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The ‘Burbs and the Bees

30 Jan

First off, I have to give thanks to my very nice neighbor, who brought me some delicious food last night from a work function. The cookies went first, so she couldn’t bring any. The spinach-artichoke dip (which became breakfast) was just addictive–I told her it should be Schedule 2 illegal. The meatballs were perfect for lunch, too. She promises next week that there will be lemon bars on the menu, which she promises to bring, as well as chicken poblano dip. YUM. I loved the lemon bars last year. She remembered. That’s why I’ll walk her doggie anytime.

Oh, and she gave me some home-grown oranges when she came back after Christmas. I saved some of the seeds to sprout and plant. Love oranges.

My last blog post about Suzy Homemaker appliances now has me looking on eBay for that stuff and wondering a) where I will put it, b) when can I buy it, and c) when can I buy a house so that I can have my Suzy Homemaker room to put them in. Sorry, you think about a lot of stuff when you’re unemployed and working on other opportunities.

And, you can actually buy an original Amana Radarange on eBay, right now. My dad bought one in 1976, when they were VERY expensive–a lot more than the $100 or less at Target. Oh, no, we went to a special appliance store in Metairie and got one. This was a big deal for us, and he figured with four kids it would make life a little easier on Mom. (I never asked, though.) They only parted with it because it stopped working (like, maybe 1997?) and they couldn’t get it repaired anymore (or maybe they didn’t care.) Still, it was a great appliance, and if it didn’t weigh 50 pounds and take up half my little kitchen, I might consider bidding on it.

So in my Wall Street Journal this morning,”Personal Journal” section, there was this article about the new Agrarian Collection at Williams-Sonoma. I get emails and catalogs from both Williams-Sonoma and from Sur la Table, but this was new to me. Had no idea they had this whole new collection. It’s for a specific niche market that’s been around for a long time, but let me give you a little background, first.

Lately the press has thrown around the word “prepper” like it was a negative thing, since it was attached to a negative news story. They always tell you that it’s people getting ready for the end of the world or something. Not always. I’m not venturing into that fray of course, but being a “prepper,” or having emergency plans for disasters, is not really a bad thing. Living in Houston as I have since 1998, and in New Orleans for most of my younger years, we do “prepping” frequently, because hurricanes have an affinity for the south. You keep stuff around for emergencies. Extra water. Batteries for the radio and flashlights. Canned food. Stuff like that. Lots of books are dedicated to the subject; I have a few of them as well.

I’ve also noticed that when people start doing their own thing, which is as American as apple pie, the media REALLY likes to ridicule the people doing it. Homesteading and having some preparations, is one of those things to be ridiculed. Until the day you are prepared, and then you’re not so nuts.

As technology has gotten more sophisticated, more people have things like generators and solar chargers for phones and computing devices. You can go all out for stuff like this, if you want, and be ready for just about anything. Yes, even the end of the world that didn’t quite happen in December.

And, you can bet that the New York/New Jersey part of the country will become preppers after Sandy gave them a taste of what we go through in the south periodically. Hurricane Ike didn’t have snow attached to it. In about six months the New York Times will pick up that story, and the Los Angeles Times may decide to run it so Californians can read about the new east coast preppers. Maybe they’ll get the idea they should be more ready for earthquakes, too. . .just sayin’.

I don’t wish that kind of thing on anybody, of course, but, you know earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, and droughts happen, so keep reading.

A few years ago I was involved with a bloke who, among other things, wanted us to a) get married and b) live in the country. (My “townie” friends were horrified when we actually looked at properties.) The second part appealed to me, since I’ve long had this idea of moving out of the city and raising veggies and maybe even chickens for eggs and, well, chicken. At the time, I had a good job in IT, and he didn’t. He lived 50 miles to the north, meaning that I would be driving 100 miles a day to go to work. I’d be dead in six months after I bought the new car I’d need to commute, but that didn’t deter him. Eventually, I realized he was a control freak, and it took quite a lot of prayer to get rid of him (because “I don’t want to marry you, please go away” didn’t seem to do the trick.)

It’s called “Homesteading,” and folks from all walks of life, and in all kinds of places, are doing it. Growing vegetables has caught on in urban and suburban areas partly because of the economy, but also because of a “back to the land” mentality. There is nothing wrong with this.

But you know when something goes mainstream, gets “popular,” it’s not “cool” anymore. Oh, well.

I have a small plot of land , measuring 8’x5′, and I’ve been trying to make it a full-blown garden. So far I’ve got mint, scallions (green onions), rosemary, and a surprise bamboo shoot from a plant I thought was long dead. And weeds, which I’ll be digging up one of these days to plant lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and basil. (I like salads and making pesto.) I’m also trying to sprout and grow a pineapple top. My container garden is a little simpler than one you’d see elsewhere. Paint buckets from Home Depot are cheap.

With the “wedding” off, I got back to a normal life, and the idea of buying property and doing some of my own farming stuck with me. I haven’t done it yet, being unemployed and all, but I love reading magazines like Urban Farm, Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home (kind of like Martha Stewart Living for the farm set, with good recipes, ideas and advice for the modern-day farm household.) Guess I should subscribe, so I can keep them coming. I mean, what’s not to like about growing nuts for food and profit?

But now, Williams-Sonoma has a line of products for the homesteading backyard farmer, including a $1,300 chicken coop, a $29.95 butter making kit, a $598 vintage copper cricket weather vane, as well as an $11.95 herb garden kit. Not to mention raised bed planters, a fungi log for growing your own mushrooms, vertical planters for small spaces like mine, beekeeping equipment, canning and preserving, food dehydrators, sprouters. .. crikey, just go look at it if you don’t believe me.

Oh, here’s something  I’ll be all over: the Asian Tofu Cookbook. NOT!

The Wall Street Journal article says that they will be publishing a standalone catalog for this line, too. Urban Outfitters is also getting into the act, with Terrain gardening centers, targeted to women. I haven’t looked at that one yet, but I should see if we have one here in Houston.

I wonder if they have their own version of the Topsy Turvy planters? I have one but it didn’t go well last year. I put it away, and will try it again soon. Heck, maybe more than one.

Back in WWII, people did this kind of thing as a matter of course. Henry Fonda–yes, the movie star–was famous for his Victory Garden. People raised chickens, veggies, canned, all that stuff, even in the city, however they could. Over time, we got away from doing these things for ourselves.City folks tend to look down on farming types, but suddenly it’s “fashionable” to be a homesteader.

I have a replica poster from WWII that says “Sew For Victory.” Well, sewing is my favorite thing to do, and I thought it was appropriate decor. But that’s what people did. Now, we’re getting back to doing for ourselves, bit by bit.  I’m glad to see that, but I don’t think I’m gonna be buying a $1,300 chicken coup.

While Williams-Sonoma is just branching out into a new market, and they call it a “lifestyle,” I have to say that taking care of yourself can’t be a bad thing. Can it? I mean, my paint bucket garden isn’t something you’ll see in River Oaks or Beverly Hills. Unless that’s a big dirty secret.

Confession: two years ago, we had a drought here in Texas. Bad one. I planted zucchini (from a small potted plant) and cantelope (from seed) back there, and they took over half the plot! I watered it carefully, but over time, the heat and dry conditions were too much, and they shriveled up and died. What survived is what I still have, except the rosemary, but that’s another story.

Here in Texas, it’s getting on digging-up and planting season, and I need to get back there and get busy with it. I should have planted sugar snap peas back in November, but have been otherwise occupied. I love them, but they’re expensive, so why not grow them? Ditto for celeriac, fennel, and some other pricey veg. This year I hope to successfully grow grape tomatoes, finally, as well as bell peppers and cucumbers along with lettuce and the aforementioned things I haven’t killed yet. Oh, and I want to grow lots of strawberries. I love strawberries. Louisiana’s are the best, Texas comes in second. I think the birds got the few that made it last year. Maybe a Topsy Turvy strawberry planter will work better.

I’m not producing ALL my food yet, heck not much of it at all, but I’ll make the effort. Maybe even some cantelope this year. (Love that too.)

You can see the short WSJ video here. And if you have any growing tips, or ideas for stuff, pass it along in the comments.

If you’re interested in homesteading, I can also recommend Backwoods Home magazine, which has a free newsletter and a few free Kindle issues on Amazon.com; you’d just have to search for them. There are also a lot of free articles on their website; just search for what you need. Keep in mind that these are folks that really do live in the backwoods, not in a wooded suburb. This is the real thing.

I also came across this book, Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich, after reading about it by a newspaper colunmnist for the Houston Chronicle.  It’s an interesting read with good advice and even a few good recipes. She talks about what it was like to have her attitude changed towards a lot of things–you’d have to read it to understand. She talks about sewing, too, although not the kind of sewing I like to do, just stuff to get you started on your way to self-reliance.

Another good book for the “prepper” is Just In Case by Kathy Harrison. Geared toward emergency preparedness, it’s a good basic manual for being ready for emergencies. June will be here before you know it, so I guess I should re-read it again soon before hurricane season.

Of course, these are just books I have in my possession–a trip to Amazon.com or a bookstore and a little searching will yield lots of titles on both homesteading and preparedness (not to mention cooking and sewing.)

Let me say here and now that if you suddenly decide to do a little homesteading and a little preparedness, you are not nuts. You are taking care of business and getting ahead of a problem. There is nothing wrong with that. Think about the pictures and the stories of folks who lived through Sandy just a few weeks ago, and you’ll see it’s not a bad idea.

You can also buy freeze-dried food online, similar to the MREs that the military uses, and seeds stored in sealed cans for long-term storage. Many are non-GMO and will last many years. Ditto for the freeze-dried food. I have never tried this stuff, but if ever I do, I’ll let you know. I haven’t even taught myself canning yet, although I do have the Ball book for it.

See why I need a house?

Happy Dining!

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