And yet, here and there…

The finely tuned universe provides a provocative picture of cosmic evolution, but it would be a mistake to ignore the details of the curious path that this biofriendly universe took from the seeming chaos of the big bang to our remarkable planet.  It would also be a mistake to overlook the interesting collateral that was produced along the way.  For every star capable of hosting a biofriendly solar system like our own, a billion dead zones appeared along the way; for every earth-like planet revolving happily around its life-giving sun, there are a million sterile orbs where life could never exist; in between the uncountable interesting lights that dot the night sky are vast swaths of emptiness, implacably hostile to any kind of life.  And yet, here and there, in our vastly extravagant cosmos, there are earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars.  We live on one such planet.

From The Language of Science and Faith by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins

Getting Up the Sweet Potatoes

We harvested our sweet potatoes just ahead of the freeze.  Because the spring and early summer was so rainy and wet, we planted fewer this year than we normally do. Nevertheless it was an all-day affair.

Sweet potatoes are delicious and super-nutritious.  They grow well in the heat of the summer and store easily.  I consider them an essential homesteading food.

The process starts at the end of April, when we take some of the sweet potatoes we harvested the previous fall and cover them in sawdust (preferably composted).  We keep the sawdust moist and soon the potatoes will begin producing sprouts that we call “slips.” Around the first of  June we pull up the slips and transplant them into the garden.  It’s important to water the slips thoroughly when they’re planted so they’ll take root.  After that they shouldn’t need watering at all.

Deer eat sweet potato vines like candy, so it’s necessary to find some way to keep them out. We’ve been lucky using portable net fencing, energized with a solar-powered battery.

We try to cultivate once to suppress weeds until the plants start vining well.  Once they start growing they’ll spread out and smother most weeds.

We usually aim to harvest ours around Halloween.  A little frost won’t hurt them but it’s important to have them out of the ground before a freeze.

The first step is to pull off all the vines.  This year we added ours to the compost pile.  If our pigs had still been here, they would have enjoyed feasting on them.

Vines for the compost pile

Vines for the compost pile

Some critter, I'm guessing a rabbit, has been chewing on these

Some critter, I’m guessing a rabbit, has been chewing on these

We grow a lot of them, so we use a tractor and potato plow to dig up the rows.  For small gardens a digging fork will work fine.

Plowing them up

Plowing them up

The good...

The good…

...the bad

…the bad

...and the ugly.

…and the ugly.

We lay the potatoes out and let them dry out in the sun for a few hours (so this is a job best done on a dry, sunny day).  Then we gather them all up and spread them out on a tarp in our basement to cure.  Ideally they should be cured in warmer temperatures, but we don’t have a place to do that.  We put them in a place where they’ll receive direct sunlight through windows though and that has always worked fine for us.

In a few weeks they’ll be cured.  Curing brings out the sweetness and readies them for long-term storage.  To see if they’re ready, just rub two potatoes together.  If the skin rubs off they still need to cure more.  If not, they’re ready for storage.

Then we put them in porous crates and move them to a dark cool place in the basement. It’s important to check them occasionally over the winter to make sure none are rotting.  A rotten potato or two can spoil a whole crate of them.

The best part of all this, of course, is eating them.

I’m looking forward to that.

Who’s Crazy?

Going into a grocery store always makes me judgmental.

Yesterday we had to go into one to get a few items.  As usual, I saw carts full of sugary, fatty, salty processed food, being pushed by people who were obese and obviously unhealthy. Many of them looked liked medical disasters underway or waiting to happen.

My reaction is always the same.  Are these people crazy?  I mean literally. Are they mentally ill?  Are they blind to the fact that they’re being poisoned by the stuff they eat? Don’t they see that it’s ruining their health?

When insane behavior is the norm, then behaving reasonably looks weird.

It is folks like us who our culture  thinks are a little crazy, not the obese people pushing shopping carts full of junk food.

Our culture’s addiction to over-consumption manifests itself it other ways as well.

We live in the wealthiest society the world has ever known, by far, yet few of us live within our means.  As a whole we’re burdened with debt, from the government to the individual. Our economic system is founded on debt.  Not everyone is in debt for bad reasons, and some temporary debt is not necessarily a bad thing.  But many in our culture are in debt as a result of pursuing instant gratification, keeping up with the Joneses and allowing themselves to be manipulated by the cultural pressures to borrow and spend.  As someone once put it, we spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.

The corporations that manufacture and sell all the stuff we’re buying aren’t interested in nourishing our bodies or keeping us financially sound–their only interest is profits.  Legally that’s the only legitimate interest of a corporation–to maximize shareholder profits.  It’s up to us to exercise good judgment when making food choices and determining how and when to spend money.

That’s hard to do in this culture, of course.  We are subjected to relentless messages designed to make us unhappy and discontent.  We’re told in countless ways that more stuff will make us happy.  We’re allowed and encouraged to buy it now and pay for it later.  And so we end up enslaved to the system, as we’re required to work jobs we hate in order to pay back the money we borrowed to buy stuff we didn’t need.

Yet all we have to do is refuse.  At first it may be hard to muster the self-control and discipline to resist the pressure to buy the stuff and eat the junk.  But it doesn’t take long to get used to saying no.  Then soon those who were once herded around with the other sheep will step away from the flock, and look back on them, wondering why they can’t see it too.

For now, it is the folks who are ruining their health with processed food and spending borrowed money to buy stuff they don’t need that are the norm. Those who choose a debt-free life of voluntary simplicity and who choose to eat only whole natural foods are considered weird.

That’s just crazy.

Apple Envy

This is the time of year when plenty of folks are trying to figure out what to do with all the apples their trees are producing.  I’ve been seeing lots of references to the challenges of dealing with beaucoup apples.  This is not an issue on our farm.  I have a bit of apple envy.

When we started trying to reclaim our farm years ago, the ancient orchard hadn’t been tended in a long time.  It was just too far gone to save.

So we started over again and planted lots of trees, favoring traditional old-fashioned apples from this area.  Keeping the deer from destroying them has been a challenge, but they’re starting to mature and produce now.  We’re happy to have the apples, but so far it’s only a few.

I spent many hours of my childhood sitting in apple trees around this farm, eating apples.  I liked them tart and green.  I probably ate my weight in them every year.

Apples are one of earth’s most nutritious (and tastiest) foods, but probably not in the quantities I ate them and certainly my grown-up stomach would object to the green ones I loved as a kid.

My mother didn’t want to see anything go to waste, so when the apples were in she made apple sauce, apple butter, apple juice, fried apples, baked apples and apple pies.  She canned them and froze them.  We were never short of apples in our house.  In those days we had the problem of trying to find ways to use or save all the apples the farm was producing–the same problem I’ve seen so many folks mentioning lately.

Maybe someday I’ll be wondering what to do with all our apples.  But for now, I just envy those who do.

How Great

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

From the hymn How Great Thou Art

Hunkering Down

Recently I posted about how the cool weather and change of seasons allows us to slow down here on the farm and relax a little.  Well, Mother Nature laughed at me.

The weather has turned cold.  Really cold.  We’re still about a week away from our average first frost date but the last two nights we’ve had freeze warnings.  It’s way too early for that.  The temperature as I type this (at about 5:30 a.m.) is 26.

A little frost this time of year is no big deal.  But a freeze is a whole different ball game.  That prospect of a freeze created a sense of urgency about some things that we’d normally handle more leisurely.

So over the last couple of days, while still doing CSA deliveries and on-farm sales, we had to start up our wood-burning furnace, get up the sweet potatoes, get the garlic and onions planted and covered, get in the last of the tomatoes and okra, harvest all the black beans, disconnect the hoses from the outdoor spigots and put heaters in the pasture waterers.

The garlic all tucked in for winter

The garlic all tucked in for winter

As if all that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, deer hopped the fence around our main fall garden and ate the beets and swiss chard.  Knowing they’d be coming back for everything else, we put down “liquid fence,” tied perfume-soaked rags to the fence, and put up more mannequins.  They hopped into the pea garden as well, but since the peas were almost all gone I just took down the fence so they could get in without jumping the fence (not wanting to encourage their fence-jumping).

A lot of that got done in the dark, but it all got done.

Now the question is how badly our fall vegetables have been damaged.

Getting Worms


We have a worm bin in our basement.  Worms are very easy to keep.  Getting started is a simple process.  We just give them our coffee grounds (filter and all) as well as some occasional crushed eggshells and they thrive.  A worm bin can easily be maintained in an apartment and is a excellent way to produce compost and plant food.

Here’s a link to the simple instructions we used to set ours up:

We bought the worms from a nearby source we found online and they mailed them to us. A better way would be to put a request up on some place like craigslist, to find a local source that would provide them for free.  All you need is a handful.  Nature will take over from there.


The castings from a worm bin are awesome fertilizer.  Just take a little and add it to the hole when planting transplants.  “Worm tea” can be made easily, by pouring water into the worm bin, then collecting what drains out the bottom.  Dilute that with water and spray it on seedlings to boost their growth naturally.

The worms can also be used as fishing bait, of course.

Worms don’t like light so they will have no interest in trying to escape.  They are odorless, so that’s not an issue either.

Adding a worm bin is a simple and easy way to take a step toward a more sustainable life.