Hostel and Homestead Blog
As 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.
Well, 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 first place.
The key 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.
We 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
Though I 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.
So Henry 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.
We 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.
This 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.
So 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.
The talk 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.
On the 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.
The 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 disappears”.
Well, 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.
Our 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.
There 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.
The most 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.
Some see 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 “disappear”.
We love 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.
We've pressed our cider, picked the cabbages and potatoes. Sandy the storm is upon us. A few rainy days to rest up. See you later!
Dennis and 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?
I lived 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 households.
The way 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.
After 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?
We've 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.
The 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.
Already 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 house.
We 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.
For 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.
This 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.
Thanks 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!
One 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
we've 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.
Growing 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.
Culturally 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 around.
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!
Suddenly, 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 silent winter.
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.