Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday Project: Seed Starting

With a little help from my son, I got my first seeds started today. I also got to test out my new soil block makers. I think my recipe needs a little tweaking, especially for the small 3/4" blocks. Some of them didn't hold together very well. I'll go ahead and try them out, hoping that the roots give them a little more structural support.

My soil block recipe was 3 parts peat moss, 3 parts garden soil, 2 parts sand, 2 parts worm castings, 1/2 part wood ash, and 2 parts water. (I was going to use less worm castings, as my worm bin is small and my supply limited. I was planning to use compost in it's place. But my compost pile is frozen solid. So I splurged on the first batch. It'll be interesting to see if I can tell a difference.

I also bought a small seed-starting "greenhouse". It's more like a bookshelf with a plastic cover than a greenhouse, but it has enough capacity for the indoor seed starts I want for this year. It will also allow me to cross one project off my overloaded project list for this year, which was building a 6x12 greenhouse on the south side of our (eventual) pole barn. I've got the plan in my head, and it'll be fairly straightforward to build, but I've learned that with my not-yet-four twins around, no project is ever simple. And I may find that the rack I bought is really all I need. We'll see how it goes.

So broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Chinese cabbage seeds are in. I'll probably add some herbs to the list tomorrow. Another gardening season is underway. Woohoo!

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Saturday Project: The Birthing Suite

...or as I like to call it, the you've-got-to-be-kidding pen.

This well-appointed corner of our garage will serve as the kidding pen for our goat mommas-to-be. Betsy will be moving in first, as soon as (if ever) the flooding subsides between her current home and this one.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Geeks like me

I was happy to find a group called The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association last year. They were the group that organized a couple of the farm tours we went on last year.

But I was downright ecstatic when I got the flyer for their annual conference this year. Why? Because it's like somebody went out and custom designed a conference just for me.

Think of all the goofy topics I ramble on about for four thousand words at a time. Then imagine all the goofier topics I read library books on but never get around to writing about.

With that in your mind, read this list of workshops at the conference:
  • Farmers' Markets
  • Tree Grafting
  • Strawbale Design
  • The Oiling of America
  • Mead: Making the Drink of the Gods
  • Organic Grain Production
  • Building a Solar Oven
  • Dairy Nutrition and Holistic Medicine
  • Low-input Sustainable Apple Orcharding
  • Season Extension for Home Gardeners
  • Experiences with Compost in Organic Vegetables
  • Organic No-Till Row Crops
  • So Easy to Preserve
  • Forage and Pasture Species and Their Uses in Organic & Sustainable Farming
  • Wind and Solar Power
  • Net Metering with Energy Co-ops
  • Design Your Nourising Traditions Farm
  • A Campaign for Raw Milk
  • Maximizing Pasture
  • Pastured Poultry
  • Agriculture in Nature's Image
  • and a bunch of others...
Throw in local, organic meals, Waldorf pre-school sponsored child care, permaculture expert Mark Shepard, Nourishing Traditions author Sally Fallon, and a copy of the Good Earth Guide to Organic & Ecological Farms & Gardens in Ohio, which is a directory of all member farms, cross-referenced by county, by family name, by farm name, by products... and, well... they had me at, "Hello."

So next weekend we're going to go geek out on sustainability and natural agriculture. At least now we know we're not the only crazy people around here...

Update: As though I wasn't unnaturally enthusiastic about this already, I just discovered that my all-time favorite agricuture writer (maybe even my all-time favorite author), Contrary Farmer Gene Logsdon will be speaking at the conference! I'm telling you, they've been reading my thoughts.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Frost, fog, and a little alliteration

What happens when you get an ice storm, and then snow, and then rain, and then freezing temperatures overnight?

You get a big mess, a lot of funky fog, and some incredibly fuzzy frost.

A few more winter photos...

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Come rain or come shine...

With Lori still under the weather (and what weather it's been!), my duties have been expanded. I hope she'll forgive me for saying something nice about her, but my wife does a lot. We wouldn't be nearly as far along with our plans and dreams if it hadn't been for so much effort on her part.

While I've been sitting around all winter getting out of shape, Lori's been out there every day, working out feed rations, taking a hammer to the water buckets, giving de-worming shots, and creating well-worn paths from one paddock to another. Not to mention laundry, meals, groceries, child care, cleaning and a hundred other things that keep this place from falling apart.

My feeble attempts to take up the slack have left us with a kitchen sink that looks like the start of a landfill, a pile of laundry towering majestically like the French Alps, and a house that could receive funding as a Federal disaster area.

I'm exhausted.

But everybody is alive and fed. That's about all I can say for sure.

With the wacky weather, Amelia's been in school only one day so far in each of the past three weeks. After a few days of watching movies and making forts in the living room, and wearing our jammies all day, the kids are bouncing off the walls.

Until Lori's back from the dead, I've taken over all quadruped responsibilities, which includes thrice-a-day trudging through ice, snow, rain, wind, sleet, mud... fog... even "freezing fog." I think I've seen every type of weather in existance. Well, other than sunshine, of course. And let me tell you, a hundred yards gets much longer when you're hauling feed and water over alternating layers of snow and ice.

Strange things happen when the cold weather really hits hard. The animals' five gallon water buckets are so frozen, that only a grapefruit-sized sphere of liquid water remains, encased in inches of ice. The moisture on my scarf actually froze to the metal gate two different mornings, as I leaned down to chain it shut.

Now, as temperatures head toward normal (whatever that means any more), all the ice and snow are decomposing into a slushy, slippery, mucky mess.

But please don't take all this as complaining. We went into this with our eyes open. The point I'm going for here is that I have a wonderful spouse. She just does all this stuff day after day, week after week, and keeps on going.

So here's to all those spouses out there who keep everything running, and doing everything that needs to be done, however tough it gets. And get well soon, dear!

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ice Storm

We are living in the middle of a surreal landscape. An ice storm has added a half-inch thick coating of ice over everything - including some of our windows. And with temperatures dropping well below freezing, it looks like we'll be living in it for a while. All the icicles have a westward slant, since the wind was coming in pretty strong from the east during the storm. It's a giant pain in many ways, but every once in a while, when the sun is out, you can catch a glimpse of a hundred little shimmering prisms in the brush.

Some photos...

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Monday, February 12, 2007


A few quotes that made me think...


If you don't change your direction, you're likely to end up where you're headed.

Chinese proverb


“Gross National Product measures neither the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, nor the strength of our marriages. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our wit nor our courage, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living. It can tell us everything about our country, except those things that make us proud to be a part of it.”

Robert F. Kennedy


" is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Hermann Goering


"...the uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness"

Vandana Shiva


"It is well that thou givest bread to the hungry, better were it that none hungered and that thou haddest none to give."

- St. Augustine


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Living with Amelia

With the cold and snow (cold and snow that would make our northern acquaintances smirk), the local schools were closed most of the week. That meant that our daughter could not attend her special needs preschool classes.

Although we're very interested in homeschooling, this preschool program has been fabulous for Amelia. She gets expert attention and lots of stimulation. One of the biggest advances for her has been with picture communication. We have a three-ring binder with dividers in it. The dividers have strips of Velcro. Attached to the Velcro are laminated photos of various things Amelia might want to ask for. We mostly use it for food and drinks. It's much better than the trial-and-error method we were stuck with before, and it's much better than the vague hand gestures she uses when the pictures aren't available. Is she pushing the milk away because she doesn't want it, or is she pushing the milk toward the counter so I'll fill up her cup?

She's learned to use crayons, and play the drum, and clap, and walk up and down stairs properly. She's also learned to eat her snacks without scattering them all over the place. This last one is a big deal.

You see, one of Amelia's big motivators is sensory stimulation - especially tactile stimulation. Her favorite activities in the world at this point are: pouring liquids onto her hands, pouring sand onto her hands, pouring small loose things, like Cheerios or dried beans, onto her hands... you get the idea. So now at least, she has learned to grab that handful of goldfish crackers and pour it over her hands while keeping them inside a container. We still end up with a lot of crumbs, but nothing like before.

But here's the problem. With Amelia out of school, that means she's home all day. She doesn't really have much interest in interactive play. Her main goal in life is to find that tactile stimulation. As hard as we try, we can't figure out how to give it to her in a way that doesn't make a mess.

Here's a typical morning for Amelia:
6:30am - Wake up. Climb on top of dresser. Open top drawer. Empty contents.
6:45am - Open closet door. Empty contents.
6:52am - Bang door to wake up the rest of the household
7:02am - Stand in front of heat stove fan.
7:10am - Request snack. Eat a few bites.
7:15am - Request different snack. Eat a few bites.
7:22am - Request drink. Take a sip. Throw sippy cup on floor.
7:31am - Request different snack. Eat a few bites.
7:42am - Push kitchen chair to counter. Climb on counter. Open drawers and empty contents.
7:44am - Sit in open drawer.
7:45am - Complain about unreasonable house rules.
8:01am - Request different drink. Shake sippy cup to get droplets to fall on hands.
8:08am - Empty contents of craft cupboard. Dump crayons onto hands. Scatter crayons across kitchen.
8:17am - Get random plastic utensil out of kitchen drawer. Hold it against glass on the front of the heat stove until it melts, leaving a wicked mark on the glass and filling the house with toxic fumes.
8:32am - Open pantry. Take out cans and stack them. Knock cans down.
8:41am - Empty contents of craft cupboard again.
8:44am - Open hopper lid on heat stove. Throw pellets or corn across room.
8:46am - Complain about unreasonable house rules.
9:02am - Request different snack. Eat a few bites.
9:07am - Open hopper lid on heat stove again. Throw pellets or corn across room.
9:12am - Push chair to counter. Climb on counter and empty kitchen drawers again.
9:15am - Open door to garage. Complain that door is chained.
9:18am - Open door to garage. Complain that door is still chained.
9:24am - Request different drink. Spill droplets on table and smear them around
9:30am - Watch placidly as Mommy's head explodes.

Repeat until noon, when the school bus comes. (And no, this is not an exaggeration...)

If she's not in school, you can change this to "Repeat until bedtime." So besides the obvious benefits of her work with expert therapists, you can see why we really, really, REALLY hate it when school is closed. Amelia has this cat-like quality where she assumes that "NO!" means "not while I'm looking." She's also tall enough and strong enough to defeat almost every form of childproofing known to man.

We know that she is basically just bored. But there is very little that we as parents have found that will keep Amelia engaged, entertained, or occupied that doesn't involve making a huge mess. Huge messes are fine every once in a while, but not on a continuous basis. In the summertime, at least we can let her go outside, we can play with her in the kiddie pool or the sandbox, we can take her to the park... but when it's cold and snowy, there's only so much we can find to keep her out of trouble.

So, if you have any ideas or suggestions for keeping this little tornado occupied, I'd love to hear them...


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Afraid of the dark

I promise that potty training won't be a recurring topic here, but I have to share something funny. Our son is coming along very well (at last!) with toilet training, but he has one little problem. There's an octagonal window in our main bathroom. At night, it apparently looks big and dark and ominous to him. He's not especially afraid of the dark, but for some reason, that window bothers him at night.

The solution? "Daddy, can you turn out the bathroom light, because I'm afraid of the dark."

Worked like a charm. I guess it's all relative...


Friday, February 02, 2007


Winter should be a restful time. Read books. Keep warm by the fire. Spend time with family. Think ahead and make plans.

I am going through those motions, but for some reason, I have this anxious feeling. Short temper, frustration, tension, a feeling of being overwhelmed or burned out. And I don't know why. It's been with me for several days now, and it's a bit exhausting. I've been active, but not particularly busy. I don't find myself fixated on anything particular problem. I can't even find a focus for what the feelings are about. In fact, I can't focus on much of anything. You know that feeling you get, after something negative happens, like a break up, the loss of a pet, or doing something you regret? You can't concentrate because your mind keeps wandering back to That Bad Thing that happened. It's kind of similar to that, only there is no Bad Thing. My thougths just wander off to some ambigous sense of anxiety, or bounce around like a pinball. And it's starting to piss me off! I'm ready to move on now.

Oh sure, I can find specific things to feel stressed about, but no more than usual. Probably less than usual. My kids have been a little extra cranky, but which is cause and which is effect? Maybe my poor diet lately is messing me up. (I'm also getting mixed signals from my digestive system - hunger pangs and indigestion seem like they shouldn't go together.) Or maybe I'm just in a SAD phase. I don't know.

I'm not looking for answers or advice here. I'm just doing a little brain dump. Sometimes that just helps, ya know?