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Monday, September 26, 2011

Mother Earth News Fair #2

Well, here we are at the end of the 2nd Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs.  Steve and I are sitting side by side on dueling laptops looking up websites, posting pictures and so forth.  At this very moment Steve is looking at the archive CD-rom of all Mother Earth News articles published from the very inception of the magazine in 1970 until 2010.  I'm not sure what has him more thrilled, that he finally got the CD-roms he's been wanting... or that the discs were a gift from his new friend Hank Will, editor of GRIT magazine.  Thanks, Hank wherever you are.  You made Steve's whole weekend.

Over dinner, Steve and I were comparing last year's festival to this one.  A number of people we ran into were surprised that we would drive 400+ miles for this event, but for us this was a no-brainer.  Steve had been an avid reader of MEN for at least a decade, and when the magazine first mentioned they were planning a festival we called that very day to book a room.  This was a big deal for us because Steve never likes to leave his garden or animals for more that half a day.

So back to that conversation.... at the time we attended the first festival we were already well on our way to a sustainable lifestyle.  We had been heating our home with wood for 5 years, we had grown vegetables, canned and composted for as many years or more.  We kept chickens and goats and so forth. But after closer examination we began to look at what has changed in our homestead since this weekend last September.  Let's take a look....

In October, Steve began forming the foundation walls for his greenhouse.  He used stones collected from our property along with some reclaimed windows we found on  The wood milled was either reclaimed or from our neighbor Charles Garner that has his own mill down the road from us.  The door had to be custom made to fit the short roof so Steve fashioned one out of some tongue and groove from the barn and he reused old doorknob hardware from a door we took off the house.  He even built the shelves from some cutoff cedar and installed the little potbelly he's been toting around since before I met him.  This little potbelly has been a plant stand for 15 years just waiting for Steve to find the perfect opportunity to put it to use.  The only materials we bought new were the corrugated sheets for the roof, some gravel for the floor and maybe a few screws.  Total material cost:  just under $400.

Next, I learned how to make soap.  I was one of dozens of women crammed in a lecture room to hear Deborah Neiman-Boehle impart her wisdom and experience in soap making.  Later that night I ordered 10 pounds of sodium hydroxide from Essentials Depot and set to making my soap making plans.  My first go at soap yielded a huge boiling, caustic mess all over my glass top stove and one hysterical phone call to Steve begging for help.  My next go was slightly better, and to my credit in the months to come I  finally poured about a dozen more successful batches.   I think I sold a total of two bars, but all of my friends and family have reaped the benefits and now my girls won't use anything else.  My soap making adventures have sparked interest from all that know me and several people have asked me to teach them how to make their own.  Reminder:  need to pour soap next weekend.  

Steve switched exclusively to heirloom variety seeds.  He discovered Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (actually the weekend before the first fair) and was impressed and overwhelmed with the selection and variety of heirloom seeds the group offers.  Steve had a number of conversations with Chris and bought quite a bit of seeds at the fair.  He has subsequently placed several orders for different seeds and has dog-eared the catalog.  After growing exclusively with heirloom seeds since last year, he swears he won't use anything else.  The quality of the produce (on the plant and on our plates) was very clearly superior to any we had experienced before.  Apparently, once you go heirloom you never go back.  Bye, bye GMO.

The rain barrell project.  Steve refused to pay the prices for manufactured rain barrels, so he fashioned his own off the back of the greenhouse.  I think the total cost for rain barrel and gutters were about 100$.  The barrel itself is an industrial grade trash can, brand new and he installed the brass fittings with a drill and some silicone from the plumbing department.  When we had the first rain a few days later he couldn't wait to see how much water he had collected.  It was a few gallons, but the next good rain it was full to the top.  On our project list is to install rain barrels on the house.  This involves a bit of expense because we need to put up new gutters at the same time.  The greenhouse rain barrel provides water to the raised beds in our kitchen garden as well as inside the greenhouse.

And finally, the bees.  Steve had taken a beekeepers course in the spring of 2010, but the class finished sometime in May and it was rather late to order bees and we weren't really prepared for the start-up costs either.  After the fair in 2010, bees were something that we really wanted to add to the farm and Steve continued to read up on the topic.  We purchased a couple of hives in early 2011 and picked up our first package of bees in April of 2011.  It was a new experience for both of us, especially since the beekeepers course involved only lectures and theory, no actual bees.  I stood back about 30 feet or so snapping dozens of pictures... I felt like I was sending my child off to kindergarten, watching Steve with his first bees.  I told the girls that this was a big moment:  there would never be another first time Daddy installed his first bees.  That was a really cool day.

So here we are again with a second fair under our belt and I sit back watching the smoke swirling from Steve's ears, his brain working overtime on the projects he has yet to come.  Will it finally be a guest house?  Making our own shampoo?  Building a pantry or kitchen island out of reclaimed materials?  Or finally installing that solar hot water heater?  That remains to be seen.  Check back in another year and we'll see....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Well here we go...

Steve and I have been thinking about writing some of this down.  You see, we are still relatively new to the  country and many of our exploits have been quite comedic.  Our name for instance....

We moved to rural North Carolina shortly after being displaced from Hurricane Katrina (that's another story).  Our little place was everything we had ever dreamed about...  a little bit of field, a little woods, a little house.  And no neighbors!  A far cry from the 66x113 lot we had in Mandeville.  Our main garden is bigger than that now (yet another story).

Well, anyway... a couple months after moving in someone had gifted us a pet rooster.  Our girls (Claire was 4 and Emma 6) curiously named him "Pecker".  We readily took him in because there was already this old chicken coop on the property with a few nesting boxes inside and a perch for roosting.  A ready made start for our first chickens.

We were told that the 11 acre flea market in Thomasville was a great place to find a few farm animals.  Never in one place had we ever seen such a place that you can find laundry detergent, new shoes, fresh fish and vegetables, dresses for a quincenera, bras fit for Jennifer Lopez, and be able to pick up a nice rabbit or chicken.  Our old neighborhood was too Starbucks-AnnTaylor-BarnesandNoble for that.

After a couple of hours we found a lady in the back that had cages upon cages of animals.  She had puppies, bunnies, ring necked doves and tons of chickens.  We asked how much and I think it was 4, 5 and 6 dollars each.  We picked out a few, she boxed them up and the girls fought over who got to hold the box in the back of the truck.  We picked up some fresh hay, some laying mash and let the chickens go in their new home to get acquainted with Pecker.

A couple months later Steve was chatting with a local fella that had stopped by to pay a visit when the man looked over at our henhouse.  "Steve?"  he asked, questioningly in particularly thick Carolina accent.  "That thar ya got is five roosters."  Did you see that coming?  Well, we didn't... but we did get quite a laugh out of that.  Hence the name.

Our next go at chickens led us to buying some older hens as to not make the same rooster mistake again, however unbeknown to us the girls we bought were of the geriatric variety and about the only thing they were good at was eating and s****ing.  So several months into the chicken adventure and we still had no eggs and a bunch of very frustrated and irritable roosters.  Poor Pecker.