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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review "Small Scale Grain Raising" by Gene Logsdon

Logsdon is one of the great voices of the homesteading movement.  This is a review of his classic "Small Scale Grain Raising" originally published in 1977.  I am reviewing the book from 1977, not the more recent reprint.  One of the things that set all of Gene Logsdon's books apart is you can tell that he actually lives the things that he teaches.  Logsdon brings real life experience and candor to the discussion of a variety of topics in his books, and his books are always entertaining as well as informative.
Small Scale Grain Raising gives a huge amount of information on different grains and how the grains can be grown, even on a small plot.  One of the many interesting facts in this book is the amount of land needed to grow a bushel of a variety of grains.  A bushel or two of grain is more than enough for a small family to cook with for most of the year, and Logsdon shows how a few hundred square feet can provide those bushels of grain.  If you have 1/4 acre of land that you can grow grain on, you could harvest a bushel of corn, wheat, rye, barley, sorghum, and beans from that 1/4 acre.  This is more than enough for the average family to experiment with, and to provide their own needs for most of the year. 
Individual chapters focus on the main grains, such as corn and wheat, or group similarly cultivated grains together, such as rye with barley.  Logsdon gives details on choosing varieties, planting, weeding, harvesting, storing, and even recipes for cooking the various grains. 
The final chapters of the book are on crop rotation and on equipment.  These are great because they provide a starting point for figuring out how to provide a good crop rotation to keep your production up and to limit erosion and pests.  The chapter on equipment is wonderful because as many homesteaders begin as gardeners rather than farmers, they are not necessarily familiar with the equipment used in growing and harvesting grain. 
The disappointing thing about the book is that it doesn't provide nutritional information.  I would love to see nutritional information on what grains are best in for protein, what have the highest minerals, etc.; I think this would provide a huge resource to homesteaders who want to grow grains for their own consumption, and it would be useful to know what grains provide different levels of nutrition.  I am also a little disappointed that grains such as quinoa and amaranth are not included.  These grains are gaining great notoriety for their nutritional content, and could be a great addition to the book.  The last addition I would love to see in the book is a guide to the amount of grain needed to sustain animals or give certain rates of growth.  This could help a homesteader know the amount of grain needed to provide for their own animals, without relying on trial and error.
Perhaps these gaps in content are filled by the more recent updated edition, but I do not have that edition to make the comparison.  From what I have seen it is simply an updated version of the classic, with little additional content.
Overall I would recommend this book to anyone seriously considering growing their own grains.  While grains take more space than the average garden, and often the grains themselves are cheap if you can find them (say at a health food store or a farm co-op) for anyone interested in being truly self-reliant, or to grow specialty grains, this book is an absolute must.  There simply isn't a better book on raising grain for the home gardener out there.

The new edition can be found here.

Live a hands on life

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I can scarcely call these things my own

"I can scarcely call these things my own" is the motto of one of some of my ancestors.  To me, that simple motto strikes at the heart of what it means to be a steward of something.  To be a steward is to realize that your decisions affect much more than yourself, or even your things.  Every decision we make affects the world, as a butterflies wings could eventually cause a hurricane, the decisions that we make in our own lives can cause huge changes. 
We are told to be good stewards of our money, of our time, and of many different aspects of our life.  But usually this is a misnomer. What people often mean when they say we should be good stewards is that we should investigate and look into things so that we do not foolishly squander what we have.  There is more to being a steward than that.  Being a steward means realizing that your possessions are not tottally yours, nor are your accomplishments.  Being a steward means working for others, and realizing that the choices that you make have real consequences for other people. 
I am a poor steward.  I can tell you that right now, often I find myself misusing the things that I have because I do not care enough about them.  I do not want my life to be ruled by possessions, and so I tend to treat my possession as if they are worthless.  This is not good stewardship.  As a steward, I should be treating my possessions with pride, because they are not totally mine.  I have been entrusted with them, but they do not truly belong to me.  We inherit the earth from our ancestors, and borrow it from our children.  The choices that we make have lasting effects for generations, and we need to be conscious of the fact that what we do will play out in history.
 There has been alot of controversy over the phrase "you didn't build that".  Well, when we truly look at ourselves, we didn't get anywhere by ourselves.  We had help from parents, from family, from teachers, from friends, from our own workers.  Being a steward means recognizing the contributions that helped us get where we are.  It also means recognizing that your decisions affect all of these people who helped put you into a position to make decisions.  The head of a company is not the only one who contributes to that company.  The leadership of a place is not the only important part.
We must realize that we are a part of a larger whole. I think that is the most important thing about being a steward, is to realize that your decisions affect your small part, but they affect every other part too.  We need to use what we have wisely, not becuase then we might get more of it, but because our use affects those around us, and affects the people and the things that we love.  We need to look at our possessions as barely ours, and belonging mostly to those who we want to serve, the people that we love, and the people who surround us. 
Surrounding us everywhere we turn is the motto of Milton's Satan, "I will not serve".  We are trained nearly from birth to think of ourselves as individuals, as the architects of our own fate, as islands, reliant on no one but ourselves.  We are told to think of service as the domain of the weak, as a place that is to be detested.  Yet the steward is by definition, a servant.  We must serve others, or else we will destroy ourselves.

Live a hands on life

Monday, August 20, 2012

Purslane, or Verdolagas an edible that deserves more respect

I have always had a thing for wild edibles.  Even having foraged for years, it is still amazing to me that you can go outdoors, pick something, and just start munching.  You do not have to carefully nurture the seed, transplant it, water it, weed it; the seed does what it is meant to and grows where it is suited.  This is one of the things about wild edibles, you get to see how life continues, even in inhospitable circumstances. 
One of my favorite wild edibles is purslane.  It has a unique shape, making it easy to identify, and it seems to crop up in the most unforgiving places.  One of the places I have seen it most is through cracks in an asphalt parking lot, and between bricks on an old brick street.  There don't come many wild edibles more hardy than purslane.  And it seems to adore the heat.  Usually purslane isn't even present during the spring or the start of the summer, but when the dog days get here and everything is wilting, purslane is at its finest.
And what a change from the every day plants it is.  Purslane is a succulent plant, with shining bulging leaves, that sometimes even sparkle in the sun.  The leaves are bright green teardrops, and are truly a beauty to behold.
One of the greatest things about purslane though is the taste.  Now a lot of wild edibles are wild because their taste isn't that great.  But purslane is mostly wild because it is too successful.  People have spent hours of backbreaking work trying to totally remove it from their gardens, and they aren't going to put it back in.  Which is a shame, because this is a green that has a lot going for it.
I find the taste of purslane to be similar to snow peas.  It is bursting with juice, and has a little bit of a slick texture to it.  The stems tend to be bitter, but if you only pick small stems they should be fine.  Purslane seems to have a bit of a sourness to it as well, and also seems to cool the mouth.  All of these attributes can combine well in a salad.  Adding less dressing, the purslane makes up for.  Opposing the crispness of lettuce, you have the slight crunch and slickness of purslane.  The leaves show up beautifully, and their shape and color blend gorgeously with a salad.
There are cultivated forms of purslane, and they do have some advantages, although the flavors are largely the same as wild purslane.  First, cultivated purslane grows more upright, which means that there is less dirt and grit in the leaves to be washed out.  Second, cultivated purslane grows much larger leaves.  The leaves of a wild plant my be 1/2 inch by 3/4 inch.  The leaves of a cultivated plant may be 1 inch by 2 1/2 inches.  It is much easier to harvest a few large leaves than a bunch of small ones.  And third, there are varieties of cultivated purslane that are a brilliant yellow, making this a beautiful vegetable that shows up well amongst others.
Purslane isn't simply good raw however.  It is delicious raw, but in Mexico and Central America, there are numerous ways to cook it.  One way is to saute it like any green, with a little olive oil and garlic.  This can be used as a side dish, or wrapped in tortillas.  Another great way is to make purslane into a salsa verde.  Recipes for a variety of Mexican purslane dishes can be found here.  Purslane remains a little slick when cooked, and can give a mucilaginous texture similar to okra. 
And that isn't all.  According to author Michael Pollan, purslane may be one of the most nutritious plants on the planet.  It has a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is hard to find in plants.  In addition to this, purslane is loaded with minerals, so much so that the ashes of burnt purslane can be used as a salt substitute. 
Purslane isn't just some plant that makes a nice novelty.  It is a truly useful plant, that grows in the harshest conditions and is amazingly healthy.  Add to this the fact that it taste wonderful and can be used in a variety of ways, and you have a plant that deserves much more use and respect than it is typically given.  Go ahead, give purslane a try, see if you cannot find some new uses for it.

Live a hands on life

Friday, August 17, 2012

The lure of moving water

Anyone who has watched small children near a creek knows about the lure of moving water.  The very sounds it makes as it trickles over rocks are mesmerizing and seem to induce a more peaceful state in those who hear them.  That is the reason that there are so many desktop fountains and water gardens to be found in nearly any store.  But are we replacing the natural with the artificial, are we really gaining what we seek to gain.
One of the most captivating things about a creek is life.  You can watch a school of minnows dance in the shadows for hours.  Or watch a crawdad slowly come from beneath a rock to scrounge a bit of food from the bottom.  If you are quiet and patient, you will see and hear birds and other wildlife that use the creek.  A kingfisher diving into the water and exiting almost immediately.  A green heron slowly stalking the shallows, blending with cattails and reeds.  The plop as a turtle dives from a log into the water.  These are the things that enchant children.  And sure they may be loud and boisterous, but they also can be quiet and patient, much more patient than their adult counterparts.
One of the things that makes a creek different than a simple pond is connectedness.  It is impossible to have one to yourself.  All creeks will meander through a variety of places, and come into contact with a variety of people and the creek seems to bear the mark of all of them.  Here in Kansas you will find creeks littered with old car bodies, and other trash.  Not to make light of this pollution, but the creek seems to claim them over time.  The rust changes from a blight to a different habitat.  There are raccoons that make their next in one of the cars.  A gar hides in the shadow of another, waiting for its next meal.  The more people who care about the creek, the better off it will be, but the creek takes both good and bad.
You cannot control a creek.  You can do what you can with your little piece, but the majority of it will always be in the control of others.  This is a lesson in humility.  We can control some aspects of our life, but others will always be controlled by those around us.  We can only do what we can with what we have.  Oh, but the things that we can do.  Creeks can be some of the most beautiful of all landscapes, with a beauty that is largely unrivalled.  And they can be functional as well.  Who hasn't seen a picturesque water wheel on a small creek, enmeshed by its surroundings, as though it has always existed, or as though the creek would want it and is embracing it.  In contrast, a modern hydroelectric plant almost always looks out of place and imposing, even if it is on a small creek.
And this is one thing about creeks is that they cannot be modernized.  Sure cities have paved the paths, and have diverted creeks through storm sewers to make the city less prone to flooding.  The creeks have become channels in concrete.  But they have ceased to be creeks.  We displace nature, and then attempt to mimic it.  We bury the creeks, or divert them, and then make faux creeks and fountains in our yards.  We make small fountains to put on our desks, which give a partial aspect of what we desire, but do not give the fullness of the experience.
Am I against water gardening, or fountains.  No, I love them both, but I realize their limitations.  None will replace the life, the majesty, the constant change and the unchangingness of the little creeks that I grew up around.  I see a well developed creek, with swimming holes and riffles, with shallow and deep, with short rapids and long lazy stretches to be one of the pinnacles of nature, and its lure is nearly irresistible.  Now the question is, can we enhance it, and not simply replace it.

Live a hands on life

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I am not wise enough to rule so small a thing

These words from "The ballad of the White Horse" illustrate great wisdom, and the great humility that comes from knowing your limitations.  We tend to think in terms of bigger is better.  This is not necessarily the case.  It takes much more wisdom to rule a small piece of land than a large one.  A large farm has room for waste, has areas that can be used improperly, and has a great ability to be misused.  A small farm on the other hand has little of this.  A small farm must be managed well, or it will fail.  The effects of misuse become more evident, more quickly when concentrated in a few acres rather than spread over hundreds. 
In a similar way it is easier to manage a business when there are huge amounts of capital and labor than when these are scarce.  Those who survive and are poor are much better managers of what they have than even the wealthiest in the world.  We as a society have seem to have forgotten this.  We view all things as a competition, and that the victors gain the spoils.  So whoever has the most spoils must be the victor.  Whoever has the most things, or the most money must be the best at using it.  Yet I have never seen where this is the case.  Having the most means that you cannot give things the attention that they deserve, and can afford to be careless. 
We have turned wealth from the production of something valuable, from the gainful employment of people, into a game.  We have made wealth a game played for its own sake, with the players competing for the best possible score, and then claiming that the best score makes them the best people.  We have lost sight of what wealth was meant to do, and have instead promoted wealth for its own sake, leading many to seek the growth of wealth at the expense of everything else. 
We have replaced people with machines, but do these machines benefit people?  The modern myth is that because machines multiply labor, they must make everyone's life easier.  Is this the case?  Look at the use of robotics in auto factories.  Do they simply make the workers lives more pleasant and less dangerous.  Typically, they make less workers.  The workers who are employed are no better off than when the machines didn't exist, and the other workers must find other employment or starve.  How is this beneficial?  It allows things to be produced cheaper, but for the displaced workers this is of no help at all.  They cannot afford the products.  The benefits do not go to the workers, but to the owners. 
Or look at farming machines  The Machines that allowed farmers to farm more land, or farm quicker did not result in farmers having an easier life or more leisure time, rather these machines resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of farmers.  These machines themselves often limit the number of farmers, because people believe that to make a living at farming, they must have the machines, and in order to have the machines they must have an amount of capital that makes farming appear to be a bad investment.  Family farms are all but gone, and there are almost no general farms anymore.  Farmers specialize and seek to gain the most production as possible with one specialty,  often because it doesn't pay to purchase a wide variety of equipment for a wide variety of crops.  So farmers increasingly specialize, leading to extreme risk if a single crop fails.
We have failed in wisdom.  We no longer see how foolish it is to simply seek size, or production, or income, or any one goal.  We seek after larger and larger things, not seeing how these things put us at risk, or harm those around us.  We have created large groups of people who are without purpose, and who feel dispossessed.  Perhaps we need to admit our ignorance, and return to the small.  At least in the small scale, we can recognize that we are not wise.  Instead we have ignorance masquerading as wisdom, and size masquerading as success.

Live a hands on life

Self sufficiency and freedom

How free are we?  I know that as a wage laborer, and more importantly as a laborer whose wages depend on sales, I am constantly worried about income.  The unpredictability of it all means that I do not know if I will have enough money to play bills at the end of the month, or if a good week or two will provide me extra income for expenses and savings. 
As a wage laborer, I must constantly keep in mind my job, so that I do not put it into jeopardy.  To lose wages means that you can lose your house, lose your family, and possibly even lose the ability to provide food for yourself.  Most of my existence as far as an earner is outside of my control.  Sure I have some control over it, a hard worker who always is on time and strives to do the best they can is unlikely to be fired.  But nonetheless, the control is in my employers hands, not my own.  No worker is perfect, and so any employer who looks hard enough is likely to find cause to fire anyone.
So how does this effect my freedom?  Well, it means that my life becomes structured more around the needs of my employer than the needs of myself or my family.  Sure there are employers who will take family into consideration, and even work with you on the hours you work to try to strike a balance between work and family.  But at the end of the day, an employer will choose what is best for the employer, not for the employee. 
The employee may express dissent with the employer, with politicians, or with any number of issues.  But in the back of their mind, there is always a question.  As long as you rely on someone else for wages, how far can you dissent, how much can you put forward for any movement or to address any issue before there are repercussions.  Business people want their public image to be in their own control, and so are reluctant to allow employees to do things that may tarnish that public image in the eyes of some consumers. 
So the Self sufficient person is more free in this regard.  A self sufficient person still has responsibilities, and still relies on others to a certain extent for income.  But this person has more leeway to change the business to fit themselves.  A self sufficient farmer can take time to think on and address political issues, with little expectation that these issues will somehow harm him.  A self sufficient person doesn't so much fear biting the hand that feeds them, for they feed themselves.
Now this is not to say that a person who is self sufficient  is some kind of superhuman.  No, everyone of us depends on others for income, for protection, and for support.  Humans naturally form communities, and we find it extremely strange for someone to not fit in with any community at all.  We as individuals all benefit from the things that other people do.  But benefiting is not the same as being dependent.  There is a difference between wanting the government to help with security, or with roads, and wanting the government to give money to a cause or to give tax breaks because you do something. 
The more that we can provide for our own needs, whether these needs be food, shelter, or even entertainment, the more we can actually engage with the world.  The more we learn to do things for ourselves, the more we are able to appreciate the things that others do.  It takes a skilled woodworker to recognize the skill in a well made piece of furniture.  Becoming more self sufficient does not mean that we withdraw from society, rather it allows us to engage more fully in it, to address problems and to truly appreciate the benefits.
I am working on becoming more self sufficient, and I know that many others are too.  I pray that some day we may find a path which will help people of all incomes become more self sufficient, and also become more engaged with the world at large.

Live a hands on life

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review of "The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse"

There are many advantages to having an earth sheltered greenhouse.  One of the biggest reasons is that having earth as shelter, or having a greenhouse dug into the earth helps to provide thermal heat, helping to heat the greenhouse with no output on your own part. 
This book is entirely about using earth sheltered greenhouses and using these greenhouses in ways that traditional greenhouses can't be used.  The book begins with "grow holes" which are essentially a cold frame that is partially buried.  These can be used as season extenders.  The book then goes into how to build to resist the weight of the earth on the greenhouse, as well as glazing materials and the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of glazing.  The author also goes over various types of insulation and their uses in the greenhouse.
The book also has practical examples of earth sheltered greenhouse actually being used by gardeners and farmers around the country.  These practical examples give a good idea on the kinds of environments that an earth sheltered greenhouse can come into play in.  Knowing that a greenhouse could be used to start seeds, or even to keep plants alive in the coldest weather provides a good incentive toward using the greenhouse yourself.
One of the interesting parts of the book is the use of animals in the greenhouse.  While it is known that higher CO2 levels in a greenhouse can substantially increase the amount of plant growth, animals are often frowned upon in the greenhouse because traditional greenhouse can become too warm and can harm the animals.  However, the low points of an earth sheltered greenhouse can remain relatively cool, even on bright days, and so animals and their accompanying CO2 can be incorporated into the greenhouse.
Another interesting aspect of the earth sheltered greenhouses, is the use of things like earth heating tubes, that use the natural heat of the earth to help heat the greenhouse.  Even a greenhouse with supplemental heating can benefit by being warmed much closer to the final temperature than the temperature outdoors.  Typically Earth around 8 feet down is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and this can be used to heat a greenhouse to around the same temperature.  This is especially useful in cold areas of the country where the outside temperature can be as low as -20 degree Fahrenheit.
Overall the book is an excellent resource for those looking to build a greenhouse.  While it doesn't deal as much with growing plants in a greenhouse, it still gives basic information on plants and pests in the greenhouse and how to deal with these problems.  I think that nearly anyone who is looking to build a greenhouse should at least investigate the advantages of using an earth sheltered greenhouse.
If you are interested in the book, you can find it here.

The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse
By Mike Oehler
230 pages

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Acorn Dumplings

 Acorns are an ancient form of food, and one that shouldn't be wasted.  A single tree can provide nearly all of the flour a person would eat in a year, and can provide a huge amount of calories, in a small container.  If you want to live more frugally, there is little that can be better than gathering some free food from the wild, and don't worry, there will be enough left over for the squirrels and the deer.
I harvest mainly from burr oak for a few reasons.  One is that burr oaks are fairly plentiful where I live, and are easy to identify.  The second reason is that burr oaks are fairly low in tannin, a substance that makes acorns bitter.  And the third reason is that burr oak acorns are big.  I mean very big.  It only takes a dozen or so to make a cup of flour, and so there is a lot less time looking for and cracking acorns for the amount of food that you get out of it.
There are some tricks to harvesting acorns.  The first is to look for tiny holes in the shell.  If there are holes, the acorn probably has acorn worms and will not be good.  You can also put the acorns in water, typically the bad ones, or the ones with worms will float.  These can be crushed and thrown to chickens if you do not feel like wasting them. 
I decided that since I have a significant amount of acorns in the freezer that I collected last fall, I should start to experiment.  Seeing how acorns are similar to chestnuts in the fact that they have low oil, and high starch then the two may be interchangeable in some recipes.
First I leached the acorns.  Leaching removes the tannin that gives acorns  a bitter taste and can cause a stomach upset.  To leach you can run under cold water for hours or days, or you can have two pots of boiling water.  You put the acorns in one pot, until the water begins to turn dark, looking like tea.  Immediately the acorns are transferred to fresh water, the tannin water is dumped, the pot refilled, and heated again.  Continue this until the water stops darkening (or stops darkening enough to care about).  As a side note, this tannin water is quite an effective weed killer, although this may be the hot water and not the tannin that is having the effect.  The tannin does have an intense smell that permeates everything, so if you can this should be a step to do outdoors.  There are other uses for tannin, such as tanning leather, or as an astringent.  I will try to cover ways to use this tannin in future posts. 
After I leached the acorns I stuck them in the freezer because I didn't know what to do with them.  I stumbled upon the next step by doing this.  The bag that the acorns were in was not sealed tight, and began to fill with frost.  After a few months there was no more frost building up, and I believe that the acorns were effectively freeze-dried.  After taking them out, they did not stick to each other, and easily powdered into a pale tan flour.  It still had a little bit of a bitter taste, but mostly tasted like acorns, a somewhat nutty starch flavor, almost like flour that was mixed with ground nuts. 
I found a recipe for chestnut noodles, and decided that this would be the base of my dumplings.  1 cup nut flour, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk are combined into a stiff dough.  A small amount of ground pepper and ground nutmeg were incorporated into the dough as I kneaded it.
Once the dough was elastic I let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour.  When I was ready to cook the dumplings I pulled off small pieces of dough with floured hands and made small football shapes, about the size of the thumb from the first knuckle to the end.  I dropped the dumplings into boiling water until they began to float, took them out with a strainer, let them dry a bit (otherwise they get gummy) and fried them with a little butter.  Overall the dumplings do have a wonderful acorn and nutty flavor with a hint of warming nutmeg.  They make a great side dish with game or other full flavored meat and gravy.  They seem to be a little dense and chewy to eat on their own, but it may simply be how I cooked them. 
Overall I think that my dumplings were a success.

The recipe again is

1 cup ground acorn flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
ground pepper and nutmeg to taste

Combine the ingredients as though making pasta dough.  Once you have a fairly dry dough, knead it thoroughly to incorporate all of the ingredients and to make an elastic ball.  Let the dough rest for about an hour.  Pull off pieces and make small oblongs (footballs).  Drop into boiling water or stock and cook until they rise to the surface.  Drain the dumplings.  Fry them with a little butter.

I think that this is a great way to enjoy acorns and may be the first step in a road to discovering more uses for this ancient and little used food.

One of the best books that I have found for using wild foods is Food for Free by Richard Mabey.   It has wonderful ideas on how to use wild foods and how to find new foods to experiment with. 

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What are we called to be

There is a wonderful word that is rarely heard anymore.  That word is vocation.  Now as a Catholic, I hear this word when it is referring to someone joining the priesthood, or the religious life.  But there is so much more to it than that.  A vocation is a calling, a hint from the universe on how you fit into the grand scheme of things.
I think that in our modern society we have killed the understanding of such a word.  We rarely talk about what people feel called toward.  A vocational counselor at a high school may ask a student what they are interested in, and what they think that they might like to do; and these are important things.  But they miss the point.  We all have a place in the world, and will only be happy when we truly find out where it is.  Sure our inclinations and interests may point us in the direction, but we need to realize that a calling is so much more that doing something that interest you. 
The work of a vocation is the work that truly feeds your soul.  It harmonizes and energizes you.  Does this mean that you will never have a difficult day, or never be tired and worn out; of course not.  However it does mean that you will not feel the dreaded grayness that seems to infect our society.  We live in a world where people are expected to work for money, that is the point.  And money can be important, but it is not the goal.  Too often we lose sight of that fact.  We lose sight of the fact that we are called to multiple paths, and we must synthesize them.  We must bring them together.  I am called to be a Husband, and a Father, and a Worker, and a Teacher.  Somehow I must reconcile all of these in order to create something unique.  No one else on earth has the same calling that I do. 
Your vocation is part of your being.  It is part of who you are.  We still have remnants of this idea, even in our modern times.  Often if you ask someone about themselves that will answer with what their occupation is.  But this is but a shadow of what a vocation is.  An occupation is what is done to satisfy bodily needs, like food and shelter.  A vocation often satisfies those needs but deeper ones as well.  A vocation can help to satisfy spiritual needs, and is as much a part of us as our bodies.  A vocation is the blueprint that helps us to become what we should be. 
How can we instill this in the world around us.  I think the answer typically lies with the youth.  We forget because we are so limited that new ideas often do not flourish because they defeated existing ideas, but rather because the old ideas died with their holders.  The youth is what carries the ideals and ideas of a civilization forward.  We must attempt to change ourselves, try to find our own calling, and live that calling fully, and pass this passion for vocation onto others.  It does not take many to create a huge change.  One of the biggest movements in the history of the West started with 12.  I continue to look for my calling, and I hope that my encouragement may has helped you to look for yours.

"If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!"- St. Catherine of Siena

"The Nation doesn't simply need what we have, it needs what we are"- St. Edith Stein

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Artisan Revolution

Few things give me as much hope for the future as microbreweries.  They truly are an amazing thing when you stop to think about it.  There hundreds upon hundreds of different microbreweries in the U.S. all headed by an artisan.  And this makes up less than 10% of the U.S. beer market.  These artisan brewers have carved their own niche, pushing aside powerful marketing and dominated markets to help promote something that they truly believe in.
Now some people would call a brewer an artist.  I disagree, to me a brewer is much more than an artist, they are an artisan.  Art is a lecture, artisan crafts are a conversation.  Art seeks to create something that is beautiful and causes introspection.  Artisan crafts do the same, but strive to make things that are useful as well as beautiful, that cause introspection as well as joy.  Artist are expected to ignore the market place with their art, Artisans must find a way to express themselves and still make a living. 
It is amazing to see so many different breweries that can express the personalities of the brewers themselves.  Every beer that is tried in a microbrewery will pertain in some way to the brewers vision of beer.  While some may be favorites, and some may be not so favorites, always the brewer is seeking to engage the patrons in conversation, on beer, on flavor, on seasons, and on locality.  All of these things go through a brewers mind when they create beer.  Microbreweries are one of the bright spots in a world that seems to be dominated by large multi-national corporations.  Many Micros are locally owned, especially brewpubs.  These take into account local culture and local conventions, while still pushing forward with wonderful ingredients and an expression of world beer culture. 
It doesn't matter what you call yourself.  If you believe that the world would look brighter if there were more small local businesses, if you believe that it is better to know the people who make things that you use, if you believe that the world should have local cultures, Microbreweries provide a bright spot.  They show that it can be done, and that it can be done successfully.

Live a hands-on Life

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review "The Resilient Gardener"

There are hundreds if not thousands of books on growing your own food.  However, almost all of them lack the vital understanding that as humans, we do not live off vegetables and fruits alone.  While these things are important to us, the complete lack of focus on calorie crops, specifically in books about homesteading is amazing.  We need to have crops that provide energy and vital nutrients first, and must have them in a way that we do not suffer from deficiency diseases as so many farmers around the world still do.

Perhaps the though is that Calorie crops are easy enough to grow that no instruction is needed.  Or perhaps because in the U.S. these crops are cheap enough that even a homesteader would be able to purchase them.  However, with the emphasis on preparedness and resiliency that we see among homesteaders, preppers, or even locavores, it is important to understand the role that main crops play in our diets.

This is where The Resilient Gardener shines.  Its subtitle is Food production and self-reliance in uncertain times.  Whether you think of climate change, erosion, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, peak oil, or any number of other scenarios, these are uncertain times.  Carol Deppe does a masterful job of showing the many ways that we as gardeners can address our growing concerns on food security. 

One of the great things about this book is that it is personal.  Carol has a gluten allergy and so rather than focusing on Wheat as many in the U.S. would, she focuses on Gluten free crops.  These are the three sisters (corn, beans, squash) along with potatoes and eggs.  The three sisters were the base crops of many Native American cultures, and all three can be grown in a poly culture if you want.  Potatoes are tricky because we have all heard tales of how the potato famine ruined Ireland because of over reliance on potatoes as a food crop.  However, it was over reliance on one crop, rather than use of that crop that led to the famine.  Eggs provide fairly cheap protein and vitamins and help to round out the diet of these main crops. 

Carol Deppe does not simply focus on how these crops grow, but she also points out how these crops can be adjusted to suit the climate, and to address changes in the local conditions.  She truly focuses on how gardeners can become more self reliant and less impacted by things like weather, drought, or even natural disasters.  With beautiful stories and dozens of tips and tricks, this is truly a book to be on any homesteader's bookshelf. 

The Resilient Gardener
Carol Deppe
323 pages
Chelsae Green Publishing

You can purchase the book here

Live a Hands On Life