Doing things right

This is my old Kelvinator beer/worm/water fridge (and a bunch of clutter). This old thing has been going for Lord knows how long. I suspect one of my kids will have this thing in their garage when I’m gone.

It’s not pretty. It’s obviously doesn’t have bells and whistles (though the drawer on bottom does hold a lot of dinosaurs. I had to rewire the plug head after it’s last and final move. But it just keeps going.

I am a bit nostalgic for the 50’s. Now, I realize there were still a lot of bad and disgraceful things occurring in the 50’s, but it was also a time when the family unit was largely intact. When neighbors knew each other and when people were happy with what they had generally. And things were still done and built the right way.

Modern stuff can be wonderful. Improvements in efficiency and design have done some great things, but I’m more inclined to shun a lot of modern things.

I don’t trust the bells and whistles to hold their value. There is an axis of value of course when finding parts is an issue or when a quality manufacturer exists still (stihl chainsaws), but generally, I’ll take an old pick up with crank windows over a sports car with air conditioned seats.

But realistically, I can’t go around buying very many appliances from the 50’s so I end up looking for a dishwasher that is pretty basic and ideally one that is used.  I don’t need one that has multiple steam settings or an electronic display to tell me how complete it is. I need a machine that can dump a lot of water and soap on my dishes (we generally wash ours by hand so I’m just using that as an example).

I’ve written about my 1995 Ford bronco before I believe. I drive 16.4 miles a day round trip. It cost me $2,200 14 months ago. I replaced the fuel pump last fall, but has otherwise run just great for me.

Instead of being jealous of that sports car next to me at a stop light,  I’m jealous of the old timer in a 1980’s pick up that looks like crap, but runs smooth. That guy in the sports car is probably paying $500+ a month for that depreciating vehicle. The old timer has a fully depreciated asset that has been paid off for 30 years. Who’s the smarter man?  I hope those air conditioned seats are worth that payment fella.

The work we do around the homestead is hard at times. I’ve dug holes for plants on ridiculously hot days and I’ve dug them in the rain, but the old adage of digging a $50 hole for a $2 plant is true. If I take the time to dig a proper hole up front, that plant has a much better chance of doing well and paying for itself. Stacking firewood properly means the wood is likely to remain dry and ready to use when we need it.

At the end of the day, I’ve found that homesteading isn’t easy but taking the time to do things right pays off in the long run. Throwing money at something works, but isn’t our approach. Efficient use of time and money is what I want. How does this dollar or hour of my time provide the best long term value for this homestead?  Every expenditure of time or money should be weighed according to long-term value.


There’s stupid, then there’s what you’re trying to do…

That title is a variation of a line from Hoosiers that I always enjoyed.    If you’ve never seen the movie, even if you don’t like basketball, it’s worth watching.  The gist of the line is that there are two kinds of stupid. 

I prefer to be the kind of stupid that is giving my all on something that may or may not be successful. 

I had to run to ace hardware over lunch. It’s a great place right downtown Springfield about a minute from my office. I needed mouse traps (they never end). Anyway, as I’m walking in, a pleasant young lady was standing by their plants for sale. I saw the signs saying 50% off so I thought that was a pretty good deal. 

I asked how much the veggie plants were. She said $0.25 for the little ones and $1 for the big ones. Awwww hell naw!  My inner black woman came out and I grabbed several varieties we hadn’t tried and a random eggplant I found and some french sorel. I think I got 10 plants and spent less than I did on the mouse traps. 

I suspect both will have their cost/benefit axis crossed by August. And isn’t that what homesteading is about?

I have a finite amount of resources (excess cash). What I choose to do with it is one of two kinds of stupid. I can either spend it on something dumb, or I can spend it on something that may actually recoup my expense or more. 

So while we have a good number of tomato plants already, for $1.50, I got six more. If even one of those plants survive, I’ll more than get my money back and I’ll have some organic tomatoes to boot! Can you have too many tomatoes?  I know I sure can’t!  

Making homemade marinara sauce over the fine on a cool autumn morning is almost heavenly. 

We also managed to pick a few of our beets this weekend. Benji thoroughly enjoyed it. What this year’s beet production has shown me is that we aren’t even close to food independence. 

We probably picked a good five pounds of beets. But we eat them like potatoes so the ones we picked may last us three or four meals if we are lucky. And we picked about a third of our crop. 

Of course I know we can change the way we eat them, but it was an eye-opener on just how far we have to go. But I am not daunted by this at all. I just means we are learning and growing. Our location and seeds did great. I couldn’t ask for a better result for what we did. We just learned we need to expand quite a bit more. And we will. 

What a fun little journey we are on. 


What do I want?…

We were driving home from some friends of ours last night. Benji was screaming because he didn’t get to keep the 2″ dinosaur he found in their sandbox. “I WANNA GET OUT!”  The entire 20 minute ride home. 

At one point Shandi asked me what I wanted for Father’s Day. I quipped “a quiet car ride”. Lexi immediately retorted “you won’t get that until your 80th Fathers Day!”  And Benji still wanted out. 

I have only been a biological father for not quite three years. But my how those three years have changed me. 

I am a bad dad at times. I get frustrated at the kids. I get frustrated at the wife. There are a half dozen things I can think of at this moment that need fixed around the homestead. 

But if I had to give up my kids or die tomorrow, I’d choose the latter. There is something special about knowing your kids are excited to see you and have you in their lives. I know the teen years will seem otherwise, but I am confident that, like me, time will show that dad was a great guy and genuinely wanted me to succeed in whatever I was doing. 

Father’s Day seems like it’s supposed to be about others recognizing your being a dad. But it’s really not. Father’s Day is my reminder to myself how incredibly fortunate I am. I have three children that call me dad. 

Three years ago I didn’t. I have three little lives that depend on me to be strong, loving…someone they can look up to. 

So what I want for Father’s Day isn’t a quiet car ride. It’s a million more car rides where my little family is together sharing the joys (or miseries) of our moments together. 


You better watch out

You better not cry…

This is Benji. He is a sweet, almost 3 year old boy who we suspect may be Santa Claus.

He knows when we are sleeping. He knows when we are fishing. He knows when daddy is picking berries at 6 am and he knows when mom and dad are trying to do mom and dad things.

Now that our wild black raspberries are getting ripe, I have tried to sneak out early in the morning and pick some for the family breakfast. It takes me all of 20 minutes. I don’t make a peep and we have a fan on in the bedroom, so there is no way he hears me. Yet somehow, not five minutes after I’m outside, he’s wide awake wandering the house yelling for me.

This morning he even went outside and was hollering for me. Surprisingly little brother slept through the crowing. Not surprisingly, so did teenage sister (heaven help us if there is a tornado during sleep hours…which is approximately 10 pm to 10 am).

The kids are the best part about the homestead, but it is truly fascinating to watch them develop. But after the past few mornings, I really do wonder about sixth senses.

Oh you better watch out…


Difference of opinion

Wifey sent me a story this morning from one of our Facebook groups on gardening or homesteading. It was something along the lines of growing the perfect 8′ tall tomato plants. 

There were about five or six steps these folks took to add this or that into their hole for the plant and wifey expressed her sadness at how quickly we had planted ours. Ah, plant envy again. 

I am quite sure the author of that story has some outstanding tomatoes and if any of ours survive, they won’t be nearly as robust. But I also know our tomato plants this year are the second batch we have ever grown. 

Maybe we got lucky last year because we had fresh tomatoes in December still. Maybe we won’t get a single tomato this year. Maybe we should’ve added the fish heads and worm castings and whatever else they called for. 

I dug a hole, watered, covered and put a cage around them. Of course our cages are cattle panels about a foot and a half or two feet in diameter so our little sprouts have some big shoes to fill. 

The one thing that I do swear by is adding earthworms to the beds. Now, I know nature will eventually draw some earthworms into our new bed, but when I buy worms (not often) to have for fishing, I’ll keep them for a few days in a coffee can, then put them around some of our plantings. 

I put ours out under the grass mulch early one morning before the sun got too hot. I hope those little guys are down there in our new soil just going to town. Some were nightcrawlers and some were red wigglers. 

I think the less we do to our soil, the more natural it is. Yeah, it’s also a lazy way out of doing a million things for our gardens, but I really do believe that nature has a way of working things out. If we plant our tomato seedlings in an area and they don’t grow, we need to either try different seedlings or plant something different in that area next year. 

I want hearty plants that do well with what we have. Of course I think the logic of back to eden gardening technique makes sense and we are moving in that direction, but to me, that’s a different issue than adding a bunch of stuff to each hole. 

I want a garden that does well without a bunch of steps that require me to buy this or that product. By God people didn’t run out and buy worm castings 100 years ago, yet they managed to grow tomatoes!

Wifey is correct that we could’ve done more to encourage our plants this year. Just like we could spend more money on our kids to flourish in this sport or subject, but I think that the plants and the kids have to want to flourish at something or it’s probably not right for them. 

We can try to provide a positive environment, but it’s not what I want that impacts the outcome, it’s what they want. Maybe that’s too simplistic or is the lazy (efficient) way out, but I believe it to be true. 

Maybe next year I’ll be adding fish scraps and worm poop to our planting holes. But it sure seems unlikely. I prefer to encourage nature to do what it intends in our soil, and we will try to figure out what we should be growing there. 

Those little worms know a helluva lot more about our gardens than I do. 


Homestead parenting 

As a reminder, my wife and I have three children. Daughter (Lexi)14, son (Benji) almost 3 and son (Brody) 14 months. They obviously all have their strengths and weaknesses, but they all need their parents love, guidance and boundaries. 

My wife is a Saint of a mother. I’m sure she has her limits, but whatever they are, they are well beyond mine. I get frustrated with the teenager not helping enough. I get frustrated when the boys want to help so much that I don’t get as much done. 

Growing up, my dad worked for a large utility company. He wore a suit 5 days a week. He came home, took his shoes off, sat in his rocking chair and read the newspaper. I’m sure there were days he varied from that recollection, but that’s what stands out.  That was what he did transitioning from work to home. 

I can’t help but wonder what my kids will think of when they think of the transition time between work and home.  I hope it’s of dad walking in, giving kisses, hugs, “I love you’s” and complimenting mom on how good dinner smells before going to change into home clothes. 

I hope our kids recall someone who gave them attention and affection when they needed it. I know I’m not the idyllic man in my aspirations, but I also know that having a wife and partner in this journey makes a great deal of this possible. 

Before I left for work this morning, Benji was starting to have a melt down because he was tired and apparently he just wanted mom to come sit with him in the living room rather than eat her breakfast. I have often picked him up and taken him to his room and told him to come out when he’s done with his tantrum. But this morning I picked up and just hugged him and rubbed his back. He was still tired and almost fell asleep. It’s moments like that when I feel like I’m doing a decent job as a parent. 

Rather than just getting mad at him for being disruptive, I got to share a couple moments of love with a still sleepy little boy. He won’t remember the moment, but I do. It’s when, at least for that moment in time,  I had succeeded as a parent. He’s getting pretty big, and one of these days I won’t be picking him up to comfort him. 

My wife and I shared a few glances of knowing he was tired, that he is a handful at times, but that right then, he was the most important thing in the world. 

Not five minutes later, his breakdown had evolved into excitement about seeing one of his toys and wanting to play with it. I got in the shower and kissed each of them, said “I love you’s” and then, naturally Benji had a breakdown when I said I had to go to work rather to stay and play with him as he requested. 

I’m sorry buddy. You don’t know how much I wanted to stay, but my going to work means you get to stay at home with mom, sis and brother and enjoy this incredibly beautiful early summer day. 


Puny plants

It’s been a week or so since we’ve had rain. It’s been long enough that I don’t recall exactly when it rained last and forecast doesn’t show anything until maybe Friday or the middle of next week. So the plants needed some water this morning. 

I had 10 minutes before I had to hop in the shower and the hose was already out near the terraced bed, so I thought I’d run out and water the tomatoes and peppers real quick. We have about 12 tomato and pepper plants each. 

As I stated watering, the Buffalo gnats started swarming me pretty bad. Bad enough that I had to stop half way through and put on bug spray for them. I got a few bites, but damnit, I want some tomatoes. 

I keep on having this odd premonition that the necessity of growing our own food is going to be very important someday. I’m not gonna get into politics, economics or doomsday scenarios, but I just can’t shake the feeling. 

My practical side says that even if everything stays perfectly normal, growing our own food is beneficial for the better quality we’ll be eating. Our pond is spring fed and quite deep, so even if I have to haul buckets of water to the veggies, I can and will do so. 

Everything else seems to be doing well this year. Spinach, beets, squash, pumpkins, melons, etc are all chugging along just great. Same for the sunchokes and potatoes. 

I’ve noticed quite a few more squirrels and rabbits around these days. We have tons of wild fowl like doves, quail, turkey and ducks around. And the deer seem to be healthy and active as well. 

Anyway, this weekend is supposed to get back up into the mid-90’s so I’ll continue to monitor the plants and do everything I can to ensure they provide us with plenty of food this year. We still have a ways to go before we are completely food independent, but I’ll feel a lot better when I see and smell all those tomatoes and squash waiting for our harvest.