Project Self Sufficiency Day 1 – Reboot

2014 Garden all finished

2014 Garden all finished

I told my Facebook Followers that beginning today, I was going to document a year of our newest effort at moving towards self sufficiency. To be fair, it’s kind of a reboot. We’ve been farming and gardening since 2009, and have had our share of successes and failures. Over the last couple months, though, as I’ve reflected on all we’ve accomplished, I have redesigned the whole process in ways that I think will be simpler for us and for others who want to venture down this road. Please send us your thoughts and questions and join in the fun. We’ll try and add as many photos as possible, and over time, we’ll add some videos, as well. OK, let’s get going.

December 1 – Project Self Sufficiency began today. It was a slow start, but at least we got out of the starting gate.

The first thing I did was assess the 2014 garden spot to determine what we can reuse and what we will scrap. I walked the garden to look over the state of it since I shut it down the second week of October (except for the greenhouse). It’s in some disarray from neglect, as the attached photo show, but nothing that can’t be taken care of easily before January.

Got manure and mulch in the Wicking Beds

Got manure and mulch in the Wicking Beds

I’ve mulched the wicking beds with straw and rabbit manure. I will turn it under and let it sit until late February, when I will add some peat and perlite to keep it light and loose. All the beds already have some worms. They will work to break down the manure and straw.

All of the buckets will come into the greenhouse to be freshened and will be planted with sugar snap peas in January. They will be taken out in early March when they are ready to be trellised.

The containers will be refurbished in the greenhouse on nice days, so they can be planted in March and April.

Hydroponics experiment was a success

Hydroponics experiment was a success

The Hydroponics experiment has been very successful. You can see that there are still things growing, but I will shut it down in the next week or two so I can reorganize the greenhouse with several of these systems. We’ve already harvested quite a bit of Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Baby Bok Choi, and Kale from it. I expect to get two more harvests before I shut it down.

The Little Turkeys That Could

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Meet ‘Mr. Crooked’. He is one of two special needs turkeys on our farm. He was born with a deformed beak. The upper and lower portions of the beak are off set which makes it difficult for him to pick up feed or bugs or pluck off blades of grass. As a result, he is 30% smaller than all the other turkeys.

Our other misfit is ‘Janky’. Jank’s knee is deformed and he walks with a severe limp. He’s always been that way. As he has grown, his leg has increasing difficulty supporting his body. Foraging is very hard for him now and his growth rate has recently slowed.

On the whole, turkeys are a pain in the tootie. As they grow, they get into everything, including our neighbors’ gardens. They pick on the chickens and ducks and they gorge themselves on everyone else’s food.  They are, without doubt, the stupidest creatures under heaven. Their only redeeming feature is they taste great with cranberry sauce.

Farming teaches me a lot about life. Sometimes it discourages me, but often I marvel at how resilient and resourceful some of God’s creatures are. I am frequently inspired by them to be a better man.

Many animals born with physical deformities simply die. They just quit. Others, like Crooked and Janky, are made of sterner stuff and find a way to overcome. These two birds have more than impressed me with their fortitude.

Despite his challenges, Mr. Crooked roams the fields with the rest of the birds, working to gather what food he can. It’s difficult, but he never gives up. He has learned to tear off plants since he can’t pluck them like the rest of the flock. He often can’t even pick up the feed pellets we put out because his beak is so offset that he can’t grip them. He will drop ten or fifteen pellets to every one he gets, but he dives in nonetheless.

I have learned that if the pellets are in a pile, he can get more because they are easier to access, so I do my best to accommodate him.  He will follow me out to the rabbit pasture while the other turkeys and chickens are occupied with the feed I’ve scattered in a field for them.  While I’m feeding the rabbits, I will pour little piles of food for Crooked so that he can get extra nutrition. He leaves a lot of it behind because once it spreads out he can’t pick it up, but I don’t mind. Since it’s just good rabbit feed, the wild bunnies will come along and gobble it up.

Janky can’t keep up with the other birds anymore when they go out to forage.  For a while he was rather discouraged and would lay down in front of the barn and sulk. Then one day he stopped pouting and realized he didn’t have to keep up, he could just go at his own pace. He moves slowly and methodically, but he’s out foraging again. It is very impressive. Sometimes I sneak him a little extra when no one is looking.

I hate wasting feed and I would never give extra food to a lazy animal, but Crooked and Janks are the very antithesis of lazy. They work hard to overcome their challenges, so I happily assist them. I never begrudge Mr. Crooked his extra cups of expensive rabbit feed, because he has demonstrated his willingness to do his part in his own upkeep.

Similarly, Janky has earned his secret feedings by his determination to succeed.

I wish more PEOPLE would live like Crooked and Janky.  I am inspired by men and women, who, despite physical or mental challenges, refuse to give up or sink into a victim mentality, but get up and fight to fend for themselves.  I NEVER resent those individuals getting assistance or help along the way.

Sometimes, one of the other turkeys will spot me feeding Mr. Crooked and will come running to grab some of it. I will always shoo the greedy bird away. There is food everywhere for him. He doesn’t need the hand out, too.

I’m guessing the analogy is clear, just in case it isn’t; while I NEVER resent a helping hand or a safety net for those who need it, I get very perturbed at greedy takers and lazy ‘vicitms’ who want a piece of a pie they don’t deserve. If you can work, work. If you can hunt, hunt. If you can forage, forage. There is plenty for everyone.

Finally, to every man, woman and child, who refuses to be a victim; who gets up every day and joins the fray; you have earned my respect and gratitude. I honor you and you inspire me. I will work harder today because of you.

Now, it’s time to go feed the turkeys.

How About A Nice Helping Of Agent Orange With Those Corn Flakes, Dear?

cerealAs regular readers already know, my awesome wife, Brittan, has a very nice home based business making soaps, candles and a variety of bath and body products from natural milks, oils and butters.  If you’re new, check her out at YELLOW BARN SOAP STUDIO on Facebook or on her website, www.yellowbarnsoap.com .

This past weekend we had a booth at the Jasper Marble Festival in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. On Saturday evening, just before 6, when we were closing for the evening, a very pleasant man, wearing a jacket and cap covered in military patches came in to buy some goat’s milk soap for his wife who is fighting cancer. She’s found that her treatments have made her skin and sense of smell very sensitive and the only soap that doesn’t irritate her body is unscented goat’s milk soap. We happened to have some in stock and he bought several bars, but that’s a story for elsewhere.

I noticed from his patches that he had served in multiple wars and military campaigns from Vietnam to Desert Storm.  I thanked him for his service and we chatted for a few minutes while my wife got his order ready. As he reached for his wallet, I could see his arms shaking in that all too telltale Parkinson’s way. I asked him directly if his Parkinson’s disease was connected to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Well, didn’t that open the floodgates on the challenges he had trying to get the VA (and others) to acknowledge the connection?  Eventually, though, they relented and admitted it.

My heart melted at his story and my blood boiled at the struggle our Vietnam Veterans have suffered because of Agent Orange related Parkinson’s.  This gentleman is the fourth person I’ve met in the last two years who is a sufferer.  The awareness of this plague needs to be shouted from rooftops everywhere, first to ensure these veterans get the medical care and attention they deserve. The second is to make the rest of us aware of potential risks WE may be facing because of the same chemicals that infected our brave young men back in the 60s.

Some of the same chemicals in Agent Orange are found in Monsanto’s Round Up. That’s not a big secret. Just Google it.  How many of us have been spraying the around our houses, gardens and on our farm crops? How many of us are eating fruits and vegetable that have been sprayed with it or eaten meat from animals that have grazed on pastures and harvested corn fields that were sprayed with it?

The chemical companies and the Government (all parties, folks, this is not a Democrat or Republican thing) tell us it’s safe, but then then said the same thing to our troops in Vietnam, didn’t they? It took decades for the truth to surface, and by then it was too late.

These same companies and agencies are assuring us that GMO products are also perfectly safe and we happily fill our shopping carts and bellies with them without giving it a single thought. Now I’m BEGGING you, give it a thought. What are we doing to ourselves and to future generations? For Heaven’s sake, please start paying attention.

I urge you to go to YouTube and watch some of the stuff from Robyn O’brien. She is one of my heroes. While I disagree with her about mandatory labeling (read my reasons here), her research into the dangers of GMOs and pesticides is top drawer.  She will make your brain explode.

While you’re at it, go to facebook and like pages from Food Babe, Deliciously Organic, and 100 Days of Real Food.

Vani ‘Food Babe’ Hari is very much ‘in your face’, so make sure you’ve got your thick skin on, otherwise you’ll get your feelings hurt. But she has great info and knows her stuff.

Carrie Vitt at Deliciously Organic, and Lisa Leake over at 100 days of real food, have some great stories of how changing the way we think about food can impact our families and our health. They are real wives and moms who deal with real life and real families every day. Sure, they’re celebrities now, but weren’t when they began their journeys.  Listen to them. Try their recipes. You and those you love deserve to know what’s happening to your health because of what you eat.

For the record, I fully acknowledge I’m not perfect at avoiding GMOs and highly processed foods, but I AM working on it. Brittan and I grow as much of our own food as possible, and try to buy organic when we can. We also live on a tight budget and know how hard that can be. We’re all in this struggle together. What we CAN’T do is continue to pretend that we’re not being slowly poisoned in the name of ‘cheap’ or ‘convenient’.   Like those Vietnam Veterans whose bodies now betray them years after the war, it will be too late once our bodies, and the bodies of those we love, succumb to the corners we cut today.

We love to hear from you. Please send your thoughts and comments via the comment page or via email samburtononline@gmail.com. Tell us your story and what you’re doing to change your family tree via your nutritional changes.  Send us your questions. Join the discussion. I keep reminding you, we’re in this thing together.

 

 

Herbs: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Cooking With Herbs

Cooking With Herbs

I harvested some cinnamon basil this morning for us to use in a nice twist on Caprese Salad with some grilled, grass fed chopped steak tonight.  I know, you’re jealous. I can’t blame you for that. Anyway, I got to thinking about how much we love growing and cooking with herbs. My particular favorites are (in no particular order), Sweet and Cinnamon Basil, Garden and Lemon Thyme, Lavender, Oregano, Rosemary, Tarragon, Sage, Chives, Lemon Balm, Mint, and above all, Cilantro.

I plan on adding a few more next year, particularly cumin, caraway and anise. I will give dill another try, too. For some reason, I’ve just not been lucky growing it. I just think it would be fun to grow our own dill. You know, pickles, and all that. We sure grow enough cucumbers.

Brittan and I both love cooking with herbs, and they are nice to add with wood chips for smoking meats and fish.  Wow, it’s making me hungry just thinking about it.

In the summer and fall, we like to use fresh. I just love the aroma and flavor of fresh herbs in food. But we will also dry plenty for winter dining.

Besides cooking, herbs are awesome in many homeopathic medicines and teas. They make excellent additions to potpourri bowls and sachets, and they are great for helping keep Fido’s bed flea free and smelling, um, well, lets say…less doggy.

Out in the garden, herbs provide beautiful, aromatic color to any space they occupy and many of them are fantastic insect repellents to help keep bad bugs away from other vegetables or away from the house.

Yes, I love herbs and I’m betting you do to. So, let’s talk about it. Do you grow herbs? Do you cook with them? What are your favorites? Where do you get them?  How do you use them? Are there some you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t?  Drop in a comment and let me know all about you and herbs?  I promise to keep it just between us….or not!

How the Simple And Sustainable View Real Estate Differently And Why You Should,Too – Part 2

Simple living houseIn Part 1, we looked the history of American personal real estate investing. We discovered we had made a mistake thinking that investing in home ownership was the best thing we could ever put our money into. It turns out that houses are just as subject to economic and market pressures as stocks and mutual funds are. So let’s spend just a few minutes discovering a new way to think about home ownership and money.

The Simple, Sustainable crowd want to limit risk and maximize life.  We learned that big, oversized suburban homes, don’t actually improve our lifestyles, they only make them APPEAR to be improved. In reality, those houses have to be filled with stuff. Stuff costs money and generally depreciates in value rather quickly. Financing the typical suburban lifestyle frequently requires multiple incomes, which increases the number of vehicles a household needs. Those vehicles must be purchased, fueled, insured and maintained. The stress of the big circle of the big suburban lifestyle is killing us.

Living Simple, Sustainable lives, means instead of buying as much as we can afford, we look for the minimally viable living space.  It means prioritizing the land over the structures. It means smaller mortgages, spread over shorter periods of time. We think in terms of 15 year mortgages, maximum, and getting them paid off early.

A smaller house is less expensive to buy, to heat and cool, to maintain and to furnish, which reduces our expense requirements even more.  Fewer operating costs allows for faster wealth building or faster mortgage reduction. I bet you can feel your blood pressure dropping just thinking about it.

Besides the financial savings, reduced energy costs benefit the environment by reducing nonrenewable portions of our footprint.

Most Simple, Sustainable lifestyles include growing some, or all of our own food. I’m not just describing the back to the country, homesteaders, like my wife and me. More urban and suburban dwellers are gardening (much of it organic) than at any time since the end of WWII.  Whether the motivation is environmental, financial or nutritional, it’s a win for everyone except big corporations.

Let’s summarize: The Simple, Sustainable, Lifestyle, has less debt, on shorter terms, smaller operating costs, better nutrition, and less stress. We have taken back ownership of our time, our lives and our finances. We are investing in our families and in ourselves, rather than handing our hard earned cash to big banks, insurance, utility and oil companies. We are keeping it and using it for things we value rather than handing over to someone else.

I remember once, a friend parking his big, new, heavily financed truck next to my little runabout commuter car. As we got out and started walking to the office, he said, “Geez, Sam, what is that thing you’re driving?”

“Paid for”, I grinned. Years later, I’m still grinning.

There is a revolution happening all over America. Some haven’t caught on yet, but the movement is growing. Americans are beginning to think differently about real estate and home ownership. Rather than throwing money after the appearance of wealth, we are looking at ways to build REAL, tangible, cash in hand wealth. We have minimized risk, have more liquid assets and own our houses outright. We have less stress and sleep great at night. We’re not afraid of the next economic bubble. We have created a kind of immunity.  We love our simple, sustainable lives. And we’d love to have you join us.

I sure would like hear from y’all. Drop in a comment, or send an email with your thoughts on how you’ve simplified your life, or how you’d like to. After all, we’re in this thing together.

 

 

 

 

How the Simple and Sustainable View Real Estate Differently Than Most people, And why you should too. Part 1

Real EstateMost of us, especially those of us called, ‘Boomers’, grew up hearing, “Your home is your biggest investment, so buy as much house as you can afford.”  In fact, for many years, some ‘experts’ even encouraged us to refinance every 5 years or so and withdraw the equity in order to invest or to facilitate a lifestyle of consumption.  We assumed equity was an eternally growing organism.

In 2008, we found out the hard way, that real estate was a gamble like any other ‘investment’, and was subject to economic laws and markets. Many people lost their shirts when the housing bubble burst.  I got to keep my shirt, but lost all my equity and then some. Wow was that a tough lesson.  Now I look at real estate a whole new way, just like many others who learned a new kind of prosperity through simplicity.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I knew instinctively that the ‘buy big’ and ‘equity happens’ had ‘baloney’ written all over it, but I chose to ignore my spidey senses and went along with the crowd. Oh, how I wished I’d listened a long time ago.

I don’t remember exactly when I first began to question the generally accepted real estate philosophy, but I remember clearly what I was thinking. I was watching one of those fix it shows on HGTV and was floored at how much the homeowners spent on the makeover. Out of the blue, my brain told me that the perception of real estate held by most Americans was a violation of the laws of thermodynamics; things have a tendency to run down.  It’s called ‘entropy’.  Building materials would always deteriorate and decay. It was inevitable.  Basic physics demanded that barring intervention, appreciation would peak and would be followed by depreciation as the buildings, roads, yards and community infrastructure fell to the laws of thermodynamics.  A drive through the neighborhood I grew up in, confirmed my hypothesis.

On a visit to Kentucky just prior to 9/11, I took my wife to see the house where my sisters and I spent most of our ‘Wonder Years’.  It was a three bedroom, 1.5 bath ranch house.  It was a typical starter home in a typical subdivision, in a typical suburb. Over the years, the idyllic setting where neighborhood children rode bicycles, played backyard ball games during the afternoons, kick the can in the streets on muggy summer nights and dreamed our dreams of what we wanted to be when we grew up, became a place of overgrown trees, dying lawns, crumbling bricks and oft replaced roofs.  The days of property appreciation had long since abandoned the neighborhood just like the children who grew up, moved away and never came back.

Despite what science, logic and my eyes told me, I continued to buy homes, sell them and buy bigger ones, accumulating, rather than eliminating debt.

To be continued…..

In the next installment, I’ll explain how I changed my way of thinking and joined the growing ranks of the simple, sustainable prosperous.  Then I’ll challenge you to do the same.

I love hearing from readers. Please drop a note to offer your feedback, ask questions or just say hi. Also, please consider subscribing to the blog for updates. This month, beginning later this week, everyone who follows and subscribes (need your email to do this), will receive a copy of my list of the best fall garden crops for beginning (and experienced) gardeners to plant. I’ll start emailing those later this month, so I need your email to g

Six Reasons Why Fall May Be The Best Time For You To Start Gardening.

Kale

Kale

Many, maybe most, people think of spring as the time to plant a vegetable garden. It makes sense on the surface. After the end of a long, cold winter, we want to get outside and play in the dirt. Certainly, spring  and summer gardens are great, especially for fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers. But in my opinion, fall may be the best season to learn to garden. Here’s why I think so.

  1. Many of the fall/winter vegetables are less maintenance than their summer cousins. Kale, collards, and green onions are great examples of perfect beginner options. Apart from a little bit of thinning after they sprout, they almost look after themselves.
  2. Fall root vegetables like turnips and beets have a long shelf life compared to most summer vegetables.
  3. Weeds tend to be less of a problem because they are beginning to die off.
  4. Less water is required because the weather is not so oppressively hot drying out the soil and the plants, and because most fall crops don’t produce huge fruit that drink up the water.
  5. After the first frost, insects are less of a problem than in a summer garden. Sure there are still a few around, but they are easier to deal with. A few sprays of some soapy water will usually do the trick.
  6. You won’t sweat nearly as much because of the cooler days. That alone is worth a great deal. Can I get an ‘Amen’?

So if you’ve  been thinking about taking the gardening plunge, there’s no better time than the present. Go ahead, get a little dirt under your fingernails. It’s good for you.

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What’s your favorite fall vegetable? I can’t wait to hear.  I’ll tell you mine next time.

As a way of saying thanks to our readers, everyone who signs up for updates or subscribes during the month of September will receive my list of the top 10 fall vegetables for beginning (and experienced) gardeners. Also, feel free to send in your fall gardening questions and photos of your fall garden.