Gardening With Purpose

It’s time to start some seeds.

We still don’t have a great place to garden but it is improving each season.  Pesky critters were quite a problem last year so we are working to improve this as well as the poor clay soil at the new house.

This plot might seem too ambitious but, if you shop wisely for seed in bulk, even a low-yield from a garden this large would really supplement the family needs.  Small packets from the hardware store really add up to high cost so I suggest ordering directly from some of the larger seed companies; it’s easy and fun to shop the catalogs.  They are generous with coupons and discounts for small-timers like us so, if you are considering a garden at all, I suggest singing up.  Here are the two I have used for years.


A morning loaf

I am very happy with returning to Dutch oven bread.  It’s easy and fairly controllable to cook in and holds the moisture well.  The only down side is that, with it sealed, it is difficult to sneak a peek inside.

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Hot out of the oven.

This is inside a 12 inch Dutch oven.  I have no idea how old it is but it was old when I got it 30 years ago.  It is a lifetime investment but a bit heavy to transport.  Another tool that makes me happy.

Broke into for a late lunch. Perfect with a hot bowl of soup.

Bread – Some Thoughts from Cobbett

Every woman, high or low, ought to know how to make bread. If she do not, she is unworthy of trust and confidence; and, indeed, a mere burden upon the community.  –William Cobbett

Today this should probably read “Every homemaker” instead of “Every woman” but, as Cobbett composed this treatise in 1821, he assumed that the home and cooking were the domain of the women and the men were to labor outside the home.


I have a mixed relationship with bread.  I love to make it and eat it, and have for many years, yet I don’t eat a lot of it as it seems to easily fatten me up and doesn’t always sit well in my gut; the same reasons I rarely drink beer these days.  However, I am very aware that bread, in one form or another, has been a staple in the Western World for millennia and should not be overlooked so I occasionally dive in and start making bread regularly again.  I can’t stand the modern garbage marketed as “bread” as it barely resembles the greatness of a real, leavened or fermented loaf.

By the early 19th century, big business was already encouraging families to buy bread instead of bake at home and there can be some sense in this, especially in the city (fuel cost for cooking, the efficiency of oven sharing, etc.).  Cobbett thought this purchase instead of make mentality was one of the many atrocities that kept laboring families unnecessarily poor.  Foolish practices that kept the poor from ever improving their lot was a major theme of his life and we can learn from this.

I have included his treatise on bread here.  He also spreads himself pretty well as to how he despises the potato as Ireland’s lazy root (before the famine).

Despite the bad press and nay-saying of diet fanatics in recent decades, real bread still finds its way onto my table.  What do you think?

It’s Food for Thought

There are so many good reasons to have a home garden, even in the city.

Starting fresh in a new place means we’re in for some work this spring.  Although I suspect that many things have grown in this yard in the last century, other than the small plot I turned over last year, we have mostly lawn.  Even our lame little herb and tomato plot yielded some great results.  Our worst pests are definitely squirrels, with birds and raccoons running a close second.  The seed catalogs are in, orders are being placed soon, and preparations are ready to begin.

With the risk of sounding like a nonconformist, I really feel that every creative act  minimalizes our interaction in a consumer economy, is a small personal victory.  Our war is a personal one now.  Planting food, mending clothes, buying local (or not buying at all) is a triumph of the will.  Knowing where our food comes from is a good beginning on a path to a better life.

For many Americans, simply planning and making a great meal from scratch feels like a success; and it is.  It just takes small steps and eventually, these skills and habits become second nature.  Your food is better, your health will improve, and you will have an invaluable skill.  Teach your children well.

And finally, food preservation is the next logical step.  With refrigeration as the norm in the industrial world, we should take a little time to ponder what happens when the power goes out.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or acts of terrorism are all very real things, even if we don’t feel them every day.  There is a thin line of convenience that can be quickly swept away and a little preparedness goes a long way.  One great start is the Ball Canning Jar Company’s Blue Book.  It has been around for over 100 years and has helped people preserve food without much experience and at a low cost.  Even though there some initial monetary outlay, remember that most everything is re-usable.

A good reference like this keeps you healthy and safe.  The modern, up-to-date version is readily available at nearly any retailer who sells cookbooks. you haven’t grown your own food, or you haven’t in a while, consider making this your year for better food.

Backyard Chickens

I’ve been lucky as a chicken owner for quite a few years.  Very few have been stolen by predators, and we’ve had very little illness.  Right now, with a dozen chickens both old and young, I get between three and six eggs per day with the occasional bonanza of eight.  That is, if I can keep the Gopher Snakes out.  I catch the snakes when I can and take them a few hundred meters away and hope they find new homes to rob.  With limited free-ranging in a pretty poor environment they cost me no more than $10-$20 per month and a few minutes work every day.  In the winter, they need a bit more tending, especially to keep the water unfrozen.  I can’t see how suburban America has so lost it’s way that there is a fight to keep chickens in your own yard.  I recently heard a politician refer to them as “gateway livestock”.

LuckyChickenI love my dogs, but to hear people speak of chickens as annoying, smelly, and dangerous is ridiculous.  Dogs bark, and often attack people (which are the jobs we bred them for) so the double standard is apparent.

DomPulletIf you have lived with chickens, you know how excellent they are at virtually eliminating small vermin; especially ticks, grasshoppers, crickets, and even the occasional mouse or snake.  They are wonderful pest control, especially around the perimeter of the garden and their manure is a potent garden additive.

BuffOrpMaybe not as cuddly as a dog or cat, they are certainly part of our history for thousands of years.  If you are considering chickens for eggs or meat, they are a simple, inexpensive investment that takes little time or money and are a great addition to the household food supply.  Mine survive well on kitchen scraps including almost daily doses of broccoli stems, carrot tops, fruit peels, and even chopped weeds from the garden.  They work better than composting for most waste.

LuckyThey come in many varieties, builds, temperaments, and fortes, but nearly all will help out the small homesteader.