Friday, March 30, 2012

push reel mower + our kitty cats

Not sure what mowers and cats have to do with each other, but this is what comes spilling out of my brain,  so you should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

On mowers: one thing we plan to do during our upcoming trip to the holler is to get started on our mowing upkeep. We've discussed at length  how we plan to manage mowing chores long term (ATV vs. riding mower vs. letting it grow wild - that last option is a big fat NO because we dig the holler's tidy appearance and have never had a lawn before and are really excited about laying in the grass - A LOT), but for now, mowing poses a bit of a problem since we've got about 2,500 miles between us and the grass.

That being said, we don't want to jump the gun and purchase a big, expensive mowing device before we really even know what we want. Also, anything with an engine is going to require fuel and some level of maintenance, and we'd like to keep things as simple and cheap as possible. (Cheap is subjective, but we're happy to fork over the dough now for a quality product if that means less hassle down the road.) With mowing season looming ahead, though, we need to figure something out.

So after an exhaustive online search, we decided to get a push reel mower. Mowing a half acre of hilly lawn with a reel mower may sound a bit daunting and sweaty, but I'm looking forward to the exercise (and P+Q). 

Behold, the Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower:

[ linky ]

People seem to love this bad boy based on the reviews. Amazon has it on sale for 200 bones and free shipping (same price at Lowes and HD, but they don't have it in stock anywhere near us), so we plan to order it a week or so before we leave like we did with the memory foam mattress, and it should arrive while we're there (or a few days early, but we're not too worried about thievery [ knocks on wood ] because the neighbor's got our back).

Of course, there's still the question of what to do with the lawn during the time between our trip and when the Big Move actually happens, so we're hoping to maybe finagle the aforementioned neighbor to keep up the mowing every couple weeks or so for us (and pay him for the service, of course). Although I don't think it would be the end of the world if the grass were allowed to grow unkempt for a few months, the crazy in me wants to keep it neat.

In other news, Jay informed me that he saw our cat Gravel up the hill above our house yesterday (the last time I saw him was probably two months ago). Gravel and Nekkie are half brothers from the same litter (momma cats can be very promiscuous, you know) that we rescued from a local shelter in 2008.

Nekkie Monster is a total homebody and wants nothing more than to cuddle and purr in our laps and bring Clyde Dog gifts of dead mice, decapitated birds, and tail-less lizards. We think he is going to do a fine job of keeping the barn and other outbuildings vermin-free.

Where's dem birdies.

Gravel, on the other hand, has turned into a menacing, feral, pure wild cat that we're pretty sure lives with the mountain lions now and fights off bobcats and massacres deer in his spare time.

Back when he still needed human-supplied food to subsist. And liked the glow of a Mac.

Gravel probably won't be coming with us when we move. We briefly considered somehow trapping him and flying him out because he would probably graduate from mountain lion to bear patrol out at the land and have a really fabulous time out there, but then we came to our senses and realized how absurd that would be and that Gravel would probably hate us forever and take off, never to be seen again. [ plus the unlikeliness that we could ever catch him anyway ]

We also have a very old tabby named Trouble whom we rescued as a kitten from some asshole up in Oregon that told us he was going to shoot whatever remained of the litter if they were not all taken away that day. We brought Trouble home (waaaay back in 1997) but lived in an apartment at the time and had no way of taking all the kittens, but our neighbor took it upon herself to go get them all and was able to find homes for every single one. We love Trouble and he loves us, but he discovered a couple years ago that the neighbor's house down the street offered a bit more solace because it lacked two bumbling kittens (Nekkie and Gravel) and a horse-esque puppy (Clyde Dog). Trouble's original buddies, Turbo, the siamese, and Big Blue, the American Bulldog, are on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge now. < sniff >


Trouble is going to be 15 years old this summer. He pays us a visit now and then, and he seems happy and in good health but is pretty rickety, and we don't want to put him through the stress of a cross-country move. We're not totally sure which neighbor he shacks up with most (we think there are a few), but I plan to find out between now and the Big Move so we can at least bid him adios. His comfort in his final years is more important to us than trudging him away when he seems perfectly content without us (although I do appreciate his periodic check-ins to let us know that he hasn't forgotten his mom and dad).

As far as Gravel is concerned, if he's happy and healthy, we're fine with letting him be a free mountain cat (like we have any choice), but it will still be tough when the day comes to move away without him. Who knows, though, he may decide that he's had enough of the California mountain lions and needs to move up to taking down Tennessee black bears.

~ Mitsy

Thursday, March 29, 2012

deer antlers and spiders

Folks, my time is short today, but I wanted to leave you with just a few reminders of the holler:

Not that I can talk, but methinks someone had low expectations.

You just stay on that holly bush there, buddy. Far, far away from my slumbering melon.

I'm not really afraid of spiders, and I recognize their valiant contribution to keeping the bug population in check, but I definitely steer clear of the big ones. I make Jay get the thick-legged ones that get stuck in the bathtub, and even he is sometimes a bit creeped out.

Speaking of creepy crawlies, I awoke at some God-awful hour of the morning recently to what I'm pretty sure was a spider dropping from the ceiling onto my cheek. It was a relatively heavy thunk, so I think it was big.


Carry on.

~ Mitsy

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

storage baskets (aka, parents who buy this for their child should be sterilized)

So, I was searching online the other day for storage baskets. Specifically, baskets or boxes or bins or containers or whatever that would fit nicely under the platform bed frame. You remember it.

You should see the two closets in the cabin. They're only maybe four feet wide each, and half of one is taken up with the furnace - there is absolutely no chance of fitting both my and Jay's clothes in this storage space. Zero. Now, I do plan on drastically thinning out my wardrobe and have actually been actively doing so for the past few months or so. If I haven't worn it in the last six months and it doesn't have sentimental value or isn't incredibly expensive, to the thrift store pile it goes! for the most part

I do have some expensive attire, some of which is second-hand and some I actually spent good money on. don't let me back into the Chanel store in Waikiki Beach. However, I hesitate to sell any of the spendy stuff now because we might end up never finding real jobs and possibly have to resort to selling my top-drawer shit to buy top ramen. That being said, we do need some place to put this stuff, and because the platform bed frame is an awesome 14" tall, I want to get some vessels to contain said spendy shit and hopefully not ever have to pawn it off on ebay or etsy or wherever. And besides, I do actually wear these things occasionally.

Anyway, I was looking at the usual suspects, like IKEA, Amazon, and Overstock and couldn't really find anything that I liked. I'd rather not have those ugly transparent plastic boxes. Looking at Target, I found more along the lines of what I'm envisioning as our underbed storage mecca by searching for "storage basket". And these were the results:

Whoa, back it up. Considering that this is on the Target website, I can only assume that it is actually for real. In my opinion, no parent has any business buying their child a quadruplet baby doll stroller. That is fucked up. Like, how much more pressure can a parent put on their child than to saddle them with a stroller pushing around four baby dolls? Talk about overzealous expectations. I'm so glad I don't have kids because if I had to deal with seeing this kind of horseshit all the time, I would seriously go live in a cave.

I realize that I'm an anomaly, but I can't imagine what little girl aspires to have quadruplets at that age unless her parents are feeding her some messed up shit. I was searching for baskets, and a quadruplet baby doll stroller shows up in the results. The irony.

Back to the baskets. The space under the bed is divided into four quadrants by the support posts, each of which is approximately 32" wide x 14" high x 30" deep. This is the longest and largest basket that I could find that will still fit.

Oh, how I hate you, Wal-Mart. I keep telling Jay that I refuse to shop there once we move because of their business practices, China-made crap, blah blah blah, but dang it, they have just the basket I need. I could fit eight of these under the bed, which would provide quite a bit of storage space but is a little spendy at almost 150 bucks. That's still cheaper than an particle board armoire or another garbage IKEA dresser, though, so I'll have to think about it.

Do you shop at Wal-Mart? Do you try not to but then keep sneaking back? Tell me I'm not alone.

~ Mitsy

Monday, March 26, 2012

listhings and another map

As you may have guessed from my other OCD leanings, I am a compulsive note taker at heart and have used myriad apps and software to feed my need for electronic note taking.

I hate my handwriting with a passion and feel much more at ease on a keyboard than with even the finest pen in my hand, although my favorite writing instrument of all time is the uni-ball Signo 0.7 in black (which, much to my dismay, is only available in Japan; the Signo 207 is the closest model available in the U.S. and inferior in every way - the Pilot G-2 07 is an acceptable substitute, and I enjoy using it, but it will never meet the standards set forth by my favorite Japanese pen).

I think I hate hand writing so much because my thoughts spill out at such a rapid pace that the mechanics of my hand simply cannot keep up, and so I get frustrated and my writing gets sloppy and illegible. I also do not have good control over my cursive and cannot write fast to begin with, so my Ns end up looking like Ms, the curvature of my S is limp, I always have one two many dots over my lowercase Is, and I end up skipping letters altogether by mistake. It's just ugly. I much prefer writing in uppercase, but then it looks like I'm yelling when I'm really not.

I used to keep an extensive SlickTasks database on my Blackberry, but then we switched to Android phones, and I discovered that ST was not available (I might have actually stayed with RIM had I known that - fortunately, they just came out with an iPhone app and are soon to release an Android app, yesssssssssss).

I used to use Google Notebook religiously, but then they decided to discontinue support for it. Bad Google.

I tried all the mainstream online note taking sites, like EverNote, Springpad, and UberNote, but they were all way too complex for what I wanted. I finally found, and although there are a few changes I would not mind seeing (like bulleted text, auto dates, etc), it pretty much works perfectly for me right now. It's post-it note chaos, folks, and I love it! (There are other post-it type note taking sites out there, but I think listhings is the most visually appealing.)

Anyway, anytime I think of something that I might want to remember later or just want to document for all eternity, I note it at listhings. You can create multiple tabs within your database for organizing, and, oh yes, I have many a tab that relates to homestead life. We're looking forward to exploring our new area, so I decided to notate how far away some major attractions/cities are:

Destination  Hours/minutes
Gatlinburg TN  2:10
Asheville NC  2:30
Chattanooga TN  3:30
Lexington KY  3:30
Charleston WV  4:00
Nashville TN  4:30
Atlanta GA  5:10
Charleston SC  6:45
Myrtle Beach SC  7:35
Memphis TN  8:00
Jacksonville NC  8:00
Sandusky OH  8:30
Pensacola FL  10:00
New Orleans LA  11:30
Syracuse NY  12:45
Port O'Connor TX 19:30
California  way the fuck out there

  • Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge is supposed to be fun, although the first thing I think of is Dolly Parton's big rack.
  • Asheville is a hubbub of arts and music (and hippies probably).
  • Chattanooga apparently has some fun attractions like caves and an aquarium.
  • Lexington is the closest big city to us in Kentucky, and Nashville is music central in middle Tennessee (apparently, people think East, Middle, and West Tennessee should be separate states - like NorCal and SoCal - we definitely understand).
  • Atlanta is, well, that's where the nearest IKEA is, and yes, I know I have a problem.
  • Charleston is the closest ocean beach, and Memphis is Elvis, of course (not that I'm really an Elvis fan, but I'd like to see all three regions of Tennessee).
  • I'm not sure why I listed Jacksonville, NC - maybe because I fear I will miss the ocean a lot so it's another water access point (not that we ever go to the beach anyway).
  • Sandusky, OH is the shortest distance to the great lakes, Lake Erie to be exact.
  • I've always wanted to see Pensacola and New Orleans.
  • My bro-in-law and nephew live in upstate NY, although the BiL recently moved back to the West Coast.
  • My parents are retired on the Gulf Coast, and Jay's parents are in Cali, although they are looking at real estate in the Tri-Cities in order to stretch their retirement dollar farther.

So yea, we have a lot of sight-seeing to do, although I don't know how much time we'll have to devote to travel with all the farm projects we have in mind. More than anything, we want to explore Appalachia and are really excited about discovering local parks and natural attractions. More on that later.

bye for now, pussycats,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

just so we're clear

Kids, I like hot weather. My appendages tend to look like fat sausages when the humidity rolls around, but that is a fair trade for lovely, hot, t-shirt, bare feet, kiddie-pool-sittin' weather.

Most people love the weather on the central California coast because it's very similar to a Mediterranean climate - they say it's not too hot or humid (people are sissies about hot weather, whereas I have a 30+ degree comfort range - anything from 75 degrees and up is fine with me). But it rains buckets from November to May (well, not this year, but this has been an very unusually warm and dry winter), and I mean cold rain. I hate cold rain. Santa Cruz sucks balls in the summer because it's usually fogged in and not sunny and I am not down with wearing a hoodie in July. NOT DOWN.

Summer in the Santa Cruz mountains, on the other hand, totally rules because it's hot, dry, and my garden suddenly realizes that it's awesome out and puts forth massive quantities of fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes. However, hot weather doesn't usually arrive until June (my definition of hot is anything above 80 degrees), sometimes July, and only lasts until maybe September, and then our property gets real dark because all the redwood trees get in the way of my sunlight (cursed north-facing mountain slope), and I become a hermit because I hate living in the trees when it's dark and wet and chilly. Redwood trees are amazing wonders, they really are, but they're just too fucking tall. And evergreen. It's like a canopy of darkness.

This is all a really long-winded way of saying that I'm super jealous of the weather out at the holler right now. I keep track of it everyday on my Weatherbug app on my phone. We did get a few pretty awesome weeks of hot winter weather here in Shitty California (all the deciduous trees are really confused right now), but then that ended and the rain started. We don't even get real thunderstorms here. I LOVE thunderstorms.

When we were out at the holler last September, we were chillin' on the porch with my folks and our friends from Knoxville (who are searching for the perfect piece of dirt in Hancock County, too, because they know how awesome it is), and it was raining (WARM RAIN) and thundering so hard that we had to yell to hear each other. I mean really yell. It got to the point where conversation was pointless - like being drunk at a punk show and trying to explain to the person next to you about how awesome the band is (and complain how watered-down the drinks are - unless you're cool like me and drink straight whiskey or gin martinis with pickled onions).

When my MiL and I were out there last July, it was supposedly the hottest weather they had experienced in 20+ years, and I slept like a baby every night with the fan on and was able to function just fine during the peak heat of the day. It's not like I was slaving away shoveling manure or anything, but you get my point.


Sun, heat, thunderstorms: BLISS.

Agh, I'm done complaining. I should not complain so much. It is not healthy to dwell on things you cannot control. Let's just say that I can't wait to get out there and leave it at that. Bring it on, Cold California Rain, you can't squash my excitement! Warm Tennessee Rain, I embrace your humidity with open, sweaty arms and can't wait to bask in your thunderstorming awesomeness.


Friday, March 16, 2012

food forest planning (aka, i might be overdoing it a bit with the fruit)

I have a spreadsheet file that includes an embarrassingly large number of sheets devoted to growing things, a large percentage of which cover our future fruit trees, brambles, and bushes. and no, you still can't see it This is because I have trouble just picking a fruit-bearing specimen and must instead lay out all the attributes of each variety so that I may zero in on the ones best suited to our geographic location and climate and preferences. I like to pretend like I know what I'm doing

For some reason, I don't have this affliction (at least not as bad) with garden fruits and vegetables, probably because if something doesn't work out one year, I can always try another variety the next year (except for perennial vegetables, but there's only a few of those); trees, brambles, and bushes, on the other hand, must actually survive year after year and require a serious commitment of time, energy, and money, so the selection process is much more complicated for me. We're talking about our future food source here, people - this is important stuff.

There are many factors to consider when making such choices. Important ones include pollination requirements, minimum chill hours (this is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but I'm going to take my friend Anna's advice and just get trees that are not "low chill"), and disease resistance. (Truthfully, I haven't really delved into the disease resistance of any of these varieties because I'm not adverse to babying them somewhat, but if y'all have any suggestions or see me making some horrible mistakes here, lemme know. I'll pay you back for your expertise with bushels of your favorite fruit that you helped me grow!) Other considerations I deem important are harvest times (trying to spread the harvest out among several varieties of a particular species as long as possible), keeping capability, and flavor, of course.

Sadly, in addition, I need lots of COLORS. I can't be content with plain old red apples or purple plums. Honestly, it probably won't matter much to the locals that are my future customers, but I envision a honor farm stand that is just bursting forth with every color imaginable because of my judicious and thorough selection of fruits and vegetables and that ends up being a roadside attraction where the locals congregate and shoot the shit at. Like a bar. But since we're in a semi-dry county, a produce bar. HA.

Anyhoo, these are my selections:
  • Apples: Red Delicious (red), Granny Smith (green), Yellow Newton Pippin (gold/green), Golden Delicious (gold), Ashmead Kernal (russett), Arkansas Black Spur (dark red) and Gravenstein (green with red stripes).
  • Raspberries: Red Heritage (red) and Fall Gold (gold). duh
  • Plums: French Improved (purple), Methley (red), and Green Gage (green).
  • Cherries: Craig's Crimson (nearly black), Sweetheart (red), and Rainier (yellow with blush).
  • Pears: Red D'Anjou (red), Bosc (russett), and Blake's Price (golden). 
  • Blueberries: Patriot, Bluecrop, and Chandler for 90+ days of fruit.
  • Blackberries: Choctaw, which is the earliest ripening blackberry on the planet so that we can eat some fruit other than cherries in May (May might be a stretch; June is more likely. Still, that's early for blackberries).
  • Apricots: Harcot (red blush) and Gold Cot (golden yellow).
  • Peaches: Loring (yellow).
  • Nectarines: Mericrest (red/yellow) and Arctic Blaze (red/white).
kill me now, please

That's 21 fruit trees plus a shitload of brambles and bush fruit. It's fucking insanity, I know, but if I'm going to have a forest garden, I want it to be a literal forest. That I can sit in under trees in the shade and read a book to the dog while the chickens eat fruit tree nemeses and fertilize them and probably peck at my feet (hard) because they're mean fuckers like that.

And this doesn't even take into account the six citrus varieties that I plan to shuffle into the cabin at the first sign of fall frost. Maybe a cheap greenhouse really is in order - not for growing vegetables but for providing a suitable climate for those sissy citrus plants.

I should mention that I plan to keep all our fruit trees confined to a 10'x10' (or even smaller) canopy spread and height via aggressive pruning. And the citrus trees will be kept to potted plant size to facilitate their being brought into the greenhouse (otherwise known as: being demanding).

In case you needed a visual representation of the fruit color spectrum. It's ok, I did, too.
[ pinterest link here ]

Now that we have this frightening part of my mentality bared for all to see, let's go get (apple)sauced, folks, cuz it's Friday, woot woot!

~ mitsy

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

let me shoot your offspring


So, a light bulb went off in my head the other day. This doesn't happen often.

I do have to give my Pops some credit, though, because it was sorta his idea. He was telling me how their neighbor takes baby/kid portraits and has discovered that people want pictures of their kids taken every year. Being child-free myself and not planning on ever popping out any rug rats, this thought probably never would have occurred to me. Pictures every year = repeat business = $$$.

An easily transferable source of income after we move? would be nice
Easy to please the customer because what parent doesn't like a picture of their adorable rug rat? bonus
Something I've already dabbled in at the request of family and friends and felt mildly successful with? fer sure
Not stressful like shooting weddings? OH PLEASE YES

Good grief, I took some really amazing pictures of my goddaughter this past weekend, and the idea of making money doing this so we can live out our homestead fantasy is, well, quite brilliant on my part (thanks, Dad).

Let me prove it to you:

Redwood trees add catch lights to the eyes. I wish I could say I planned that.

Sassy to the hilt.

It should be illegal for babies to be this cute.

Lyle Tuttle was clearly planning her ultimate revenge on LJC.
no, not really, she actually was rolling around in the grass the whole time

Is it wrong to be jealous of a baby's pea coat? and headband

The chub is finally making its way to her limbs. Squishy chubster.

Yea, having a perfect model baby is probably the reason why these turned out good, but I gotta give myself some credit.

The birth rate in Hancock County is actually lower than that here in Santa Cruz, and the poverty rate there is quite high, so this will not likely pay all the bills, but I'm still hoping to convince the locals to let me document their children in exchange for some greenbacks. And I might be willing to trade for perhaps some livestock, backhoe work (read: pond, root cellar, etc), or possibly manure (it would have to be lots. and be aged. and get delivered). Because that's how we roll out in the sticks, folks.

~ Mitsy

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

goat milk

[ image credit ]

Being the adventurous person that he is, Jay bought a quart of goat milk on a whim the other day. He wanted to try it out to see if it's worth keeping female goats. He didn't think it was that bad (he'd drink half-and-half by the gallon if he could), but I thought it was truly disgusting. It tasted like liquified goat cheese - strangely enough, I love goat cheese and Jay won't even try it (not much cheese makes the cut in his book), so go figure. I actually did use some of this wretched stuff in a batch of boxed mac 'n cheese I was making because I can see the merit of using it in savory dishes, but in my coffee? No thanks. Goat-cheese flavored coffee doesn't do it for me. I realize that some goat milk tastes more strongly than others and that what the goat eats, whether there are males around, etc, affects the flavor, but I would much rather milk a Highland cow and have normal tasting animal milk. Just one more reason goats are meant for other people to enjoy. BARF.

Friday, March 9, 2012

swimming ponds

One thing I've hinted at before that I want for our homestead is a pond. While I don't think a large pond meant for livestock watering needs makes much sense considering the lay of our land, I can't stop thinking about how awesome it would be to have a small water feature that's meant just for us. Something that we (and maybe even the dogs) can cool off in during the summer that also enhances the landscape. Set a few plastic chairs in the shallow part and read a good book drinking Coronas on a hot summer day. Bliss!

In researching small ponds, I came to discover what they call natural swimming pools, or swimming ponds. Basically, you have a water feature that includes a deep(er) area for swimming and a connected shallow area that is filled with bog plants that clean the water naturally. No chemicals, looks lovely, and has a functional purpose, to boot.

I found a few images that are kinda what I have in mind:

[ image credit ]

[ image credit ]

Since I couldn't find exactly what I envisioned on the interwebs, I threw a drawing together in Sketchup:

Kinda like a giant hot tub. Except not hot and not a tub. But good to sit in anyway.

Idyllic, no?

As back breaking as it might seem, I think this could be shoveled out over a few weekends and not require a backhoe.

So the darker part is the swimming (really, more a soaking) area, and the lighter ring around it would be the bog where the plants grow to filter the water. I threw some koi fish in there, too, for shits and giggles.

There's Jay testing the water to make sure it's safe for me and Clyde Dog to swim in (and looking extra cool in the process). Clyde Dog would no doubt also sit with me quite contentedly while I drink Mexican beer and read Dean Koontz novels and glossy farm magazines and soak my feet (and possibly take a nap). Barker would probably not be too interested, and they didn't have an American Bulldog model in Sketchup, so I didn't include him. It will definitely need to be fenced off from the rogue chicken gang, though, because swimming in bird poop is not my idea of a relaxing good time.

Location-wise, I think an ideal spot might be the bermed area above the cabin. It sounds frightening to have a body of water positioned above our abode, but this spot gets a lot of runoff during storms and there's actually an existing ditch that I could connect the swimming pond to, making it all the easier to fill it and keep it full.

Like this:

You can sorta make out the
north/south ditch just to the right...

This area has lots of nice shade in the summer. Yes, yes I think a swimming pond is quite in order. And if you come help me dig it, I'll let you swim/soak in it anytime you want. REALLY. help me

Sayonara, fishies, enjoy the weekend!

~ Mitsy

Thursday, March 8, 2012

short and long term plans

Whatever this farm implement is, I'm guessing we won't need one.

I originally entitled this post "short and long term goals", but the word goal has always bothered me because it suggests that you have failed if you don't achieve whatever it was you set out to do. I am, however, very much a planner and much prefer making plans to setting stupid and potentially unattainable goals and thus setting myself up for disappointment. Plans are much more flexible than goals in my mind - they can be tweaked as circumstances present themselves. So since we're embarking on a pretty fantastic adventure, I though it would be interesting to map out (you know how I love maps - even mind maps) some things floating around in the old noggin that have to do with our future at the holler.

Paying off the land is one long-term plan, and we're hoping to do that sooner rather than later, but since we have no form of income lined up (yet), I'm just going to assume that will take 20 years since that's how long our mortgage is amortized for.

I think short-term plans are a bit more fun to fixate on, so here's the quick and dirty on what we hope to accomplish in the next two years:

Mid 2012: Sell our house and move. Hoping to walk away with a little cash, but if that doesn't happen, we should still have enough of a nest egg to take care of our financial obligations (debt and utilities), ourselves (food, including the pets), and vehicle maintenance for two years.

Late 2012/early 2013: Figure out what farm implements we think we will need and purchase them now while we have cash. I'm still not sure if we need a tractor and think an ATV might suit our needs better, but Jay might be on the tractor side of the fence. I can see the benefit of a tractor for moving things around, but I'm not sure how much will need to be moved anyway due to the permaculture-based approach we plan to take to growing plants and raising animals. Plus, riding ATVs is fun!

Early 2013: Finish the garden infrastructure (this sounds ambitious, but I plan to work on it from the moment we get out there and until my fingers freeze off in the depths of winter). Although I think it would be fun to have a fall 2012 garden if we get out there in time for it, I'm more interested in establishing the infrastructure needed for our long-term growing needs. I've found that filling raised beds with compost in the fall and letting it mellow out over winter worked great for spring planting for me in the past (albeit on a much smaller scale). A spring 2013 garden is essential in my mind for starting our food growing quest. I would like to have the entire garden base according to my OCD plan in place by fall 2013 and be using cover crops by that summer to minimize the need to purchase more organic matter.

A rainy afternoon in town.

Early 2013: Start fencing in areas for livestock. Again, fencing costs money, so we want to get going on that while we have it to spare. Temporary fencing is one option to save on costs, and I don't mind the idea of having to move it around regularly according to my paddock/pasture rotation plan. However, permanent fencing is preferable if affordable enough.

Early 2013: Acquire the start of our farm animal (aka, protein and dairy source) menagerie. I suppose that breeding stock would be logical first purchases, but I'm not sure if I want to dive right in with that or just get some trial animals to see how we do and then move on to semi-permanent animals that we will use for producing more animals. I don't want to overwhelm ourselves with too much at once, but making those purchases as soon as possible would be advantageous. I would really like to eat home-grown bacon by the 2013 slaughter season.

Early 2013: Clear the area for the forest garden and plant fruit trees (I'm not really sure when fruit trees are supposed to be planted, but at least the area can be cleared). How we go about clearing the area depends on what farm implements we decide to purchase. I think a bush hog would be a worthy investment because it would likely have a lot of use in years to come and can be pulled by either tractor or ATV.  I'm starting to think that we may not need a bush hog at all if we get animals that actively forage and don't have finicky palates (especially if our goal is to eliminate commercial feed costs).

Mid 2013: Start preserving the garden harvest in the form of canning, freezing, and/or root cellaring.

Mid 2014: Start making money in some form or other. Probe the local community for what niches might be filled with our skills. We have quite a few ideas and are striving to find income streams that can be home(stead)-based because we would like to avoid taking jobs away from the locals, and plus, we want to be working on the farm, not a nine-to-five (or even a nine-to-noon). But we must remain realistic in that regard because bills must be paid, and we don't pay bills late. As scary as being unemployed sounds, I'm convinced that we can make a home-based income work.

Whenever: Kill some deer on our land. Venison is delicious, and I'm really excited about eating it.

The sooner we start these projects, the sooner we'll be prepared to live the lifestyle we yearn for if we're able to earn a modest income (or return to the work force if we need to resort to that to pay our bills). These may sound like laborious chores to most people, but we can't wait to get started on what we see as interesting projects that will bring us closer to our homesteading goal (gasp, that word!). Jay's thoughts differ somewhat in that he more willing to find a real job sooner than what I have in mind, but we're on the same page with regard to infrastructure (and eating homegrown pork as soon as possible!).

~ Mitsy

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

garden planning: vegetables + fruits

In true Mitsy McPlanner fashion, I've scoured heirloom seed sources and already selected the vegetables and fruits (and herbs and ground covers and wildflowers, oy) I wish to grow in our future half-acre garden. This list will no doubt change somewhat as I over-analyze what we will need, but it's fun to figure out what we should grow to satisfy our individual appetites and tastes.

In selecting our future garden bounty, I found it helpful to really evaluate what we enjoy eating regularly that's easy to prepare and quick to clean up. Our breakfast and lunch routines tend to differ (although we both agree that I make a mean biscuits and gravy) and we usually either just eat leftovers or fend for ourselves in that regard, so I'm going to focus on what we like for dinner since I enjoy cooking, especially when accompanied by a few glass of wine, a couple shots of whiskey, or ice-cold Coronas in the summer (or all three). Suffice to say, the dog loves cleaning up after me.

I tend to make a lot of wrap/burrito/gordita/taco-type meals, which oftentimes includes a cabbage variety, meat, onions, perhaps julienned carrots, some sort of nut (pine nuts are a fave but are freaking expensive), and a crumbly cheese (usually feta or cotija), all tossed together with a homemade vinaigrette (extremely spicy - we like it hot) and wrapped up in a flour tortilla. This quick meal works great for us because Jay can omit the cheese and nuts if he prefers, he gets lots of meat, I get lots of vegetables, it's crunchy and fresh, and it's relatively easy to clean up (one pan for cooking the meat and one large bowl for mixing everything together).

I make a lot of stir-fry that generally includes thinly sliced chicken or beef, a sauce that I throw together (from oil, vinegar, mustard, mirin, honey, garlic, fruit juice, and whatever leftover store-bought sauce is sitting in the door of the fridge, if any), white rice, and any vegetables I have on hand. I usually like a garnish of some slivered almonds and/or sesame seeds.

Mitsy's chard-alicious stir-fry.

Pasta is another regular on our menu, and we oftentimes eat spaghetti once a week. or more We love penne with pesto, especially when I make it from the chard or kale that is threatening to take over the garden. I love aglio olio (garlic and olive oil) linguine or fettucine with sauteed sundried-tomatoes, pine nuts, onions, bacon, broccoli, and parmesan.

You can make pesto out of any savory green
(a splash of vinegar when mixing it all in the food
processor makes it even better). Take that, basil!

I enjoy having lots of greens handy for garden salads and really can't get enough red leaf, green leaf, romaine, and butter lettuce. Jay will usually eat a salad with whatever other dinner fixings I've prepared but really likes it when I make a vinaigrette-based coleslaw (we both think mayonnaise is the devil). My favorite main course salad combination is one recipe pilfered from a friend that includes whatever salad greens you have on hand, avocado, mandarin oranges, black olives, red onions, grape tomatoes, apples, and walnuts, with a simple vinaigrette. For a dinner side salad, however, we prefer just some red onions, pine nuts, and feta over red leaf lettuce.

I like making savory pies, like shepherd's pie, pot pie, and polenta tamale pie, all of which can use peas, potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, corn, celery, and beans, but generally steer clear of anything cheesy or creamy because Jay will flee the kitchen entirely when I make something like that (better for my waistline anyway).

Jay will generally eat anything that involves a non-creamy sauce and meat and will tolerate vegetables as long as they're cut up small enough and/or incorporated into a smooth sauce (like pesto). Meat definitely dominates our dinner table, but I usually try to prepare some sort of side vegetable and/or salad if it's just a hunk of meat and not incorporated into something else. but not always, and sometimes we eat just skirt steak or tri-tip for dinner, and i'm ok with that because the bloody mary marinade from our local market is da BOMB

Chicken with black pepper maple sauce, wild rice, and sauteed carrots.
He ate the chicken and rice but avoided the carrots like the plague.

I can't wait until this is pork tenderloin from OUR pigs.
He ate the mashed potatoes, but the peas were given the middle finger.

I enjoy making vegetarian dinners as well, like my famous chimichangas made with TVP and some other secret ingredients that I got die-hard meat-eaters to think was ground beef and scarfed down without hesitation. Other veg options include homemade flatbread pizza and greek feta croutes.

I make a lot of soup in winter, which makes it real easy to make a meal out of whatever you have on hand. I make killer french onion soup, minestrone, and beef stew (I get my mad soup making skillz from my Ma).

All that being said, I figure our biggest food costs in the long term (i.e., after we establish our meat and potentially dairy animals) will come from nuts, specialty dairy items (like cheddar and mozzarella cheese; I plan to make feta from our sheeps' milk, although I'm not totally sure I want to be tied down to milking any animals yet so I might try to source this locally), flour for bread and pasta making, spices, and wet ingredients like vinegars, oils (I have a weak spot for gourmet varieties), honey, nut butters, and hot sauces (although I plan to grow a variety of hot peppers, including the jolokia!).

Oh yea, and booze. We do love our liquor.

I think I've become pretty adept at preparing simple meals with homemade sauces in short order - I rarely consult a cookbook anymore, although I do go through waves of recipe hunting when I need new inspiration or get bored in the kitchen. Most recipes are just variations of something else, it seems.

So now that you are (probably uncomfortably) familiar with what we like to stuff our faces with, here are my vegetable selections:

Larger version here.

And here are the garden fruits we plan to grow:

Larger version here.

What can I say, we love tomatoes (helloooo marinara sauce, salsa, caprese salad, bloody marys, BLTs, sun-dried tomatoes... need I go on?) and hot peppers (we've lost count of how many bottles of Dave's Insanity Sauce we've consumed). Jay wants pickles (mmmm, Chicago dogs). I like broccoli, asparagus, and beets, which he has little interest in (although he did like my beet candy, so as long as I make them not taste like dirt). We both love artichokes, especially when I stuff 'em with seasoned croutons. I love potatoes and corn, and he'll certainly eat them if put in front of him. Onions are pretty important for cooking in general. But garlic is absolutely mandatory. I use it in just about everything (hence, the three varieties of garlic).

That's right, beet candy. You heard it here first, friends.
(I highly recommend including the whiskey.)

It makes me happy to see a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits in my garden and refrigerator (plus they say that's the best way to eat healthy: with myriad colors and textures), and if I have any hope of making a honor farm stand a viable future income source (albeit probably very small), I figure I should grow things that are visually appealing in addition to being delicious and nutritious.

What are you growing or plan to grow that I haven't included in my future garden arsenal?

~ Mitsy

Monday, March 5, 2012


This has zero to do with homesteading or Tennessee, but I had to share pictures I took of my adorable three-week-old niece, Olive, yesterday. Stephanie's idea (her mom) was to dress her in an olive-colored onesie with a red knit hat and sit her in a giant martini glass for the birth announcement. Funny how a red hat proved elusive but she was able to hunt down a giant martini glass, but I still think we got the bow positioned right (and not "douchey-looking", lol, per Steph) as a nod to the pimento. I'm no Anne Geddes, but it was pretty fun to shoot, although we were both extremely nervous to take our hands off that martini glass! Mom's hands were literally an inch out of each frame.

An overhead airplane kept her entertained while I frantically tried
to get as many shots as I could before she tried to move!
I did remove a booger from her nose during processing
in The Gimp (aka poor man's Photoshop).

It topped out at 83 degrees in Santa Cruz on Sunday. I'm thrilled
that our last winter in California has been so spectacular.

Gratuitous nekkid baby shot.

Sadie is not real sure what the purpose of
this "new thing" is and quickly exited the room.

Friday, March 2, 2012

future farm critters - part 5: chickens

As you might already know, I currently have two chickens: Del, a Delaware, and Jersey, a Black Jersey Giant. Such original names. Del and Jersey have been turned into pets and will live out their lives in chicken paradise, doing whatever they want, because they've been pardoned for ridiculous reasons I won't go into here again. Even so, it's been somewhat hard to not eat Jersey because she is a really big girl and would probably be quite delicious - she's only really been spared because Del would be lonely without her. I might want to get more Jersey Giants in the future because she (and Del actually) has proved to be quite the active forager in my small backyard.

What is wrong with this picture?
(She, of course, pooped immediately after this picture was taken.)

Anyway, for my future broilers, there are a few other varieties that I'm particularly interested in. While I do want eggs, quantity is not really an issue because Jay doesn't even eat eggs, and I'm more interested in egg aesthetics anyway (aesthetics seems to be a recurring trend with me, I know - plus I like saying aesthetics). I want those fancy blue eggs. In researching the fancy blue eggs that come from Ameraucanas, I also came to discover fancy dark brown eggs. There are also olive eggs that are the result of mixing the previous two. This is what I'm talking about, people. I am easily charmed by pretty colors, and I intend for my chicken fleet... er, flock... to reflect that.

What can I say, it's the artist in me that adores this.
[ image source ]

I'm not going to delve into the whole Araucana/Ameraucana/Americana/Easter Egger blue-egg genetics debate - I'm just going to get my chickens from a reputable source from people who know what the hell they're doing when it comes to chicken breeds and breeding. There are other things I'd rather spend my time doing that crossing this with that to get a pink-speckled purple egg with green hearts and sparkly rainbows on it. Although that would be pretty fucking awesome if it really existed.

There are a few dark brown egg layer breeds out there - notably, Marans and Welsummer. Marans actually have a pretty poor lay rate, but I'd rather have fewer, prettier eggs anyway, and the birds are supposed to be fantastic to eat. Plus they forage and shit, and you know how I feel about animals that take care of business themselves. Welsummer is the breed that the the Kellogg's rooster is, and I think that would be pretty awesome to have around. I also don't plan to incubate any eggs - I'll get a rooster and hens from a few different varieties, throw them all together, and let nature sort it out. If no baby chicks show up, then everyone gets eaten and we start all over again.

Both Ameraucanas and Marans are pretty birds, too, and come in all sorts of crazy colors. I envision them scattered among the food forest with all my fruit trees in various stages of bloom and ripening, pooping everywhere, eating bug pests, chasing the dog around.

In addition to Marans, Welsummer, and Ameraucana, non-industrial Leghorns (I will definitely need a rooster so I can call him Foghorn Leghorn!) are supposed to forage well and lay giant, pure white eggs. The Holland breed is also an active forager and supposedly raises chicks easily themselves but just has plain brown eggs. Several other breeds have good foraging ability, but you first have to be able to find chicks, and the previously mentioned breeds seem to be available relatively close to us or via mail order.

Off to the Lagwagon show at the Catalyst tonight, lates homies!

~ Mitsy