Autumn doings

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With temperatures around 40 at night and barely 60 during the day, you can definitely tell it’s autumn around here.

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View from the driveway

Which is fine with me because autumn is my favorite season.

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We’re even having our first fire of the year in the fireplace this evening.  The puppies, who are nearly six months old, were intrigued.
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Awhile back I was discussing the various edible wild plants I had found growing on our property, and I was wishing for a sassafras tree; they were so common when I was a child but I hardly ever see them now.  Well,  I never could find one around here until a few days ago when Philip and I were cutting back some scrub that was growing into the turn-around half way down our driveway.  After cutting back a huge, thorny shrub, I found this:

image I recognized the distinctive sassafras leaves immediately.  I was thrilled!  There will be hot sassafras tea this winter after all.  Philip marked it with some blue tape so that it wouldn’t get cut down by accident.  I want to give it plenty of room to spread under those big oaks behind it.

We’ve been very, very busy working around here after both of us putting in long hours at work.  First: I’ve been tree-planting.  I wait all year for the trees and fruit bushes to go on sale at Lowe’s and such places; they are always clearanced out at the end of September, usually at least 50% off, and I always spend several hundred dollars on new trees.

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I’m filling in any bare spots in our woods that I can find.  The reason I’m trying to have our property as natural and tree-covered as possible (except for the big garden and a small front lawn for the children to play on) is because it encourages wild animals to live here.  I like knowing there are deer, rabbits, squirrel, wild turkeys, and other birds living just outside my door.  Hunting season will simply involve walking down the driveway a bit to the hunting blind we now have set up.  For an interesting post about tree-planting to encourage wildlife, see It Only Took 20 Years by Mr. Pioneer Preppy.

This year I had green beans, yellow beans, and sugar snap peas growing up old pallets I’d set up haphazardly in the garden, but what I really wanted was a bean-and-pea teepee.  My husband salvaged some old skis from his mother’s garage, bolted them together at the top, and made this:

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Next year I’ll string twine around this, leaving one side open, and plant my beans and peas around it.  The kids can then have it as an edible hideout.

He also salvaged some tires because I wanted them for turning into potato towers:

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What you do is stack up two tires, fill it with dirt and compost, and plant your seed potatoes.  As the plants grow, you add tires one at a time, filling in with dirt and compost.  The finished product looks like this:

Harvesting potatoes out of the tires is much easier than digging them out of ice-cold dirt in late fall, which is what I spent many hours doing as a resentful teenager. 🙂

I’m also beginning to lay out my logs for the hugelkultur beds I’ve discussed:

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I have GOT to find time to harvest and set herbs to drying.  I cannot believe this is only one year’s growth on these herbs.  They really, really liked the location I used for my new herb bed. Here you can see cilantro, lemongrass, sage, some basil still hanging on, some rosemary, and a few raspberry plants:

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Remember all the weird zucchini recipes I canned this summer?  Well, I finally cut down the vines, except I missed one, and the zucchini are STILL growing on it!  Look at the size of this one next to my foot:

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I’m just going to chuck these into one of the composters.  Some nice red hot peppers are ready to pick and dry:

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And I’m still getting good watermelons, believe it or not.  We picked and ate one just a couple of days ago, but it just doesn’t taste quite right to eat watermelon in the fall.  I’ll probably compost the rest of these, too, or bring them in to work and put them in the staff lounge for anyone who wants them.

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I ran out of time for canning, but I’ve been picking, baking, mashing, and freezing butternut squash every chance I get.  We love butternut squash, so I want to preserve as much of it as possible.

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Do you ever have something that you swear you didn’t plant sprout up in your garden?  I don’t even know exactly what this is…some kind of pumpkin or gourd thing.  I have no memory of planting this:

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I’ll probably pick it and set it out on the front porch with some pumpkins and straw bales for a fall decoration.

The blueberry bushes should be thriving along the edge of the pond, but they’re only doing so-so – I’m not sure why:

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There is so much work to do and never enough time to do it around here.  This past Friday was homecoming, but instead of getting to go to the parade and football game, I was home sick in bed, no doubt the result of trying to burn the candle at both ends.  I’m still kind of low energy even today and had to drag myself out of bed to drive to church by promising myself a trip to the Dexter Cider Mill afterward:

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Crates full of apples waiting to be run through the cider press.

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The place was packed with people waiting for the cider and doughnuts, both of which are made on site.

Behind the mill is an area where you can sit at picnic tables and look down at the Huron River while you drink your cider and eat your doughnuts:

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One of our daughters climbed down the steep bank to drink her apple cider slushy by the side of the river:

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Hope you’re enjoying this Autumn wherever you are!

Teach a man know-how and he’ll know how for the rest of his life.

You know that old cliche saying Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know that we really are headed for a massive collapse in the near future because I’ve been hearing that for so long that I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that, while it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, it seems more likely that what our world is looking at is a decline from which we aren’t going to recover to our previous baseline of material wealth.  But in either case, know-how and tools seem more important to me than actually storing a ton of finished product.  Now, I say this as someone who likes filling my pantry with home-canned food from my own garden, but I don’t find it useful to have more than a season or two (or at most a year) worth of food stored up (other than salt; I like having a good back-stock of salt, just in case).  What my husband Philip and I do value highly is increasing our know-how.

That popped into my head when I read this comment from JohnnyMac on Frank’s post Brace for Impact:

Our log splitter died and [my brother’s] response was, “We should go out and buy another one.” I diagnosed the problem to a blown gasket where the carburetor joined the engine block. Ordered the $9.30 rebuild kit while he wanted to go out and spend $1,200-.

 

I’ve known people like this, who replace anything that breaks.  That’s so expensive and you don’t learn anything from it!  You don’t increase your know-how.  My husband didn’t really know much about fixing stuff when we first got married, but he finds satisfaction in learning how to fix things and has greatly increased his know-how over the years.  Honestly, I believe he can fix nearly anything now.  I felt such admiration and gratitude when my dryer conked out a few months ago and he disassembled it, spent some time online looking at the manual (nearly all user manuals are available online if you don’t have your original), diagnosed the likely problem, and ordered the necessary part.  He had it working again within a couple days for under $40.  In the mean time, I used drying racks, which I ask for every year for Christmas (I’ve now received six of them).

Here is a little know-how tip for you: Repair Clinic is a valuable resource for diagnosing problems with your appliances and tools and ordering spare parts (disclosure: I have no relationship with this site and receive no compensation from them; this is my honest opinion based on our personal experiences).  You can even call them, as my husband often does, and speak to a person about the problem.  Now, we happen to live within driving distance of their warehouse, so we order the parts for pick-up, thereby saving on shipping, but I bet even if you have to have the parts shipped, it’s still cheaper than buying new, plus you’ve increased your know-how and kept another item out of our overflowing landfills.  It’s a win all around.

Modern Americans are terribly helpless but it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s pretty much indisputable that our material wealth in this country is declining and will probably continue to do so permanently now.  So what?  Maybe eventually we’ll live like people lived 150 years ago.  Again I say, so what?  I’m not all that enamored of what post Industrial Revolution life has done to family life, and what could be more valuable than know-how regardless of what the future holds?

If you read prepper sites, you can get super overwhelmed and feel like you can’t possibly do it all – you can’t store up a year of food, ammunition, medical supplies, etc.  So what I always tell people is start by making a short list of things you want to learn how to do.  Then budget for and acquire the necessary tools to do that thing, learn all you can about it, and then do it.  Right now, go ahead and make yourself a list of the three most important things you’d like to learn how to do, and then start on number one right now.

I’ll even tell you mine:

  1. Continue to improve my food preservation skills, especially focusing on salt-brine lacto-fermentation.  Plan: order a fermentation crock and make sauerkraut with some of my home-grown organic cabbage.
  2. Learn how to cultivate my little orchard so that I actually get a harvest of organic fruit.  This is harder than it sounds.  Between the Cedar-Apple Rust and the Japanese beetles and all the other critters that eat fruit trees, I could easily never harvest a piece of fruit if I don’t increase my know-how.  So far we’ve cut down our cedar trees and put deer fencing around the apple trees:imageI’ve learned that I can hand pick Japanese beetles by dropping them into a bucket of water and then dumping it in the pond, where the fish immediately eat them.  Plan: acquire Tanglefoot and wrapping paper for tree trunks and learn how to apply it.  Learn more about pruning peach and apple trees. Prune our semi-dwarf peach tree which is now in its second year:

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    One of our two peach trees, surrounded by butternut squash vines.

  3. Learn how to fish (no kidding).  Plan: A friend of my husband’s has offered to come over and look at the fishing poles we found in my in-laws basement, show me how to get them operational and how to catch a few of the catfish in our pond.  Then I’ll gut and cook them.  Our daughters have caught fish at camp, but I have never caught or gutted a fish before, and because it involves killing a living creature, this is the one I’m most nervous about.  But I think it’s a good skill to know.

My husband’s:

  1. Build a root cellar type pantry.  Plan: Get industrial metal shelving from someone who wanted to get rid of it but needed it disassembled first.  Clean, paint, and install shelving in our basement storage room where the temperature is always quite cool.
  2. Learn to hunt.  Plan: Take hunter’s ed (which he’s wanted to do for three years but never had the time to do) so that he and the guy who plows our driveway can hunt deer on our land this fall.
  3. Continue to improve his tree-felling skills.  He has cut down several small to medium trees on our property and is learning how to fell them where he wants them and then cut them into logs for use as firewood or in the hugelkultur garden beds I’m working on for next summer.  Plan: cut down old, blighted apple trees.  Cut down larger dead (probably ash) trees.  Acquire chainsaw chaps for safety.  Inventory and sharpen our axes and hatchets and practice cutting down small trees manually with an axe.

Are there any useful skills you want to learn?  What is your plan for learning those skills?

For my further musings on this topic, see my post Helpless.