State of the Larder on the eve of Samhain

Lacking a good data point for 1) how much we eat of staple foods through winter and 2) how things store I’ll likely not be making any more large food acquisitions excepting meat. I could score more local apples in quantity, but I’ll limit myself to what we’ll use for fresh eating and baking in November, December, and maybe January. I could also easily acquire more squash and root veggies among other late fall/winter crops, but we’ve got a lot already in the house and I’d rather take the risk of avoiding waste, even if we end up needing to fall back on the non-local food system during winter.

To give an idea of the food I’ve amassed going into the lean times, I’ve broken it down below. Some things we already know we’ll want more of (dry cherries particularly) next year but others I don’t have a good idea about.

I think I’ve struck a good balance between scoring good deals on prime, in season produce, and not over-extending financially or oversupplying leading to waste. A verdict update at Beltane (May 1st) will show how we did, but I’m sure I’ll have remarks in the ongoing budget locavore series.

Dry Goods

  • Honey (local) – 1.5 gallons
  • Wheat (hard red winter) berries (bought via a co-op from Montana) – approx 280 pounds
  • Oats (rolled) (bought via a co-op from Iowa) – approx 290 pounds

Fruit

  • Apples (all sourced locally)
    • Apple butter – 10 pints
    • Apple chips – 18 gallon bags
    • Applesauce – 34 quarts
  • Cherries (sourced semi-locally ~60 miles away)
    • Dried – 5 pints
    • Frozen – 1.5 gallons
  • Pears (all sourced locally, we’ve kept most for fresh-eating)
    • Preserves – 4 half-pints
  • Strawberries (all sourced locally)
    • Jam – 3 pints
    • Dried – 3 quarts

Veggies

  • Green beans (all garden) – 3 quarts dry
  • Peppers (mild) – 1/2 gallon dry diced
  • Potatoes (some garden, the remainder local) – approx 80 pounds
  • Snap Peas (some garden, remainder local) – 3.5 gallons frozen
  • Tomatoes (approx half garden, half sourced locally) – 32 quarts of canned crushed/sauce base, 25 quarts of dry for rehydrating into sauce or using in sun-dried pesto sauces.
  • Winter Squash (some garden, the remainder local) – 63 assorted (mix of medium varieties like acorn, buttercup, butternut, and a few others)
  • Zucchini (all garden) – 10 quarts of dry chips, 52 cups of frozen shredded

2015 Garden Post-Mortem

This past gardening season we tripled the size of our garden. Except for some layout tweaks and usability optimizations, we now have effectively all possible land on our property in cultivation that isn’t used for entertaining space, play space, or is simply too shady. While there was a lot of work early in the season cutting the new beds, by the end of the season the garden was very low maintenance outside of harvesting. Due to timing and crop failure, we don’t have much of a fall garden, so with the first frost killing our tender annuals, the 2015 season is effectively over.

Asparagus 

We planted 1-year crowns so could not harvest. I’ve never grown asparagus before, but the two small patches seem happy and weren’t very hard to keep weed free.

Broccoli – 7 pounds

I planted two varieties this year. Arcadia was a return from 2014’s garden and continues to impress. The healthiest plants survived all the way through the season and are still giving side shoots if I remember to pick them (a few plants I missed hidden ones that went to bloom). Green Magic was supposed to be a heat-tolerant variety but was somewhat unimpressive. I’ll trial it again in 2016 in case it was a siting or fertility issue.

While I love the taste of fresh-picked broccoli (<1 hour from ‘field’ to pan) it’s not a space-efficient crop. In future years I may decide to outsource it.

Cucumbers – 21 cukes

I trialed Shuyo Long and Spacemaster 80 this year. Both were quite tasty but I picked lousy spots for them which led to very disappointing yields.

Green Beans – 52 pounds

Purple Velour was deemed a delicacy by the rabbits and never made it. Provider was a high-yielding bean that tasted fantastic and sustained minimal pest damage even outside of the fenced garden. I’ve never been able to buy a bean – even at the farmer’s market – that tasted as good as our homegrown beans. Yield would have been higher if I had replanted the first patch with a late sowing, but I was curious how many flushes the variety would give. By the time yield was too poor to bother picking, it was too close to our first frost date to sow. Next year I’m planning 3 plantings instead of this year’s 2 to keep the beans flowing into late September.

Kale

Our Tuscan kale has seemed happy this year but I’ve discovered I have zero appetite for it right now. I’ve given away some to friends.

Kohlrabi – 4 bulbs

I had some old seed that didn’t grow very vigorously, but kohlrabi is cheap enough to buy here that this wasn’t a major loss. Deciding whether it’s worth devoting space to or buying at market.

Lettuce (Mesclun) – 2.75 pounds

Between our homegrown lettuce and the CSA box, I hit salad fatigue really early in the season and basically gave up managing our greens. Next year I won’t be making the mistake of buying a CSA share, so I’ll probably do small sowings of mesclun. It’s a really easy crop to grow as long as you give it the right amount of moisture for germination.

Peas (Snap) – 6 pounds

Sugar Daddy is a fully stringless variety but the vines are so short that it’s not particularly worth the space. I’ve learned a few things about peas from Carol Deppe’s Tao of Vegetable Gardening that I’ll apply to the pea patch next year (namely planting at continues 2″ spacing with “rows” at least 24″ wide, instead of the single row I thought was correct). I overbought seed, so I may just use up what I have instead of trying a new variety (seed budget for 2016 will be quite limited), but I doubt this variety will be a long-term favorite.

Potatoes – 18 pounds

I planted 3 pounds of Yukon Gold seed tubers. A 1:6 yield is rather disappointing. After some research, I think it was a mixture of too-heavy soil and not hilling up enough. Considering the price I can get excellent local potatoes at, I’m not going to do this again until I have considerably more space.

Rhubarb

Yield was negligible. The crown I’d transplanted isn’t thriving and half the crowns I’d purchased failed outright. I think I need to be more aggressive when doing site prep.

Strawberries

Also negligible yield. I wasn’t expecting much out of our first-year June-bearing berries, but the ‘everbearing’ variety we planted was decidedly not everbearing, coming to a complete halt past July. I need to do some more research, but for the everbearing variety I may need to provide more fertility. Fresh garden strawberries are nice, but keeping animals away from the berries and foliage is quite annoying. These may get scrapped after next year, or considerably reworked.

Tomatoes (Cherry) – 25 pounds

After many raving recommendations about SunGold cherry tomatoes, I grew them as our cherry variety this year. I like the flavor, but I’m not a huge raw tomato person. The Alchemist definitely ate a few handfuls here and there. For most part we’ve enjoyed the sweetness they’ve lent (when used in moderation) to sauce. I’ll probably plant fewer plants next year as they’re overly prolific for how we use them.

Tomatoes (Paste) – 31 pounds

I planted two varieties, Mariana (a pepper-shaped tomato) and Opalka (a Roma-shaped tomato) for paste. Both were rather underwhelming, susceptible to blossom-end rot and very slow to ripen. Despite being determinate varieties, they also did not ripen over a concentrated period of time – certainly no more concentrated in their ripening than the other tomatoes we planted. I’ve got other varieties slated to replace them for next year.

Tomatoes (Slicing) – 59 pounds

Even as a non-tomato lover, I liked the flavor of the few Cosmonaut Volkovs I did slice into. What I also appreciated about this Russian heirloom was vigorous growth, few issues with BER or other blemishes, and a flesh that’s not too watery to be effectively used in sauce. The yield was achieved using the same amount of bed space as the other two types of tomatoes. This is almost certainly returning in 2016’s garden.

Winter Squash (Acorn) – 16 pounds

We grew Sweet REBA, which is a “bush” type that’s supposed to be quite disease resistant. Growing winter squash here is tough for lack of a large continuous space to let vines run, nor terribly great places to put trellises without shading out other beds. The yield here was ok for the amount of plants I used. I’ll grow this variety again but am actively looking for other compact winter squashes.

Winter Squash (Kabocha) – 29 pounds

I had a few spaces where I could let large vines roam. Carol Deppe praises Sunshine in her books but the fruit quality we’ve eaten so far has been only moderate. I may plant this again next year, I may not.

Zucchini – 105 pounds

I grew three summer squash varieties. Two, Benning’s Green Tint (pattypan) and Alexandria (a pale green quasi-melon shape) were underwhelming in vigor and taste. The heirloom Costata Romanesco was vigorous, produced enormous yields (particularly from one particular site), and had amazing flavor used in sautee, drying as chips, or shredded for use in tacos and breads. If you’ve never tried this, you simply must grow it. It’s unlike any zucchini variety I’ve tried. It is not advertised as PM resistant but in my garden, this season, it showed the fewest mildew problems of all the squash varieties I grew.

Concluding Thoughts

I had very few expectations coming into this year, hence hedging my bets on local veggie supply by purchasing a (in hindsight, considerably overpriced) CSA share. I tripled the available garden space, which was considerable work in and of itself. Budget constraints prevented much of any soil amendments. Some of the varieties were failures in growing, others in taste. Space can be used considerably more efficiently.

With all of these caveats, I pegged the total fair market value at $700. The yield and taste of the crops which did succeed blew me away. There’s no way we should have bought the CSA share, and have ended up sharing (no pun intended) much of it out because we can’t eat it, or it includes things we’re not particularly fond of. Next year I’ll just use the farmer’s markets here to fill in gaps for everyday consumption. The layout for next year’s garden is mostly planned, but those plans have a way of revising themselves in the face of shiny new seed catalogs that arrive in the dead of winter.

How did your garden do this season? What lessons did it teach you for next year?


This is a Thing that Happened

Just this week we spent $2,050 fixing our car. It can be very easy to encounter expenses like these and feel like financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) will never arrive. “Oh man, we just spent six thousand dollars in a single month??” “We just obliterated our savings.” “We’re never going to be free!”

I realized something this morning, reading the most recent Frugalwoods post, which in turn reminded me of the classic Brave New Life post “The Waiting Place”. Early retirement is a milestone, not a goal. The real goal is living the life you want to live. A lot of folks seem to treat arriving at FIRE as a talisman where life will go from suck to awesome in 3.2 seconds. Does working a job suck? Often, yes, yes it does. But there are a myriad ways you can inject awesomeness into your life without entering the waiting place. In fact, the more you spend in the waiting place, the more the final destination can only hope to disappoint. Life is something that, like a garden, you cultivate – and gardeners don’t sit around all season and wait for things to magically be available to harvest. We journey alongside it the whole way.

There’s nothing wrong with the knee-jerk reaction of initial frustration at a large expense. Few people can control their instinctual emotional responses. But you are free to respond differently. Your second-order response should not be “oh man, it’s hopeless.” First, recognize that the frustration is a thing that is happening. Second, recognize the cause of the frustration is also a thing that is happening. That’s it. It’s something that has happened. What has changed about our life? What has changed about our interests, passions, and fundamental desires? Nothing. So you shrug your shoulders and move on. It’s only if you’re in the waiting place, focused on the future to the detriment of all else, that you get flustered at the goalposts getting moved out.

Looking at it further, dwelling in earnest in the waiting place becomes insanity. Just as every cumulative decision compounds to create the singular entity we call “I”, future goals – especially finance-dependent ones – are influenced by a dizzying number of factors. Every single dollar we spend pushes the goal away. Mr. Market capriciously moves the goal all over the map in any given time period. If all you did was sit in the waiting place, and see the end goal moving around, you’d drive yourself crazy. That’s no way to live.

Balance and mindfulness is the key. The converse of YOLO, living on blind impulse, is just as insane. A lot of human behavior makes sense when you realize our baseline biology is a hyper-advanced monkey. But we’re more than that. My core religious/philosophical belief is that agency sets us apart. Inside every human is a small piece of the divine cloud of unknowing, the impenetrable mystery of a free agent. We are free, even though we almost never exercise the radical freedom Sartre captures in the link above. Only someone who is free can be mindful of how she acts, how she responds, and ultimately how she chooses to live her life.

A financial setback is just a thing that has happened. It doesn’t change how we want to live our lives. Expressing frustration just gives the event power over us. We are free to reject that biological response, even as we acknowledge its presence. Today is a new day.


Approaching Samhain

In the traditional Celtic calendar, Samhain (what we now know as Halloween) is the start of winter. To be sure, even in Wisconsin, there are still local foods being grown and available for purchase, but the huge preservation and cellar stock up is behind us. Lugnasadh (August 1st) is like a starter pistol that begins a race at breakneck pace to harvest and preserve the vast majority of what we’ll eat in the winter. September 1st, here at least, the race doubles down and things go absolutely crazy for the next few weeks.

I’m glad things are slowing down a bit. The space of time between peak harvests and ‘sincere’ winter has some truly beautiful weather here. The slowing down of food tasks lets me focus more on homeschooling. There’s a sensation of closing out the year, but in returning my focus inwards to myself and the children, there’s a sense of being poised to new growth. It’s hidden from view, largely, but we do a lot of growth in the winter time. The goblins’ young brains soak up new information, I research and plan for the new year, and all of us get to have a little fun even as the darkest and coldest days approach.

In fact, I’ve already been getting the research and planning itch. I’ve read two new agriculture books (Tao of Vegetable Gardening and Storey’s Guide to Ducks) and have another on hold (Storey’s Guide to Chickens — need to refresh my chicken research with our first flock coming sometime between Imbolc and Beltane). 2016’s garden layout is planned, budgeted for (complete with pie-in-the-sky wants), and might bear a closer resemblance to final reality than this year’s plan did.

I’m also feeling the space to get creative in the kitchen again. The past two weekends I’ve made batches of apple butter, and this Sunday I tried a new pear preserve recipe. I’ve been trying new recipes each week, something I often don’t have the mental or emotional space to deal with in the busier times of year.

The sense of calming, of slowing down, is what I’m trying to focus on and embrace mentally. A smaller part of brain looks at our larder and has no freakin’ clue whether this is enough (or too much) for the winter. Thankfully, even though we’re returning (in a way) to a pioneer live-and-eat-in-place lifestyle, there’s the safety backstop of winter farmer’s markets and the conventional grocers. The fact that I do this because I love it, because I want instead of have to, is a powerful reassurance. I’ll try and post a “State of the Larder” closer to the actual day of Samhain, to give you (and myself) a final idea of what we have to work with.

Do you like the flow of the seasons? Does Samhain’s shift from the harvest season to the lean days of winter mean anything to you?


Goblin Hoard – Net Worth Q3 2015

Assets

  • Home (Estimated Market Value): $80,000
  • 401(k): $50,594
  • tIRA: $15,918
  • Non-Earmarked Cash: $2,156
  • HSA: we do have some HSA savings, but at this point I’m counting it as “spent” money already. Once the balance gets sufficiently large (who knows when?) I’ll factor this in with NW.
  • Total: $148,668
  • Assets towards FI: $68,668
    • Approximate passive income this would generate: $228

Liabilities

  • Home Mortgage: $103,026 @6.5% –> PMI makes it effectively ~7.1%
  • Student Loan (Chief A): PAID OFF
  • Student Loan (Chief B): $4,179 @6.5%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist A): $1,792 @0.1%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist B): $23,728 @3.9%
  • Medical Debt @0%: $572
  • Total: $133,297

Net Worth: $15,371

Net Worth Q3 2015