change the channel if any fear mongering or sensationalized scary news comes on.  I don’t even forward on articles about this stuff on facebook anymore. Anything I can do to reduce fearful images is a step I can take to better see the world as it truly is, a mostly safe place full of mostly good people and mostly good things.

But for some reason, at Halloween, I embrace the scary.

I’m not the only one who lives under this weird paradox.  I participated in a conversation over at Halloween Forum recently about those of us who have sworn off all or a portion of the news. Watching too much of it can riddle a person with anxiety and fear that simply isn’t grounded in actual reality. Many of us (myself included) also mentioned how we had sworn off fictional TV of the same nature as well, shows such as Law and Order, Dexter, and CSI. And yet, every last one of us were also engaged in other conversations about how best to make a cheap plastic skeleton look like a real rotting corpse, or how to light our homes to best scare the bejeezus out of approaching trick or treaters. Why the contrast?

The fear on Halloween is different than the fear we get from watching true crime shows or gore porn. Traditionally, the scary monsters on Halloween are literal monsters, ghouls and goblins, things our logical minds know do not really exist (or if they do, are not a serious threat to us in almost every situation). They are over the top, made up, hyperbole fears. Even when we started introducing more realistic fears into the Halloween mix, like fears of serial killers of the kinds depicted in early slasher films, the threats seemed highly unlikely and still fairly silly. There is a world of difference between Halloween scary, and how-many-sexual-predators-live-in-a-mile-radius-from-your-home scary, or Ebola-could-break-out-like-the-black-plague-at-any-time scary, or ISIS-could-be-planning-on-bombing-your-local-shopping-mall scary. We know Halloween scary is a game, we don’t know that all these other threats are astronomically unlikely. I mean, the talk about that stuff on the news!
Further, Halloween is a time we actually get out and confront fears. We don’t keep our kids inside out of fear there are really spirits from the other side looking to snatch them away, we dress our kids up like spirits, like little under cover spies, and send them out amongst the scary things to bum candy off of all our neighbors! That might not seem spooky to adults who don’t actually believe in ghosts, but play your cards right, and there could be some spooky magic in it for your kids, who get to experiment with bravery and facing fears in a healthy and safe manner during Halloween. It’s incredibly character building.
Halloween scary gives us the opportunity to experience fear in ways that actually enhances our feeling of safety and security, and our own self confidence. When you see your whole neighborhood coming out in the name of facing fears (even if they are silly, ridiculous fears), it makes you feel a lot more confident about your community’s odds in the extremely unlikely event that you actually find yourself in a zombie apocalypse.
When I was a little girl, I went through a phase where was obsessed with Star Wars. I remember being bothered by something Yoda said about fear to Luke, that fear was the enemy, and that it led to the dark side. Back then, I thought that was stupid, fear was a natural and normal emotion. It was okay to have it, so long as it doesn’t paralyze you or make you do things that aren’t logical or right. It is your action in the face of fear that was or wasn’t the problem, not the fear itself. Now that I am older, I see a lot more wisdom in Yoda’s words. Fear is like a disease, it spreads almost as if it is airborne, and can have devastating effects on individuals and communities. The vast majority of it is completely irrational. And yet, there is still value in acknowledging it and facing it, if only to help you learn the difference between what is a rational warning, and what is an irrational poison. Halloween is one way in which we are able to face our fears, and it’s one of the more fun ones (if not the most fun). That’s probably what leads many of us to love it, even if we can’t stand fear under other circumstances.

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