Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This is the beginning of my rain water collection. I gathered up all the buckets I could find around the house and even used the cooler because it happened to be outside anyway. Since I took the picture I have found a few more and a plastic bottle like you put in a water cooler that I can use to store water. I put all these right under the eve of the front porch. Very primitive, but in an hour of rain all of the buckets will be full. In a day this could be quite a lot of water and it rains frequently here in East Texas. The last rain I got about fifty gallons and that was enough to water all of our blueberry plants, peach tree and fig trees for one day. Anytime we can keep the compressor at the well from kicking on is a good thing as our power bill is ridiculous anyway. I need to get a larger barrel or tank to store water, so I can go out periodically throughout a rainy day and empty these into it. Off in a clump a trees about sixty yards from the house is an old water tank on trailer designed to be towed by tractor. The tires are totally ruined as it has been there for probably ten years, but when I have time I will try to drag it out and see if it will hold water. Of course it would be ideal to have a gutter that feeds straight into a barrel, but then I also have to worry about it getting clogged.
In the long term our goals for living out here are to be more self sufficent, use less energy, use more renewable resources from our property, produce less waste. Although I belive in global warming, I would have to admit that any attempt at eco-freindly practices are more for practical purposes than anything else. If it saves me money and makes me need something else less than I am all for it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The garden is in, the power is out

So now the garden is in.

Luci finished planting a few days ago and it has been pouring rain ever since. We were afraid it would simply wash everything downhill into a muddy mess. So far, so good, and no major disasters. Now we have to wait a little while for things to come up, and then start the tedious process of trying to weed it. There is already an army of mimosa seeds coming up for us to pull out.

Yesterday we had a crap weather: pounding rain and brutal wind. Tyler, Hardin and a few other counties were under a tornado watch. As far as we can tell, we didn't have a tornado next to us, but the wind destroyed the canopy we had set up for the kids to play under while we worked on the garden.

Our power went out around eight o'clock last night. It wasn't back on until around ten thirty the next morning. This is pretty common with the power lines traveling through so many wooded areas; there are just great odds that at some point, a tree will rip down some lines. Of course we live in the middle of nowhere so it takes a while for the power company to find the problem.

I know some people would read this and think, "Well, just light some candles, it's no big deal." It's certainly not the end of the world, but with small kids it can be tough. They don't want to sleep because they're used to having nightlights or they're used to the house being a certain temperature, and the house is dead silent because there are no appliances softly humming.

After Hurricane Rita, our power was out for almost three weeks. Our youngest daughter was still a baby and she was miserable in the sudden shift from air conditioning to not even a fan. Besides the heat problem, we have a well, which means that if there's no power, there's no running water. To anyone who raised a baby with no running water, my hat is off to you. What a pain in the ass that must have been. And additionally, when the Red Cross came with water and MREs, we found that no one brings baby formula to disaster areas. Luci ended up taking the kids to Fort Worth with her mom, sister, and our niece, while I stayed behind to feed the dogs and cats.

Even a small generator can make things more bearable, and running a generator is cheaper than staying in a hotel for a week. Like most people here, we sometimes buy in bulk and usually have the freezer packed full of food. However, two days without power can cause you to end up eating what you can and chucking out the rest. In the humidity, two small box fans can make you feel a million degrees cooler. If we were moving out here again, a small generator would be the first thing I bought.

With all the rain lately, I have decided to begin collecting rainwater. I started with all the old five-gallon buckets I could gather from around the property. If I set them under the edge of the roof where the water runs off, they fill up in an hour or two. Last time I collected fifty gallons or so and this time I got a little more. I am hoping I can barter for rain barrels on Craigslist. I would like to use the water for the fig trees, blueberries, rasberries, and the peach and pear trees as well as back-up emergency water.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

So we did a marathon planting day in the garden yesterday.

Here's what we put in:

Tomatoes: yellow pear, red grape, big boy, roma, and early girl

Peppers: red bell, big green bell, and yellow banana

Okra: clemson spineless

Squash: table queen acorn, white pattypan, early prolific yellow straightneck, and black beauty zucchini

Beans: dragon tongue yellow bush snap, ford hook limas, and kentucky wonder pole green beans

Peas: blackeye and purple hull

Cucumbers: tendergreen burpless and sumter pickle

Corn: sweet corn, sweet and early corn, and chubby checker hybrid bicolor

Watermelon: sugar baby and crimson sweet

Cantaloupe: sweet 'n' early, and hale's best jumbo

Today, if the weather holds, we will put in:

Pumpkin: one packet pie pumpkin and one packet jack o' lantern
Sunflowers: mammoth
Gourds: birdhouse and dipper
Mustard greens: India
Bush green beans

Not trying onions, potatoes, or garlic, though we may put in radishes and spring onions as well. And what the heck is kohlrabi, anyway???

Friday, March 20, 2009

Problems with our watering plan

We had planned on laying a soaker hose down each row in order to water. We thought this would take the water directly to the plants and would have very little waste. Both of us hate to waste water, partly because we know there are places that don't have enough and partly because we don't want the pump running all day using electricity. Yes, we live on a well, not on city water. I will talk about that later.

Laying the hoses down each row, I took my hatchet and cut some stakes from branches of a fallen tree to use for hose guides. We are going for cheap. If we can't get it cheap or free, we may have to do without. Those hoses were our big expense, and we planned on them lasting for a few years. The hoses didn't work. At the rate the water was coming out, I think we would have had to leave them on all day long. We suppose that we may not have enough water pressure to make them work right, but most likely they'e just crap.

So after that, it was dig through our junk and see what we had. A few years ago, Luci had bought a fancy racheting sprinler mounted on a nice tripod. After quite a bit fiddling, we determined (big surprise) that this also did not work. For some reason, it doesn't go back around after it goes to one side. The next try was a cheap, plastic Rainbird racheting sprinkler that you're supposed to spike into the ground. Of course the cheapest choice worked the best, simply because it was the last try.

So tomorrow we're returning the soaker hoses and getting one more sprinkler. Now that I am finished with this post I am going to do a little research on rainwater collection and storage.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I smell planting time

The rain has finally stopped and the weather is nice. Tomorrow afternoon I will give the garden one last tilling and pull out more weeds and grass. We bought a couple hundred feet of soaker hoses that we will lay after we walk out the rows, and then it's seeding time. We're starting with corn, beans, radishes, cukes, assorted squash, and some watermelon and cantaloupe. We need to buy tomatoes and peppers to transplant. Luci's planting some bottleneck gourds around the perimeter of the fencing, and we may have room for a few feet of sunflowers for the kids.

The spinach and basil are already coming up in the containers on the porch. I can already taste the pesto.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rain, Rain and more Rain

Raining solid all day and most of yesterday. Not always pouring but steady.

I should be out burning stuff, but I think we're still under a burn ban. Yes, a burn ban...when we moved here I had never lived in a rural area before and had no idea how often shit needs to be burnt. I certainly had no idea there were days when burning was good and when burning was bad. The property had lots of crap on it, an old hunting camp, and old house, a small barn and years of trash that had been left behind. The buildings were all rotting and needed to go, and when I mentioned to people that I needed to tear them down and get rid of them, everyone said the same thing: "Wait 'til it is pouring rain and chuck a molotov cocktail inside and burn 'em down."

I was in shock. My exposure to wooded areas comes from camping trips to national parks where Woodsy Owl was constantly reminding us that the smallest spark would destroy the forest and all the creatures that reside within. After being here for a few years and watching countless neighbors burn mountains of brush and piles of trash, I gave in to the idea of burning a few things and discovered something: even with a gallon of diesel fuel, it is not easy to start a fire in the rain. Well, when our place was logged the timber management company torched both of the run-down buildings and about fifty acres at the same time.

Anyway, my oldest turns seven tomorrow so haven't had time to burn doodly squat.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Back from Vegas

OK, so I drove 21 hours on Tuesday on four hours of sleep. No tickets, no flats.

The lettuce that Luci planted has already sprouted. So has some of the okra, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and one of the apple cores I planted.

That is one of the thing I recommend anyone do as soon as they get settled on a piece of land they think they will stay on: plant trees, and if you don't have the cash to buy trees from the nursery then start them from seeds. Time goes faster than it feels when you first put them into the ground, so the sooner you get them going the better. Time for them to grow is free. Try to find things that grow easily in your climate, but really, if the ones I start from seed don't live, then oh well, they didn't cost a thing. So far, the two avocados I started last year are still alive, so now every time we have guacamole I try to start the seeds.

I will try to take some pictures of what is growing. So far, it is all in pots on the porch. The Rain started so we may have to wait a few days in order plant the garden. I put some buckets out to catch rain and I will use that water for the blueberries and raspberries.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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Little Cabin in the Woods

Jason's gone back to Las Vegas to gather his stuff in the wake of his layoff. He should be back to blogging by Thursday, when he's due to arrive here at the homestead. More bad news on the family financial front: we got word this morning that Jason's brother has also been laid off, following his promotion about six months ago. This must be sort-of like what times were like for our grandparents during the Great Depression...brings to mind the movies like "Cinderella Man"--soup kitchens, counting pennies for milk, and taking any job that will hire you. I have to say, I've never been so glad to live in the country.

When we lived in Las Vegas, we always used to joke that if ever a disaster happened, we'd make a beeline for our place in Texas, because I grew up here and knew I could feed us from what we could grow and gather around here. Times might get tight but we wouldn't starve. How surreal that we're quasi-dependent on this summer's gardening efforts. Also surreal is the fact that we are so enjoying getting back to a simpler life, but now we're forced to do so!

I can remember my grandmother telling Depression stories, about how the farm families did so much better than the city folks, because at least they had the land to feed them. They bartered food for stuff they couldn't grow. I don't think it'll come down to that, but if I can pack the freezer and pantry with stuff that we planted, maybe feeding our family of four won't be so stressful. I guess we'll be getting that pig after all!

That's been a subject of great debate at Casa Chambers...I don't know if I'd be able to send Pet Porky to the butcher after feeding it all spring and summer. The LAST thing we need is a 400 pound pet eating us out of house and home, and I personally can recollect wondering where Fonzie was when my grandfather was feeding us ham for Sunday lunch. I think the kids might be scarred for life. Though it is true that my older daughter is affectionately known around here as the "pork product kid" for her love of all things bacon. I guess we'll be putting that on our list of things to do. I've already steeled myself in preparation for this year's meat chicken endeavor, which will start this spring.

It should be warm enough soon to order the chicks from McMurray's Hatchery. Might also get a few turkey poults and ducklings and see how they fare...I definitely see a war with the coyotes coming on. The hardest thing to remember is to do one thing at a time--first plant the garden, then build the chick tractors, then order the chicks, and so on. It's VERY difficult to want the results immediately, before you are ready for the next step. We'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Two salsas and a cha-cha-cha.

Okay, big guy, if you're going to talk about the salsa, you need to post a recipe. I have two really good salsa recipes, one with fresh tomatoes and one with canned. I think, for the best flavor, a mix of the two is best, but hey, play it by ear and use what you have on hand. Either way, it's cheaper than the little jars of Pace you get at the supermarket, and tastes better, and is probably better for you.

Salsa One:

4 cups fresh tomato, peeled and cored (more on that later) OR 2 cans diced canned tomato with juice
1 bunch fresh cilantro
One lemon
One clove garlic

This salsa, the kids like better because it's not spicy. Which is why I make it. Because truthfully, I like the spicy #2 recipe better, but this is good, tastes more like pico de gallo. Plunk the tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro leaves in a food processor and squeeze 1/2 of the lemon over all. Puree. If it's too thick, add a tiny bit of water at a time until it's the consistency you like. Add salt to taste. If it's not acidic enough, add a little more lemon until it's where you want it to be. Serve with anything or eat with a spoon. Just kidding, though our younger daughter does it.

Salsa Two:

4 cups fresh tomato, or two cans diced canned tomatoes with juice
one Poblano pepper (that's the dark green one they make chile rellenos with)
One big onion or two smaller ones
One bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 seeded, chopped chipotle chile
cider vinegar
salt to taste

Line your cookie sheet with foil. Slice the onions about 1/2 inch thick, and put them on the cookie sheet with the garlic and pepper. Broil until they start to brown/blacken. Watch out not to burn the onion and garlic, but you need to roast the pepper until it's really black and blistered all over so you can skin it. I usually have to remove the onion and garlic before the pepper's done. Skin and de-seed the pepper. In your food processor, put the garlic, onion, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro, and chipotle chile. Pulse it a minute or so, adding a touch of water to thin it if you need to. Add a tablespoon of the cider vinegar (or I've also used lemon with good results). Add salt to taste. This is a super-good, smoky salsa. You can also add more of the chipotles if you want things spicier.

Okay, if you're a newbie to tomato-cookery, there are 2 ways to peel a tomato without losing flesh with the skin. Either you can boil water in a bowl in the microwave, or you can boil it on the stove. Cut a shallow "X" into the bottom end of the tomato, then dunk it in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. After that, the skin should slip off with no trouble at all. And coring means taking out the stem end of the tomato. Now you have tomatoes ready for the recipes yet you don't have those nasty little rolled-up pieces of skin in the salsa.

I will post the Pesto recipe later. I'm sure I'll be inspired when the basil finally starts sprouting. I also take requests, so if you need a recipe, let me know.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Basil, lettuce and chainsaws

Luci filled the containers with a little fresh soil and planted basil, cilantro, lettuce, and spinach. Last year she grew tomatoes, a few cucumbers and lots of basil and herbs on the front porch. I love pesto and now so do my kids, but what you can buy in the store or order at a restaurant does not even compare to the pesto she makes fresh. The same goes for salsa...nothing tastes better than fresh from the garden. If you have never had it, go get some pots and start growing a few things. The last frost is hopefully over so planting should begin soon.

I have to fly to Vegas tomorrow and then spend a fantastic twenty-four hours plowing down I-40 and 287 to get home. After that one final tilling and planting should start.

I spent sometime fiddling with our little chainsaw and managed to get it started. I am starting to feel I am going to have to learn much more about engines to deal with country life. There are a lot of things to deal with here. Including massive amounts of crap growing faster than we have been able to cut it down. I would highly recommend budgeting to buy a good chainsaw if you are moving to a wooded area. My little Home-lite Ranger I like, but it doesn't compare to a Stihl or Husqvarna. It certainly doesn't help that we have had two hurricanes (Rita and Ike) come through here in the four years we have been here. Every time we turn around there are more trees and limbs in the yard. Fortunately for us, because during Ike I was in Las Vegas, one of my neighbors came over and cut stuff up for my wife. Many thanks.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

feeling fenced in

I gave my soil another tilling today, and even using my Troy-bilt Pony (which rocks) I am sore. I can't imagine doing the whole thing with a pick-axe and a shovel. I finished putting a small fence around the garden, but it's kinda messed up and I'm not sure it will keep out much. In the back corner I see rabbits every night if I go out with a flashlight. They may have to die. I found out at the feed store today that I put my T-posts backwards for the little clips that hold an electric fence--what do I know about putting in an electric fence?! Oh, and by the way, if you don't know where the feed store is, you don't live in the country.

The garden is about 30' by 50', so it's not tiny but certainly not huge. I don't know squat about growing anything and if it wasn't for the legality, the only thing I would grow would be a big patch of weed. The sad thing is that a patch of weed that size would provide quite a nice lifestyle. Tomatoes, peppers, and other such vegetables will have to do.

My wife and I planted two fig trees today about ten feet from the garden. Besides that, I just ripped out all the other crap that was growing around and taking over a small peach tree. Off to the left of that is a large pear tree half-destroyed during Hurricane Rita, but always covered in fruit. So far we have eaten very little of that fruit. Squirrels and birds must be eating it before it ripens. I need to cut down a bunch of growth from around it so that they can't get to it.

When we first moved here we planted eight blueberry bushes. They seem to be doing alright but haven't produced berries yet. The woman who runs the pick-your-own blueberry place says they need lots more water and fertilizer. Over the last few days I went around and cleaned out all the grass growing around them. My wife, Luci, found a place we can get free mulch to put around them. I can't believe it, but I am pretty happy about that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In the Beginning

I have achieved victory over my tiller. It hadn't been used in three years, and then only briefly, before being retired to the carport where it sat, full of gas, rusting in the southeast Texas humidity. I was just about to pour the new gas I bought on top of it and light the whole thing on fire when it started. I had to pull out the carburetor and clean it, but paid off, and after a ton a messing with it I have (at last) begun to till the garden.

Having recently joined the ranks of un-bailed-out masses, I am out of work, freaked out and happy to be home all at the same time. For the last three years I have been going to work in Las Vegas, building stupid shit for rich people, but the party is over. I am looking at our garden and blog the same way: as a learning experience. Maybe I will get lucky and someone reading this will have some good advice for me on this country living thing.