Adventures of a townie homesteader

April 23, 2014

Our second colony of bees arrived today via the good ol’ U.S. Postal Service. I had to cover an arraignment this morning in Illinois and thus missed the fun when Ron installed the girls in their new hive, but he reports that they seem to be as saucy little wenches like every other Buckfast colony we’ve ever owned. I’m pleased. I like Buckfasts. They have attitude problems, but they tend to be healthy and incredibly productive. I’m willing to endure the occasional sting from an overzealous guard in exchange for good harvests and healthy bees.

Meanwhile, we’re down to eight quail. Three died a couple of weeks ago of mysterious leg issues that I suspect had something to do with sloppy breeding, and I had to cull a fourth today when I came home for lunch. Little snot beat up one of his broodmates last night, so I switched him to a different brooder and mixed up the flock a bit to shuffle the pecking order. This just gave the bully a new crop of victims, and by the time I got home this afternoon, the little turd had bloodied another bird, so I spent part of my lunch hour teaching myself to dress quail.

It wasn’t terribly difficult or messy, and as I told my mom: I’d rather dress out a clean, healthy bird I raised myself than handle factory-farmed poultry from the grocery store, with all the risk of food poisoning that entails.

In related news, I gave the quail tractor a shot of lacquer and plan to spend tomorrow morning clipping some little birds’ flight feathers so they can go live outside. (Just the thought of that makes me deliriously happy. These little guys are cute, but I’m tired of dealing with litter and the itty-bitty waterers that go in the brooders and have to be refilled umpteen times a day.)




Vegan Friday: Earth Day edition

April 22, 2014

My Earth Day efforts happened a few days early this year (see my last post), but before I go to bed, I’ll probably dig out my copy of the original edition of 50 Simple Things that I bought for Earth Day in 1990 and see where I am 24 years later.

In the meantime, I remember “Eat Low on the Food Chain” being the name of one chapter, and since I owe you a Vegan Friday recipe anyway, I’ll just let this killer vegan banana bread recipe stand in for an Earth Day project:

Vegan Banana Bread

3 or 4 overripe bananas
1 c. sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. vinegar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. melted margarine
Handful of pecans


Preheat oven to 350. Mash together all ingredients except margarine and nuts. Add margarine and stir to make a thick batter. Stir in nuts. Pour batter into a greased Pyrex loaf pan and bake for an hour.


Cut into thick slices and serve warm with a pat of margarine.

Happy Earth Day, kids. And if you haven’t done anything nice for the environment today, you can start by taking the environmental footprint quiz. And making a batch of banana bread, of course.


Eco-Saturday: Planting day (and a tomato tip)

April 19, 2014

Today’s Eco-Saturday entry is mostly excited chatter, with one good tip at the end for drought-proofing tomatoes.

First, the excitement: It’s Planting Day!


Mini-bed at the center of the yard. Indian blanket, strawberries, some direct-seeded arugula and an assortment of herbs.

This year, we had another bit of excitement to go with the usual joy of getting the garden into the ground:


We spent the morning picking up a nuc hive from an ol’ boy down at Dexter. I’ll explain about nucs in a future post. Right now, I want to talk about the bees’ move-in day.

When honeybees feel at home in a new hive, they signal that to each other by sticking their butts in the air and doing a little dance.

Before I could finish transferring the frames from the nuc box to the girls’ new hive, they’d started doing the “yay, we’re home!” dance. If Miley Cyrus hadn’t clearly demonstrated why white girls shouldn’t twerk, I might have been tempted to join them, because with their arrival, I finally felt completely at home in my house, too.

More excitement: We left the lid off during a rainstorm to give it a good soaking, so the compost bin has finally heated up. I think it’s a little nitrogen-heavy — it smelled like ammonia when I opened it today — but that should change as the quail litter, which is mostly carbon, starts to break down.

The next couple of pictures are herbs I planted near the pond.


Gratuitous mermaid shot, with lemon balm planted at left. Not shown, because they were busy hiding: Eight little goldfish.


Chocolate mint (left) and lavender (right).

They don’t look like much yet, but here are a couple of our tomato plants:


When the soil hits 80 degrees, they’ll grow like kudzu.

If you want your tomatoes to be virtually drought-proof, here is the secret:


Dig until you hit hardpan, then keep digging until you’ve gone all the way through it. Fill up the hole with compost and plant your tomato seedling in it. This allows the roots of the plant to go deep enough to reach moisture, even during a drought.

You can grow decent tomatoes without this step, but if you’ve got time to do it, you’ll love the results. I had the best-looking plants and biggest tomato crops of my life when I used this method in Belleville, and my dad, who taught me this trick, used it to grow 24-foot vines with spectacular yields the year I was born. I think I’ve got a picture of that garden around here somewhere. If I can find it, I’ll post it. It’s glorious.

Hope your Saturday was as awesome as mine.


P.S.: I know I still owe you Vegan Friday. I got sidetracked last night and didn’t get it posted, but it’ll be worth the wait, I promise.


P.P.S.: Edited to correct a detail about the bees’ weird little dance.

Folk Thursday: Tom Jones and Dolly Parton

April 17, 2014

Yes, I just posted Tom Jones on Folk Thursday. I was actually looking for something else, but this was too good to pass up.


Eco-Saturday: Solar landscaping lights

April 12, 2014

This is more of a product endorsement than a how-to, but I was so pleased with the outcome of today’s landscaping efforts that I had to share.

We’re a week out from Planting Day, which longtime readers of this blog know is my favorite day of the entire year. I spent most of today getting the backyard ready for next week’s gardening extravaganza — tilling the garden area (Ron rented this little Stihl tiller, which was very lightweight and easy to use, even for a first-timer), buying a quarter-ton of flagstone and turning it into stepping stones, fixing a small problem I discovered with the fence I installed a couple of weeks ago, shopping for odds and ends, and installing solar landscaping lights to mark the stepping-stone paths I’d just put in.

I’m sure the batteries compromise some of their environmental integrity, but I’ve been a fan of solar accent lights for years. I bought my first one when we lived in Belleville. It cost $30 and produced a weak amber light that ran down a couple of hours after sunset. I wasn’t impressed, but I liked the fact that it didn’t require any wiring, and I figured the technology would improve over time.

Nearly 15 years later, you can buy bright white solar accent lights for $2 apiece. I picked up 10 of them tonight and spent longer removing the bar-code stickers than I spent installing the lights themselves. They don’t use any electricity from the power company, and I didn’t have to wire anything. More importantly, when I buy solar-powered products, I’m showing their manufacturers there’s a market for alternative energy, which hopefully will drive more and better technology in the future.

Here are a few grainy shots of the new lights in action. I love that star pattern the diffusers make:

solar1 solar2 solar3 solar4

You aren’t going to end global warming with a handful of accent lighting, but you’ll save a little energy and make the garden a little prettier — and the more you enjoy your garden, the more time you’re likely to spend working in it, growing your own vegetables and herbs and reducing your reliance on factory-farmed produce. There’s no question that’s good for the environment.


Vegan Friday: Stir-fry

April 11, 2014

I was running low on rice, so this batch is mostly veggies. C’est la vie.

I practically lived on cheap stir-fry my senior year of college. It’s not the highest-protein dinner around, but if you’re worried about that, you can add a handful of Soy Curls soaked in bouillon and Asian five-spice seasoning or a block of extra-firm tofu (pressed for optimal texture) along with the vegetables or just serve it over whole-wheat couscous laced with a bit of TVP.

Cheap Vegan Stir-Fry

1 bag frozen Asian-style vegetables
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
Orange juice
Soy sauce
Ground ginger
Celery salt
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Ground red pepper
Sriracha sauce


Store-brand vegetables are fine for stir-fry.

The starting point for stir-fry is a bag of frozen Asian-style vegetables. Saute them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until they’re heated through.


If you look closely, you can see a drop of sriracha in midair, falling into the pan. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

Here’s the part where it gets as precise and scientific as usual: Stir in all the other ingredients to taste. Left to my own devices, I usually start with a quarter-cup of orange juice, a few good shakes of soy sauce, celery salt and red pepper, and maybe a teaspoon or so each of ginger, garlic and onion powder. Then I douse the whole mess with approximately two metric crap-tons of sriracha, because sriracha is a beautiful thing.


You can never have too much sriracha.

Cook another minute or two and serve over the starch of your choice — rice, couscous, ramen noodles, etc. All I had on hand the other night was a handful of brown Minute Rice, but if you’ve got whole-wheat couscous, it cooks even faster and tastes pretty great.


On-Time Folk Thursday: The Weavers

April 10, 2014

Does it get more folk revival than the Weavers singing “Goodnight, Irene”?



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 592 other followers