January 17, 2012
A soup of ominous gray clouds covered the sky as Sonny and I drove toward home from Ohio. I gazed out of my side window at the landscape dotted with farms, one connecting to the next as far as you can see. It reminded me of Delaware, my birth state, before the developers raped the farmland and covered it in a cheap coat of houses. Except for a few farms that have held out, there is nothing left of the many peach and apple orchards,or the small family run dairy and vegetable farms. In southern Delaware crops have been replaced with production chicken houses. As you can tell, it is a bit of a soar spot for me, so I gaze out of the window at the flatlands of Ohio and reminisce about my childhood.
As we pass miles of farmland set with nineteenth century farmhouses and barns, Sonny and I discuss how they could possibly benefit from the energy of a windmill. Solar and windmill power is not the cure all for our nations energy problems, and not everyone can or wants to live off grid, but I think that solar panels and windmills could certainly take some pressure off the power grid. They could all be used in conjunction with each other.
One would think that in a wide open landscape such as Ohio, and I can only speak for the area we were driving through, that there would be the potential for plenty of wind. Even solar panels could be a good choice in areas where there are few trees. Its a bit more difficult in places where the sun has to rise above a high hill or mountain range. It is doable though as we have seen here at Pot Hole Farm. We just get less hours of sunlight to charge the solar panels.
Unfortunately for many who are interested in solar panels and windmills it is still a costly investment. As the price of electricity rises and the power grid becomes overloaded and feeble with age we may not have many choices left. I think its naive to think that we can continue to add to the power grid we have now and think that it will be able to handle the load. All we need is a summer of sweltering heat and the on switch of air conditioners. We might find ourselves with rolling blackouts and empty pockets. Or worse.
I certainly don’t have all the answers to our power quandaries, but I think solar and wind could be good alternatives. In the future I would like to see businesses with a few solar panels on their roofs. If you think about how much power an office building uses in a day a little sun power couldn’t hurt.
The skies may turn dark and cloudy, but the sun will eventually shine. Good for making electricity and good for the soul.
January 8, 2012
After living off the grid for almost two years now we have figured out that by managing our power we can still use a few luxury appliances.
Last week we went to visit Two Lynne’s Farm and Sandy showed me how to make butter from fresh cream. Sonny and I tried to make some a few months back and it just didn’t turn out. I’m not sure what we did wrong. We followed directions from a youtube video on the internet. This person used a quart jar and shook the cream until the whey was separated from the butter fat. Then there were various steps that required squeezing and rinsing.
Sandy had a much better method. She used her counter top mixer. The combined turning motion of the bowl and the whipping beaters separated the butter fat and whey in just a few minutes. The butter particles splattered against the sides of the bowl. We drained off the whey and then used a butter paddle to shape the butter and squeeze out more whey.
Large and small butter paddles.
This time our butter came out perfectly and tasted delicious. So, today Sonny bought me a Kitchen Maid counter top mixer. It will not only come in handy to make butter, but bread dough and pizza dough as well. It will make these chores a lot easier for me too. Even before we went off the grid I kneaded all dough by hand and whipped up cake batter as well using the old spoon method, but I have been having a lot of problems lately with my hands. Maybe I have worn them out. Any way, I think this mixer will make a big difference.
Kitchen Maid mixer.
On sunny days the power needed to use the mixer won’t make a dent in the energy stored in the batteries. When the weather is not so nice and the days are cloudy, I can wait for a sunny day or use it while the generator is running. Too many grey days in a row and we have to charge the batteries with the generator. Its all about power management.
I enjoy doing things the old fashioned way, but its nice to know that our off grid system can handle the load when I need to step into the present and use modern kitchen appliances.
December 27, 2011
Sonny and I spent Christmas afternoon over at John and Carol’s house. Carol made a non-traditional Christmas dinner which was certainly fine with us. Holiday dinners always seem to consist of turkey or ham and all the usual trimmings. Its fun to have something a little different and Carol outdid herself.
We enjoyed shrimp soaked in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger and brown sugar. It was then wrapped in bacon, returned to the sauce and baked in the oven. The mixture of flavors were so superb that I think my taste buds did a dance across my tongue with every bite. John cooked seasoned steaks on the grill and there was an array of complimentary side dishes placed on the table. A tray of sliced cranberry/orange bread topped off the meal. Delicious!
I know you are all wondering what donkey poo has to do with Christmas dinner and rightly so. In reality these two things shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as far civil conversation goes, but we are farmers here. Our lives are intertwined with weather patterns, garden soil, and livestock. Sometimes you have to take opportunity when it arises.
The weather for the past few days, no weeks, has been mild. Rainy off and on, but mild. Sonny and I have been discussing our garden plans for this spring. We want to extend our existing garden so we can grow a few melons. We have also discussed putting some raised beds near the front of the house for onions and mixed greens. The ground has not been plowed in those areas, but we thought it would be a good idea to spread some donkey manure across them and let it sit over winter.
John’s donkey manure has been sitting a while and is pretty well composted. It looks like nutritious black top soil. We spread manure on the garden last year and it really made a difference in the quality of our soil and vegetables.
Since the weather was forecasted to nasty this week we thought it a good idea to get a truck load and spread it out. This might be our last chance to do it, and it was a good thing we did too. Today we have heavy rain, that will turn into snow by tonight. The farmer’s almanac says we will have a mild winter this year, but either way the covering of manure will sit and slowly absorb into the soil.
So maybe Christmas dinner and donkey manure can be put in the same sentence. Imagine that.
A bucket full.
Loading the truck.
December 24, 2011
SEASONS GREETINGS FROM POT HOLE FARM!
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a New Year that brings you much happiness and health. For all of you out there dreaming of living off grid or just living a more sustainable life we hope that our blog will be of help to you in the coming year. Sonny will be giving more updates on the solar hot water heater installation and you can still refer back to previous blogs on our solar panel installation and other learning experiences we have had with starting a farm. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of humor in our future as well. There always is no matter what we are doing. So enjoy life, keep things simple, love and take care of your family and be prepared for whatever the future might sling our way.
December 22, 2011
Well today with the help of John we started phase 1 of the Solar Hot Water project. A couple of months ago I ordered everything for the project from the Alt-E Store and have just been waiting for the time to get started. We finally have enough firewood to get us through the winter so now it was time to get moving on the other projects.
Lucky for us each of the two hot water panels weighed only about 100 pounds each. We were able to move the Kubota RTV up near the mud room roof and get each panel in the bed, leaned up on the rain gutter. We then climbed on the roof and lifted each up. Next we secured four mounts per panel and used roofing tar to ensure no leaking from the roof.
Soon we will get started on Phase 2. This will be fitting the 3/4 copper pipe from the panels to the holding tank and on the the existing gas hot water heater.
December 20, 2011
Last night I roasted one of the free range chickens we bought last week from Sycamore Creek Farm. I brushed it with olive oil and sprinkled on some lemon pepper, then placed it on a bed of sliced onions and added a little water to the pan. Put it into a 375 oven and baked it until the meat fell away from the bone. I had always heard that free range chickens are tough if not pressure cooked or put into a slow cooker.
This chicken turned out to be anything but tough. The skin came out crisp and browned and the inside was moist, even the white meat. As for taste…lots of fresh flavor.
The nice thing is that we know where this chicken came from and helped support a local farm. This chicken enjoyed a free life roaming the farm snacking on bugs of her choice, and relaxing in a dust bath. She soaked up the warm sunshine on her shoulders and cooled off with a breeze that ruffled her feathers. Her life may have been short but it was a free life unlike the Big-ag chickens who live in an over crowded building and never see daylight.
Years ago Sonny and I never thought of that aspect of our food, but having seen how animals are treated in industrial food processing it is becoming hard to swallow. We can’t always eat only free range farm animals, but we are getting farther and farther from industrial food everyday. We are lucky that we are in the position to this, but also understand that not everyone has that option.
Chicken dinner with sliced tomatoes and squash casserole.
December 16, 2011
I watched a show on TV one time where a person went to visit Martha Stewart’s farm. I sat there in awe as they walked through the horse barn. It was immaculate and the spokes person raved that it smelled of lemons. I would love for my chicken coop to smell of lemons when I open the door in the morning. Unfortunately it smells like chicken poop and if I stand too close to the door as the hens hustle out I just might get a little poop/mud cocktail flung in my direction.
I keep the hen house clean but I doubt that it would pass Martha’s inspection. We live in real life. Farming is dirty and smelly. It is blisters, sweat, and dirt caked under your nails. It is nights of soar muscles, with a glass of water and two tylenol for a nightcap.
Whenever John and Carol go out of town I take care of their donkeys, two goats, dog and abundant barn cats. Their barn doesn’t smell of lemons and it isn’t immaculate. It smells of hay and donkey sweat with a hint of manure. I love how it all feels. The vibrancy and excitement of the animals anticipating their feed, then the quiet and calm as all are fed. Its a soothing balm for the soul, that grinding chewing pastoral chant and occasional snort from the donkeys.
As far as the garden goes, it lies dormant in winters sleep with a covering of donkey manure. Life here has slowed down a bit too, but the animals still need daily care. Maybe next year we will have a few goats or meat rabbits to add to our twenty-one roaming chickens, three cats and dog.
We may not have a Martha Stewart farm set in perfection, but I can tell you that when I step out and look across our little farmstead, my heart grows two sizes. My feet are growing roots right along with the blackberry bushes and grapes. No offense Martha, but you can keep your farmisneyland, we’ll keep reality.