Science in the Bathroom

I woke up to a smell that reminded me of sick cats.  It works better than an alarm to get me out of bed.  Nothing in the floor.  Nothing on the bed.  Nothing in the litter box in the bathroom.

But that smell!

Nothing in the living room or kitchen.  In fact, the farther from the bathroom, the weaker the smell.

I would have found it sooner if my vanity weren’t so cluttered.  What I took to be cat sickness turned out to be an explosion.

I bought the bottle of fish poop fertilizer from a local fish farm.  The plastic bottle was bulging when I picked it up from my Oklahoma Food Coop pickup site, but I didn’t think anything about it until I realized that the poopy mess that coated a dozen things on my vanity came from a split in the side of the bottle.

Don’t judge me for keeping fertilizer in the bathroom.  If you are a farmer and a prepper, chances are you have things in strange places—like the galvanized tubs of rice and beans beneath the baby grand…in the bedroom.

So, did methane from the fish poop cause the explosion?  Has anyone else had experience with exploding fish poop fertilizer?

One more question: What gets you out of bed at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning?

Twenty-First-Century Skills

Evidently it has become a problem that so few people like to cook, about 10% of us according to one survey.  Wait!  What about all those cooking shows on television?  Is that just wishful thinking, like someone saying, “Someday I’d like to write a book.”?

I prepare food every single day.  I have my fast-food options: scrambled eggs, salad, tuna or sardines, apples and peanut butter.  I don’t bother with too many fancy recipes.  A lot of meals are simply a steamer filled with what’s available at the time, including potatoes, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, whatever is in season.  Put it on the table with butter, seasonings, and cheese or beans and you have a meal.

We aren’t vegetarians.  I make a pot of beef soup some weeks.  Other weeks I make a beef and pork meatloaf.  A whole chicken lasts a week—fried leg quarters and wings one evening, chicken breasts and vegetables another.  I boil the carcass, removing any meat left on the bones, and make soup. The dog gets gristle, fat, and anything that’s left except the bones.

In my freezer are locally sourced chickens, whole-hog sausage, ground beef from grass-fed cows, and ground lamb.  I raise chickens for meat and eggs, and what I don’t grow in my garden I pick up at the farmers’ market, from gardening friends, and from Oklahoma Food Coop. That includes my Oklahoma peanut butter, Oklahoma lard, and yogurt from grass-fed cows.

What do I buy at the grocery store?  Sardines and tuna, frozen salmon, almonds, avocados, and coffee.  Oranges in their season.  Jar rims and lids.  Apple cider vinegar, although I have made my own.  Chocolate.  And some cheese, although much of that also comes from Oklahoma producers.

When foods are available, I can, freeze, and dehydrate.  In August, my pantry is filling, but I need a lot more green beans, more jars of tomatoes and tomato sauce, and apples.  If they’re available along the roadside when Dale returns from his art shows in Colorado, I’d like another bushel of peaches.

What I thought of, when I heard the piece on NPR bemoaning the loss of cooking skills, was this: what’s missing are time and education.  If you work all day away from home, how do you make time to preserve food?  Without training, how sure can you be that your home-canned foods are safe?  We need to address these issues.  People need to know how to grow and preserve.  As climate change progresses, this education may be what saves us.

Yes, I’m often worn to a nubbin, as my mother would say, during canning season.  But in the winter, when I serve a meal from my freezer or my pantry, I’m grateful that I know how to feed my family.  And I’m proud that I’m passing this education on. The ability to grow and preserve may be more in need in the coming century than even tech skills.  The only thing more important, if things continue to go downhill, may be the ability to find water and dig a well.

 

Beets

I don’t remember eating beets

when I was a kid.

Maybe they don’t grow well

in the humid heat of Zone 7.

 

Now, it’s one of the staples

of my pantry.  We eat them

pickled,

roasted,

just out of the boiling water and sliced,

as a side dish,

on a salad.

 

Remember the discovery!

I was experimenting with pickled beets

and sliced off the rough edges,

popped them into my mouth.

Yum.

Ate a bunch.

 

Next day, thought I was dying.

No tummy ache,

just the mistake

of looking into the toilet

when I flushed.

 

This year, though,

after a couple of dry years,

a friend asked if I wanted beets.

 

She planted two rows,

and did they grow!

 

Two bushels.

Maybe three.

I’ve canned,

Frozen.

Pickled.

 

Now I’m giving them away.

 

Wait!

What if next year is another dry one?

Maybe another canner full,

a few more jars,

one more day boiling water,

slipping skins,

slicing off the rough edges

and popping them into my mouth.

Okie Farmer’s Lament

July reminds me why Oklahoma was the 46th state admitted to the union, and why, before that, it was offered to the tribes whose homelands had been stolen.  This beautiful center of our beautiful continent is simply a miserable place to be in July and August without a lot of powerful technology.

Did you know the humidity can still reach 90% in a drought, although the drought has been broken by a tenth of an inch here and a tenth of an inch there?  A light rain has fallen as many days as not in the past month. It’s too wet to mow, but the grass has no trouble growing.  Other things aren’t doing so well.

Instead of a long growing season, Oklahoma has two short ones, spring and fall. Most years, tomatoes, okra, and peppers bridge the divide of summer heat.  Sweet potato vines spread out between the rows. This year is different.  I’m losing tomato plants at a frightening pace.  I’m not sure I’ll even plant the sweet potato starts in my kitchen window.

I’m not the only gardener who is struggling.  Friends greet with me, “Are you still getting tomatoes?” instead of “How’s your garden coming along?”

Still, I’m out early to clean out chicken coops, clean and fill water founts, muck out runs and remove what’s left of watermelon and cantaloupe rinds the chickens have cleaned to the nubbin.  I gather what’s still growing, grateful for what I can get, and grateful, too, that the chickens seem to handle the humidity better than I do.

Even in this miserable season, there is okra.   And at the farmers’ market, there are cantaloupes if you get there soon enough. In my thick-walled rock house, there is air conditioning.

My old dog snores on the couch, dreaming of squirrels and cooler weather.

Summer Food and Some Good Advice

Everything changes in the summer.  For starters, I get up early to beat the Oklahoma heat.  I’m a morning writer, but in summer I’ve had to learn to work in writing in short sprints.

Although my usual MO is to keep going until a job is finished, in summer I work in fits and starts. After half an hour, or when I can’t see because my glasses are salted from sweat, I go in to wash my face and get a drink.

I still love my black coffee, but mineral water is my best summer friend.

I don’t plan meals based on what’s thawed or in the pantry but on what is fresh and available. This week it’s yellow squash, the first tomatoes, and new red potatoes.

And cabbage! You may think of soup as a winter meal, but cabbage, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes make a divine soup.  It’s good with lean ground beef, if you have it, or beef broth, but the vegetarian version is mighty fine.

I spend more time in the kitchen in summer, and I sing the praises of a good air conditioner because I am cooking from scratch instead of opening jars and freezer bags.  There are more dishes to clean, but fresh food is so worth the effort.

Canning season has started.  There are roasting beets in the freezer and pickled beets in the pantry.  Corn will be here any day.  My first jars of tomatoes, mandatory for winter soup and spaghetti sauce, are labeled and stored.  I’m making cucumber dills this week.

I planned to process peaches this week, too, but Oklahoma happened.  Last year, a pumpkin plant that sprouted outside one of my chicken runs was already spreading its vines in March.  This year, we had a freeze in late April, the coldest April on record, and peaches are hard to find.  Peaches are a staple in my winter kitchen, and I’m considering what we will use instead when the cold winds blow.

Dale loves peaches canned in a light honey/vanilla syrup.  I love them frozen whole and only partially thawed.  The skins slip right off, and the texture is like sorbet.  Thanks to my friend Linda W. for that lovely trick.

The lack of peaches this year makes me think of the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh’s dream. When your essential foods are plentiful, save the extras.  When they are scarce, you’ll be glad you did.  Man, I wish I’d canned and frozen more peaches than I needed last year!

Take your homesteading advice where you can find it.

Hopefully, apples will be in good supply this fall.  2019 could be an apple winter.

 

 

When You’re Privileged

I got out early one morning this week to feed and water my chickens before the temps hit the 90s. While I was out there, I mucked out one of the pens.  I pulled chickweed, dandelions, and various weedy greens from the potato bed and tossed them to the girls.  Almost two hours later I came in soaking wet and happy.

Chickens and a garden are the best mental health professionals I know.  Only long walks in good weather can come close.

I grabbed a bottle of San Pellegrino and drank about half of it down.  One of my favorite songs from My Brightest Diamond ran through my head.

When you’re privileged, you don’t know you’re privileged.  When you’re not, you know.

I know how lucky I am. I live in the country surrounded by tall trees.  I’ve spent years trying to turn a clay creek bank into a garden.  While I don’t grow nearly enough food to feed my family, I enjoy the fruits of my labor.  When my labors fall short, there are well-stocked grocery stores within a few miles.

Before we get complacent, here are a couple of things to think about:

Almost a quarter of the children in Oklahoma are food insecure.  That’s a function of our politics, but how does one get out the vote when people are struggling to just get by?  How does one change the mindset that hunger is all ones own fault?

We’ve just come off one of the coldest Aprils on record and THE hottest May on record.  Coupled with drought, what will this do to our food supply? What will it do to food prices in a state where too many already have trouble feeding their families?

We all need to appreciate our own good luck.  We also need to think about what we can do to share our luck and our know-how.

From Idea to Fruition

It’s always easier to get an idea than to execute it.

I live on the bank of a deep creek bed.  A couple of dry creeks flank the back yard where I raise a garden and chickens.

Because there are so many trees surrounding the place, sunny spots go for a premium.  A few years ago I put a small greenhouse in one of the sunny spots to replace my cold frame.  I wish I had the cold frame back.  Or the sunny spot.

The green house isn’t big enough to be self-sustaining during the winter cold, so I had an idea. Directly behind the garden and the chicken coops, one of those dry creeks is man deep and two-men wide.  What if I chiseled out straight walls and set them with blocks to the top of the bank?  I’d add a few feet of repurposed windows for height and a clear roof. The two ends would be double paned for insulation and include doors and vents.

When the trees are bare, there is more sunlight.  Because summers are so hot here and spring is so short, wouldn’t winter be a good time to plant potatoes, cabbages, and other cool-season crops in a greenhouse?  Would the depth and the dirt help control the temperature?

This idea resurfaces every so often, like it did today when I was cleaning out a chicken coop and wondering where I was going to put all that dirty, half-composted hay from the run.

You know what I need?  I need someone by whom I can run my ideas, someone who isn’t cleaning chicken coops and weeding garden beds and killing potato bugs.  Maybe that person could say, “Hmm, let’s give that idea a try.”

I’d be glad to help…if I have time.

What I have instead is a son-in-law with his own ideas.  He thinks I should turn that deep, dry creek bed into an aquaculture setup.

Of course, about every ten years we get so much rain that the deep creek backs up into the dry creek beds.  What then?