Sunday, December 23, 2012

Settled in for Winter

Seems like we just got the garden beds completed, and now the days are already getting longer again!  Though we're looking forward to the slower pace of winter, I'm not sure how slow it will actually be.  There are plenty of projects to work on and plan for, and we've already put in our order with FEDCO seeds!  Spring will be here before we know it.

Looking down at the garden from the front yard

To recap the past 4 months since I last had time to post...we built a woodshed and filled it with wood, and carved 8 terraced garden beds out of our hillside.  The garden beds were a big job, but one we attacked with relish.  A big part of our reason for homesteading is to grow our own food, so this was an exciting first step.  After digging up the clay-ey plots by hand with shovel and hoe, we then added sand, organic cow manure (our very generous neighbors down the road gave us SEVEN truckbed loads of the stuff!), and a dozen different soil ammendments.  The resulting mixture is dark and light.  And our first crop is already planted - about 70 heads of garlic given to us by friends.  Looking out at the patch of garlic under its blanket of straw gives me the same feeling I had when I was pregnant with Rose...a mixture of pure joy and quiet wonder, plus a little apprehension about whether everything will come out all right (and whether I'll be up to the task).  Hopefully gardening will go as well as mothering has so far.

Our little house has been performing quite well in the cooler weather.  By late September/early October we were back to having a semblance of refridgeration - as the nights got down into the low 40s and upper 30s, the root cellar cooled right down and we could stop buying ice blocks for the cooler.  It also became cool enough to fire up the woodstove on a regular basis, and we're now using it to cook all our meals (except John's boiled eggs before work in the morning, which are much faster on the propane stove).  I've been baking in the oven several times a week, and slowly learning the art of getting the fire to exactly (or almost) the right temperature...and then keeping it there.  Truly mastering the art will probably be easier once Rose is a little older and not so much of a constant distraction.  Luckily I tend to let the fire get too cold rather than too hot, so things just take longer rather than burning.

I've been experimenting with my own whole wheat natural-yeast (sourdough) starter, with the goal of eventually baking all our bread and not buying any from the store.  Although I've made some satisfactory loaves, I'm still searching for the perfect recipe.  Luckily John doesn't mind a dense "hearty" loaf with his eggs in the morning.  Another fermentation experiment I'm dabbling in is kombucha.  We received a "mother" from a friend and our first batch is currently brewing. 

View of the house from the garden
People often ask how things are going with our switch to off-grid living.  We think it's going pretty well...if anything, things are getting easier as time goes by and we become better adapted.  I will admit, I was beginning to feel a little isolated this summer when days would go by at a time when I had little human contact other than little Rose.  Finally we realized that you can obtain a battery-powered radio for about $12...a life-changing discovery!!  Being able to listen to NPR whenever I want has really helped.  So now we just have to figure out how to make non-electric laundry faster and/or more enjoyable, and how to have longer computer time than our current set of tiny solar panels will allow.  A bicycle-powered washing machine is one project we'd like to attempt this winter.  And the computer access is something that will take some time and money to fix...and right now there are a lot of other priorities vying for both of those.  Besides, only being able to be on the computer for about 10 minutes a day does have its advantages...Rose probably gets a lot more books read to her as a result, and more things get done around the house.  But it doesn't make keeping up with a blog very easy!

Other plans for the winter are:  shelving the pantry and root cellar, building an "ice house" in one end of the root cellar, finishing up trim work downstairs, and maybe getting the rest of the shingles and trim on the outside of the house.  Not to mention planning out the layout of fruit trees and grape vines around the outer rim of the garden, and planning/building a chicken coop.  Like I said, the "slow season" isn't really going to be very slow.

Hope everyone is happy and well and enjoying time with friends and family during the holidays.  Best wishes to you and yours in the New Year!

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