Sunday, February 27, 2011

Planning Ahead to Keep Warm

This week has been a killer.  I teach music at a K-8 school and once a year we put on a full-on musical production with the Jr. High students.   It's the one week of the year that I can't do anything else.  Last week was that week. 
     We finally closed the show yesterday and I stayed up all night striking the set and closing everything down.  Today I slept most of the day.   I just didn't have any energy to do anything.  Now I'm up (yes it IS the middle of the night) and thinking about where our self-sufficiency journey will lead us next. 
     I did find time to cover the sensitive plants before the frost.  Tomorrow morning I will be uncovering them and checking for damage.  I'm a little worried about what I will find but part of the process is learning to accept what I cannot change.  We'll see in the morning.
     Yesterday, my husband spent most of the day splitting wood from a tree that was cut down on the property last year.  It is now dry enough to cut and split and that was how he spent the day.  It will be put into dry storage and seasoned to be used next winter.  (Or this winter if we have another cold snap)  We do 90% of our heating by wood stove.  Most of the time it keeps the house pretty warm.  We have a ceiling fan that we put on low and that circulates the hot air around the house.   Many people don't know that if you reverse the direction of the fan in the winter, it will pull the hot air down off the ceiling (where it likes to hang out) and put it where you need it most, down near the floor.
     There are a lot of shavings on the patio left over from his cutting of the logs with the chain saw.  I asked him not to sweep them up because I'm going to make fire starters out of them.   We don't have chickens (yet) so we still have to buy eggs.   I make everyone in the house save their egg cartons and we use them, the sawdust and old candles to make firestarters.   Just fill the wells in the egg cartons with sawdust.  Then, melt the old candle nubs in a double boiler on the stove.  (do NOT just heat them in a pot directly over the flame, they WILL flame on you.  I know, I did it!)    Then take the melted wax and pour over the sawdust until the tops are sealed enough that the sawsdust will not fall out and the carton is saturated with wax.  Store in a cool dry place. (doesn't everything say that?)  When you are ready to use the starters, tear one well off the carton and place it underneath the kindling and wood in the fireplace.   Light the edge of the carton and let it go.  If you have gotten enough wax on top, it will burn long enough to start the sawdust on fire, which will, in turn, start the kindling.  Then, it is all up to your firebuilding skills.   good luck!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New plantings

Here we are, the end of February in Northern Calif.  Time for planting.  The lettuce is coming up next to the front door so the cold weather plants went into the garden yesterday.  I transplanted cabbages and peas and a few bean plants that had gotten too large for their peat pots.   The peas and cabbages seem to be happy....the beans, not so much. 
     Of course, the best laid looks like it's gonna snow in the bay area for the first time in 20 years.  Really?  Right after I put the first plants out in a brand new garden?  I'm not sure that mother nature is on my side on this one.   Any other year, it would be the perfect time to plant.  But not this year.  So, tomorrow will be the day to look for some way to cover and warm the poor new transplants.   Wish me luck.


The garden

      I'm starting with our garden because it seems that starting a real, eating garden will be the best first step toward becoming more self sufficient.  I've learned a lot lately about our food chain and I have become convinced that the closer to home a food is grown the better it is for our economy and our planet.  I could go into my reasons, but there are plenty of sources out there for that information.
     So, looking at our house from the street, there is a planter box running half the length of the house, parallel to the house and about 4 feet wide.  The left side of this planter box has 3 grape vines planted.  I did carefully prune them this winter so they should be bearing this summer.  Planted in the right side of the planter box are strawberries.  They seem to be getting ready to give us a few strawberries any day now.   The plan is to increase the grapevines and the strawberries each year until we have grapes all the way across with strawberries growing underneath them.   I've never seen grapes and strawberries planted together but since that is what I inherited I'm going to give it a try.
     On the left side of the house is a patio that gets morning sun only.  We have planters on this patio and will be planting something in them this year.   Also, to the far left is a very short slope up to the neighbors patio.  We have some herbs planted there (oregano, thyme and a little cilantro bush that I hope to nurture into salsa) and lettuce seems to be growing there too. 
     The rest of the left side of the house is pretty much in shade all the time.  The garbage cans are there and the kitchen compost bin is there.  Then we have some hostas and a jade plant. At the rear of this shady area (where it gets SOME sun)  is an ill-planted grapefruit tree.  It has just this year started to give us some very small, very bitter grapefruits.
     The area directly to the rear of the house is in shade from the 2 very old, very large pepper trees.  Don't know what to grow there.   Maybe nothing.   At the edge of the property is the other compost heap.  It needs LOTS of work.
     The right side of the house is the garden area.  It is a south facing slope that catches all of the midday to afternoon sun.  Up front, towards the street is a Meyer lemon tree that gives us lemons almost year-round.  The only time we don't get lemons is in the hottest part of the summer.
     Behind that, facing the afternoon sun are 2 planter beds that I built last year that are 8x4 feet each.  I am planning to build at least 2 more on that hill and one on the bottom flat area between the houses.
    We own the duplex next door and my son and his wife live in the upper unit.  The lower unit will eventually be up for rent but it is certainly not ready now.  Their yard however, runs directly into ours and  I am planning to take full advantage of that to put in another bed running across the sunny area behind the houses.  We have an avocado tree that never gets any taller and never give us avocados, and a small area planted in bulbs, the rest is open for use.  
     We also have a small bit of open space with a stream behind the house that someone once threw a blackberry cane into.  I'm not telling who that was but you can imagine.   Now, that whole area is overrun  with blackberry bushes and WILL be part of our eating plan this year.
     So, that is the "before" of our journey.   From here we march on, trying out new things as often as possible to making us more self-sufficient and less dependent. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Journey Begins

     Actually, the journey began sometime back when I was about 5 or 6 years old.  We were living in a house with a large backyard and my father raised chickens and gardened just about everything he could make grow back there.  I used to follow him all over that yard, watching everything he did. 
     As I got older though, I delved into the world of "Don't make it! Buy it!  We have everything you need right here!"  Of course I got caught up in getting what I wanted as quickly as possible.  I bought everything and even got into using credit cards to buy everything NOW!
      Then, I got married to a wonderful man who is still at my side after 34 years.  Together we raised 2 wonderful children who are now off and leading lives of their own.  We lived like our neighbors and enjoyed life but through it all there was always the yearning for something simpler.  
     My husband is an outdoorsman who loves being in the forest.   My daughter is now in college to be a biologist and my son has the gardening bug.   It seems we all want to reconnect with the earth in one way or another.  This year I decided the time was right to give in to that old yearning and set up my self-sufficient life right here.  Why wait until I can move to the country?  
     My husband and I live on a large lot in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The house is fully on the grid.  That means we have electricity, gas, water and sewer from the city that we live in.  We have television and internet access from our local cable company and we buy gas and groceries from the local big name stores.  We are totally reliant on the big corporations and the government.   We ( I ) want to change this.
    The next post will focus on what we have to work with and my view of what needs to come next.  Please follow us along on our journey.   Even if we only get a few steps into it, we will be making a difference in our lives and in our impact on the earth and maybe, if you find something interesting in this story, you can make a difference too.