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thefuture

This is our future, and we can choose which one becomes reality!

A few nights ago I had a dream that would fall under the category of post apocalyptic.  It took place in the present day, at my house, on what appeared to be a bright sunny summer day.  My son and I were out back by the garage getting trailers hooked up to our bikes, collecting baseball bats and machetes, cans of food, and other supplies that have now left my memory.  What the cause of our hasty retreat was I also can’t recall, but I knew we had to get going fast.

 

Throughout the dream I was also worried as to where my wife and daughter were.  Maybe we were off to meet them, or worse yet to rescue them from some unseen and unknown antagonist.  Either way, I missed the rest of my family very much, and I knew it was my job to keep my son safe.

 

Before awakening, the last thing I remember doing in the dream was getting the two dogs into the trailers, tying down the rest of our supplies, and then having to say goodbye to our two cats Charlie and Brown.  It broke my heart to have to leave these two little guys behind.  But even in the dreamtime, I realized that they would be fine without us and could fend for themselves living the rest of their days happily eating songbirds and mice.

 

I love dreams, but I usually cannot recall them as well as I can this one.  And most of the time they are not nearly as involved or as intense.  I have plenty of anxiety work dreams, and random fantastical ones with a rotating cast of familiar characters, but rarely do I have a dream that is so realistic and that is set in a familiar, yet somehow mystical and alternative apocalyptic world.

madmax

I couldn’t help but tell my son about this dream, and from that a great conversation was sparked.  He was curious as to what a post apocalyptic world meant.  Having just recently watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for the first time with him, I told him to think back to that movie, but try to imagine it not quite so barren or destroyed.  I think he understood what I was getting at and then proceeded to say something along the lines of “like what happens to you after war comes to your country”.  I was amazed by the depth of his understanding and realized he had a good grasp of the idea. I responded with a “yeah, something like that…”

 

It was then that he asked me what else we would take with us.  He automatically assumed I would take my Chromebook with us.  And in hindsight I probably would take it if I knew it could be recharged and could access the internet!  But I said “no, we wouldn’t take the Chromebook because what good would it do us if there were no power.”  We could agree on this.

 

The conversation stayed on books.  I took a quick look at our bookshelf, and pulled down an old, tattered copy of the Tao Te Ching that I have had for well over 20 years.  I showed it to him, and he wondered why I would take a book like that, and not one of our foraging field guides or a wilderness survival book.  The question was a good one, and now I had something else to explain to an inquisitive 8 year old.

While I am not an overly mystical person, the Tao has been one of those books that I found fairly early on in my journey. It has always been there for me, ready to be picked up, dusted off, and reread over and over again throughout the years.  The 81 passages contained within the Tao Te Ching are a manual of sorts that has helped me to walk lightly upon this Good Earth.  It is not a book filled with answers, or a God, or a map to a final destination. But more of a signpost.  A compass.  A star chart to the infinite.  The book of the way.

 

So that is why I would grab that book if I found myself living in my recent dream.  To help keep me centered and focused, but also fluid like water.  But my son had a good point.  If we were fleeing, not knowing when we would find safety,  I would also pack my favorite field guides and survival manuals.  I can identify many plants and fungi, but I don’t know a whole lot when it comes to cleaning an animal or making a splint for a broken leg.

 

In reality though, I try very hard to keep the post apocalyptic narrative from playing too big of a role in my day to day life.  If I let it dominate my thoughts, it is hard to be productive or a positive role model.  While it is a possible outcome for our world, especially if we stay our present course, I find it more helpful to focus on the present and how we can create a more fulfilling future for ourselves.

 

So even though post apocalyptic stories are my favorite ones to read and watch, it is the story of the Tao and a life lived in accordance with nature that I want to play a role in.  When we take the time to observe our surroundings, draw our conclusions based on evidence, and implement solutions that are balanced and inspired by nature, that is when we can move forward and create a truly wonderful, and self sustaining world.

 

#80

If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing labor saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.

 

 

 

 

Mycophile Summer

Beautiful Velvet Feet growing out of log, look at the snow still on the ground!  Mushrooms in March!

Beautiful Velvet Feet growing out of log, look at the snow still on the ground! Mushrooms in March!

A lot of things happened around here this summer.  Some awesome, some not so much.  Somethings came from habit, and some from adventure.  Happiness, sadness, anger, laughter and a universe of other feelings ebbed and flowed in and out of existence as we lived our lives.  It rained and then poured, and then dried up.  Its raining right now as I write, and the world readies itself for sleep as winter looms close on the horizon.

 

Morels, growing out of the forest floor

Morels, growing out of the forest floor

But thinking back to this spring, a wet one that made the history books, the first thing that really comes to mind are the first morel mushrooms of the season.  I have written before about my forays out into the woods in the early spring, usually around mother’s day, looking for the treasured mushroom.  And this year once again, I was lucky to find some.  I have hunted the woods every spring now for more than 10 years, and I have never been disappointed.  I don’t usually ever find too many, but sometimes I get lucky, or at least know somebody who does so I get a few good meals with the morels.

 

The beehive mushrooms...

The beehive mushrooms…

The morel mushroom may be one of the most treasured and sought after culinary mushrooms around, but there are thousands of other varieties of fungi just waiting to tell you their story.  And that was one of my goals and accomplishments for this summer, to learn the stories and tales of as many mushrooms as I could. So when I came across these ones growing out of the straw under my backyard beehives early in the summer, I knew the hunt was on.

 

Chanterelles!

Chanterelles!

There were two mushrooms specifically that I wanted to find and learn about.  For many years now, I have heard about and researched both Chicken of the Woods and Chanterelles but have never found them.  I knew for a fact that the Chickens, also known as Sulphur Shelf mushrooms, were a common late summer mushroom that was very easy to ID.  I also knew that chanterelles grow throughout Minnesota, but had never met anybody who had actually found them.   My mission was set before me, all I had to do was start.

 

Beginning at the end of July, the kids and I went on hikes about every other day.  After a month of no rain, we finally had gotten a few small storms that moistened the landscape and all sorts of fungus began popping up in our yard and throughout the neighborhood.  We didn’t always go out with the intention of hunting down mushrooms, but we always kept our eyes open, and more times than not some type of fungus would cross our path.

 

Chickens!!

Chickens!!

One park in particular proved to harbor high levels of mycological life, and it was here that we concentrated our efforts in finding the Chicken of the Woods and the elusive Chanterelles.  The key feature to this land that I think helps support such an abundant and diverse web of fungal life can be attributed to all of the oak trees that can be found throughout the park and hiking trail system.  And not just the living oaks, but ones in all stages of rot and decay.

 

Baaawwwkkk!

Baaawwwkkk!

It didn’t take long to find either mushroom.  The Chicken came first in this story.  Growing off of an old oak log, was a gorgeous Chicken of the Woods, specifically, Laetiporus cincinnatus.  Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Shelf mushroom comprise a few different varieties of Laetiporus, the most popular being cincinnatus and sulphureus, which are virtually identical to the untrained eye, though connoisseurs say that cinncinnatus is superior for eating.  I have since found both of them, and both are delectable, and truly taste like chicken when sauteed in butter.  They are what many field guides consider choice eating, and are quite possibly the best mushrooms I have ever eaten!

 

Golden Chanterelles

Golden Chanterelles

 

Not long after finding the Chickens, we found our first Chanterelles on a forested valley ridge.  Chanterelles being a mycorrhizal fungus (a fungus that has evolved a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees) were also found near living oak trees.  The Chanterelle is a very elegant looking mushroom, with a very distinct apricot aroma.  Lacking true gills, a Chanterelle can be identified by it’s ridges which display a forking pattern, rather than the parallel nature of mushrooms with true gills.  The Golden Chanterelle, which is probably the most common species in the genus Cantharellus, does have a deadly look alike commonly known as a Jack ‘O Lanterns (Omphalotus olearius).  But once you become acquainted with the defining features and growth habit, they are easily told apart.  In fact, I have never even seen Jacks, but I have heard that you should hunt them at night, because they glow in the dark!

 

hen of the woodsA dark horse candidate who takes 3rd place this year in the fungi challenge is what is known as Hen of the Woods.  Another mushroom named after poultry, Grifola frondosa, is another mushroom that shows up in late summer in hardwood forests, often found at the base of oak trees.  This is another mushroom that I had only ever heard about and never seen, but was pretty sure that I would know it when it found me.

 

Happy Fungal Hunters!

Happy Fungal Hunters!

On a beautiful September day hiking with a group of happy fungus hunters, we found two massive specimens of Hen of the Woods!  It is a gorgeous and crazy bracted mushroom that also goes by the name Cauliflower mushroom.  They are great eating, and when you find Grifola frondosa, you will have a lot of mushroom to cook with, so get ready to be creative.  Soups, omelets, casseroles, and pizzas are all good candidates for this fungus!

 

This is a Bear's Head Lion's Mane mushroom, Hericium americanum

This is a Bear’s Head Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium americanum

The same mushroom foray that yielded us the Hen of the Woods, was also one of the most epic mushroom hunts I have ever led or been a part of.  Located in an enchanted forest that is perched on sandstone cliffs, and is filled with mossy ravines and boulders that glaciers deposited roughly 10,000  or so years ago, this magical piece of land was teeming with mycological wonders.

 

WTF!

WTF!

We found, fell in love, and grew ever closer to mushrooms that day.  Along with the Hen, we also found a mediocre Chicken, a very nice score of near perfect Chanterelles, and many more mushrooms.  Some were known from previous hunts and research, others  we were able to ID with field guides, and some remain a mystery …

Old Man of the Woods, Strobilomyces floccopus?

Old Man of the Woods, Strobilomyces floccopus?

Who knows?

Who knows?

Milkcaps?

Milkcaps?

This maybe a psychedelic mushroom growing off of an old wooden shelf by my chicken coop....

This maybe a psychedelic mushroom growing off of an old wooden shelf by my chicken coop….

In closing, I can more than say that I accomplished my mycological goals for this summer.  Not only did I find and learn how to ID both Chicken of the Woods and Chanterelles, I also learned  about Hen of the Woods, Dryad’s Saddle, King Strophia, Northern Tooth, a small variety of boletes, and many other mushrooms.

 

Dryad's Saddle, Pheasant Back, or Polyporus squamosus

Dryad’s Saddle, Pheasant Back, or Polyporus squamosus

While I feel like I know more about mushrooms than most people, I still have a lot to learn.  I am an amatuer mycologist, self taught, and definitely am not an expert.  Even though I like to share my stories and experiences about and with mushrooms, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to do your own research on mushrooms.

 

This is a King Stropharia, or also known as a wine cap.  This mushroom was intentionally "planted" in these wood chips and is highly edible.

This is a King Stropharia, or also known as a wine cap. This mushroom was intentionally “planted” in these wood chips and is highly edible.

Never eat a mushroom that you haven’t made a positive ID on.  Always double and triple check a new find.  Never eat too much of a new mushroom, and try to keep a fresh specimen available for at least 48 hours.  Learn how to do spore prints.  And most importantly, do not feel obligated to take mushrooms just because you can.  It is okay to leave them in place and let them live out their lives and spread their spores so a future generation of mushrooms can keep the mycelium running.  Peace and cheers…

 

 

Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria

Boletes found in a local park...

Boletes found in a local park…

WTF!

WTF!

A mushroom snowman?

A mushroom snowman?

Northern Tooth,  Climacodon septentrionale

Northern Tooth,
Climacodon septentrionale

A Fig in Minnesota!

A true Minnesota grown fig!

A true Minnesota grown fig!

This has been a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time.  But due to a slow progression in this experiment, lack of actual results, the loss of some of my original photos of this project’s inception, and my habit of starting something and then setting it on the back burner for a while, an aritcle about growing figs in Minnesota has been well over three years in the making.

 

Back a handful of years ago when I was really starting to get into growing perennials, permaculture, and basic plant propagation, I came across a video of a guy somewhere in New England who was propagating and growing his own figs.  I watched that video, and subsequently, many more about folks who had fallen in love with growing fig trees.  My interest was piqued!

 

It seemed like an interesting project.  Even though the prospect of growing a plant in Minnesota that originated somewhere in the Middle East seemed like a fools errand, I easily located fig cuttings through the North American Scion Exchange and the experiment began.

 

I learned rather quickly, that there were an awful lot of people like myself growing figs in all sorts of different climates, and many of these folks take it pretty seriously.  Northern climate greenhouses dedicated to this Mediterranean delicacy, and collectors who seek out rare and exciting varieties from throughout the world.  Just like apples (or any other fruit for that matter), the folks growing figs do it out of love and a sense of horticultural adventure with a dedication that I find inspiring.

 

I am not going to go through and show you step by step on how to root fig cutting or the best way to over winter a fig in a cold climate.  There are already plenty of other folks out there doing these things with much greater success and with more knowledge than I have to learn from.  But what I am going to do is share my excitement, my small victory, and the short story behind my adventure of figs thus far!

 

While my love affair first started because of youtube videos and those first few fig cutting I received in the mail, it wasn’t until my short stint working at a Trader Joe’s that I got my first taste of a “fresh” fig.  They were small little things, picked before they were ripe and shipped thousands of miles to end up in the produce section.  I knew these were less than perfect specimens, but once ripened on the counter they were still good and I could catch a glimpse of what a truly delicious fig must taste like.

 

Adrianno's backyard orchard.

Adrianno’s backyard orchard.

Fast forward to this summer.  At the end of June, I was lucky enough to participate in a family vacation to the North eastern part of Italy.  The small town of Polesella where we spent the majority of our time, is located in the Po river valley, and is the main fruit growing region of the country.  Adrianno, one of the family friends we went to visit, has a backyard orchard the likes I have never seen.  Apples, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines, persimmons, grapes, currants, gooseberries, and yes, figs all had a home in his backyard paradise.

 

My son Owen with a basketful of fresh, Italian figs!

My son Owen with a basketful of fresh, Italian figs!

And it just so happened that the time of year that we found ourselves in this northern, mediterranean region was peak fig season!  It seemed that almost all yards had a fig tree (along with gardens and other fruit and nut trees).  We were spoiled for 9 days with some of the best food I have ever eaten, and my curiosity with figs bloomed into an exotic passion.

 

There is no way I can quite explain how good those figs in Italy were, but I will just say that there is nothing quite like them.  I know I will never be able to grow figs like that here in Minnesota, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try, right?!

 

Figs in Minnesota!!??

Figs in Minnesota!!??

So as this summer progressed, I realized there was a good chance I may get a small handful of figs from my half a dozen small fig trees.  While most of them have aborted and dropped off before they fully ripened, I finally grew a fig to near perfect ripeness!  It was great!  It was small, but it was a real fig, from a tree I started from a cutting oh so long ago.  And the taste?  While not quite the figs from Italy, it was juicy and sweet, and contained all the curves and mysteries that seduces a new lover!

 

As of this writing it looks like we may get three more figs from our trees.  While I am smitten by figs, I truly know very little about what they need to thrive when grown in containers in a northern climate.  The information is out there, so really it is just setting aside time and energy and focusing on some of the finer details about what figs really like.

 

But I can say one thing, figs are one of my motivations for building a four season greenhouse.  If the day ever comes that I find myself with a badass bio – shelter, a fig tree or two will find a home on the interior north side.  Until then, I will keep growing, propagating, and experimenting with figs in the expectation that climate change may be slowly making these northern climes more hospitable to these wonderful trees.

 

So there it is, my love story with figs.  It is an incomplete story, and one that I hope to add many pages, and maybe even chapters too.  Luckily we live in an age that is overflowing with information.  So what follows are some of the more interesting things I have come across concerning figs.  First, anyone who gets bitten by this fruit and has a question, check out the forum, Figs For Fun.  It is a great resource for the amatuer and expert grower alike.  There are comprehensive variety lists, discussions on all aspects of figs, and most likely you will be able to find plenty of folks who will be willing to help you get started for very little money.

 

Another source that I found helpful was on episode #89 of The Agricultural Innovations Podcast.  While a bit of it was a little esoteric for my liking, the main body of the interview was very informative and helpful.  This podcast has a lot of other stuff to offer as well, so check out The Agricultural Innovations podcast for more brain food!

And I will finish with a video my friend Little John made of his adventures foraging figs in southern California.  So if you are one of the lucky ones to live somewhere that figs grow without the freezing temps of the north, please enjoy them and know that there are others of us out there who are a bit jealous of what you have!  If you find yourself in a climate like mine, know that it is not completely impossible to enjoy this exotic fruit, you just have to work a lot harder to realize a harvest.  Peace and Cheers…

While the title of this essay may be tinted with a bit of doom and gloom, it is not as ominous as it sounds, and it is a fairly accurate description of the events and stories that follow.  For anyone who has followed this blog over the last five years may have noticed, I have gone through periods of consistent, productive writing, balanced out with dry periods of nothing but writers’ block growing up through the cracks of my mindscape.  While these droughts have been few for the most part, this last one has been pretty epic in scale!  The last time I sat down to write was back in February of this year when I continued with an ongoing series of essays about DIY homebrewing.

 

Winter!!!

Winter!!!

Since this last winter (the one filled with all of the Polar Vortexes) many things have happened here at the Dead End Alley Farm, and much of it would have made great copy for essays and DIY how – to’s here on the blog. I am not going to touch on everything, but I guess it is time for us to catch up on current events and happenings around the homestead and the world at large.

 

As I sit here in the afternoon shade with a cold beer in the outside office (a picnic table and some benches, and a hacked together arbor covered in wild grapes and honeysuckle) I am listening to one of the hens cluck away in pride or fear or some other emotion that only a chicken can know.  I can see bumble bees feeding on white clover and catnip, an overcast sky, and my old dog Harvey lying in the grass watching the world go by.

 

There are parts of our yard that are overgrown with weeds that should have been ripped from the ground long ago, and some of our apple trees (especially the big old one in back) are beginning to shed apples like drops of rain.  There is garlic hanging from the roof joists of my back deck and the tomato plants are overloaded with luscious fruit this year.

 

I have three hives of bees this season.  My pride and joy are the Carniolans that overwintered and have proven to be exceptional bees.  They are 3 deep with 2 honey supers (which translates to a very healthy colony that is making a lot of honey), a naturally mated queen (who may be the same one from last year, not real sure if they have swarmed or not this season) leads this tribe, and they are poised to enter this upcoming winter appearing very strong and healthy with adequate food supplies.

 

buckfastbbeeinstall

Installing the Buckfast bees out at our country beeyard.

This spring I also purchased 2 packages of hybrid Buckfast bees that came up from Georgia.  Sadly one perished within the first week (dead queen), but the other one has shown to be a vigorous (if not a bit pissy) hive of bees.  At last check they were finishing up drawing out comb and making honey in 3 deep boxes which should be enough stores for winter. And throughout the early part of the year these Buckfast bees provided frames of brood and eggs to help strengthen my Carniolans, and have also helped out to create a third colony.

 

At the end of June I came across a local company, 4 Seasons Apiaries, that specializes in locally bred queens and nucs.  This is a huge deal for us in Minnesota, not only for the fact that it is hard to find northern bred queens anywhere, but because it was only 20 minutes from my house as the car drives.  I ended up purchasing a really dark queen for $28 and put together a split that was made up of two frames each of the Buckfasts and the Carniolans.  The jury is still out on how this hive is doing though.  The queen is laying eggs, there is brood (both capped and otherwise), and they are actually making quite a bit of honey, but their overall numbers seem low to me.  They will most likely be subsidized with honey from the Carniolans this winter in hopes that they will have enough food to survive the cold, dark days of the upper midwest winter.

 

While I cross my fingers in hopes that all 3 of my colonies will pull through and survive this upcoming winter, observation and common sense tell me that the likelihood of all 3 surviving is slim at best.  Current numbers from this last winters survival rate was anywhere from about 30-50%.  These are horseshit numbers when compared to 20-30 years ago when a beekeeper could expect close to 90% survival rate in their apiaries.

 

My backyard is a refuge for endangered species...

My backyard is a refuge for endangered species…

So the same story continues for the bees.  While the numbers of reported cases of colony collapse disorder have evened out (and possibly plateaued), bee losses continue throughout many parts of the world, but seem especially high here in America.  Why this is such a surprise to people baffles me.  Our modern – mono crop – anthropocentric ways of inhabiting this planet are not compatible with a diverse, living, natural world.  This story is no longer just about the bees, but also of the monarch butterfly, the oceans, the remaining old growth forests of the world, and even people.

 

Habitat destruction, climate change, slavery, edible-food-like-products engineered to grow with poison, industrial pollution, and profit – from – disease are all symptoms of the overarching cancer that is this modern day capitalist society. It has grown up around us over the last 300 years, the whole time was spent in a petrochemical party binge, and now that we are drying out we are starting to feel the hangover!

 

It is as simple as this – when the bees lose, we lose, and that is the road we are going down.  The world that we live in, regardless of your flavor of religion, or politics, or indifference is still ruled by cold hard facts established through observation and the scientific method.  The world is changing, mainly its’ climate, but also the make-up of its varied populations.  Every day the Earth loses another creature, another plant.  The last of manifest destiny is completing itself as the few remaining “wild” people are driven from their forest homes, and the blood of ethnic genocide still waters the tree of “Liberty” for those of us in the privileged world .

 

Here is my flooded basement!

Here is my flooded basement!

This spring my family experienced climate change first hand.  For some naive reason I thought we were insulated from climate change here in Minnesota, but was I wrong!  Starting towards the end of May and going through towards the end of June, we received upwards of 15 inches of rain for the month, with a lot of this rain coming in bursts of multiple inches in short periods of time.  At some point a sewer line about a block and a half away from my home could no longer keep up with the amount of stormwater entering the system and literally collapsed in on itself.  This blockage led to my whole neighborhoods’ sanitary sewers backing up and we had upwards of 14 inches of sewage water in our basements!

 

Lets just say it was a real shitty and smelly problem to clean up.  To add to the mess, the city that I live in is not claiming any real responsibility for the sewer collapsing.  They are saying that the amount of rain that we received is to blame (because no one could have predicted that we would ever get that much rain in such a small space of time), and it is not their problem that the sewer wasn’t designed to handle that much water.  This situation is a good illustration of the intersecting problems of failing infrastructure and its ability to deal with the symptoms of climate change.

 

Not only is it bad enough that our infrastructure is falling apart and failing throughout the country, climate change will only hasten the collapse of these systems that we take for granted.  As there is less and less money to spend on domestic infrastructure projects and basic preventative maintenance, and the ever increasing threats of unstable weather conditions loom closer on all of our horizons, our roads and sewers and all the other systems that make modern lifestyles possible will be challenged and frequently overcome by a force far greater than themselves.

 

What is the quick take away from this conversation?  That as we face the future of a world that struggles to adapt to a changing climate with far fewer cheap resources on hand to work with, we can no longer rely on the long term support of our governments to solve these problems or to even help clean up the messes that ensue.  Just think back to hurricanes Katrina or Sandy (or any number of other climate disasters that happen regularly around the world) and you have all the evidence that you need to show government ineptitude when a climate-crisis strikes.

 

Most of the collapse will be slow and unnoticeable except for those places directly affected by whatever natural disaster decides to strike next.  But with each changing season, and every new climate change induced disaster, bit by bit the comfort and convenience that we are used to will begin to erode away. As long as we keep spending our resources, whether that be gold or oil, in a way that denies climate change and resource depletion, we will find ourselves in a world that is an empty shell of the one we now know.

 

If I were a religious man I may start praying extra hard right now, but thankfully I let science rather than superstition guide my life.  Critical observation and the ability to make rational decisions based on the facts is important.  Not just for a nation or a civilization, but also on the personal and family level.  I think if there is anything I have learned, is that when we can look at problems on multiple levels, do the research that is needed to educate ourselves on these problems, and then make decisions based on these observations to correct the problem, we can do a lot just in our own lives to change the course of events, and add a bit of resiliency and human spirit back into our everyday lives.

 

Nature reclaiming what is rightfully hers!!

Nature reclaiming what is rightfully hers!!

As briefly mentioned here in other posts, a year and a half ago I quit a long time job of mine in favor of one that affords me far more free time.  The trade off has been huge, and sometimes quite challenging.  This has been my second summer off, and my first full season as a partially self employed, full time stay at home dad.  It has probably been the most eye opening, and sometimes hardest role I have ever had to play.

 

Being use to the role as the main breadwinner in my family for so long and then giving up that economic control is not easy, but a lesson that I urge you to all try at some point in your life.  After these last few months of being at home with the kids, I have a far greater appreciation and respect for the work that my wife (as well as all you other moms out there!) has done over the last 8 years.  Child rearing is the hardest thing I have ever participated in, but I am glad that I have had the chance to dive in full time.

 

For me the hardest part has been balancing time between time actively spent with the kids, chores, and coordinating our CSA.  The CSA we run is small.  2 full shares, and 2, ½ shares, but it gave me a nice chunk of cash in the spring and early summer for things like groceries (I can’t grow cheese cake!) and gas money.  That cash is gone now, so my new endeavor is working on a business plan that expands out from the CSA in other directions to increase my summer cash flow for a few more months.

 

Eventually I hope to start making a bit of money by raising bees to sell, starting a small plant nursery, and I am also exploring some options for teaching classes.  Using outlets like the public library system, community education, and space at my local co-op, I am hoping to put together a selection of classes that will include introductions to beekeeping and Permaculture, and also a tree grafting workshop each spring.  I am in the early phases of research and planning, but I hope to teach my first official tree grafting class this upcoming spring (contact me if you are interested in hosting a class).

 

I guess when I really sit down and think about it, my ultimate long term goal is to not have to ever work a full time job again, unless it is for myself.  I am not scared of hard work, but it comes back to the fact that I am no longer alright selling my time to some asshole when I am fully capable of doing something(s) I am passionate about and generate an income for myself at the same time.

 

You can't stop nature!

You can’t stop nature!

Is this selfish?  Maybe, but I am okay with that as well.  I have begun to realize more than ever most people are just clueless drones.  Who after years of taking orders, and numbing themselves with TV, processed food, and fanatical beliefs in fairy tales can no longer truly take care of themselves or make desicions that impact their destiny.  As it stands, with humans being prisoners to their own creations and all,  I do not have a lot of hope for humanity right now.

 

If you follow David Holmgren’s work Future Scenarios, we are most likely entering into the Brown Tech future.  A world where we will continue draining the Earth of its fossil fuels, destroying the last of the wild lands, converting more and more  of that land to desertscapes of monocrops, and the further erosion of our shared cultural heritage, modern Homo Sapiens have perfected the art of extinction.

 

It is a bleak future.  One that leaves less and less room for those of us who seek freedom and justice.  It is a world that has been reduced to cultural poverty by traditions and tragedies alike.  It is a world where all life on Earth has been reduced to interchangeable and disposable parts in the pursuit of Progress.  It is a world filled with death and injustice, but it is also falling apart.

 

Whether humans can survive this collapse of our own making is yet to be determined.  It will be hard, but even the strongest rock is defeated by water and wind in the end.  It is in these cracks and fissures that we can seek our refuge.  The spots forgotten about and overlooked.  The areas where literal and figurative weeds grow.  The edges.  The TAZs where humanity still flourish.

 

Go on hikes.  Hunt mushrooms.  Raise bees.  Raise Kids.  Bake bread.  Love.  Hate.  Grow some carrots.  Chop some wood.  Pull some weeds.  Laugh.  Hug a puppy.  Cry.  Resist!  Grow.  Take a nap.  Rise up!  Read a book.  Lend a hand.   Take notes.  Have fun.  Fish.  Visit a friend.  Hug your mom.  Plant trees.  Be human….

Freedom!!

Freedom!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers Mates!  This is a nice shot of the hot water tank, mashtun, and the kettle slowly being filled!  This is part of sparging, or in simpler terms, washing the grain of all of its sugary goodness...

Cheers Mates! This is a nice shot of the hot water tank, mashtun, and the kettle slowly being filled! This is part of sparging, or in simpler terms, washing the grain of all of its sugary goodness…

A few years ago I started a series of essays dedicated to homebrewing (Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3 can be found here).  At the time when those articles were written I was still working in the brewing industry.  Since then, as I have alluded to in a few recent posts, I am no longer working in the adult beverage industry and glad of it.  But that has not diminished my love of beer or of brewing it.  In fact, now that I am no longer surrounded by beer and all the things (both good and bad) that happen in a brewery on a daily basis, I now have much more time for family and hobbies.  And because of that, my passion for the actual brewing process has had a bit of a renaissance.  Due to the cold winter and some breaks from the school that I now work at, I have had ample time to brew and bottle a bunch of batches of beer, improve upon my brewing skills, and more importantly getting my home brewery cleaned and organized.

 

This article is going to explore some of the equipment, space requirements, and other resources that make for a successful and awesome DIY home brewery.  Like so many homesteading projects and hobbies, there are basic procedures, guidelines, and equipment that should be followed to end up with a good result.  Think about canning as an example.  When you set out to can tomatoes, make preserves, or whip up a batch of pickles, you do not try and reinvent the wheel each time.  We know through the scientific process and observation throughout the years that certain recipes, amounts of acidity, appropriate sugar and salt content, and proper processing methods and times lead to a successful end result that will not kill you or get you sick.  This is a good thing and is in place for a reason.

 

Here is the burner, and someday soon, a stove just for brewing.

Here is the burner, and someday soon, a stove just for brewing.

While brewing is a much more forgiving process in terms of the end product not killing you (at least not  because of crappy equipment or poor brewing methods), having the proper equipment and a decent comprehension of the process can lead to success more times than not.  But don’t let this fool you into thinking that it is a one size fits all approach.  There are quite a few variations on both equipment and procedure that can be adapted to your personal situation.  Do your homework and evaluate what kinds of resources you have available to use, and as Charlie Papizian once said, “Don’t worry, relax, and have a home brew”!  So what follows are some of my thoughts and ideas as far as my downstairs, DIY home brewery is concerned.

 

Making Space – As most homebrewers can attest to, having a dedicated spot to do your brewing is sure a nice thing.  While it is easy enough to whip up an extract beer kit in your kitchen on a Saturday afternoon without ruining domestic bliss; when you start to move into all grain brewing you will find having a dedicated spot set aside from the kitchen can be a very nice thing for many reasons.  Due to equipment requirements and time constraints for all grain brewing, having a spot that won’t interfere with cooking dinner or story time can be very helpful.  In the summer, this problem is easily solved by moving the DIY brewery outside onto the deck, driveway, or garage.  But in the winter this can be a bit more problematic unless you have a heated garage.

 

Here is the maitnence department, one of my favorite rooms in my house!

Here is the maitnence department, one of my favorite rooms in my house!

I have chosen to locate my brewery in my basement.  It has taken a few years to get to where I am at (and honestly there is still more to do) but I am to the point where everything has its place, and because of a relatively organized work area, the process of actually turning malted grain into an alcoholic beverage has become more streamlined and efficient.   The most important aspect in the basement brewery is proper ventilation.  Because there is combustion going on (whether that is propane or natural gas) having fresh air coming in, and a vent to remove excess carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and moisture is very important.  In my case I have fresh air coming into the basement for my furnace, a small fan to help move it around, and a vent hood that is located right above my burner.  This has worked out very well for me, and the only improvement that still needs to be made is the installation of a stove (which is currently gathering dust in my garage) that will use natural gas instead of the propane burner that I currently use.  The new stove will burn more efficiently and safely, and will be in a permanent spot dedicated to brewing and maybe some canning in the fall.

 

Another nice aspect of having an area dedicated to brewing, such as a basement, is that all of my equipment, access to water, ingredients, and tools are all in close proximity to each other.  This helps out immensely, whether that is moving a full 6 gallon carboy into the fermentation cellar or if my mash tun bottom needs to be repaired on the workbench.  By having everything relatively close to each other, and stacking functions of all the different components, my basement performs many roles other than just a DIY brewery, but also a workshop, cellar, dry and bulk storage, a place to do laundry, and a quiet spot to cool off from the hot summer sun.

 

Equipment – For the all-grain home brewer, having the right equipment can be the difference between great beer versus swill.  In its most basic form, the brewing process is fairly simple, but having a few key pieces of equipment not only makes the process much easier, but can also lead to a better finished product.  As already mentioned, you need something to cook on.  A propane burner or kitchen stove is what most people will use.  Just make sure to have adequate airflow and ventilation and you shouldn’t have any problems.

 

Here is the corona grain mill crushing corn, or also known as maize that was used in a pre-prohibition lager.

Here is the corona grain mill crushing corn, or also known as maize that was used in a pre-prohibition lager.

One key piece that is absolutely necessary for the all grain brewer is some type of grain mill to crush your malt.  I use an older type of corona mill that I got from a friend.  It is a very simple piece of technology, but when it is dialed in properly, you can achieve a very nice finished crushed grain.  You do not want to turn your malt into flour, so having it properly set can take a little time and adjustment, and will vary depending on what kind of grain you are milling (barley, wheat, rye).  There are many models of grain mills you can purchase all the way from the type I have all the way up to double roller mills that can be powered by a hand drill.  What you decide to use depends on how much you brew, how much money you want to spend, and whether or not you want a machine doing some of the work for you.

 

Next up is a brewing kettle.  This will be your main vessel for heating water and boiling wort (beer before it is fermented).  I built mine out of an old ¼ barrel keg.  First I bled out any left over pressure that was still in the keg.  Second, using a reciprocating saw and an angle grinder, I cut out the top.  And third, I added a ball valve drain towards the bottom.  While I won’t go into specifics on how to install this part, it is a necessary component for an all grain brewing kettle.  If you have welding skills, or know of someone who does, this is a good way of adding this part, otherwise it can be installed using components that are threaded and within the abilities of most people to install themselves.

 

You will also need another kettle very similar to your brewing kettle to hold hot water for when you sparge your grains.  I use a four gallon stainless steel kettle that I purchased very cheaply from a grocery store.  It also has a ball valve drain added in the same fashion as the brewing kettle.

 

The all-grain brewer will also need a mash tun.  This is the vessel where the magic happens, where the starches that are locked in the malted grain are converted to sugar; the necessary ingredient for the yeast to do its job.  My mash tun is made out of an upright, 6 gallon cylindrical Rubbermaid cooler.  Where the original beverage spigot once was, it has been replaced with an almost identical ball valve that the brew kettle and hot water tank has.  Also, a false bottom was made out of coiled copper tubing, copper screen, and copper wire all rescued from the waste stream!

 

This is one of my storage areas.  Bottling equipment, buckets, and all manner of brewing stuff can be found on these shelves and pegboard.

This is one of my storage areas. Bottling equipment, buckets, and all manner of brewing stuff can be found on these shelves and pegboard.

Keeping on the subject of copper equipment, another nice item to include in your brewing setup, is a coiled copper wort chiller.  These can easily be made out of coiled copper pipe, rubber or silicon tubing, hose clamps, and threaded fitting that will fit a standard garden hose.  Cooling the wort as fast as possible to the desired temperature (about 70 degrees F) at the end of the brewing session is important, as it creates the perfect environment for the yeast to thrive and to turn sugar into alcohol.  The quicker the selected yeast can thrive and do its job, the less of a chance that the beer becomes infected with unwanted yeast or other bacteria.

 

There are also a few more pieces of equipment that you will need to finish your beer after it is done being brewed.  First is some kind of fermentation vessel.  Most homebrewers use glass or plastic carboys.  These containers range anywhere in size from a one gallon cider jug all the way up to 6 gallons.  They are easy to work with, relatively easy to clean and can be found at any home brewing store or mail order.  I have even found one at a garage sale, so keep your eyes open for unexpected deals.  The glass ones are my favorite, but you have to be careful.  Early on in my brewing, we dinged one on my old cement sink and that carboy exploded into a thousand pieces!  Be warned!

 

After fermentation is complete, the beer will either be bottle conditioned, or racked into kegs.  Each has its advantages, but for the purpose of this article I will only talk briefly about bottling beer.  I am not opposed to kegs, but I have never really done it so only want to speak to things that I have personal experience with.  For bottling, you obviously need bottles.  This ones easy, buy beer that is in bottles with pry off crowns – 12, 22, and 32 ounce bottles will all work.  And if you are cheap like I am, frequent the recycling bins of any decent beer bar and you will find more than enough bottles in very little time.  New crowns will also be needed as well.

 

Before actually bottling the beer, you will need a syphon to move the beer out of the carboy into what is called a bottling bucket.  Mine was purchased, but one could easily be made with the right parts.  It is just a 6 gallon food grade plastic bucket, with a spigot added towards the bottom.  You will also want a spring activated filling tube.  It sounds way more complicated than it is and will only cost a little bit of cash at a homebrew equipment supplier.  You will need some type of capper, and there are more than a few models to choose from.

 

Some milk crates performing one of their many functions in the home brewery, holding two batches of freshly bottled brew!

Some milk crates performing one of their many functions in the home brewery, holding two batches of freshly bottled brew!

Last but not least lets wrap up a few loose ends on the equipment front.  Milk crates are an invaluable resource to include in the DIY home brewery.  They can be stacked to create a higher work area or to hold different kettles and such.  Carboys fit in them perfectly, so when you find yourself with a 40 pound plus filled carboy, it is sure nice to have a way to move them around with something that has handles.  They also work great for storing both full and empty bottles.

 

A selection of hoses, a stainless steel shower head for sparging, food grade buckets, timers, thermometers, hand tools like screwdrivers and wrenches, smaller containers like cider jugs, quick release clamps, airlocks and bungs, pitchers, a spare scrap of 2×4, and other things I am sure I am forgetting can all come in handy at some point in the brewing process.  As you gain experience and get more batches into your belly and under your belt, you will figure out what kinds of things you may need for your specific setup for brewing.  Just remember, no two home breweries are going to be exactly a like, so be creative and use what you have available.

 

Time – Time may be the most important asset to have when it comes to all grain brewing.  You can count on at least 4 hours for a single session, but if you have more time available, and a streamlined setup and process, you can get 2 batches done in about 6 hours.  Doing it this way also cuts down on resources being wasted.  Then there will be anywhere from a week to a few months of fermentation and conditioning depending on the beer you are waiting to bottle.  Once it is in the bottle, it is usually carbonated within two weeks, but can occasionally take longer.  So while this may be the shortest section of this essay, time is essential.  Carve out a block of it and use it wisely, and learn to embrace patience and you will be rewarded with some great beer!

 

The cellar!  Three batches are against the right wall still fermenting, and dry storage and bottles of finished beer against the back wall.  This area also is filled with pickles and jams, and buckets of grains and beans.  A room all homesteads and hobbit holes should have.

The cellar! Three batches are against the right wall still fermenting, and dry storage and bottles of finished beer against the back wall. This area also is filled with pickles and jams, and buckets of grains and beans. A room all homesteads and hobbit holes should have.

To anyone with experience homebrewing, this essay is not breaking any new ground.  It has been a very basic overview of how I go about making a batch of beer and what has been working for me.  I really just scratched the surface of the process and the equipment needed to make good beer.  My intention was to show you some of the the basics to all grain brewing, and as a motivation to give it a try.  There are tons of resources available to the DIY homebrewer these days.  Books, videos, forums, and meet up groups are all avenues to learning more about this great hobby!  Two books that I highly recommend for the DIY homebrewer are Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, and The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible by Leon W. Kania.  Both of these books have great recipes and ideas for those of us who like to do things for ourselves and are just great reads.

 

While it may come across that I take this stuff really seriously, I actually don’t.  I am not a beer snob, but do enjoy a good beer!  It is a fun hobby, and a great way to spend the cold winters, but for me it is also a way to save a bit of money, build in a bit of resiliency into my life and still be able to enjoy a few pints of really good beer.  There are plenty of folks out there with more knowledge and know how than I have to offer, so seek that information out.  But to truly learn anything, you gotta get your hands dirty so give it a shot and brew some beer!  Start collecting the equipment you will need, buy your ingredients in bulk and begin your journey on the path of being a DIY homebrewer!  Peace & Cheers

 

anarchy 1

An original piece of art that I made, that has now found its way around the interwebs…

If my math is correct, 17 years ago we had a statewide snow day, which if you aren’t familiar with the term, means NO SCHOOL due to weather conditions (in this case it was close to -25 degrees fahrenheit outside with double digit wind chills to boot!)  As an 18 year old punk rocker who hated high school, this was huge news, and to this day I still think back to that memory with fond emotions.  Sitting in the Day By Day cafe with my best friends, drinking bottomless pots of coffee, rolling cigarettes, talking and telling stories, and enjoying a freedom that only a teenage punk rocker can know.

17 years on and the same weather event has been happening once again.  The now famous “Polar Vortex” has descended upon us down from Canada and beyond and has enveloped us, and most of the United States with temperatures that haven’t been seen in almost a generation!  This morning when I checked the NOAA website, it was -20 at about 8 :00 AM.  By the afternoon it had warmed up a bit to about -14 or so.  Tomorrow is suppose to be about the same as what we experienced today, with the rest of the week warming up to above zero and more in some places.

So on this coldest of cold nights, I find myself in my basement not quite halfway through my night of homebrewing.  I don’t get to brew as much anymore, but it was on my short list of things to do while I have been home from work over winter break, and luckily I am getting in a double session tonight!  Brewing has been one of my hobbies for almost a decade now, with periods of near blind devotion, and then lulls of no brewing at all.  I am okay with that, it mirrors life and is just a reminder to myself that I only can do so many projects with my limited free time.

But being honest with myself, I really do enjoy home brewing.  I am pretty good at it, even with some of the minimalistic approaches I take towards the process.  I just figure that folks have been making their own hooch for thousands of years with a lot less sophisticated methods and toys than we have available to us today, so if you take a few basic precautions you should be able to make some pretty decent beer.  So far that line of thinking and follow through has worked well for me.

And I guess that brings me back to what I really wanted to write about tonight.  The experiences I had back in my late teens and early twenties and the importance of having a DIY punk scene (or something equivalent) is something that can never be taken away from me, and will always be a part of who I am.  The Punk scene not only gave me a chance to find out who I really was, but also gave me the opportunity to try new things and ideas that helped to form my beliefs for the rest of my life.

And ultimately, for all of us old Punk Rockers, it is the music that we always come back too.  The songs and albums that changed the path we were on.  The experiences that set us apart from the rest of the herd, the anthems that defined our beliefs, and the values that marked the line in the sand that we would not let them cross!  It is the music that keeps me rooted in my story and past, and it is the music that lets me move into the future.  Up THE PUNKS and stay warm my friends!!!  Peace & Cheers

Crimpshrine – the band that changed everything for me …

Grimple – A great song for any day …

Nausea – Quite possibly my favorite punk song of all time …

Mischief Brew – An anthem for a new day…

Happy News Year Eve everyone!  It is a gorgeous, sunny day here in Minnesota with a high temp of -1 degrees farenheit!  We have a nice fire going in the wood stove, a kettle of tea warming and nothing much going on today except for some light chores, relaxing, and a bit of healing.  Off and on for the last two weeks myself, my wife, and both kids have been sick with varying degrees of symptoms – headaches, fevers, chills, sore throats and bodies, and other bodily functions that will remain unmentioned!  But we are all finely feeling a bit better and are on the mend!

A while back I was contacted by Gyorgy Furiosa, a British blogger who runs the site The Life Anarchic.  He has a lot of great writing over there as well as a project called 50 Shades of Black.  50 Shades of Black consists of interviews with Anarchists from all different walks of life from around the globe, and Gyorgy asked if I was interested in being interviewed.  Gladly I sad Hell Yeah!  What follows is the introduction to the interview and the rest can be read over on The Life Anarchic.  Thanks for everyone’s support over the last few years and enjoy the interview.  Peace & Cheers

 

A full frame of bees capping their honey!!

A full frame of bees capping their honey!!

Andy is a husband, father, urban farmer, and anarchist.  In his spare time he tends to a few beehives, is addicted to planting fruit trees and growing garlic, tapping maple trees, strummin’ the old guitar, choppin’ firewood when its cold, reading Ed Abbey novels, and loves to spend a sunny afternoon eating BBQ and drinking cold beer with family and friends.  He is the author of Autonomy Acres.com and the contributing editor of the  Permaculture Free Press.  When he is not busy line cooking, he can be found trying to make this world a better place so his kids’ kids still have a planet to live on …

Finish Reading the Interview Here … 

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