Our Extraordinary Solar/Wind Hybrid Powered Clothes Dryer

A few months ago, with the awareness that a clothes dryer is the most energy hungry appliance in the house after a fridge, we bought an extraordinary invention.

It is a wind and solar powered hybrid.

It requires no energy to run, and dries clothes in just a few hours.

It scares crows.

It is…

a Hill’s Hoist!

hill's hoist

Oh, Hill’s Hoist, How I love thee. I love that you hold all of my families clothes with ease. I love that you can wind down to easily load the clothes, or wind up to spin in the air. I love how efficient you are. I love how reminiscent you are of our other home, Australia.

Could I have been scrappier? Sure, and we are – we actually have a clothes line made from leftover nylon rope on our porch. But damn, the hoist is a thing of long term, sun-drenched beauty, and dries our clothes in about 3 hours in the full sun. That’s my kind of investment!

Scrap Appeal

When I was growing up, I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be intelligent, and interesting, and funny. I craved feeling self-assured, put together, chic. 

I never thought to work towards being scrappy.  That one is coming much, much later in life.

When some think of scrappy, they think dirty, untidy, or all over the place. For me, however, scrappy is the epitome of being a true farm girl by leveraging what you have to create what you need. 

There is a woman who lives across the country in upstate New York named Jenna Woginrich.  She has redefined the word scrappy – if you look it up in the dictionary, chances are her photo will be a gleaming beacon of all things scrap.  She, a single woman in her early 30s, has managed to create a thriving farm with all sorts of livestock and pays her mortgage without having a traditional full-time office job. Of course, she works something like 100 hours a week to maintain her animals, do graphic design, and teach workshops on everything from playing the fiddle to making soap, as well as writing a truly magnificent blog (Cold Antler Farm – one of my all time favorites). However, she mostly does it, I’d argue, by having an overwhelming amount of scrappiness.

Jenna Woginrich

(source)

Our friends down the road who own Stoneboat Farm, also have just a crapton-o-scrap.  In the time that we managed to plant a few tomato plants and have a baby, they launched a thriving CSA, sell at several large supermarkets, and have their gorgeous vegetables at a dozen restaurants…and also have a baby. Again, it seems like half of their methodology is simply by being scrappy and using what they have. (As well as tons of passion and knowledge and experience…but that’s not the point of this particular post.)

Stoneboat

(Source)

As a New York City girl, I never had to covet this quality. If a shoe was wearing out, you threw it out.  If the handle broke off a mug, you threw out the mug. Buying consignment was only done if it was by a designer, and thanks to my parents profound generosity, do without wasn’t a concept I had around anything I needed, or many things I wanted. 

Now that we own a farm, however, scrappiness is a premium trait, as HOLY CANOLLI, a farm is an expensive place to live. Raising animals is a mind-blowingly expensive proposition if you want to raise them safely, on pasture, and with local and organic feed, which we do. And it only gets more expensive if you buy all the infrastructure that they need new.

laying hens

So, slowly but surely, we’re building up our scrap appeal.  Instead of buying new tin to cover their chicken tractors, we’re using scrap metal from a barn roof that was being pulled down up the road. Instead of buying a tractor, we’re making due with wheelbarrows, a 10 year old ride on mower we’ve named Stu, and a lot of walking. Instead of buying new furniture, we’ve mostly gratefully accepted family and friends cast-offs and loans (a new bookshelf, however, is definitely on the way.) 

chicken tractor

Don’t get me wrong – we are a long, long way from ever being able to call ourselves scrappy (Anthony is much closer. I still look to Amazon before Craigslist. <— working on it). However, at least now I have a clearer sense of what I am working towards – a life of sane and happy usefulness, with much scrap and less waste. 

Own Your Life. Own Your Choices.

Inertia is a dreadful sensation.  That feeling of being stuck, of dullness, of being absorbed by the dreary quicksand of day-to-day life. That is how I’ve felt for the past several months. In between moments of giddiness at seeing my son roll over and hearing him giggle, brief glimpses into how extraordinary it is to live on a farm and grow vegetables, poultry, and two maniacal kittens, and treasured times of tenderness with my husband, the sneaking suspicion that I have nothing to contribute has seeped into my consciousness. 

I have this idea that before, because I worked in a high stress, no money job in a very fancy hospital, I was more of value.

I have this notion that because I am living off my husbands income, I am inching closer to being a waste of space.

Even though I would gladly defend any parent and their choice to stay “at home” (bullshit phrase, as most parents who are the primary caregivers to their children are rarely in the house), my choosing to do so in some way means I have failed. 

While Ethan naps, I have been frantically googling “flexible psychology jobs” Hillsboro, even with the knowledge that I have no real interest in leaving him with another carer at this point.

While out in my garden or feeding my chickens or cleaning out their pen, I have this notion that I have failed everyone who has had faith in my intellect, my business acumen, and ability to earn an income.

I’ve also been a treat to be around, I assure you.

However, today, sitting in a local coffee shop to get out of our scalding hot homestead (102 degrees at last check), while filling out the paperwork to establish ourselves as an LLC, it crossed my mind that our little farm is now my business. The chickens, the vegetables, our future livestock, and most of all, the conscientious upbringing of our son (who currently is in his carseat, wearing just a diaper, sucking on a metal spoon – so we’re working on the conscientious part) – this is my job. My profession. And I can bring all the skills and intelligence that I used working at the hospital and more to make this farm a success.

This simple change of perspective has had a profound impact on the lens I use to view my life.  I could get all philosophical about it, and talk about how undervalued stay-at-home parents and farmers are, or how the only reality is the one we’re living, but plenty of others have described these concepts beautifully.  The TL;DR version of this is simply that the only person who can make me feel better about my life is me. I choose how I view my life.  I can choose to listen to the people who talk about how amazing and busy and hard-working I am (hi, mom!) or to the voices that say because I don’t get a fortnightly pay-check, my contribution to society is less than. Or, I can choose to keep doing what I’m doing, learning what I’m learning, and thank my lucky stars that my life is the abundant gift it is. 

Grow, baby, Grow!

Well, from a giant lawn to a thriving vegetable garden and home to 56 chickens, a lot can change in a few short months!

We are growing:

  • Zucchini
  • Kale (3 types: lacinato, red russian, and curly leaf)

kale

  • Tomatoes (green zebra, old german, and a few others including a few cherries)
old german tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
carrots and parsnips
  • Cucumbers
  • Winter squash
  • Herbs (all of the major ones)

We are harvesting:

  • Cucumbers!  Wow, what a bumper crop we’ve had of amazing white cucumbers. They can be a bit tricky to harvest as they are covered with little spikes and turn yellow very quickly, but they have done amazingly well.cucumbers
  • Zucchini. A few, anyway. There apparently wasn’t enough pollination, so next year we should plant them near flowers. 
  • Kale! Oh, how beautiful and abundant kale is.
  • Garlic.  We planted our garden in February and harvested the whole lot a few days ago. Most were fairly small heads, but we had a few large ones which we’ll save for next years seed.
  • Herbs – I only just realized after having a huge garden of abundant herbs that I not only don’t cook enough with herbs, I really don’t know what to do with them.  Besides chives in eggs and basil for pesto, I’m a bit at a loss for non specialized dishes.

The chickens:

We are raising 6 laying hens with one rooster (named Fabio.) They are hilarious and are becoming eggcellent layers (sorry.)  We get between 2 and 5 eggs per day, although that will hopefully become more consistent with time. 

 

chickens

We are also raising 49 meat chickens (we started with 51, but lost two – more on that in the next post.) They are freedom rangers from Freedom Ranger hatchery, and except for the aforementioned two, have proven to be lively, hearty little creatures. We plan on slaughtering them here on the farm with several of our experienced friends in mid-October.

chickens

Other animals:

After five long years of pressure, my darling husband broke down and let me adopt two kittens for “mousing” (read: cuddling.) They are absolutely precious and a delight to have around. I adore them. Their names are Luke and Leia.

kitten

I think that’s everything we have. And boy, is it good. 

 

 

Weekend Highlights

What a great, if gray and rainy weekend! Hopefully, it will be our last weekend as a twosome, and we had a lot of fun…doing exactly what we do every weekend. Garden work, farmer’s market, chicken coop building, cooking, and watching movies.

apple struedel muffins

Apple strudel muffins from Practical Paleo.  These were so good. Thank God they’re healthy, as we ate 12 in two days. Baked goods, even grain-free ones, are no match for us.

kale

Farmer’s market kale with red onions.  Amazing dinner – kale, roasted sweet potato and parsnips, a fried egg and some thinly sliced pork chop (1/4 chop each) with balsamic vinegar. So simple, so yummy.

6 week old chicks

Our chickens are almost too big for the dog crate!  On a whim, we put a dowel in for them to roost, and the birds are obsessed with it.  There are always a minimum of 2 hanging out on it, and it’s pretty adorable when all of them are there. 

chicken coop

Our chicken coop is ALMOST done!  It’s so amazing how talented and brilliant my husband is – he saw a few photos, and designed this coop from photos. It’s sturdy, beautiful, streamlined, and elegant. He is such a badass.

If at first you don’t succeed, replant your seedlings. I tried a few varieties of tomato and tomatillo (pictured) and three types of kale. The rest I’ll either direct seed or buy as starts, as I do not have enough faith in my soil block medium to invest the time and energy into a bunch of seeds at this point. However, we have at least one tomato seedling, so 1 out of 60 ain’t bad. 

tomato seedlings

PS anyone with experience – does it look like the block medium is too chunky? I think it is, but don’t have enough experience. 

Finally, dinner highlight was definitely cheeseburgers with slow-cooked onions and kale salad. 

cheeseburgers

My mom comes today, and will stay until baby is born which is just too exciting.  My mom and I are so close, and she will be at the birth which is just awesome. Provided I don’t go into labor in the next six hours and have a 1 hour and 45 minute labor like my sister did. Which, I have to say, if that happens I will not complain.

Chewy

Pink Slime…It’s What’s For Dinner

No, I don’t mean the delightful concoction served in McDonald’s the world over. I mean what I made last night, using nothing but pastured, organic, locally-grown, custom butchered and all together fancy pork steak. Read this as very expensive.  Ugh. 

pastured pink slime

It’s been a rough week for farm learning for me.  This morning caught me sobbing hysterically that nearly all my seedlings had died, even though I carefully watered them and followed all of Dr. Google’s instructions (give me a break, I am nearly 10 months pregnant. Hysterical sobs, although rare, are just par for the course.) I just feel so inadequate – this is my full time job at this point, and I can’t even keep a couple of seedlings alive. 

Since most of what I’ve done professionally and studied has been my strengths (reading, analysis, research, etc.) it’s shocking and feels appalling to me how bad I can be at some things that involve feel and experience.  Like making the planting medium (most likely why the seedlings failed) – the instructions say in the consistency of putty or concrete. This sent me for a touch of a tailspin, because I just couldn’t quite figure out if my soil mix was concrete, or more peanut butter?  How much water, exactly, do I need, for a soil mix that I created and is therefore not exactly like any other soil mix out there?

planting trees in the garden

After my episode of hysteria, that definitely involved some cuddles from a patient husband and a confused dog… 

confused dog

I was ready to throw the whole thing out and give up. However the nice and hard thing about our life now is that really isn’t an option.  For the first time, we’re choosing to rely on ourselves to create our food, even if it’s only 2% this year. If I give up until “next year,” that 2% will never grow.  So, I started again, and I made more soil blocks with more water.  This time, they stayed put.  We’ll see how they go. 

Oh, and the pink slime? I now know that if you want to ground sausage in the vitamin, you need to do it in very small batches on a low speed.  Also, that anything with lots of spices and salt tastes pretty good when mixed with sweet potatoes or thrown in a soup. Also, that my sweet and incredible husband will eat anything if it’s called sausage, and will tell me how delicious it is.

sausage

What’s your most recent kitchen disaster? Come on, make me feel better 😉

What To Look for in Chicks

Our chicks are now five weeks old, and are basically smaller versions of chickens.  They have finally moved out of our bathroom into the garage, and I think we are all happier for it (especially Chewy, who was having such anxiety about exactly WHY she was not allowed to eat the chicks, when they were right there in her territory.)  Of the seven chicks we bought, six survived, thrived, and seem happy as little birds can be.  Here’s what we looked for to make sure the chicks were as healthy as possible when we bought them.

1. Clear Eyes

clear eyed chick

It’s important to make sure the chicks eyes are clear, not at all opaque or cloudy.  They should look curious and alert, not sleepy or disinterested.

2. Clean, bug free feathers

clean feathers

It’s also important to make sure their feathers are clear of mites and lice, and look to be in generally good condition.  This particularly applies to chicks younger than two weeks, as once they hit the two week mark, they start getting their adult feathers and look a little bedraggled. 

3. A clear vent (butt).

clear butt

Yet another important trait to look for is a clear vent (rear end) that has no fecal matter blocking it, and again, no small bugs of any sort.  Pasty butt usually has to do with being exposed to environmental triggers such as too hot or too cold a temperature, and can signify stressed out chicks.

4. Chicks who are active, curious and annoying.

While it can take a day or so for the chicks to settle fully in to their new home, when they do, they should be interested in their surroundings, their food and water.  If using a heat lamp, they should be scattered around the brooder, not huddled under or away from the source of heat.  If using a heater, they should be in and out from under it, getting food and playing around and returning under it to rest and sleep.  It is quite normal for them to lie down for a while, even on their sides (scary the first time you see it) but they should also hop up when prodded.

Of course, none of these are guarantees for survivors – we checked and observed each chick carefully, and still lost one after two days to unknown causes.  However, especially if picking up your chicks from a feed store, these qualities give you a fighting chance for healthy and thriving chicks who will contribute to your homestead. 

A Fools Errand: Planting Garlic in Spring

 

 If you google “planting garlic in the Spring in Oregon,” the most frequent advice that comes back is, “don’t.”  Apparently, garlic needs the long, cold winter to develop a root system to create big, juicy bulbs for your roasting or tomato sauce pleasure.  Unfortunately, as is often our style, we saw the organic seed garlic and bought it, and then looked up those minor details of such things as when you put it in the ground.

We have three garden beds up the back of the house that were sorely neglected, so we decided to broad fork, weed and plant two of them out with garlic, with the justification that even if the garlic is a failure, at least those beds won’t be wasted. Here’s how we planted it out, using a combination of advice from Organic Gardening and my favorite blogger Erica from Northwest Edible Life (notice that her post, written in October, says to plant that day). 

The first step was to gently break the cloves from the bulb, doing whatever I could to keep the papery skin on.

garlic clove

The next step was to soak the garlic cloves in a seaweed and baking soda mix, of 1 tbsp each to 1 quart of water. We used three quarts for each of our garlic varietals: Nootka Rose, Late Italian Purple, and St. Helens.garlic cloves soaking I left them to soak while we 

To start, here is how the beds looked when we started.  

weedy garden bed

weedy garden bed

So, using a combination of our Meadow Creature Broadfork, our garden fork, and my hori hori knife, Anthony and I turned the beds into this:

weed free bedAs you can see on my face, being almost 9 months pregnant and broadforking/weeding a garden bed is kind of a lot of work.  I look forward to the day when bending over a garden bed doesn’t feel like an Olympic workout.

After we got out every damn weed and blade of grass, we raked in some organic compost that we picked up at our local feed store. 

composted garden bed

After that, the beds were ready to plant.  Once again, I used my hori hori knife (Even though this was my first gardening project, I can easily see that this will become my favorite, indispensable tool) to dig the holes. Also, once I realized my profound lack of depth perception extended to distance between holes, I used the handy ruler on the back of the knife to measure the bulbs six inches apart. If I weren’t lazy and had cleared out the third bed this was autumn, I would have done them inches apart on all sides, but considering it’s spring and they probably won’t grow that big anyway, I stuck with six inches. 

garlic bed prepared

After that, all that was left to do was drop in the garlic gloves, flatter side down. 

IMG 1719

After we did that, we covered the beds with straw that we found in the chicken coop on the property, and I proceeded to sleep for about 4 hours.

Hopefully, in 4-6 weeks, we’ll see some garlic greens/scapes, which would be awesome as I love to cook with them when I can (only taking a few as it’s not great for garlic growth, from what I’ve read.)

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering what Chewy was doing while I was planting said garlic?

naughtiest dog in the world

Discovering the joys of digging up a lawn the way only a city dog can.  My fault.

What are you excited to plant this season?
If you’re not planning on planting, what are you excited to eat this season? 

Money Matters: New Home Owners

It’s been almost 3 weeks since we’ve been here in Hillsboro, and life has zoomed on by, as we not only set up our new home, but learn all sorts of country lessons that most certainly did not apply to our Harlem life.  It’s an adjustment, but I can say with certainty that I have never been happier than I am when I am home, with my wonderful husband, looney dog, and a roaring fire. Or out tending our “compost” (a small heap covered with cardboard and leaves) or just watching the sun fade through the trees.

new back yard

Our new backyard

However, we’ve also had to come face to face with the reality of our new life fairly quickly, as many unexpected expenses have come up that simply didn’t apply when renting an apartment, ordering Seamless, and enjoying hot water that was our landlord’s responsibility.  So, here are some lessons we’ve learned fairly quickly in the past three weeks. 

Pretty much everything ranges from fairly to extremely expensive. This may just be as a first time homeowner, but damn, owning a house is mind-bogglingly expensive. Add that to the responsibility of owning and tending 13-acres, and “hemorrhaging” would be a good word to attach to our bank account.  I know these expenses will slow down as we get more skills (and we’re trying to learn from everyone we hire how to do basic skills like maintain our heat and trim back our trees) and as time goes on, but for now, ouch. 

It’s really hard to decide what’s worth the cost. So many purchases are of things and services we’ve never had to consider before, and it means making a lot of choices about what is necessity, versus what is investment, versus what is waste.  Tools are a great example – we know we want to build a lot of our own infrastructure, such as garden beds and chicken coops, and it’s a balance to decide if investing in truly fabulous tools is worth the additional cost over entry-level.  Same thing applies to what wood to use for garden beds, soil amendments, seeds, season extenders – every expense adds up, and it’s so hard to know what’s a need versus what’s a “would be nice.” One take away from this, however, is I will never have the audacity to call a vegetable at the farmers market expensive ever again.  Gardening organically is very costly.

Recommendations are solid gold. It is so challenging to find and be sure of companies and services.  We’ve been using Angie’s List, which has been so helpful to find people, but by far the best recommendations are from locals and neighbors. Our next-door neighbor recommended a service for mower repairs which seems totally great, and family friends from the areas referred us to an architect and contractor for eventual renovations we want to do, and they have been fantastic.  

Anthony on a tractor

Anthony on our new (well, new to us – it came with the property) ride on mower. 

What’s also great is the reputation of good services seem to get around. For example, we would like to replace our terrible fireplace with a wood insert so it actually warms the room as an alternative heat source. So, we found Eric, from All Fuel Installation and Service, just from calling around to different companies, and he’s been wonderful throughout the whole process. What was funny is that when we told other various contractors who we were working with, they all knew of the company and had nothing but good things to say about it.  So great!

Creativity is a necessity to saving. When trying to figure out how to save money, being creative has been essential. For instance, for us, canning is really important and saved us tons of money, even in New York buying produce direct from farmers markets. However, our 1981 electric coil stove is far too rickety and unpredictable for pressure canning, which is how we save our beans, stock, and squash.  Our first instinct was to replace the stove (which is something we’d want to do anyway, as the stove is old enough that there is no indication that it is at all hot, so feels rather dangerous), but we know long-run we’d prefer a gas stove, and don’t want to spend the money to do the plumbing and purchasing yet. So, instead, we brainstormed alternatives, and bought a $50 outdoor patio stove that connects to propane, and will do our pressure canning in the (open) garage.  

bayou stove

We did the same thing for starting our seedlings – initially, we were planning on a set up that included grow lights ($$$$, even just using normal fluorescent lights) shelving, and heat mats. This turned out to be an upfront cost of at least $600, which just seemed like madness. So, instead, we decided that we’ll do a simple outdoor hoop-house, that should cost about $300 to assemble, uses no electricity, and will extend the season in both directions. W’ll keep you posted on how that goes. (We may also do a small setup just for heat loving plants like tomatoes and eggplants, after reading Erica’s post on the matter.)

hoop house

(source)

Bulk is Boss. This is most likely not new news to anyone. However, one of the great things about living out in the country is that all of a sudden, large bulk purchases make heaps more sense then they did in our little apartment.  For buying soil (a necessity this year, and something we hope we’ll never have to do again, as we’ll be making our own compost and nitrogen rich soil amendments via chicken poop to help enrich our soil in the years to come), it’s way more cost effective to buy a truckload (around $800 for 18 cubic yards, which is about as much as we anticipate we’ll need) rather than by the bag (around $24,210 for the same amount, and that is not a typo.)

soil

(Source)

Another example of this is meat. Pastured, GMO-free, organic, humanely raised meat is very important to us, but it’s also very expensive.  The best way around this is to buy a quarter or a half of an animal, which lowers the cost to be about the same as it would be in the supermarket for dramatically better meat. We just bought half a Gloucester Old Spot pig from Melisa at Misty Morning Farms, a sustainably-operated farm in nearby Deer Island, and not only is it cost effective, but we get to decide exactly which cuts we’d like. 

Gloucester Spot Pigs

(source)

Humor and Gratitude is Everything. Sometimes, I genuinely want to cry when I see our hard-earned savings account dwindling so quickly.  It’s moments like that when I choose to focus on being so grateful for everything that we have, that we can afford to take care of ourselves and our land, our incredibly supportive friends and family, and for all our blessings. It’s also times like this when Anthony reminds me not to take life so seriously, by basically being a giant goofball.

Chewy Vader