Saturday, December 5, 2009

We're not from around here. I know you see us all the time, but trust me, we're from someplace else. We may have lived our whole lives right next door to you, but we left quite some time ago. We found another place and it suits us just fine. It's not far or hard to get to. Chances are you pass it all the time when you're driving too fast to work or throwing another frozen dinner in the shopping cart. You can't get to us that way. We aren't there. We're the ones in the next aisle buying yeast, flour, sugar, and coffee. We buy provisions, not groceries. We learned that food tastes better when you grow it yourself. We started with just a few recipes then learned to chew at a trot and now the idea of Lunchables and drive-thru hamburgers makes us tilt our heads a little. We're not above them, not by a long shot, we just don't have those where we're from. Or maybe we did and forgot about them? I can't remember. It's easy to forget about such things when you hop the fence to go where we went. There just isn't a lot of shrink-wrapped circular ham there. We're from another place. It's just like yours but the naps are better. We came for a bunch of different reasons but we sort of set up shop in the same community. It's not a physical location, of course. (It's much better than that.) It's a place in our actions, our decisions, our conversations, our hope. It's a place in our hobbies, our skills, our secret desire to know what a warm egg feels like in lanolin-wet palms. It doesn't matter where we came from or who we were before, this new place kinda took us all in and showed us how to calm the hell down. What? You're confused? Oh, well, you probably saw us there and just didn't realize it. Remember when we didn't pick up the phone (even after twenty rings) because we were in the garden? Or that time we gave up a weekend to make a chicken coop? Or last Saturday when we spent the whole day at that indoor farmer's market talking to the people at the wool booth we'd never met before, but felt like we knew while you kept telling us the movie was starting in thirty minutes... That's where we left to go. Sorry we missed the previews, we were talking to our neighbors.

You can spot us pretty easy. Our men aren't afraid of facial hair and our women have been known to grab goats by the horns. Our children go barefoot, so do we. We're the quieter ones, in the corner, feet propped up on a second-hand coffee table in a fourth-hand wool sweater. That's one of us, right ober there, see him? The one with the guitar slung over his back, and the black dog following his bike? See him now? He's the one with the saddle bags on the back wheel overflowing with a half bushel of tomatoes. No, he's not a tomatoes fetishist, he's canning today. He'll be eating fresh organic marinara in January pulled off the larder shelf. He'll let the black dog lick his plate when he's done. Yes, I'm sure. He's from where I'm from. We know our own. See, where we come from people aren't scared of dirt—not even mildly abashed by it. My people will spend an entire August morning with a potato patch. We'll also spend an entire October night in front of a bonfire with some home brew and guitars. My people know how to darn a sock and bake a loaf of bread. They know how to cast on and be cast away. Sure, we'll join you for dinner in a restaurant, but we'll probably opt for pasta. Where we come from food animals know what sunlight feels like and have felt grass under their hooves. We don't eat the animals from your place. We saw what they saw before they died.

We're not from around here, but you'll see us everywhere. We're walking down the streets of Montreal, Chicago, Seattle, and L.A. We're waiting for a Taxi on the Lower East Side. We're mucking out the chicken coop, chatting at the farm stand, jumping on the back of our horses and riding the L. We're everywhere and right next to you all the time, but we left that place and now we're gone. None of us are going back. We thought about it. It passed.HOOOO! You should see this place. Man, it's so beautiful. I mean a Wednesday afternoon at 3:47 is fall-down-the-stairs stunning. We learned to see this. We watched the fireflies come out on the porch and missed the new CSI. Truthfully, we barely look at the television anymore. It's a side effect of the new place—there's just so much to do and we're scared if we let ourselves get distracted we'll miss the fireflies. We can only take so much tragedy, you see.And hey, this place we went to—it's yours too. To be perfectly honest we're getting a little tired waiting for you to show up. Yeah, what you heard is true. The work is hard and the hours long, but I promise it's the best quiche you'll ever taste and the coffee is wicked good. When you're ready we'll show you how to hop the fence like we did. It starts with a mason jar or a day-old chick in your palm and the road map kinda unfolds from there. Somewhere past the cloth diapers and the raw milk we're hanging out, yes there, over past the used trucks and beat tractors. See the bikes and carts along the barn? Keep going and you'll find us. We know when you start coming to our place you'll get it. You won't want to go either. And hey, we'll wait, because we've got another saddle in the barn. We planted an extra row of beans. We put aside a few spare jars of tomato sauce and let the hens know there's more breakfasts on the way. We'll make room. There's always a place for you at the table. (And just between you and me, If you want to get on the black dog's good side, let him lick your plate...)
I would love to claim this as my own. This is a post from a really good blog called It would be a entire post to properly praise this blog. do yourself a favor and check it out.
There is not a whole lot going on here. The chickens are laying a ridiculous amount of eggs, but past that we are just waiting for spring.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


We came home from vacation to find the nesting boxes had been used. Since then we have been getting 2-3 eggs a day. Sweet. With this comes the question that until now has been hypothetical.

"What the hell are we going to do with nearly 2 dozen eggs a week?"

The answer is, of course, egg based meals. I tried my hand at a quiche tonight and was pleasantly surprised when I cracked one open. Sweet.
Home grown eggs really are all they are cracked (no pun intended) up to be. The yolks on these things are nearly orange. The one thing I was not prepared for was the shells. These things are TOUGH. Anyway, dinner was delicious and we are excited about having a ready supply of farm fresh eggs.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Four Seasons Harvest

After a disappointing year in the garden I was ready to throw in the towel. It had been too cool , my soil was less than optimal, and my bed placement could have better. However I had talking to a friend who had set up a "square foot garden" raised bed in his backyard, but not gotten it done until July. I suggested trying a fall/winter planting. I did this last year with a VERY simple cold frame setup and had fairly good success. As I was talking to him I felt the spark of the gardener flare up.
Year round gardening is nothing new but has fallen out of favor in a society where you can get any produce regardless of season. Elliot Coleman has written several books on the subject. Four Seasons Harvest is the only one I have but it is a wealth of knowledge on the subject. The premise is, that with a simple covering, crops can survive in winter, allowing you to have fresh lettuce in January. Last year all I used was some polyethylene painters plastic draped over a support. With this I was able to grow a nice crop of lettuce, leeks, carrots ,and garlic. Crops will take longer to mature because of the shortened days but it works.
This is my latest, upgraded cold frame. I was once again blessed by the goddess Refusa with some double hung windows destined for the landfill. With the push to upgrade the windows in most homes you can get these anywhere. Check curbs and you can score big. I added hinges and some leftover clothes line to make harvesting a snap.
Don't be afraid to try a winter garden. It can be a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I have been wanting to try my hand at making beer for some time now. My friend Darian has a "Mr Beer" and has made some decent brew before. I however couldn't bring myself to spend 20-30 dollars on a small batch kit. If you are going to go, go all out. Unfortunately full batch kits are a little out of my price range right now.

I decided to scrounge a kit. I started buying beer in bottles that could be re caped. I got as many 5gallon buckets from bakeries as I could carry.I stumbled across some food grade tubing. Then, the mother lode. My friend Kyle mentioned that his grandma had some mason jars I could have, ( see previous post about mason jar addiction) and I was all over that. As I gathered the boxes of jars I noticed in the corner 2 glass carboys. Her husband had made wine as a hobby and she had never gotten rid of it after he passed away. She gave me all of it, including a caper and a bunch of bottle caps(we will get back to that) ,and the cool tipper seen on the left hand carboy.
As a birthday present I already had a ingredient kit and so did my friend Tim. he came up and we made some beer. ( the pictures didn't come out, sorry).

Flash froward a two weeks. The beer is ready and we get everything together to bottle.

The bottling went pretty straightforward, and the next thing we knew we had 10 gallons of home brewed beer.

When Tim and I get together its kind of like summer camp. Two 30 year old men regress into teenagers who are highly amused by fart jokes and quoting "Anchorman" incessantly.
The verdict? Tim's beer turned out alright. it was a American ale so it is pretty light and definitely drinkable.
Mine? Not so much. After making the beer I revisited my beer bible and realized we had made a couple of mistakes, the least of which was me using the 30 year old bottle caps with cork linings for my beer. The cork has disintegrated leaving a nasty taste in my COMPLETELY flat beer.
Oh well. Live and learn. I already have a list of equipment I will be purchasing before my next batch to make it easier and hopefully better.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ballroom dancing, Bobcats, and 77 cubic yards of fill dirt

Our backyard hasn't always been the veritable garden of Eden that is it now.
When we were shopping for houses our realtor said she had one with a pool in the backyard.

" A pool?" We thought. "Sweet." We thought. Not so much. The "pool" turned out to be a concrete hole in the backyard with no plumbing for water, no pump ,and no filter. We loved the house so much that we got it anyway and just planned to fill it in.

We were kind of perplexed at the amount of concrete around the pool but had bigger fish to fry with the mirrored walls and red shag carpeting to tear up.

Our house had been sold at auction and still had a lot of junk in it, including the home movies of the family who lived here before us. We were able to find a projector and one of the movies was of them Ballroom dancing in the backyard.

Mystery solved.

Flash forward to 2 years ago. With most of the work done on the house( any homeowner knows you are never REALLY done) we turned our attention to the backyard. We rented a bobcat with a hydraulic jackhammer on it.

The jackhammer attachment was necessary because I had rented a electric jackhammer and had spent 4 hours unable to break up ANY concrete. Turns out when you are planning on ballroom dancing on a concrete pad it helps if it is 2 FEET thick around the edges. I was able to break up the majority of the concrete and luckily I had a hole to put it in. Unfortunately the jackhammer rental ate up the budget for the dirt , so we spent the next year with half a hole in the backyard.

This spring we were able to finally finish the backyard with the money we saved through out the year. I called a couple of material supply houses for quotes and they figured between 35-40 cubic yards of fill material. They also figured I was rich considering how much they wanted me to pay them to come and fill in the pit of death,as it was now commonly referred to. So on a whim I called a landscaping supply company I worked with at my last job, and their price was a little more reasonable. The catch? it would be dumped in my FRONT yard. One call and a bobcat was once again mine for a day. If you have never had the pleasure of operating one of these I recommend it. It is like the unholy union between a bulldozer and a zero turn lawnmower. It also makes short work of moving dirt. Going off the estimates of the Professional landscapers I ordered 40 cubic yards. Imagine a cube made of yardsticks. Now imagine 40 of them. The landscape supply company said no problem and that would be three of their big dump trucks full. We will be there at 9. Promptly at 9:15 the next morning he arrived with 13 yards. He dumped it and I started hauling. By the time he got back I was slightly concerned at the amount of hole I still had to fill in. No big deal I still had 26 yard to go. Right? Buy the time I had the second load in and he was back with the rest I new I would need more. "Can I get another load?" I inquired. 'Uh, I have another job to do and the soonest I could get you some is Tuesday." (it is Saturday) hmmm I pondered. I only had the bobcat until Sunday. The thought of moving 13 more yards of fill dirt with my wheelbarrow hasn't that appealing. " Let me call my boss." he piped up seeing my dilemma. Score! the other job was delayed and I soon had 20 more yards of fill piled in the front yard with the other 13. Surely this massive pile of dirt will get the job done. Sadly no. By the time I had it spread it was getting late and I still needed more. A frantic call to the landscape house, some begging and the offer of a extra delivery fee ( he declined ) and I was promised a packed full truck. When the driver showed back up his truck was a little bulgy. "He packed in a extra 4 yards in the truck for you."

Perfect, another 17 yards would do the trick for sure. He backed up his truck, unlocked the bed release and went to dump the load of dirt.

It was stuck. In his overzealous loading he had loaded so much dirt in the back that it was wedged in there. After some head scratching from the driver and tongue biting from me, He finally settled on driving up the street with the bed tilted all the way up, putting it in reverse , gunning it ,and slamming on the brakes when he got to our yard. I worked and only left 30% of it in the middle of the street. After writing a check,and using the bobcat to get the rest of it out of the street I called it a night.
The next day I finished spreading the dirt, raked it out and spread grass seed. All in all about Par for the course when it comes to home improvement here at the farm.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hi, My name is Ben

I have a problem.
I am completely obsessed with mason jars.
Oh it started innocently enough. I bought a flat of jars from the store to can last years tomato harvest. Not having a canner of my own, my mother in law let me use one of hers that wasn't in use. while digging it out of her garage( and I mean DIGGING) I noticed some old boxes of jars in a corner. "what are those?" I asked. "Oh, just some jars we got out of the cellar before we filled it in. you can have them if you like." hmmm. Free jars?I am sold.
It was all downhill from there. Next thing I knew I was cleaning out every basement, well house,barn and even crawlspace on the farm looking for more mason jars. I had accumulated quite a collection in anticipation of all of the canning I was going to do this Summer. After all I was doubling the size of my garden and planting such a variety I would be lucky to have enough jars anyway. This is akin to counting chickens before they hatch. The backyard project went over budget enough to nix my 50/50 mix of compost and soil I wanted to use to fill my raised beds. "That's alright", I thought. "I planted right in the ground last year and they did alright". Well the dirt that we used for fill was fine for grass, but not for vegetables. That and the super wet,slightly cool summer has really decreased the bounty this year.
So I had more than enough jars. Did this stop me from acquiring more? No. While driving one day, I passed a house with 4 trash cans in front of it with the sign " free jars, take them all"
I briefly contemplated putting them in the back of my work truck, but I figured the package delivery company I work for might have frowned on that. So I worked the rest of the day just knowing that someone was taking MY jars. After work I jumped in the car and flew back to the house. Score! they were still there I began to load them, taking time to separate them by size and usability( some were non mason ). After the second trash can I realized that I would be to just lucky fit them in so I began to just pile. When I got home Jenifer and I sorted the good from the bad and came up with 4 large laundry baskets full. I now , not counting the jars with food in them, have enough jars to can 75 gallons of food. That's right, gallons.
Does this stop me from cruising craigslist for more free jars? No. eBay ,looking for the elusive gallon size? No.
I need help.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let the canning begin.

Here are my first two forays into canning this year. As anyone in Missouri knows the tomato harvest is down a bit this year so this is all I have gotten this far.

I found a neat trick through Mother Earth news about getting the skins off of tomatoes. I have tried the blanch/cold water technique, and although effective, is a little more work than I like to do.

The unofficial mantra around the farm is "Work smart, not hard". That doesn't mean that hard work never occurs, we just try to limit it.

The trick is to freeze the tomatoes first. Then when you have a good amount ( pictured is 4 gallon freezer bags full) take them out of the freezer and as they thaw the skins kind of pop off. A little trim around the top and you are ready to can.

Pack in Hot, sterilized jars, leaving a half/quarter inch head space. wipe the rim off the jar off , add a flat lid, screw on the ring part, and hot water bath for 10 minutes. High acid foods ,like tomatoes, don't need to be pressure canned.

I also tried my hand at basil pesto. Our Friends Darian and Sarah gave us a jar last year and it was really good. You can put pesto on/in lots of stuff so I planted 3 basil plants this year so that I could try my hand at it. Here is the recipe I used
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.
2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
I mixed sweet,spicy globe,and Thai basil. Also I used walnuts instead of the traditional pine nuts. We have a walnut tree in our backyard and I am hoping I can get enough to make another batch in the fall. pesto is supper easy to make and you just freeze it until you need it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Then there were seven.

Sad news. Something got into the coop last night and sent two of the chickens to the great beyond.
Even thought we didn't expect to avoid varmint problems we are still pretty bummed.
I guess the thing that really frosts my cookies is that whatever it was just took the head of one and nothing from the other. The coop also didn't show any damage so I will be going out to reinforce it today so as to discourage a repeat attack. hopefully this will be the end of our chicken losses.
Saffron and Aussie

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Well, not really. Technically they are lacto-fermented sour cucumbers.
I have had the book Wild Fermentation for about a year, and besides a disastrous attempt at sour kraut ,I have not really gotten to try anything out.
I really thought this year would be no different since between the rainy summer, and the hungry chickens, my cucumber plants haven't produced much. Then fate stepped in the form of a whole bag of cucumbers from Jenifer's (Mrs Phantom Chicken Farm) cousin. "Use these up before they go bad" they told me. No Problem.
I broke out my copy of Mr Katz's book and whipped them up in about ten minutes. The recipe is super simple and just involves a brine,garlic, dill and black peppercorns. I let them set in the basement covered for a week and they turned out great. I sprung the cukes on our supper club this last weekend and everyone seemed to like them.
I had never had anything live culture besides yogurt before and I am digging it. Now that I have had some success I am looking forward to trying some more recipes. For anyone who likes food based literature Wild Fermentation is a must.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Stakes have it.

I love to grow whatever I can in the garden, but there are some things that grow really well regardless of gardening skill.
I am of course talking about tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of those plants that will grow almost anywhere. cracks in pavement, abandoned lots, etc. After the nuclear Apocalypse the world will we overrun with cockroaches and volunteer tomato plants.
This being said, I planted 12 plants and had 5 volunteers this year and decided to try a little of the scientific method on the best way to support the plants.

I had staked my plants last year and did pretty good, but i remember my parents using cages when I was a kid so i got some of those to. I also found a interesting way of hanging them from a trellis.

I would have liked to get a couple of the hanging tomato bags but wasn't able to get any in time.

anyone who had luck with them shoot me a line.

Well, Don Corleone had it figured out. The cages would work fine, if the plants only got 3 feet high, but mine grow to at least 5 or 6 feet. This and the weight of the plants have pulled to cages out of the ground and laid the plants over on their side.

The trellis looked like a great idea, but either the variety of plant I have was not conducive to trellising, or I didn't do something right but they grew to only about 3 feet high then started growing out.

My scientific curiosity satisfied, I spent the morning staking all of the plants in the cages and support the trellised plants as best I could.

Next year it will be all stakes for sure.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Bounty.

This is some of the stuff we have been able to get out of the garden this year. We planted a white varity of zuccini this year along with a striped roma tomato (the little one) . The little thing at the bottom of the picture is a African Burr Gurchin. It and the roma are varities I grew from seed. The garlic is from the winter garden I planted last november.
The garden is in a less than ideal location this year, also the soil we used to fill in the pool (stay tuned for a post about that adventure)was of poor quality,so as a result haven't had as good as haul as I would like. The plan is to bump out more beds in the spring to take more advantage of the sun. We will just have to see how it works out.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The ladies.

We finally got chickens here at the farm. we were going to wait but Jenifer sprung them on me as a fathers day present. for anyone thinking of getting chickens I highly recommend them, if for nothing else the entertainment. They are hilarious. we are also looking foward to the eggs that are soon to come.
I am starting this blog without any real introduction , but am planning of posting the back story as we go along. my adventure in urban homesteading has been going on now for nearly two years and I thought that might be alot to squeze into one post. stay tuned.