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Posts Tagged ‘Urban homesteading’

So this is a handout I just put together for a few grafting workshops I will be teaching in the upcoming weeks!  I am pretty excited to be sharing some awesome homesteading skills with people who want to learn how to graft trees!  If any of you want to use this handout in a workshop you are a part of or know somebody who might be interested in this, please share far and wide, and feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.  Peace & Cheers

 

Why We Graft

Spring_Farm_Work_--_GraftingFruit tree cultivation has been a part of human history for thousands of years.  Since before records, farmers and gardeners across the globe have traditionally incorporated fruit trees into their landscapes.

 

Occasionally some of these fruit trees have displayed characteristics or flavors that were sought after or defined the benchmarks of what makes a great fruit.  These trees, the ones that were prized for their unique and delicious fruit were propagated through grafting, which is a way of vegetatively cloning a specific variety of fruit tree.  Any grafted fruit variety will be genetically identical to the plant it was taken from.

 

By taking a cutting of the fruit variety that is intended to be grafted, and properly attaching it to another tree or rootstock that is genetically compatible, you in essence can build a new tree to suit your needs – whether that be for flavor, preserve old genetics, trial new varieties, or for climatic factors that are suited to your growing spot.

 

Tree grafting dates back to at least ancient China and was used throughout the Roman empire.  Early use of grafting was most likely inspired by nature.  Occasionally trees in nature will graft themselves together when twisted and overlapping branches grow together.  When humans figured out that they could do something similar, it allowed them to become orchardist with many trees of the same variety.  This allowed for the cultivation of uniform fruit trees, and making harvest easier and more efficient

 

Types of Grafts

There are many types of grafts that can be used when creating or updating trees.  The most common type of grafting is bench grafting which is done in late winter or early spring.  This requires a piece of rootstock, scion wood, and grafting supplies.  Bench grafts can be done inside at a kitchen table or a workbench, and they are the easiest way to make new trees with named fruit cultivars.

 

Another type of grafting that you may find yourself doing someday is called top working or frame working an already existing tree.  This allows you to grow many varieties of fruit on one tree, or completely change what variety a tree is growing over to a new one.  Luther Burbank, the famed plant breeder from California, had a plum tree with over 300 varieties on it, so top working a tree can be a lot of fun!

 

As a beginning grafter, there are only two grafts that you really need to know about, the cleft graft and the whip and tongue graft, both of which can be used in bench grafting or top working a tree.  The cleft graft is the easiest of the two to perform, but the whip and tongue when performed properly can give you a stronger graft union, and ultimately a stronger tree.

 

Which ever grafting technique you are using, the most important thing you need to do is to properly line up the cambium layers on the scion wood and the rootstock (or branch that you are top working).  The cambium layer is the inner layer of bark that produces the growth rings inside the tree, adding new layers of phloem and xylem each season.  The better the cambium layers match up, the more likely the graft will properly heal leading to many years of fruit production.

 

crown-cleft-grafting-fruit-treesThe cleft graft is a great place to start grafting due to its simplicity.  All it requires is a centered, vertical slice down the rootstock (creating a cleft), and making two identical cuts on either side of the scion wood basically turning it into a slim wedge.  The scion is then inserted and slid down into the cleft of the stock, all the while keeping the cambium layers lined up.  The cleft graft allows you to use smaller scion wood with a bigger diameter stock.  Once you are happy with the alignment of the cambium layers, wrap your graft with grafting tape or a binder, and then coat with wax or parafilm to help prevent desiccation.

 

87138_whip-grafting_lgThe whip and tongue graft is a bit more difficult than the the cleft graft, but with a bit of practice becomes quite easy.  The whip and tongue is prefered when the scion wood and your grafting stock are of almost similar diameters.  It allows you to maximize cambium layer contact, and makes for a stronger graft union.  Both the scion wood and the stock get a long diagonal cut that when put together, line up and form a new single branch or tree.  The secret to a good whip and tongue graft is the second cut you do on each piece which creates the “tongue”.  This tongue allows the two pieces to lock together, and because of the natural elasticity of the wood, this does a great job in helping the graft union to heal very strongly.

 

Both the cleft graft and the whip and tongue are great grafting techniques and with practice you can attain close to 100% success with either one. Regardless of which one you choose to use, lining up the cambium layers is the most important part of successful grafting.  Always remember to wrap your grafts tight using either a rubber band or grafting tape, and then finish them with parafilm or grafting wax.  Coating the graft union and the scion wood with grafting wax or parafilm will keep the wood from drying out.

Materials

 

  • Rootstock – Rootstock comes in in many different types.  Usually they are selected for their dwarfing traits, their resistance to certain blights, or their abilities for growing in certain conditions.  Just remember, use apple for apple, pear for pear, etc..
  • Scionwood – Scion wood can be collected from neighborhood trees, local orchards, or be obtained through trading networks like the North American Scion Exchange.  Store them in a plastic bag, with a lightly damp moist towel and they can keep for up to a few months.
  • Grafting Knife – You can purchase any number of grafting knives through amazon or other websites.  They can also be made out of old steak knives or you can just use a razor knife.

 

    • Grafting Tape or Rubber Bands – You will want to use one of these to help tie the graft together.  Both are fairly easy to use and find.  Some people also use old plastic bags cut into strips.  Experiment away!
    • Grafting Wax or Parafilm – You can purchase grafting wax online, or you can also use the wax ring that is meant for toilet installs.  Parafilm is relatively cheap, can be purchased online, and is superior to wax – super easy to use and no clean up!
    • Labels – Labeling your grafts/trees immediately is very important.  You may think you have a great memory, but eventually you will forget.  You can use plastic tags and a sharpie marker or even better is aluminium tags that are completely weather proof.

 

  • Band Aids – Grafting is a lot of fun, but remember, you are using a sharp knife, be careful, take your time, and try not to cut yourself!  Oh yeah, have fun too!

 


Resources

 

 

Books

 

  • The Apple Grower – Michael Phillips
  • The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips
  • The Grafter’s Handbook – RJ Garner

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

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Here is a slip

Here is a slip

There are many reasons I live my life the way I do.  As a husband and father part of my responsibility in life is to help insure that my family has what it needs to survive, ie, food, water, a roof over our heads, and some simple (but very much appreciated) indulgences from time to time.  I found in Urban Homesteading a way of procuring some of these necessities of life through my own hard work, persistence, innovation, and a spirit of experimentation.

Throughout the last decade I have tried  many hands on, DIY skills – gardening, beekeeping, building stuff, fixing stuff, breaking stuff, making soap, homebrewing,  learning about mushrooms, learning about website development, and many other crafts, hobbies, and obsessions!  More than any one project, my biggest teacher in this time has been failure.  Not failure in the way it can make you give up, but failure that makes you dig deeper and try again until you get it right.  Failure as inspiration.

Sweet potatoes are one of those failures turned into a success.  I think back to the winter of the multiple and massive polar vortices (‘13-’14) and how I came across a youtube video of someone who was growing sweet potato slips.  Put simply, sweet potato slips are genetic clones of the “mother” sweet potato that are produced through rooting vegetative cuttings.

Nothing could be simpler right?  Actually it is pretty simple, but there is one major thing I learned from that first attempt 2 winters ago.  The sweet potatoes I used were most likely treated with  Chlorpropham or a related chemical that prevents the natural growth of a starchy tuber in its quest to reproduce and pass on its genes.

Fast forward to this year and I made sure to start with a higher quality, organic sweet potato that we got from the local co-op.  This simple step, using an untreated sweet potato, has made all the difference in success versus failure.  While it has taken almost two months to get to where we are at, 3 of the 5 sweet potatoes are exhibiting vegetative and root growth.

Here they are chillin' in the dim February afternoons...

Here they are chillin’ in the dim February afternoons…

Aside from a few sweet potatoes. you will also need a few jars, toothpicks, and water to grow your own sweet potato slips.  Stab the tubers about halfway down their length so the toothpicks are sticking out like arms (3 of these in a roughly triangular arrangement).  This will allow you to suspend the bottom half of the tuber in the water.  I keep mine in a south facing window, and top off the water whenever they need it.  Then all you have to do is wait!

Once the sweet potatoes are actively growing, and each slip is at least 3 inches long, you can remove the slips and the little chunk of tuber where they are growing out of with a small sharp knife or razor.  Pot this up in a nice mix of compost for another month or so and then plant out.  Or atleast that is what I have read and watched.

At this point the experiment is still live, so I will be doing an update on them as the season progresses.  But so far a few key points to get started with are 1) Use an organic sweet potato 2) Start early.  I believe I got mine started in mid February, next year I will start them in January. 3) Have fun and experiment.  Try a few different varieties and compare growth rates, vigour, and eventually taste.  Maybe you will find a new passion and geek out on sweet potatoes for a few seasons and collect as many exotic sweet potatoes as you can find!  Until then, Peace and Cheers!

 

 

 

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In the Beginning

 

era-timelineThe Earth is an old place.  Roughly 4 and a half billion years old is the date agreed upon by scientist. Starting out as an orbiting cloud of dust, rocks, and ice that eventually came together with the help of the gravitational pull of our sun, the Earth has had many makeovers and changes throughout the long eons.

 

Volcanic activity, tectonic shifts, comet and meteor strikes, erosion causing weather patterns, the forces of water and rain, climate change, and biological protagonists like fungi, plants, animals, and humans have all played a role in the constant evolution of our planet.  From the rise of mountain ranges, the carving of river valleys, the spread of deserts, the birth of a forest, or the extinction of a species, the Earth has had many stories to tell.  Each eon a chapter with its own characters, settings, and plots.

 

About 2 and a half billion years ago the first life forms began to appear in the fossil record.  Starting as single celled organisms, life progressed throughout the millennia changing and adapting with the earth.  Slowly but surely, life forms grew more complex.  Starting with bacteria and simple fungi that could break down inorganic rocks and minerals (and eventually organic materials like plants), other life forms figured out how to create their own food using the power of the sun (photosynthesis in plants and certain types of bacteria), and yet other life forms (animals and insects) learned how to survive by consuming plants, fungi, bacteria, and other animals!  The cycle of life was well under way.

 

This dance of evolution has spanned the ages with the different characters (bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals) trading places of importance countless times over, always with the sole intent of filling open niches and reaching some kind of habitable equilibrium.  Often times this equilibrium was achieved and sustained for long periods of time (sometimes for hundreds of millions of years), but eventually some disruption or imbalance occurred signalling the end of one age, and the dawning of another.  Geological events and mass extinctions have often been the benchmarks for defining these different ages of the earth.

 

Some of these times are more well known than others.  Some are downright popular, such as the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era (the age of reptiles),  when the dinosaurs ruled the earth.  The Jurassic period lasted for more than 50 million years, and that only constituted a portion of the whole Mesozoic era.  It is a great illustration of how old the earth actually is, how slow time can move, and how young of a species we humans actually are.

 

The fossil record puts the age of modern humans at around 200,000 years old.  A long line of monkeys, apes, and gorillas share our direct evolutionary path.  But somewhere around 40,000 years ago, humans ruled supreme, beating out the last of our closest relatives, the neanderthals, who had walked the earth for close to a million years previous to us humans. Since then, it’s all history as they like to say!

 

In that time, humans have risen to the position as the number one, global apex predator that has been shaping, transforming, and dominating the Earth, its landscapes, and all of its other inhabitants for at least the last 10,000 years.  When humans mastered the skills of both language and fire, we ceased being just another primate amongst the natural world, and instead went on to create cave paintings, songs, religions, government, and so many other visible and invisible structures that are now inseparable from the human experience.

 

Since those early days, we have gone on many adventures and have built legacies that have lasted millenia.  Cultures come and go, but their footsteps make up our history, and the biggest and easiest trail we can follow is the one that has shaped the earth and humans the most, agriculture.

 

The First Green Revolution

 

pack_of_harvesters

Around the close of the last ice age, 10-12,000 years ago, a radical experiment began to take place in how humans inhabited their landscape.  The earth entered an interglacial state and the climate slowly began to change and warm, thus giving us different options on how we could live with the land.  Agriculture did not happen overnight, but rather it played out over seasons and centuries, adapting and refining itself, and taking us and the land with it.

 

Those who lived through those early days of agriculture could not have known how the world was about to change.  In those 10,000 years since the first horticultural societies gave way to an agricultural revolution that changed the world, humans have shaped and molded the planet in almost all aspects.  Our tinkering is evident almost anywhere you look, whether with the naked eye or with a microscope.

 

We have logged the planet of almost all its old growth forest and lost billions of tons of precious topsoil to the wind and rain.  Along with the loss of the trees and our soils, comes a release of millennia’s worth of stored carbon that now finds itself freely traveling through the atmosphere. Our air and waters have been polluted from erosion and industry, we divert rivers, move mountains, and change the lay of the land in unprecedented ways.  Our oceans have been overfished, our prairies overturned.  Our fingerprints are everywhere.

 

There are millions of tons of plastic floating in the ocean.  There are thousands of active landfills in America today, and over 10,000 retired ones, all evidence of mans presence, our modern day midden piles.  Every disposable product, every plastic trinket, every outdated or broken do-dad has a traceable path to a real place somewhere on the Earth.

 

All these creations, whether a paper napkin or a pickup truck starts in a place where a natural resource can be found.  Trees and other natural fibers, minerals, metal ores, fossil fuels, water, and agricultural products can all be found in any number of these common everyday products and goods that are used throughout the world.

 

People and animals are displaced from their native lands and habitats to make way for the logging, mining, growing, and processing of these materials that are needed for all these industrial products.  There are now very few places left on our Earth that have not felt the impact of man, and the “progress” that is left in our wake.  But the journey of those first farmers and city builders is still our story.  It is a story that is always looking to grow bigger and wealthier.  It has cast humans as the main characters, and everything else, whether an old growth tree or a northern white rhino is a disposable extra.  This is life in the anthropocene!

 

Life in the Anthropocene

 

dotanthropocenesign-jumboThe anthropocene as defined by wikipedia as “an informal geologic chronological term for the proposed epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.”  The term was coined by scientist Paul Crutzen in the year 2000 and has been gaining acceptance throughout the scientific community ever since.

 

Until Crutzen proposed the idea of the anthropocene, the world had been living in (and still technically is) what is known as the holocene, the geological age starting at the end of the last ice age.  While this distinction is still being debated, for the purpose of this essay I will follow Crutzen’s thinking and accept the anthropocene as the new geological age defined by man and his impacts on the natural world. Whether it is mining, logging, agriculture, pollution, or any of the other myriad activities that bear the fingerprints of man, these are all defining characteristics of the anthropocene.

 

So where does that leave us?  If the anthropocene is our legacy, one that first started because of fire, language, and religion and continued with the domestication of the living landscape, and climaxing in industrial (agri)culture, resource extraction, suburban sprawl and biological extinction, than it is a legacy based on death.  The Anthropocene by its own definition requires the disruption of the earth’s ecosystems for modern man to survive.

 

If our time on this good Earth is being defined by the natural wealth we have plundered, the pollution and garbage we have created, and all of the land we have stolen and destroyed, than it is not only a legacy of death, but also one to be ashamed of as well.  What do we have to carry forward?  What stories will be told about us?  What will we ultimately be remembered for?

 

If the anthropocene is the defined theme of our collective narrative, are we subject to a self created demise?  If we stay on the same path that we are currently on, are humans to expect a rough road ahead?  For all of our technological advances and mastering of the Earth, the fact remains that we still live on a finite planet that is ruled by limits to how much we can take and how much we can pollute before global ecosystems, weather patterns, and biodiversity begin to change and ultimately collapse, thus affecting the project we call civilization.

 

If humans are to move into the future, a future that still includes the basic tenets of modernity for all who want them and need them, then we need to radically shift the way we inhabit our landscapes and redefine what it means to be a human civilization in the 21st century.  That redefinition will be less of a revolution, and more of a complete paradigm shift.  If the anthropocene has been based on theft, destruction, and the ill intentioned manipulation of the natural landscape and its inhabitants for an ever growing economy, than this paradigm shift will have to include principles, ethics, and actions that are the antithesis of those that are symptomatic of the anthropocene.

 

For too long our mark(s) on the land and ecosystems of the earth have been those of a selfish landlord, and not those of a humble steward preserving our historical and cultural commons.  Until we can begin to move away from these most basic and underlying habits of greed and dominion over others, we are doomed to keep repeating the cycle of destruction for profit that we are stuck in.

 

Until we as a society can divorce ourselves from the greed and savagery that is used to grow the profits that keep the wheels of “progress” moving, we will forever remain under those wheels, being ground up and used as fertilizer for growing the economy.  At some point we must face the truth that the planet does not care about any economy other than the economy of nature, the flow of energy that is the living earth.

 

While it may seem that I am advocating for the dismantling of modern civilization, nothing is farther from the truth. It has taken me many years to arrive at this conclusion, but I do think it is possible for humans to coexist, and most importantly, care for this planet at the same time.  Part of the solution lies in the way we view life and our time we have here.  At some point in our story we no longer gave thought to the generations that are to follow in our footsteps, and focused solely on the now.  It was no longer required of us to think about how our actions could affect life generations from present day.  We were now accountable for nothing but our own personal desires and instant gratifications.

 

But when we begin to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, it is possible to see how we can impact the future.  If in every decision we leave room for the future to have its say, than it is less likely that we would continue to clear cut forests, move mountains, and knowingly pollute our drinking water just for a quick buck or a desperate energy fix.

 

When we consider our grandkids’ grandkids in the decisions we make now, we begin to realize that every aspect of how we live needs to change.  We can no longer be short term takers, but instead we have to become the guardians and caretakers of our land bases so that there is something of abundance, substance and beauty available for those who follow in our footsteps.

 

We are at a place in history where we have never been before.  We have more accumulated knowledge and proven, appropriate science and technology available to us than any other humans to come before us.  We have the ability to keep people warm when it is cold, dry when it is wet, and fed when they are hungry.  We have the resources to educate people and the social safety nets to insure a basic level of comfort for all those on the planet.  We also have a history and a shared story that defines what it is to be a human.  It is this last point that is most important.  If we can reconnect with what it means to be a fully mature human, we will see that we have an important place in nature.

 

Towards the Permacene

 

cartoon_permaculture_futureThis is the paradigm shift I propose.  It is a shift and a transition to a new geologic age, where with each passing generation we reduce our footprint. The amount of evidence of our existence is carried forward not by the trash and destruction we leave behind in our wake, but in the books we continue to write, the songs we continue to sing, the communities we continue to build, and land that we help to heal.  This journey is underway, and has been slowly since the beginning, but we are at a critical point in human history.

 

Moving into the future as a unified species will only continue if we face our history.  Human history is filled with tragic abuses and genocides of peoples, animals, plants, and landscapes.  Our cultural and biological diversity has been decimated by the fossil fuel enhanced advancement of industrial civilization.  Countless characters of nature have been swallowed by the pit of extinction, and many more are on the edge of falling in.  If we turn our backs on what has been lost and forget those stories, than we cannot move forward.  It is the ones that are already gone that must be a reminder to us as we move into the future that we must move forward with as much cultural diversity and biodiversity preserved, protected, and regenerated as possible.

 

Our roles as stewards must extend to as many humans that calls this planet home.  When people have a real physical connection to a land base and a community of friends and families to share it with, than our jobs as earth stewards becomes easy because we are all working towards the same goal.  While the role and duties of earth stewards will vary from landbase to landbase and one community to another, the underlying ethics and principles that guide this endeavor are universal and are intrinsic in the transformation from just being a private citizen to a steward of the commons!

 

As we begin to renounce our citizenship to the anthropocene and begin embracing our role as stewards of the Earth, all aspects of our lives will begin to change.  When we are rooted in strong communities and land bases, using technology appropriately, and asking ourselves how our actions will impact future generations, the foundations of greed and domination that rule the world will begin to crumble.  As we begin to regenerate landscapes and communities, the corporate overlords and bureaucrats will find themselves unwelcome in more and more places and eventually cease to be.  But this will only happen where communities are united, diverse, and have a physical connection to a landbase that they can call home.  These communities, interconnected by their diverse patchwork of skills and trades, seasonal celebrations, trade and migration routes, spiritual beliefs, and the passing of information will have to find a human commonality that celebrates our diversity and uses that as a unifying force!

 

As history shows, we are a young species.  We are a species that is full of flaws and destructive selfishness.  But we are also adaptive and creative and occasionally compassionate, three traits that have made possible our evolutionary advances.  So while we have perfected war and hatred and the wholesale destruction of our living planet, we also write poetry and songs, celebrate with family and friends, and have a love so deep that somehow, we still find we have roots that are just waiting to find a place to dig into, a place to call home!

 

So here we are at a cross roads.  We have a choice to keep doing what we are used to, and most likely end up in a bleak and poor world.  One that is gutted of all but humans and the strongest and most noxious of weeds.  Or we can bravely step into the future planting trees and building communities and carrying on this great project we started well over 200,000 years ago.  We can take the next step in our evolution, a step towards the Permacene.  Peace and Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Jar of Green Herb!

A Jar of Green Herb!

I know what you are thinking, and sadly the jar filled with green herb is not legalized marijuana!  While Minnesota is making strides with the legalization of medical marijuana we are still aways from legalized recreational use.  Yes, someday I hope to write an article espousing the benefits (which there are many) of both medical and recreational cannabis, but this short article is about a very different plant altogether.

 

As I have written about many times before, we grow a diverse array of plants throughout our extensive gardens.  Some of them are fairly uncommon perennials, fruiting shrubs, and vines and others are very common plants found throughout many gardens.  Its fun having so much diversity, but it is even better when you find a new use for something as simple and common as celery.

 

We have grown celery, Apium graveolens for years now.  Typically we have always harvested the ribs for use in soups, stews, salads and roasted vegetables, and have used the leaves as an addition to soup stock.  This last summer however, I dried the leaves as a means of preservation.  And that is the green herb in the jar, dried celery leaves!

 

The dried leaf of celery has an aroma and taste very similar to when it is fresh, but it is deeper and more earthy as well.  This winter I have used it in much of my cooking.  It is a great addition to any soup or stew, I have added it to bread dough when I make an herbed loaf, when making rubs for meats it works very nicely with all the other herbs and spices that are found on my spice rack, it adds a depth to veggie dip, and is a great all around herb that I am excited to have available.

 

PreservingFoodCoverI came across the idea for drying celery leaf in the book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning.  It documents many of the traditional food preservation techniques found throughout France.  From lacto fermentation to drying, and the use of oils, salt, sugars, and alcohol in preserving food, it has many great ideas on preserving the surplus harvest from your garden.

 

Its also a fun book, because it so simply illustrates the depth and tradition that is found in European cuisine.  Not only do they know how to use all parts of the celery plant, but there are recipes for black currant jam with honey, lemons preserved in salt, lacto fermented veggies, and cherries soaked in brandy.

 

This spring as you begin to plan and plant your gardens keep in mind that there are many ways of preserving the harvest.  Some of these ideas won’t be new to you, but others may revolutionize how or what you grow!  You may have a treasure just waiting for you that has always been there, and maybe it will look good being kept in a jar!  Peace and Cheers!

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Grafting Class with Andy!

Grafting Class with Andy!

Happy winter everyone!  There has been a lot of great stuff happening here at the Dead End Alley Farm, so much in fact there has been very little time for contemplation or writing.  For the last two weeks my time has been occupied with a home remodeling project, knocking out a wall to make a bedroom bigger. While I am not quite done, the end is in sight and it will be back to planning for an exciting spring and summer!

 

This autumn I contacted a couple of local community education programs with a few proposals for teaching classes.  To my surprise, both groups got back to me relatively quickly with a positive reception.  So this spring I will be teaching a few fruit tree grafting classes, and then this summer I will be doing an Intro to Urban Homesteading class, but more on that one later.

 

Coming up on Tuesday, April 28, I will be teaching a 2 hour long grafting class at the local high school from 6:30-8:30 PM.  Here is the link you will need to register and pay.  All participants will go home with 3 grafted trees (I will have extra supplies for sale) and the basic knowledge to continue on with this age old, homesteading skill.

 

So if you are in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and want to learn how to graft fruit trees, come join me for a fun evening of hands on learning.  Please feel free to contact me either through email or on Facebook if you have any questions or comments.  Also, if you are interested in hosting a grafting class please let me know and I can supply you with more details.  Until next time, Peace and Cheers!

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Some truly wild seeds - Honey locust pods, wild onions, autumn olive, cornellian cherries, purple asters, siberian pea shrub, and a wild black berry that was collected in Italy over the summer.

Some truly wild seeds – Honey locust pods, wild onions, autumn olive, cornellian cherries, purple asters, siberian pea shrub, and a wild black berry that was collected in Italy over the summer.

For a decade now, I have been a seed saver.  I have saved tomato seeds and squash seeds.  I have selected and saved my favorite beans to plant again, and I have tended garlic cloves and potato tubers from year to year.  I have collected perennial herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and have planted trees that will produce into my twilight years.

 

These seeds and genetics represent a true investment and a savings account for the future.  David Holmgren, one of the founders of Permaculture and author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways devotes quite a bit of time on the subject of saving seeds.  He argues that anyone preparing for a future that will have fewer fossil fuels available to use should include seed saving into their toolbox of skills and cultural knowledge.

 

Purple potatoes...

Purple potatoes…

When we save seeds, not only are we preserving genetic material, but also the accumulated solar energy of one summer’s growth to be used again in a future garden.  This tradition is as old as agriculture itself.  When we stopped roaming the wilds in search of food, and instead settled down to cultivate the Earth, seed saving assured a future harvest.

 

For right or wrong, feeding our world’s population now largely depends on industrialized, annual based agriculture.  It is very efficient at turning oil and natural gas into edible calories, but it comes with a steep price.  Habitat destruction, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity (both wild and domesticated), the dismantling of small scale farming traditions, and our seed sovereignty are all threatened by industrialized agriculture.

 

But as those of us who have seen the writing on the wall (when it pertains to the negative consequences of big ag) , and have begun the transition to a Permaculture based lifestyle because of these warning signs, we can begin to put a halt to all of this destruction.  One farmer or person alone is not enough to change the course of current events, but just like the seeds of a dandelion, the more of us there are, the better chances we have of thriving and finding a place to put down roots.

 

The world, or more specifically humanity, is at a cross roads.  We are at a place where we can decide as to whether we follow the path that industrial agriculture is leading us down, or the path that allows the wild seeds to flourish and heal the landscape.

 

Garlic for planting

Garlic for planting

Our gardens, as an extension of ourselves, our bodies, and communities, have a place in nature.  While humans may display traits similar to an “invasive specie” a lot of the time,  we can also play an important role in helping to heal some of the wounds we have created.  As more of us see the evidence that our current path leads to destruction, it is only through conscience choices and a concerted effort that we can find a better and more resilient path to walk on.

 

That path, the one that leads to a future where we care for the Earth and all its inhabitants is possible.  Its already there, waiting for us to first find it, and then be brave enough to follow it.  It is there behind the monocrops of corn and soy and wheat and rice.  It is there when the blood from CAFOs is washed away.  It is there when we can move past the “40 hour” work week and find truly meaningful work for ourselves to participate in.

 

That path starts in our hearts, our  homes and our gardens.  It is weedy, and gnarled, and imperfect.  It nourishes our bodies and inspires our dreams.  It starts as a young sapling and ends up an old, twisted oak with deep roots.  It is found in a tomato vine and a bean patch, a chicken coop and a beehive.


That path starts with our seeds.  Those that contain the genetics of the food we eat, and those that start as dreams and finish as stories that we tell the next generation.  Our seeds need to be protected and propagated, they are the future.  Save them and plant them and tend them so that others can do the same in turn.  Peace and Cheers.

A path into the future...

A path into the future…

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owentree2

A boy and his dog, and a tree…

I give thanks for my wife and my kids,

and the land, and the house that we call home.

The bees that pollinate the flowers, the trees that grow,

the weeds that heal, the seeds that spread.

 

I give thanks for the talents and skills

that I have cultivated and grown.

Critical thinking, grafting, and gardening of the self

DIY Loving, mending, and building of life.

 

This Good Earth is my home,

It is where I come from and where I end.

 

It is star dust and water,

saw dust and food.

Compost and manure,

Veggie and fruit.

Mushroom and meat.

Worm and bug,

Chicken and duck.

Apple and orange,

Leaf and root.

 

It is freedom. It is health.

It is endangered. It is sacred.

It is our home, and we only have one…

We may be at a place in history, that someday is remembered as a turning point.  A time when we realized how far our nation had fallen into fascism.   A nation ruled by racist, sexist, and homophobic bigots and killers…

Let us move on, and shed the extra weight of intolerance and bigotry.  No, we don’t have to all be alike, but we need to learn how to live together and celebrate our common ground…

Let us listen to the land.  We are as much a part of nature as polar bears or dandelions.  Let us once again find our place in this grand experiment.  Let us leave a bigger handprint, than a footprint and take a proud seat in the counsel of nature…

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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…

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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

 

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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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