Archive for July 15th, 2011

The Great Muppaphone expansion, Riots and Classes

admin July 15th, 2011

What, you ask, has Sharon been duing, besides getting mud and manure on her? (I feel like there’s been a theme to some of my recent posts, no?) I’m sure you have nothing but this on your mind – the doins a’transpirin at my house being the focus of whole tens of people (well, maybe one ten on a good day ;-) . Still, I’m going to tell you.

Well, what we’ve mostly been doing is getting ready for the fall garden season, and getting ready for the family expansion project. As of this week, our house is open as a foster home, but of course, in our usual “doing at the last minute something we should have done weeks ago” fashion, we’re not quite there yet. Still awaiting the stair gate (I stupidly gave ours away when the kids got big), still awaiting one of the mattresses for the beds, etc… and most of all, we needed a larger vehicle.

For the last few years, our sole family vehicle has been the “farm truck” – which is our joking name for the 1994 Ford Taurus we inherited from Eric’s grandmother. When we got it, it was literally the car that the little old lady only drove to the supermarket on Sundays. Since then, it has carried six passengers regularly, and driven chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, calves and bees in the back (and occasionally front) seat. It can carry four bales of hay if you really push it, and close to a ton of feed, if absolutely necessary. It has developed a permanent depression on the roof from where the goats have sat on it, and constantly has little baby goat hoofprints on it.

Grandma (whose memory is always a joy and a blessing) was a very tidy sort of person – she once confided gently to me that she could not sleep if she thought there was dust under her bed. I, as those of you who have been to my farm can attest, am not. There are way scarier things than dust under my bed, or would be if I didn’t sleep on a futon on the floor ;-) . We sometimes theorize that if there was a way to harness the energy created by Grandma spinning in her grave, we’d be able to run the farm on it, but she was also such a kind, loving and practical person that I know she’d be grateful her car went to good use.

It has been good use – it has been reliable and energy efficient. But we have outgrown it – we need a vehicle for going to market, and since we were certified to take up to four foster children (gack!), that means we need a vehicle that can seat 10 at least some of the time. Since that lets us out of the minivan category and firmly into the “big wonkin’ vans that if you are lucky get 18mpg” it will be interesting to see how we manage to hit our gas use targets (we have pretty consistently hovered at using 85% less gas than the US average, except for Eli, who is bused to a school for autistic children and runs about 75% less). We will still use the “truck” for Eric’s commute (on days he can’t carpool) and for any occasion when a subset of us can travel.

We looked at a selection of large passenger vans, including my favorite, the one that was a state prison transport van (they didn’t leave the logo on, sadly) and ended up with a 14 passenger vehicle – horribly and ironically, I am now the proud owner of something called a “suburban.”

Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to get our lives in order before 2-4 more people join in them and disrupt our managed chaos into less managed chaos. As much as we want to do this, it is a little like being pregnant for the first time, I think – the slow realization that this might be harder than you think kicks in. My husband deals with this by looking on the bright side. Discussing what we would do if we suddenly doubled the number of children in our household, Eric pointed out cheerfully that “hey, I could tune them to a full octave and use them as a muppaphone!”

(Just in case you don’t know what a muppaphone is. Simon has already claimed low C ;-) ).

This, of course, is the kind of thing that makes me adore my husband, and is also the kind of thing you probably don’t want to mention to social workers evaluating the merits of your family. Corporal punishment is absolutely forbidded in foster families – I’m pretty sure that includes musical performances as well ;-) .

Having the van does make it real. It also will make the Riot for Austerity more challenging – which is good. After all, just cutting your energy usage by 90% over the national norm is totally easy, right? Good – I’m adding a gas-guzzling tank and a few new household members to make it interesting. Remember, the Riot will re-start on August one.

Miranda Edel and I took the title of the Riot from George Monbiot’s book _Heat_ – in it he wrote “nobody ever rioted for austerity.” He argued no one will ever march saying “we want less!” – and that’s true. On the other hand a whole heck of a lot of us might march saying we want more for our kids and grandkids, to leave a better legacy, to honor and value what we have. There were more than a 1000 participating households around the world last time – I’m hoping to make it 5000 this time! Lots more information coming!

Also, if you wondering how to keep the garden produce coming into fall and winter, I’m teaching my Fall Gardening and Season Extension class, starting on Thursday 7/21, and running until mid-August. It will be a four week class focusing on everything from growing in containers to hoop houses, low tunnels, cold frames, timing your plantings, root cellaring, in garden storage and winter harvesting. You can take the class with a greenhouse or if you’ve just started your first garden and aren’t even sure what these words mean ;-) . Keeping the garden going – all year long or late in the season – is one of our keys to food security. Email me at [email protected] Cost of the class is $100 or equivalent barter. I also have five free spots for low income participants. Email for details.

Finally, on Sunday July 31, from 1-4pm, I’m running a class at my house in Knox, NY (about half an hour west of Albany) on growing, preserving and using herbs – from the culinary to the medicinal to the truly unusual. The class will involve a garden tour, tools for plant identification and both history and present uses, a snack of tasty herb-based treats and a demonstration of preservation techniques. Everyone will get herbs and herb products to take home as well. Cost of the class is $75 and includes all materials. Limited space available, so please register soon. Email for details, directions, etc…

On Sunday August 21, from 1-4, we’ll be having another class at our place – “mini goat camp.” Learn to milk a goat, trim hooves and the basics of goat care and housing including basic home vet work. Find out what it takes to keep dairy goats, including safe milk handling. Learn about feeding and kidding, and then do some basic cheesemaking and dairying. Sadly, in this case, everyone can not take home a goat ;-) , but you will get a valuable skill set. If you do want to get into dairy goats, I also have goats for sale -email for details. Cost of the class is $75, space is limited, so please email at [email protected] Older children (10 and up) are welcome in both workshops at a reduced rate ($45).

Ok, hope you are all having adventures too! Please tell me about them if you are so inclined!

Cheers,

Sharon

The Stats on Canning Illness

admin July 15th, 2011

Kathy Harrison has a great post that includes the data on canning-caused illness. Obviously, you really don’t want to mess with safety when pressure canning or canning any marginally acidic food, but it is also the case that we should have a balanced understanding of real risks and benefits:

I posted the statistics for food born illness from home canned food in the comments section but I will just add (for those that don’t read the comments) most botulism is infant botulism coming from feeding babies foods that adults can tolerate but are not good for babies (honey is one example). The second cause if wound infection as botulism occurs naturally. Take good care of even small injuries. The incidence of food born botulism is very small with only 21 cases being reported last year. You are far more likely to get ill from eating commercial spinach than from my home canned tomatoes. Here are the take home points. Use up-to-date recipes from approved sources, proper equipment and excellent hygiene and you will be fine.

I  couldn’t say it better.  Be *respectful* of the rules of canning, but don’t be fearful – you take your lives much more in your hands when you get in a car.

Sharon