Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 2015 Update

Wow, it's been over a year since I've blogged here.  Health issues and economizing have meant trimming extra expenses and I can now post here after having the computer cleaned up and accessing wifi somewhere besides home anymore.  I knew McDonalds was good for something, ha!

I was bedridden a good bit in 2014 with a chronic illness.  In July I was able to ambulate enough to putter a bit, and I really really needed to be outdoors if for no other reason than for my own mental frame of mind!  I rented a plot at the nearby community garden in August 2014 in order to try my hand at growing things we're not set up for in our yard at home...the community garden has a lot of tools and resources right on site.  After initial setup, the plot is a combination of no-till  no-dig and intensive planting.  

This is plot 20, which was initially flat and overgrown with weeds.  I made an L shaped trench inside the 10X20 foot square and dug it down about 3 feet, piling the mostly sandy soil up around the edges to make the raised beds.  I noticed the walkway soil next to the plot was really fertile and in disuse, so I dug those up as well, piling the interior beds higher.  Then I filled in the trenches with composted woodchips  from the piles of them at the garden.  That process would take most people a couple days, maybe.  It took me three or four months.  I would work a few minutes at a time and then sit out for a bit...that was all I could do.

The aisles were all weeds until they were filled with wood chips.  Then on all sides I layered plastic tarp, a thick layer of flattened cardboard (from throwaway boxes from the grocery), and then a thick final layer of wood chips.  This  process elevated the bed considerably.  In the actual raised part I made into the garden beds, I put down thin limbs, green waste, and shredded newspaper in almost a hugelkultur (sp?) way slightly buried under ground level and then piled all the soil atop that in a thick layer. On top of all?  Composted cow manure, the cheapest type of soil amendment I can find without weed seeds in it.  Timberline has 40# bags for $1.57 at Home Depot.  They know me well :)

I put down a thick top layer of the composted manure and watered everything in periodically from a frighteningly stinky homemade compost tea, ha!  The one thing I would change with this design is to make the raised beds  no more than 2 1/2 feet wide...I find the 4 foot reach a bit too far to really reach into the middle (over and upwards) without having to step into the actual bed.  But I do like the "hump" type of raised bed, where the middle becomes raised a bit higher than the sides of each raised bed, because the plants seem to like it and some of them like the peak and others the valleys.

What happened to our land?  It's still there, patiently awaiting us when we find a way to recommence further clearing and fencing.  Our plan has always been for the long term.  I have slowed us down way too much this last two years, my health.  That was a matter of some depression and frustration on my part, especially the very limited mobility and the expenses that arose and put us just about under.  God teaches me patience and He gave me this as a little project, a way  to keep on trying.  If we do get to the land, this will have given me more hands on experience.  Jack tends the alternative-use trees on our current home lot and has gotten really really good at growing those.   Two guavas are fruiting for the first time, the blood orange tree has its first few fruits in years, the moringas and chayas are simply prolific and he is incorporating some wild plant volunteers alongside the other trees.  The jujube is still hardy and both small plums were loaded with fruit this year.  They tasted pretty bitter, but maybe that will change as they mature?  The honeybees are happy with the trees and the trees seem quite happy with them!

I'm learning a lot out at the community garden.  The biggest lesson I'm learning so far is to not fight the zone and the season.  A LOT of gardeners here in Florida just call it quits from about May till September as far as gardening, especially vegetables.  I grew some beautiful greens all winter here, only stopping with the heat in about March.  The summer-loving plants I've learned will enjoy growing in this prolonged heat here are:  Amaranths (we grow the edible leaf types), sweet potatoes, poblano and hot peppers,  eggplants(!!), yard long beans, and okra.  That doesn't seem like much of a veggie crop, but we are trying to grow enough of the amaranths and sweet potatoes to use as an alternative crop of greens during summer months.  We're experimenting this summer.  The flowers that love the heat are the zinnias, cosmos and the volunteer cannas I've transplanted from the overflow common areas nearby. Oh, and some herbs really love the heat, especially the lemongrass.  There's a whole list of things I planted that I had to pull up.  I was hopeful for the green beans but they don't care for our summers.  The melonworms got all the squashes, too, so maybe next time around I'll know more about using Neem or Bt.

Anyway, it's a short update,  but the first I've been able to shoot out in what feels like forever!  Let's just say health problems can keep us from doing what we thought we'd be doing, but there are ways to tailor efforts to an ongoing attempt to keep on keeping on.

Our freezer is full of frozen greens from the winter months and some very clumsy attempts to grow things in raised beds.  I'm now from one plot to two, and am taking on a third very soon, and another shared one.  The  nice thing about intensive planting "no dig" is that you just continue layering plant material and compost or other soil building materials without disturbing the soil much.  Even folks with back problems or reduced stamina or mobility can access the beds from the sides and put in plant starts with nothing but simple hand tools, or seed things directly by hand. 

We have found so far that the fall and winter crops that do well are the greens...Kale, swiss chard, mustard, collards...and nasturtiums for enjoyment :)  Green beans do amazingly well in fall and spring.  My poblanos made it ALL year, even through the freezes and are still cranking out fruit!  I'm not a big fan yet of Florida tomatoes...sand doesn't lend itself to producing much flavor, but the cherry tomatoes are great anyway.

And some day I'll tell you about this monster (fondly smiling) called Bolivian sunflower...

For now, happy gardening...I'm happy and grateful and wanted to share these pics.  Hope to have some newer ones soon!

:)  Robbyn

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Long Ramble

I'm home alone tonight while Jack is at work, and I'm feeling reflective.

I think and overthink a lot during the quiet hours.  I've had a lot of quiet hours.

After a long road of physical  nosedive, we concluded enough tests to eliminate some of the bad boys...cancer, lupus, MS, Lyme disease, and so on.  I was very relieved, and so was Jack.  Now we're in a strange no-man's-land of a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  Apparently it's been building for the last 20 years or so, with flare-ups and then periods of functionality, all of which I put under the vague headings of not being active enough, being overweight, not eating enough veggies and so on.  The attempts to heal have been varied and many over the years, for what? I was never sure.

When I went in last December to the ER thinking I was in the middle of a heart attack, and knowing it was not a panic attack, that terrified me.  It was completely beyond my control, and I don't like that, ever.  Pair that with a cyclically inflamed knee (torn meniscus) ranging from being able to walk for shorter periods of time to being unable to walk without a walker...and you have a very sad Me.  I was very very sad.

And I lay on the couch, unable to get up.  I could not stay in a sad place the whole time, I don't want to get lost there.  I got to live in a space I have not been in a long time...a place of quiet and stillness.  Always we were scrambling to work, to pay for repairs for vehicles so we could continue to work, and in the job I had for the past three years (gratefully!) to be a caregiver and companion,  I guess I did not realize how "up" I tried to keep myself as I cared for the two octogenarian ladies I cared for (same location) at that time.  I was the caregiver, confidante, soother, errand-runner, problem-solver, and ultimately grief stabilizer for both ladies.  I was there for the moments of emergencies, hospital stays, and ultimately death.  That pulled so much from inside me, an interior world I never knew could rise to those challenges till the tests came.  And I am grateful to God for the honor, as well.  I think it was the right time, the right situation, and taught me so many lessons.  It was a gift that I still don't fully understand yet, but still cherish.  After three years of 12 hour shifts, I was tired myself.

After they died, no assignment was the same.  There is always an adjustment between long term client assignments and getting to know someone else's needs, and I pushed to rise to that level of competence.  It did not come easily.  I found that after a day's work, I would come home so much in pain that I could not walk (the knees) the next day, or with an exhaustion that made me wonder if I'd actually wake back up once I went to sleep that night.  But I just equated all of that with the "same-ole, same-ole"....needing to get healthier and so on.  I kept my smile, my enthusiasm was real, and I wore my game face.  I am a professional.

During the off days, we would take the ones we could to go do work at the land, i.e. the farm, which was slow going because of our learning curve and the fact Jack was doing most of the actual labor himself.  Still, it did our hearts good to see progress being made!  The dream of a more self sufficient life removed from many of the expenses it takes to live where we currently do still burns perpetually within us.  We do not romanticize it.  We plan and work for and pray for it.  It got to where I was so exhausted after my regular work days that when we went to the land, there were times I had to just sit out any activity.  That progressed to having to lie down.  That is NOT me.  Looking back on it I see a progression, but during those days all I thought was "tired!"  Then came the night I thought I was having a heart attack, and could not stop the escalation.  Then the ER.

We are in too vulnerable position financially.  The ER visit expenses did not help.  Initially, I think we both panicked.  It became clear I could not return to work, and the panic in my heart was real, a real grief when realizing how that would affect the progress of our mutual efforts to get to the farm, to get it set up enough with just the most basic of basics for us to move there in any form.

I could not do anything there for many weeks but lie in bed or on the couch.  I'm not much of a crybaby.  But tears would stream out of the corners of my eyes, especially seeing how Jack just remained calm and carried on.  I could see the impact of this changed situation, and feel the added weight on his shoulders.  To his credit, he only showed frustration or panic a couple times.  We are very open about everything with each other.  He told me the truth:  God is in control of this and life happens to us all. (I knew this).  He was calm.  I said "what's the plan from here?"  He said "same plan, we just stay steady as possible."  And again, the tears just squeezed their way out of the corners of my eyes.

Then something happened, slowly, as the days progressed.  I talked to God a lot.  Sometimes out loud, but mostly in my mind, where the thoughts go too quickly or not organized enough to really verbalize them.  He quieted things and I began to think of this as a Quiet Place.  I could not pump myself up, leap over this hurdle, pretend I felt better than I did, push myself the way I always had.  I had no choice.  Don't get me's not my nature.  I'm an overcomer, even in the times when it's been with reluctance to pick up and try again.  Just dash me with a hot shower, let me caffienate, jump into my clothes and pep talk myself beyond the physical discomfort and "get 'er done!"  That's how I roll.  Or rolled...

Anyway, I won't belabor this.  This has been humbling.  And I stopped to just be grateful.  That I'm still here.  Perpetually thankful for this husband I can't believe is so amazing, steady, loving.  Noticing the things I'd never had the time to just sit (or lie down) and notice...looking out the back french door windows and seen things green up, seeing what birds were singing, seeing how simple things boiled down to...eating, showering, clothes, bathroom, sleep.  Humbling.  Even walking was not taken for granted.  Noticing the levels of discomfort as they ramped up to pain, and the relief when they abated.

How did we ever decide to get the bees?

I lay there on this couch, not feeling well enough to blog or check facebook or do emails, not even to read a book.  So I closed my eyes and thought "what can I still do to help us get to the land?"  It's always in my mind.  I turned on youtube to listen to things, and remembered that I had always been intimidated with the idea of keeping bees, but remained curious.  Every time I'd picked up a book in the past, hoping to grasp the terminology or the understanding of how a hive functions, a few pages in I was intimidated by the unfamiliar terms and the seeming complexity.  So in my enforced couch-dwelling, I decided to put on some long-play talks on basic beekeeping.  That's how something took root and began to grow.

I was on that couch many, many days.  My mind had to do something even if the rest of me couldn't.  And so I continued to play long youtube bee videos.  I had plenty of questions and was still so lost in the terminology after a point.  So I'd just re-listen. I kept hearing people assure others how easy beekeeping really was...easier than keeping a hamster or a cat, they said.

In that quiet place of resignation and just leaning in to what I had no control over, in that stillness, I grew to love the bees.  Some clarity began to take shape, slowly.  I began to understand some of the basic needs and to see that there was a lot of unpredictability, but within it, a timeless simplicity.  People have been "befriending" bees from the beginning of recorded history.  And this became a thought, a consideration.  An idea, which was something I COULD learn, even if passively.  And hope was planted in my heart again.

I'll stop here for now. There is a part two.  But this is part one...the quiet place of relinquishing control I never truly had in the first place, of gratefulness, of slowness, and of pain and a big stop sign to pause the fast forward my days had been paced like before.  Closed doors one direction, open ones another.  And stillness.

I'm grateful for a home to rest in, a couch to lie on, a husband who loves me like I could never have hoped, a daughter I get to connect with nearly every day.  Friends, who care.  Whatever this is all meant to mean, and I don't know what that is, I am glad the clock stopped where I could feel the presence of a world suspended for a time and realize I never had any control in the first place.  This all is God's goodness.  He has been so, so good to us.  I can't explain how the losses of the past years, not just this bump in the road, have left me humble.  And grateful.  Somehow He sits with me in that quiet place and I can hurt or have joy, and it's ok.  It's ok when it's not ok...sometimes the miracle is that there is life at all and when we wake up, there is another day.  And that all we actually have or hold is now, this moment, and nothing else is guaranteed.

I watch golden showers of bees dancing in the mid-afternoon sunlight and it's joy.  I hope they feel mine.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bee Installation

The last week of March was when our empty hives finally were filled with bees!

At first we had planned to buy a nuc from a beekeeping friend we met when we responded to a craigslist ad advertising treatment-free raw honey.  Bob was really nice and is a true lover of honeybees.  He often does bee removals, which is how he gets some of his colonies.  He had put together a few nucs to sell, and we were planning on starting outs with a couple of his nucs.

It goes to show "you never  know about bees" (Pooh quote :))

The day before I called him to confirm a date to pick up our nucs, ALL his bees had disappeared.  All but a few in one hive.  He was gobsmacked.  And obviously we had to find another source.

Again with craigslist, there was a lead that we followed.  We bought two 5-frame  nucs from a local beekeeper (commercial) and it included delivery and installation.  They were to be delivered in two days and we had  not prepared a base to put under the hives yet.  So we scrambled to Lowe's and bought some concrete blocks and other stuff, but only ended up using the concrete block.  I basically stacked them two high and made a solid platform for the hives, since they still seemed a little wobbly when I tried them just on two smaller stacks of blocks.  We may figure something else out later down the road, but nothing is going to be pushing these over for now.

And late one Thursday afternoon, Kyle arrived with our bees!

These are the pics of his installing them, along with his assistant.  He had enclosed the queens in cages, and they were already proven queens and were with the specific nuc in which they'd already been raising brood.  The queen cages were attached between two frames of brood and were released (again) by the bees outside the cage eating their way through a sugar plug to free the queen(s).  The 5 frames were installed and the additional empty frames added to the sides to make two hives with 10 frames each.  The foundation we went with this time was the black ritecell plastic foundation coated with some beeswax, per Bob's recommendation and several other local beeks.  Next time around, we may go with honey super cell, but as far as cost went, this time we could afford the other.

Next installment soon...on the learning curve of the beekeeper (us!!)...and how I came to understand what orientation flights really were...ha!

We are loving these little fuzzy flying ladies...they are a joy!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's been a long time since I've written about life at our place.
I've been ill for a long time, and yet there is much good to tell.
I'll try to reflect on a few of those things in upcoming posts!

In the meantime, say hello to the wonderful ladies now living in the backyard... :)


Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review -- Gift it from Scratch

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, from Gift it from Scratch by Katie Lapcevic
I'm delighted to review the new cookbook, Gift it from Scratch by Kathie Lapcevic,  blogger maven at Homespun Seasonal Living!

Kathie is always a treasure trove of new ideas, practical solutions, and endless creativity.  This new book of hers, offered as an e-book,  is no different.  It focuses on food gifts made from scratch and offers so many ideas with each recipe.  She gives suggestions for assembling care packages and gifts thoughtfully, and how to pair items to personalize them.  Variations are offered to tweak recipes according to available ingredients and personal tastes.  And the scope of recipe categories offers something for everyone -- breads, both yeasted and quick types, heartier comfort foods, cookies, cakes, muffins, snacks and crackers, and so much more!

I'm enthusiastic about this book because each recipe is not only well-tested, but is a standby in Kathie's own kitchen.  This carries a lot of weight with me, as I prefer much-loved recipes with a history and proven track record.  Gift it from Scratch delivers.  I also appreciate that the recipes call for ingredients that can be easily found right in the pantry.  I'm inclined to cook something with ingredients close at hand.  I feel like I just inherited a treasured family heirloom, and I can't wait to bake my way through the book.

I began with the family recipe Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, a classic.  They were very good, and the instructions flexible enough for me to have some of them my way, soft and chewy, and for my husband to have the others his way, crunchy.  I managed to get one photo.  You'll have to take my word for it, they were great.  There is no evidence left of that first batch! ha

This little book will be a catalyst for inspiration when tailoring meaningful, memorable gifts.  Making something with our own two hands transforms ordinary ingredients into something more than the sum of their parts.  It's the difference between grabbing fast food on the go and coming home to a house warm with delicious kitchen smells and the comfort of a hearty welcome.  Baking homemade gifts extends that home-style kitchen welcome far beyond the boundaries of our own four walls.  Kathie offers suggestions about affordable gift items to pair with the baked goods to personalize gifts or tailor them to specific occasions or life events.   I found the possibilities endless, and I'll be adopting some of these myself.

So what are you waiting for??  Get your own copy.  Mine is already initiated with a few spills from actually using it!  Also the author of the blog Two Frog Home, Kathie is familiar to many homesteading and other bloggers and blog readers.  Her book is a fantastic resource, and would  make a delightful gift itself to pair with some of the wonderful baked creations you'll find in it.  Congratulations to Kathie for opening her kitchen to us!