Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Starting Tomatoes: Day 0

I filled a terracotta pot with soil from the school garden today, and I just began soaking some tomato seeds. I have 8 of them that I got from Lucas, the science teacher at Sky Islands. They are Sugar Sweetie Cherry Tomatoes, which he says are a fantastic variety. Apparently they can take up to 25 days to germinate, so I may not have an update for a while, but they are soaking in some water as we speak, and I will put them in the ground tomorrow, which will be Day 1. Hopefully they'll be ok since I'm starting them at a funny time of year. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Lettuce Update: Day 34

I have finally brought myself to thin out my lettuce plants. I felt bad about choosing which plants would live, and which would suffer an early demise. But I had to do it. I guess they're about halfway grown now, so soon I should be able to enjoy a couple salads from them. Here is a picture of the plants leftover.

I made a very tiny salad from the 4 plants I thinned. The plant on the left of the picture probably has as much greenery as the 4 I thinned out had altogether. Here is a picture of the lettuce that I thinned. Delicious!!

I didn't feel it would be right to make a salad with homegrown, organic lettuce, and store-bought tomatoes/cucumbers/whatever. So I just put a little vinaigrette on the lettuce and ate it plain. Very crisp, delicious taste, not at all sour or bitter. I'm glad because I was worried about the heat in my house making the lettuce taste awful. Seems like it was doing pretty well though.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Movie Review: Food, Inc.

I went to see the movie Food, Inc. today with my friend Chris. I give it 4.5/5. I didn't really learn anything new in this movie about big agriculture or the mega-slaughterhouses that I didn't already know. If you're someone who is already really excited about this movie without seeing it, I think it will only be a reminder and not a lesson. But, if you're trying to educate someone about what is going wrong with food in this country, or if you yourself are new to the idea that there even is something wrong with food in this country, it might be a good movie to use as an introduction to those ideas. Food, Inc. has a decent sampling of many food issues, including what is happening with our meat supply, with genetically modified foods, the side-effects of the dominance of corn, the growing prevalence of food safety short-comings, and the increased intermingling of big agribusiness with the people in government who are supposed to be regulating them (a.k.a. soft-fascism). In my opinion, it is like most documentaries, with a lot of facts presented without always citing the sources along with them (though this movie is great for first-hand accounts from farmers). But also as with most documentaries, I plan on investigating some of the information presented (such as the validity of the stories of from the farmers), from which I will probably learn more than if they had just been directly cited in the movie. In this regard it was a very thought-provoking documentary, which gives it the 4.5/5 for me.

There are also a couple of tasks that have fallen out of this movie for me. I usually shop at Sunflower Market for meat because they always have very fresh looking meat that turns out to be delicious. After seeing this movie, I want to investigate where they get their meat supplied from to check if it is from one of the "Big 4" meat suppliers they name (think ConAgra). I also plan on trying to find out if there is a classic-style butcher shop that sells locally raised meat. If anyone knows of one in Tucson, please let me know about it.

Finally, this movie is pretty much a summation of why I want to start a permaculture homestead. If everything that this movie claims is true, I feel like all of the issues raised in it can be addressed by following the permaculture ethics while designing my homestead. Once I become productive, I feel that following the 3rd ethic of permaculture (sharing the surplus) will help address those issues for other people as well, and hopefully introduce them to a lifestyle that can solve it for them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cob House Workshop

I discovered a cob house workshop while talking with my friend Graham today. I'm planning on living in a cob house for at least the first few years after I buy my homestead land. I think I will try to go to this workshop, though it's a little expensive. The workshop is in Coquille, OR, and information on it can be found at this link. If I can afford to go and there are still spots available, I'll be going from Sep. 12-20th. I'm guessing that should be a decent time to be in coastal Oregon. If you're interested in cob housing or earthen building in general, check out the Cob Cottage website. And if you have information on any other good cob housing classes I might be able to attend, please post them in the comments.

Friday, July 17, 2009

GOTu San Diego

I'm taking a mini-GOTu (what's a GOTu?) and heading to San Diego from July 17th to July 26th. I probably won't be posting much, though I'll try to get at least one update on my lettuce in. (Yes, I'm bringing my lettuce with me. It will be the most well-traveled organic lettuce around.) While I'm in San Diego, I'll be attending a lecture about the food we eat(pdf) and how it might contribute to climate change. I'm sure it's about eating food that isn't local and how that ups your carbon footprint since it has to travel so far to get to your plate, but I'm hoping there will be some other interesting stuff discussed. Plus there's gonna be free food, so who can pass that up? I'll try to post about it if it's interesting. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lettuce Update: Day 19

It has been a while since I've posted new pics of my lettuce. They are doing very well. It's about the time to thin them, and I feel bad because they are all so beautiful, but I know that culling the herd (so to speak) will make the rest happier and healthier. And I'll get to eat the babies. Who doesn't like to eat babies? ;)

EDIT: I had wanted to say this, but forgot before I pushed "Publish." Yes, I know they look pretty floppy. I think it's because of the heat in my house, I can't get it below 85 degrees because we only have a swamp cooler. BUT, I'm thinking they are still ok because they still have a nice, rich green hue. I'll find out if they're going bitter on me when I eat the little ones I thin out.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My Permaculture Internship

I have mentioned in a couple previous posts the internship I hope to attend next year. Most people who know about my blog already know where I want to go, and if you're astute then you noticed the name of it in my countdown timer in the right-hand sidebar. I want to talk about it a little bit today.

I plan on attending an internship with the Bullock Homestead on Orcas Island, (see map below) which is one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state. The general information I have right now is for the 2009 internship, which is happening right now, but their website mentions that the program will be similar for 2010. So if that holds true, it means that (if chosen) I will be heading up to Orcas sometime in March next year, and be there until at least October 30th, later if they will let me stay. I want to be there as long as possible so I can gain as much experience with living and working on a homestead as I can.

View Larger Map

During the course of this internship, I will learn what day-to-day life will be like on a permaculture homestead. I have chosen the Bullock Homestead because it is a well-established homestead in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington State, which is where I would like to own my own homestead one day. I think this will give me the best idea of what homesteading in Washington would be like. As a part of the internship, I will earn my Permaculture Design Certificate as well, which will also not only be helpful for me in designing my homestead, but in having the expertise that will encourage people to come to my homestead and learn from me once I am established. As I said in my previous post, I want to spread the message once I am able to.

Finally, as part of my preparation for attending this internship, I must read Introduction to Permaculture, by Bill Mollison. My next several posts will probably be based around thoughts I have while reading this book, and (Warning!) may contain drab notes or other random ideas that pop into my head that I want to preserve for myself later. As I've said before, this blog is not just for writing to a (currently non-existent) audience, but I also want it to serve as an easily catalogued notebook for myself. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Homesteading Goals

In my first post, I listed some major milestones I want to cross in order to acquire land and feel comfortable starting a homestead. In this post, I want to outline some strategic goals I have for the homestead. These goals may not be realized until 10 or 15 years down the road from when I first start homesteading, which is ok. This post is where I am laying out my vision for the future of the homestead. I will discuss more short term goals in another post.

The overall theme that guides my vision is one of self-sufficiency and sustainability. I think this is what makes a home into a homestead. As I have discussed previously, a homestead should produce for you, and not consume from you. From this guiding idea, I have decided on the following goals:

  1. I want a house on my homestead that is as reliably self-sufficient as possible. I want it to produce its own energy in the form of solar, wind, micro-hydroelectric, or any other sustainable technique. I want it to have the ability to passively heat or cool itself using good design principles tailored to that end. I want it to make the most effective use of its waste, such as recycling greywater, effective removal and treatment of black water, or using heat from cooking to heat the home during the winter. And the house itself should be some sort of producer, perhaps by incorporating an integrated food-producing greenhouse into the design, and definitely by capturing and efficiently using rainwater. To my knowledge so far, the best design for a home that meets all of these goals is an Earthship Biotecture as conceived by Mike Reynolds. Though it may not be the first structure I live in on my homestead, this is my ultimate goal for my house.
  2. I want the overall design of the land of my homestead to live up to the ethics of permaculture. These are 1) Care of the Earth, 2) Care of people, and 3) Contribution of surplus money, time, and energy to further the first two ethics. Not only will my homestead be designed to grow enough food to take care of me and whoever else might be a permanent resident on the homestead, but I want it also to be able to grow enough food for any livestock I might keep on the homestead, wild animals that might find their way onto my land, and visitors and guests that might come to learn from me once I am established. In addition, I would like to be able to donate excess food to a local food bank, and possibly start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the proceeds from which I would use to further my goals of caring for the earth and giving back to my community, friends, and family. Finally, I would like the plants and materials that make up my homestead to be as self-contained as possible. I want to grow organically, save seeds, propagate plants, and use renewable, locally available building materials to construct most if not all of what I need for my homestead. I want to minimize as much as possible all materials I must buy from outside of what's available on my land, and things I must buy I will favor use of recycled or reuseable materials that might otherwise end up in landfills.
  3. My next goal is to turn my homestead into an educational center. I would like to offer courses, internships, tours, and anything else that might attract people to come learn about a self-sufficient lifestyle. For paid courses, I want to only charge as much as I need to to cover the expense of offering the courses. And I do not want to present my homestead as the only viable option for sustainability, but rather as an example of principles that could be incorporated into anyone's lifestyle in order to make it more sustainable. I aspire to encourage everyone, from rural farmers to hardcore "urbanites", to incorporate sustainable practices into their day to day lives.
  4. Finally, I would like my homestead lifestyle to provide so much of what I need to live that I have little personal income, and what little income I do have goes to paying the one and only expense I have not yet conceived of a way to avoid... property taxes. With my expenses minimized to this one unavoidable tax, I will truly be living off the land, and being as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible in this day and age.
For now, these are the over-arching strategic goals I have for my homestead. I reserve the right to add new strategy as it occurs to me, but I think these 4 have covered my overall vision pretty well. Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Ad-ons to the Blog

I added a couple of features to the sidebar yesterday, and I thought they deserved a little light being shined their way.

First is the AdSense ads. Yes, I sold out. I not trying to get rich off of this blog, but I hope that the ads can bring in enough small change to pay for the hosting costs of this site, which are $10 for the domain name, and $20 for the extra storage I need in my Picasaweb account for the photos I'm going to post on this blog. So, yes I sold my soul to Google, but only for $30 a year, I think that's fair.

The next one is important to me. I added a little pie chart called "Homestead Land Fund". I have set myself a definitive goal as to how much money I want to have to buy land with. For now I'm keeping my goal total private, but I think it is a reasonable amount to be able to buy a 30-60 acre piece of land like I mention in point 6 of my first post. I'm not sure when I want to reveal what the total is, but I think I'll use it as a surprise for many people about how much you can do with very little money. As I write this post, that beautiful little blue slice of the pie chart is 10% of my goal, so I'm on my way to being a bonafide land owner.

The last nifty gadget I added is a countdown timer to the day I start my internship. It's not precise yet, because the application period for the internship isn't even open yet, and I therefore don't know what day I'll be arriving. I started the timer from the first of June, which was the day I definitively decided to pursue the internship and jump headfirst into homesteading. And speaking of this internship, I know there aren't many of you that are reading this that don't know where I want to go, but if anyone stumbles across this and is wondering, I plan on talking about the internship and the homestead that it's on in a future post.

I like visual representations of goals, so expect more pie charts or timers to pop up here and there. I'm not sure what they'll be about, except that I'm going to start a GOTu Seattle fund and/or timer. GOTu stands for Get Out of Tucson, and is pronounced "go to". And of course, the Seattle area is where I want to go to. Clever, I know. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

My Lettuce

I have started a window box with lettuce. It is my very first attempt into growing my own food. I will try to post pictures of it and my other growing attempts as they get interesting, but I know there is a decent chance of the final pictures of this lettuce being wilty, sad lettuce that a starving rabbit probably wouldn't eat. Let's hope not. (Also, I'm a very poor photographer. Sorry if these pictures suck).

The Start of the Journey

I have decided to pursue the lifestyle of a homesteader. I do not know if I will be successful, but I do know I am going to try. To me, the difference between a house and a homestead is the difference between consumption and production. This thought is not mine originally, but I have heard it from enough sources to have difficulty attributing it to any one person or place. I agree. I want my home to produce it’s own energy, to take care of it’s own waste, to be easily and cheaply repairable, and I want the land that it is on to produce food in the form of plants and livestock, so that my land and home, my homestead, work to produce for me. Too many people think that they have to spend 30-40 years of their life toiling away to pay off debts incurred to be able to afford one of the most basic necessities of life, shelter. Instead, I want to build what I have heard called “sweat equity” by starting from scratch and building my land up into something that provides for me, debt free. By doing so, I will not have to be a wage-slave, toiling away for 8 hours a day to make someone else rich. I harbor no illusions that this venture will not be hard work, but I know that hard work done for my own benefit, or for the benefit of the people I love, is vastly more rewarding and fulfilling. I choose to make this my life's goal and passion. In doing so, I will have many steps to follow. The steps I have outlined for myself so far are these:

  1. Work from now until February or March of 2010 to save as much money as possible.
  2. During that time, apply for an internship with a permaculture homestead in Washington state.
  3. Also during that time, I will practice gardening in order to have more experience growing plants.
  4. If accepted to the internship, I will participate in the internship from early to mid March until late October/early November.
  5. Spend Winter 2010/11 working to save up more money.
  6. During this time, I will be searching for an appropriate piece of land, preferably between 30 and 60 acres in size, on which to build my permaculture homestead.
  7. Have land picked and purchased by spring of 2011 so I can begin planting and building on my permaculture homestead.