children, we all got asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. Me,
as most of my peers, grew up with full time working parents who
disappeared early and came home late. Profession, and having a job to
go to, is a part of one's identity, of who you are and what you're
doing with your life.
Dennis and I have decided not to go to a job, at least not more than
once in a great while. That dosen't mean we don't work, but we do it
at home and only a few months out of the year to make money. We have
a clear ambition to make the Hostel provide for our financial needs,
which ultimately means not to have much for financial needs in the
point for us is that we pay our expenses as we go. We don't have a
mortgage, a car loan or a rent. Both of us have paid our student
loans and would never put anything on a credit card.
produce the majority of our own food, enough to stretch us, in
abundance, well into next summer. We're working towards a more
sustainable way of animal husbandry, where grain for the pigs and
chickens is marginal and feed from our own farm abundant. We produce
our own building material, fuel for heating and cooking, we maintain
our car, our bikes, tools and furniture our selves. We trade, cabbage
for goat cheese, squash for yogurt and at the end, we just don't get
a lot of the things we'd have to buy. Since we provide for our basic
needs; heat, power, cooking fuel, food and shelter, we don't have a
day to day dependence on cash.
us of that dependence and limit the overall need for money has a
broad range of reasons. Most of all; we simply don't want to go to
work. Working away from home comes with ripple effects, like breaking
up your family. Dennis and I have chosen to live together, therefore,
we'd like to spend our days together. We've chosen to live at this
place, this homestead, therefore we'd like to spend our days here. I
don't want to drive and burn fossil fuels, I don't want to be bound
to someone else's schedule, whims of keeping my employed, customers
ability to pay and not being fully in control over the work I'm asked
to perform. Believe me, I've tried all that. 40 h working week, hours
of commuting, sitting in an office, getting fired when times got
hard, employed when they needed an other part in the machinery. I'm
grateful for all those keeping the services up that we do need;
stores, libraries, newspapers, hospitals. But I also wish that all
those going to a job would have the choice not to, if that's what
they wanted. That someone would tell them; an other life is possible.
Winter in the garden
don't actively practice any religion, I do find myself looking for
peace and comfort in prayers learned as young. This past Monday
morning I read a pray over our pigs, minutes before they got killed.
Nothing grand, nothing planned. Just me, Henry and Iris and it was
probably mostly for my own sake. I needed peace and comfort, the pigs
just wanted breakfast.
and Iris are gone now, after a very painless and well carried out
butchering. I stayed around until both pigs were dead and as I walked
away it dawned on me that there were no more Henry and Iris. For a
minute I felt sad. They've been around for quite some time and become
a part of our lives and daily routine and now suddenly they're gone.
As with all life and death; we know the end will come, still we're so
poorly prepared. Even in this case, where the end was fully
determined by us, I still felt unprepared. Life around the farm
comes, and goes. I mourned for a brief moment and then went back to
my day. The pigs were here, now they're gone. We spent three days
after that processing all the meat, finishing with feeding scraps to
the chickens, bury the guts and burning the bones to use as a
fertilizer in the garden. It marks the end of the homesteading year
with the pigs butchered and the food storage stocked.
already received the seed cataloug for next year. I don't know what
they were aiming for; a bumper sale to fill Christmas stockings with?
I can't say I'm fired up to start planning next years garden. I'm
still slightly traumatized after this year and I'm still picking
fresh produce every day. I rather think about the quilt I'm making,
the firewood I have to cut and all the pears stored in our back room.
past weekend I spent in Unity, ME, for a workshop in Chainsaw Safety
hosted by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. It's a
part of their annual Low Impact Forestry weekend, where the main
focus is on forestry with draft animals. I did that last year; hauled
logs through the woods using horses and harnesses, arches and chains.
That was a splurge. Irregardless of a life long passion for horses, I
don't have any intention of getting one so spending a weekend
training with them was just for fun. Chain saw safety is more
serious. The chain saw is a tool I've used since I first came here
and the last few years we've cleared more and more of the trees
around our yard and wood lot. To know how to managed this tool is not
only essential for the outcome of the work and the pleasure of the
labor, but could also be the difference between a good day of work
and downright disaster.
So me, a
handful other women and a bunch of guys spent a couple of days
soaking in on vocabulary such as scabbards, rakers, plunge cuts and
evacuation routes. We were drilled in safety gear, safety starting,
safety carrying, safety working. We had fun, and we gained a lot of
respect for the importance of doing it right. It slightly bother me
to see to what extent Dennis and I have used our saw hill-billy style
with not even the bare minimum of safety gear and a slim
understanding of proper felling techniques. Today we practiced on
some scabby looking white pine. I cut down three trees on my own and
except for the first one on which I really screwed up I did
surprisingly good. They fell where I intended to, did not get hung on
other trees, I did not cut anything (like my legs) that I wasn't
supposed to cut. I sharpened the chain on my own and did a good job
with that, too. It's great to be more capable around the farm, to
know how to do things and not rely on someone else to do it for you.
And it's fun when it's efficient, safe and controlled. Working in the
woods is amazing. I'm glad winter is coming.
We went to
a very inspiring talk earlier this fall, about how to feed your
poultry flock from your own backyard. It was all very obvious things
brought up, but I guess it took someone to open our eyes to them.
Like how the common practice of raising your chickens almost
exclusively on grain is both new, looking at how many centuries
people have raised chickens, and also, unnatural to the birds. He
drew up a scale with the “normal” grain fed flock on one end,
often living in small enclosures with bare ground and little or no
chance of finding natural food and his grandma's flock on the other
end, as an example of a free ranging flock being fed only a handful
of grain of some sort every day.
Dennis and I went home and looked around the farm. Our chickens are
fed commercial grain and live in a stationary enclosure. We had to
set it up this way after our free ranging birds got eaten one after
the other by the fox. The kind of mobile chicken fence that most
homesteaders have would not stop predators like that, nor do I
believe that it'd stop our chickens from flying out; they fly with
ease up on the 6ft fence we got now. So what we do instead is that we
bring the natural feed to them. Almost daily I bring in wheelbarrow
loads of garden scraps; cabbage leaves, carrot tops, kale or chard.
Once a week I go with my neighbor who's a landscaper and gardener
around the island and I bring back a truckload of day lily leaves,
hostas or irises that we cut back for the winter. These all have a
second purpose beyond feeding our chickens; after a few weeks of
being scratched around and fuel up with manure, I use it as mulch in
our garden. We feed our chickens seaweed, and bring in the oak leaves
we rake to them, all this giving them something to scratch in, feed
from and it creates a sort of habitat for bugs that the birds eat.
also opened our eyes to the situation for our pigs, Henry and Iris.
We've raised our pigs in mobile pens, using a simple electric wire
and moving them every few weeks. Until now, we've kept the pens
within the clearing of our farm, fed them expensive grain that we've
had to travel somewhere to get. We've known for years the pigs would
eat acorns, and we've tried run the pens around the oaks we have in
our yard, but the pigs root fast and hard and the ground can only
take so much digging before being destroyed. So starting to think
about what's natural for the pigs, we decided to run the pen out in
the woods. A small section of the pen is within sight of our house
and the rest is back in the woods, as far as our supply of wire would
go. For most of the day, our pigs spend their time running like wild
ponies around the spruce trees and oak trees, digging up roots and
rocks, squirrel hide aways' with acorn and spruce cones, eating moss
and dirt and brambles and looking like the happiest pigs alive.
Seeing Henry and Iris out there it really feels like a no-brainer
that the common way of raising pigs; in stationary, torn up and muddy
pens while stuffing them with manufactured grain and growing them fat
and lazy is not a natural life for a pig. They are after all
scavengers, evolved to forage for food, to be hungry from time to
time and to fend for themselves. For us, the new pen does not only
mean less destroyed ground around the farm, healthier and better
tasting meat and a financial gain by having cut the cost of grain to
a third, but mostly, the amazingly satisfying feeling of pride when
seeing what a good and happy life our dear friends have.
topic of waste; one has to remember that whatever you don't deal
with, someone else have to and if you manage to find second, or ever
third, uses for your trash, you have moved it from being trash to
being a resource. All this apply to one of the biggest, and probably
today most uncommon, cycle of reusing a resource we practice here at
the Hostel; our composting toilet.
world of septic and plumbing and flushing toilets is full of
misconceptions and misunderstandings about where “it” goes and
what happens with it. I've met more than one seemingly well educated
and reasonably intelligent person stating that it “just
friends, nothing “just disappears”. Not the trash you take to the
dump, not the waste buried in your backyard, not the turds flushed
down the drain. For us, the difference between what accumulates in
our trash bins and what accumulates in the buckets in the outhouse is
the difference between waste and resource; the composting toilets
provide an important source of fertilizer for flowers and trees
around our farm.
system is based on the “Humanure Handbook” by Joseph Jenkins, who
have done extensive research on composting human manure and the
benefits of that. The toilet is shaped like a box with a normal
toilet seat on top and a 5 gallon bucket inside. Instead of flushing
we add sawdust as a cover, to prevent odor and to soak up liquid.
Whenever the bucket is full, we empty it in a compost bin and cover
with garden clippings, grass or seaweed. Jenkins found in his
research that when added to a proper compost pile that heats up to
120 F for at least 24 h (which all proper compost piles do) and then
left for a year to be further broken down by various microorganism
there will be no possibly harmful pathogens, and as if it was magic,
this “waste” is now an incredible resource. Mr Jenkins points
out, and this is really important, that what comes from those compost
piles is no longer human manure, but soil. When we open those bins it
is not turds we spread around our trees but safe, good smelling and
very rich compost.
are other benefits too, with this kind of composting toilets. It's
extremely cost and energy efficient since there's no plumbing, drain
or tanks, no power is needed to pressure the water and no water is
polluted that needs to be purified again, using even more chemicals.
It produces only a minuscule amount of green house gases, compared to
most other human waste management systems.
amazing part of all this though, is the simple fact that this
practice is as uncommon as it is. Surely, a lot of people have some
experiences with outhouses, but usually not very nice once. For many
it's something they have at their camp or summer place. Very, very
few recycle the content back to the land.
us as “radicals” living the way we do, the compost toilet being a
part of that. Some look at our outhouse and label us as backwards
striding and perhaps slightly obstinate for not adapting to the more
“modern” way of dealing with our waste, meaning, make it
our outhouses. They smell of spruce sawdust and lavender soap, the
air is fresh and the view is great. We love the compost we get from
the bins; the rich, black soil. And we love the peaches and the pears
it helps us grow, the flowers we cut and admire.
pressed our cider, picked the cabbages and potatoes. Sandy the storm
is upon us. A few rainy days to rest up. See you later!
I have spent some of the rainy days lately to clean the Hostel and
put it to bed for the winter, and with that hauling off all the
accumulated trash and recycling to the dump. That's one of the
consequences in the wake of doubling our business in one single
season the trash load. You all know the drill the packages, the
wrapping, the containers, the jugs. Wine bottles, beer bottles,
juice cartoons, milk cartoons. And it got me thinking; what if there
was no dump, and no recycling? What would we do, if we had to deal
with it all ourselves?
in Ethiopia for 6 months a few years ago, half of the time in the
rural south where there were, in fact, no dump and no trash pick up.
Sure it wasn't the American volume of stuff either, and even less so,
of the packaging and wrapping. But nevertheless, they did produce
trash that they got rid off simply by throwing it out the door.
Eventually it rained and it flushed away, of course only to be piled
up further down the slopes and in the ditches. At the Permaculture
based lodging facility where I worked, we couldn't really do it that
way. The only feasible way was to create sort of landfills in the
back of the property. I know it sounds absurd, but what if there is
no dump? To minimize these landfills the idea was to salvage as much
as possible from the trash, and boy, did they salvage. In the same
back corner as the pits were dug stood a shed full to the brim with
all these once-trash-now-something-that-can-be-used-again-things.
Most of it was containers of various size and shape, meant to be
reused as seed saving containers. But they saved perhaps 50 kinds of
seeds, and there were 250 empty bottles in there, more coming every
week. And here's my point; if you want to do something with all the
trash and the recycling is, as the case here on the island, very
limited, what do you do? I would like to do something with all the 50
yogurt containers that get left behind every season, but what? Plant
pots, when my neighbor has a full shed of them? All the glass jars
drinking glasses? Do we really need 150 drinking glasses?
Fortunately, this is only something I have to pounder for a few
months every year. And even over the hostel season, the trash
accumulation is most likely still less than most smaller sized
Dennis and I live lends itself so a very minimal amount of trash, or
waste. First of all, we don't buy much. We grow our food or buy it in
bulk. We don't use much for electronic gadgets, so we don't have to
replace them. When we do need something, we consider the quality and
expected lifetime of whatever we're getting, so to even further
reduce our contribution to the landfills. We care for our belongings;
the tools, the car, the canoes, our bikes. We know how to avoid wear
and we know how to fix them, if they would break.
the dump-run last weekend we're back on zero, with empty trash bins.
I keep Ethiopia in mind, when buying something new or when throwing
something away. If I had to deal with the trash amounted from this,
would I make a different choice?
had the first frost. The tomatoes are gone, the peppers are picked.
The kale is ready to be eaten and soon the broussel sprouts will have
reached perfection. We're entering a new season.
Food Festival Workshop Weekend is right around the corner, the
premier for our educational program. How to grow your a sustainable
garden will continue with how to put your garden in a jar, moving on
to how to put it in a root cellar, all leading up to how to make your
own hard cider and vinegar.
from the early days of the Hostel we've had the intention to serve
not only those looking for a place to spend a night or two but also
those wishing to learn alternative, sustainable and rewarding ways of
living. Some people want to change their entire lifestyle, some
wishes merely to grow a few fruit trees or a couple of tomato plants.
Many already come to us for advice; on how to keep the deer out of
their garden, how to set up a solar array, how to build a chicken
love what we're doing; to live in a pretty place, the independence,
the empowerment of supplying our own food, energy and building
material and to get a direct payback for the labour we're doing. We
like to encourage others to do the same, on whatever scale they find
suitable. And the best encouragement is to know what you're doing and
be successful and that's where we hope to play a role.
the future we aim to have two annual weekends like this with topics
as wood working, homesteading, orcharding and wild foods, to mention
a few. For anyone out there interested in holding a workshop, please
contact us. For you who wishes to participate next year, keep an eye
on our website.
weekend is not only the first workshop weekend, but it's also the
last Hostel weekend. After Sunday, we strip the beds for the last
time, empty the compost pail and the water buckets, pack the kitchen
together and move down to our little house. The Hostel will turn into
a storage; we put the bikes in here, odd pieces of lumber, garden
tools, the mason jars as we empty them of pickles and kraut and the
canoes, once we paddled for the last time. It's been great, it's been
grand, but all roads lead to other roads and now we'll settle back on
being homesteaders and farmers and foresters and make sure we get
enough alone time in, so we're ready for next tsunami of Hostelers.
The season, at the end, was a success; we doubled the business from
last year, we made many new friends and we had several return guests
from the previous years. We had Megan here, our superstar helper, to
carry us through the wild, wild summer. We had a party, a dinner,
Hostel tours and now the workshops. We grew food, we swam in the
ocean, we rode our bikes.
to all of you that made the season to what it was. For you wanting to
come next year, the 1st
of April we start taking reservations, and at the end of May, we'll
be ready again. Until then, you can follow our whereabouts here on
the blog. Have a happy fall!
thing that is now also slowly beginning to ripen are all the apple
trees on the island. Well, that is, the trees with fruit on them. The
four 80' F days in March lured the trees to bud out and when the
weather turned colder again most of the buds seem to have frozen. Few
people I've talked to have ever seen a worse apple year than this
year. Only in our immediate neighborhood there are at least 50 trees
that no one cares for. Some of them have once been planted, many have
seeded them self and grows along the road or in the edge of the
woods. We have located the trees that are good for fresh eating,
apple tree to make sauce with, the apple tree that makes pink sauce,
the storage apple, the drying apple. This year there are perhaps
three or four out of these 50 trees that have a crop worth bothering
with and the other day we rode our bikes across the island to get a
few early apples to eat now.
first basic thing to know about apples is that they don't come true
from seed. That means that if you plant the seeds from a Red
Delicious, the apple growing from that seed won't be a Red Delicious.
It will be its own, unique apple variety, unlike anything there ever
was. To get a Red Delicious, you need to graft. That is a whole
subject on its own, but basically grafting means taking a small twig
from the tree you like to propagate and sticking it on an existing
tree or rootstock and letting them grow together. Everything growing
from that one twig will be the same as the tree you cut the twig
from. On some trees the graft is obvious, like a swelling or
indentation, on the tree trunk. Others are harder to see but to
determine whether a tree is grafted or self seeded, a seedling, is
the first step to identifying an apple tree. If it's a seedling,
there are no others like it and the tree doesn't have a name. If it's
grafted, someone ones chose a variety they wanted, grafted a twig
from that tree and planted the new tree on their farm or in their
yard. All trees of course started as wild seedlings. Someone found an
apple tree along the road or in the woods, tried the fruit and liked
it, cut a twig, grafted, planted and from their it spread. If you
find a wild self-planted seedling tree, you can do the same. Name it,
graft it and plant it in your own yard. There used to be, from Maine
to Georgia and west to the Mississippi river, 20.000 different apple
tree varieties. Everyone had apple trees. Every farm, every homestead
had some trees that they cared for, whether it was enough for a
barrel of cider and some pies or enough to take to the market. Most
villages, neighborhoods or towns had their own unique apple trees
that someone found wild, grafted, planted and shared with people
around them. Many varieties spread of course, over town, county and
state lines and many of those still remains in small numbers, but
can't be found in the supermarket. Those trees and those varieties
are worth paying attention to. As with all things around us,
diversity is interesting and sustainable. There are trees in our
immediate neighborhood that are around 150-160 years old. There might
be varieties on this island that once was loved and cared for, that
had fantastic pie apples, or made the cider turn into champagne or
kept till May in the cellar, trees that someone named after their
wife or son or the cove they lived by, varieties where now only one
single tree remains and by learning about identification and grafting
that tree can be replanted and saved as a part of our history and
150 year old tree? Identification pending, April 2012
reached the peak of the garden season, the time when all the hard
work is finally paid of in a bounty of fresh and crunchy, soul
singing, belly blessing, juicy produce. Long gone is the back
breaking work, the bugs, the sun burn. Now, we're focused on the most
basic of needs: eating. We pick and eat from our garden and submerge
our self in an indulgence of sun warm tomatoes, crispy cabbage heads,
cool cucumbers, sweet smelling basil and sparkling green broccoli.
up, there were no end to the currents and apples growing in our yard
or the blueberries that my parents picked. Back then I didn't care
much for either of those but I did care for strawberries, something
of course, that we did not have. My parents bought the expensive
boxes and me and my three siblings carefully measured and weighed the
servings for the most accurate sharing. I never thought there would
be such a thing as too many strawberries but little did I know, that
I'd once live next door to Mary with a strawberry field too big for
her to muster and at the end of the season when she just can't take
picking no more I learn, each year the same lesson, each year quickly
forgotten, that yes, there is such a thing as too many strawberries.
frugality is considered virtue while there's something sinful over
indulgence, as if a limitless serving of garden cuces or sungold
tomatoes is equal to the imbalance in global food supply or as if
belly ache caused by wild apple bonanza is equal to the galloping
increase in obesity. Well, the Maine summer is short and soon enough,
there will be no more tomatoes or blackberries or peaches but just a
whole long year until next time and while we do can and store and
save for those long winter months, we mostly just eat, as if there's
no tomorrow. I've tried over eating of blueberries and I loved it.
Loved it, loved it, loved it. When our friend left in the peak of
raspberry ripeness Dennis and I went over and ate as much as we
humanly could standing right there in the shrubs, then we picked as
much as we could carry on our bikes only to go home and keep eating.
I've tried it with apples, with beans, with cherry tomatoes. Does it
sound obscene? Well, it might, but that's perfectly fine with me.
Once the season is over, it's over. We never buy tomatoes in the
store, and the berries we can set aside are few and far apart and
nothing, by the way, nothing taste as good as something that travels
only from the plant to your mouth, shortest distance possible. It's
August in Maine and the garden and the forest are in full swing. I've
worked hard and waited patiently to now justify a rest in the apple
tree shade or among blue berry shrubs to let my protruding berry
belly shrink back. If I learned the lesson to not stuff myself? Oh
yes, and I'll remember it all the way until the next season rolls
Interested in keeping that cabbage til' May? Make sour kraut!
Chop the cabbage in bite-sized pieces, put in a bowl, little by little, mix with salt and use a wooden spoon or mallet to crunch it up. Alternatively your hands. The salt ratio is 7 tbs for 1 gallon of kraut, so you need to pace and estimate the adding of salt while mixing so at the end you have the right amount.
Stuff the cabbage in a glass jar as you chop it. Use the wooden spoon or the mallet to pack it down firmly. You'll be amazed how much the cabbage will shrink. Now you'll also start to see the water extracting from the cabbage - that's what the pounding and salting will do. When you've filled the jar up as much as you like, push it hard with the wooden tool and see if you can make the water come above the produce. That is the key - to keep as much as possible of the veggies submerged, since it's the water/brine that will preserve it. Close the jar without tightening the lid too much.
You can use a well washed rock as a weight to keep the cabbage in the water. If you can't get the water high enough right away, just let the jar sit in room temperature for a day or two and try again. But, after the fermenting process have started and you can see bubbles in the jar, refrain from opening it until you intend to eat is. Your jar will be full of gas, pushing the oxygen out. If you open it, you expose it to the air and it starts to rot. You'll still have days to eat is, but not months to store it anymore.
To make the kraut more interesting/flavourful, add other things. The most basic is stuff like garlic, hot pepper and ginger. Try carrots, beets, onions, celery and apples. Tips! Label the jars so when you eat them, you'll know what to do/don't do again.
Keep the jars in room temperature for a few days, then store them where it's cold. A well made jar will keep for years. Enjoy!
as if we've been transported in time, we're half way through August
and the summer won't last forever anymore, only for a few more weeks.
As always, I don't know how it happened, where it went or where the
first signs of fall came from. All I know is that suddenly the peak
of the season is upon us and ahead is a slow winding road to the
I've spent days thinking about this
blog entry and what to write – something interesting, something on
the top of my mind, perhaps educational, slightly radical. But what's
on the top of my mind is best described visually; by a flat palm held
an inch from my face; all I can think of is what is right here. The
pig pen needs to be moved, if it's sunny tomorrow I can paint the
corner boards of the chicken house. Remember to check the brassicas
for caterpillars, remember to pick the onions soon, swoop out the
mushroom logs, pick them, sell them. We have our big FarmFeast dinner
event next Saturday; I don't have plates, I don't have a musician, I
have a car with a hole in the gas tank to use for fetching 10 tables
and 30 chairs with. In 4 days from now, I'm having a workshop in
organic gardening here that I only remember thanks to the ads someone
else posts. I have an other, slightly major, undertaking in three
weeks from now that I should start worry about. But what's the point?
My palm is already close enough to my face I can't see beyond it.
The summer doesn't so much slip our
fingers as it escapes us with a wild roar. I've already seen the
signs; the first yellow leaves, the golden rods, the steam from my
mouth one early morning. Sure, there are still summer ripe peaches to
eat and my annual swim across the pond. Still a number of guests
whose presence we'll enjoy. I don't know where the summer went or
where it's going after leaving, but the hectic road will nevertheless
wind and end in winter and I'd lied if I said I haven't enjoyed it
just as I'd lied if I said I didn't long for fall.