Taking Stock, 2012

This blog has been neglected – there’s just no getting around it!

As I posted last December, Hurricane Irene put a hurt on Vermont. I was immediately involved in local recovery efforts, and then became part of a FEMA-funded recovery program that lasted until late October, 2012. In addition, my mother-in-law – who lived with us – became steadily more frail over the year, which required more of our attention and support, until she finally died in August. We were very happy to be able to keep her at home for the entire transition process, but as a result of all of the new demands on my time and energy, I did not even attempt a garden this year.

Sadly, that means my nascent garden has nearly reverted to its wild state. It will take some effort to re-establish it in 2013.

I also lost my bees. One hive was tipped over by a large rodent – possible a raccoon – and exposed to the elements on a rainy, cold Fall day in 2011. It was the only hive with wooden frames, which got wet enough that they turned moldy over the winter and killed the colony.

These bees survived two attacks, before the third took them out.

My other hives were taken apart in the Spring of 2012 by something big. Judging by the destruction, I think it was a bear.

This hive was destroyed in the first attack.

Because of the warm winter, the bears were out early, were hungry, and were more numerous than usual.

One of the 2 hives was destroyed in the initial attack; I found the queen and about a quarter of the colony for the other hive and restored them. They were attacked twice more; the third attack finished them off. By that point it was too late in the year to start new colonies, given our short summers. So I have had no bees this year, either.

The bee attack  led me to explore electrical fencing, and the untended character of my garden led me to expand the size of my gardening space. The fence, which will rely upon a solar power source, is not turned on yet, and still needs 2 gates installed; I’ll complete it in the Spring. The new garden space is 3 times my previous area, and includes an area for the beehives and a hay-bale composting system.

Subaru Hay Wagon

After almost a full year of searching, I found the 4′ x 7′ trailer I wanted, in very good shape, at the price I wanted to pay. I had my local all-purpose mechanic install a tow package on the older of our 2 Subaru Foresters, and used the trailer to port 40 bales of $2.25/bale mulch hay from a nearby farm (2 trips), and a pile of rough-cut 1″ x 12″ x 11′ pine from a local sawmill. At 47 cents a board foot, it’s cost-effective for a range of projects – a fact helped by the generous spirit of the owners, who knowingly gave me more than I paid for.

Unfinished pine boards from my local saw mill.

Ready to haul soils.

Some of the wood went into removable sidewalls for the trailer, which will allow me to transport good topsoil, manure, and Fort Vee potting soil, my preferred soil block material. Being able to purchase in bulk, and provide my own transport, will save me hundreds of dollars in the first year, easily paying for the  trailer ($325) and tow package ($130, including installation).

I will use more of the wood to create raised-bed garden spaces on the outer edge of the manicured portion of our property, one of our sunniest winter spots, next summer. Along the house-facing edges I’ll plant flower bulbs for my father-in-law. Behind them we’ll put herbs and some edibles. In the Fall, we’ll convert to winter-hardy vegetables and transform them into 3′ x 6′ hoop houses. I’ll start with 3, and if it all works out, I’ll add 3 more. That should be plenty of space for winter veggies, including a crop of carrots, I hope.

One of my ongoing projects has been to collect as many free windows as I can. Over the last 18 months I’ve collected so many that I’m thinking I can probably build a small walk-in greenhouse with at least one all-glass wall. The rough-cut pine will be good material for the other walls.

The new kitchen floor.

Last month we replaced our linoleum kitchen floor with wood; in the process we took up 1″ thick sub-flooring, which I have saved to build a 3-sided shed under which I’ll keep my garden trailer, and which will become the storage space for the things I scrounge. That will keep them out of my garden shed – which is now so jam-packed for the winter I can’t get to anything.

On another front, I’ve become committed to also eating in a manner more like our great-grandparents. That’s the result of reading “Deep Nutrition,” by Carol Shanahan, and learning how food affects us at the molecular level. By shifting my eating, I have experienced some great early results: first off, I lost 10 pounds without trying, while enjoying beef and its fat, bacon and bacon drippings, dairy including cream, whole eggs, and oils. I’ve also found my energy has improved, my emotions stay even, my mind is working better, the finger joint aches that had become nearly constant have disappeared, and the constant, deep pain in my right hip (that had me thinking I’d end up with a hip replacement) has not only subsided, but there are days when all of my joints operate so freely I feel as I did in my 20’s – a feeling I had forgotten about until I felt it again.

My mother, Grandma Ruth, purveyor of the “Grandma’s Kitchen Tips” blog.

Paying attention to food, and the quality of the ingredients that make up a meal, is not new for me. I was raised by a mother who has always been fascinated by the link between health and nutrients – and who, had she been born a generation later, might well have become a doctor with a specialty in nutrition. We were fed brewer’s yeast, calf brains, and organ meats back in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Adele Davis was the nutrition guru before it all became fashionable. We never had a “heat and serve” meal, and she has been making her own bread from freshly-ground flour for many decades. (Her dishwasher has never washed a dish; it is filled with packages of herbs and seeds.) Now in her 80s, my mother continues to work part time at her local food coop, where she is the ‘go to’ person for younger men and women who are finding their way into a more natural eating pattern, and for older men and women who have been told by their doctors to find a substitute for gluten or some such. She also posts occasionally on her own blog, “Grandma’s Kitchen Tips,” listed in my blog roll.

What is new for me is the understanding of the effect of food components on my body’s cell molecules. That has led me to avoid some things while thoroughly enjoying other things – things we are being told are not good for us, but that I crave. Every time I sink my teeth into beef fat or eat the chicken skin, too, I am delighted to learn all over again that certain foods taste sooo good because our bodies sooo like and need them. Taste is, in the end, a good signal for what we should eat and what we should avoid. (And, surprisingly, I’ve found I have little taste for sugar now; it just doesn’t taste good when I’m getting all of the wholesome nutrients my body needs.)

That experience has led me to a decision to include some posts about nutrition and food preparation. The focus will be on how our ancestors ate – how traditional Woodchuck’s ate from what they produced on their own land or culled from the woods around them. Those posts will show up in a new category, Sustainable Eating. The term “sustainable” will refer to what sustains our bodies at their maximum level of performance.

Of course this is all leading me to think more seriously about adding a flock of chickens (eggs and eventual stew or stock pot meat) and a miniature goat or two (milk, milk products, eventual stock pot meat, and possible fibers for weaving or selling) to my homestead. But there’s still more for me to learn before I take those steps.


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