Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Annotated Homesteading Bibliography

   For the past week, I have been reading Nick Hornsby’s collection of essays   Ten Years in the Tub, where he lists the books he purchased for the month, and then comments upon the books he actually read that same month. Any serious reader knows that the two lists are not the same, but tracking the books that actually caught his interest, and how they wove into his life, makes for lively reading. I can recommend it. It also got me thinking about our significant books, the ones I head back to, over and over again. This bibliography is for homesteading—The Best Books ever will wait for a slow, hot summer afternoon, after I finish reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder one more time.

   
Cookbooks:

 Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1958 edition
 My mother believed that this was a wedding present, but the dates do not line up. However, it was my first cookbook. It taught me to make bread and cookies, how to set a formal table, to look cheery when my husband came home from a long day’s work, and to have “something special” at every meal.  I still love reading the little biographies of the women who sent in recipes for publication.

 The Enchanted Broccoli Forest
Molly Katzen taught me how to cut vegetables, consider how a different seasoning changed the entire feel of the rice from Italian to Middle Eastern, to Chinese, and to talk to the yeasties.  It was my first vegetarian cookbook where the food tasted good. I have followed both Molly Katzen and the Moosewood Collective for thirty years; their food is easy and tasty.

Diet for a Small Planet

I bought this book when I was living by myself as a college senior. Meat was just expensive for one person and, after a summer as a meat wrapper, did not appeal. It revolutionized the way I viewed food. She was, however, a bad cook.

Chez Panisse Fruits and Vegetables and The Greens Cookbook

When we shifted over to eating mostly local produce, the beauty of these books was clear. The Chez Panisse books are just beautiful, but they also talk about what to do with cardoons (cook with cream!). The Greens recipes are sorted  subtly by seasonally available produce, starting in February (probably January in the Bay area) and working through the year.

Gardening:

Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and Gardening when it Counts are the two best volumes on growing food in my bioregion, which is not the same as any other.  Steve Solomon is a clear and frisky writer and I have spent many winter hours reading over his work. The Territorial Seed Catalog is an excellent annual resource.

American Gardens of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Ann Leighton

This is a series of meticulously researched books examining the evolution of garden style which I used for research purposes throughout college and grad school.

Permaculture Handbook by Bill Mollison and The Earthcare Manual by Patrick Whitehead are my primary source materials for garden design and deep planning. There have been many, lightly written books extolling the beauties of permaculture design but I prefer the original works.

Design and Philosophy:

The Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
This changes everything. After reading the Pattern Language, our entire view of the built environment shifted. Six foot porches—that explained why those balconies were never used.  Nine percent for parking?—that would transform our neighborhood. Site repair?

Walden by Thoreau
Our backpacking read for years, it is still relevant today, once you dig through the convoluted nineteenth century language.

One Man’s Meat  by E.B. White
White moved to the coast of Maine in the early 1930s but continued to write for The New Yorker. These essays capture his life on his saltwater farm. If I could write like anyone, I would want to write like White.

A Beekeeper’s Year by Sue Hubbell
I first read Hubbell in  The New Yorker years before I considered owning bees. I was reading her work in our hammock the day we had our first wild swarm. Her prose mixes science and philosophy beautifully, even if you do not love bees.

Chicken Tractors, Worms Eat My Garbage, The Humanuare Handbook, Greywater Design and The Home Energy Handbook  have all been useful and inspiring reference works.


 Ful-- Fava Bean "soup"
Fava beans are a little early this year, so we were able to eat ful after weeding onions at Sunbow on Memorial Day.

Start with about five pounds of fresh favas in the shell. Shell the beans, parboil for about three minutes, and peel. There will be a huge reduction in volume and a lot of fiddly work....

Saute three chopped cloves of garlic in about four tablespoons of olive oil. Juice a lemon. Chop a handful of parsley. Mix the favas into these seasonings, add salt and pepper, and warm up. Eat with fresh, warm flatbread and a huge salad for dinner. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SmarterBalanced Rant

            May is testing month at CHS, especially if you are a junior. So far, they have lost six hours of class—a full Friday—to two multiple-choice tests for SmarterBalanced, and three hours of English class to writing a “performance task”, i.e. an essay based on several articles. They will lose three hours of U.S. history to the math “performance task” next week. If you are a slow worker, there will be more time taken from class and study periods. They have also taken the PSAT and SAT, some have sat for the ACT, and many of my students have taken at least two AP tests in the last month. All told, many of my juniors will take eleven or twelve discreet standardized tests this year, mostly in the month of May, which is also the glory days of Honors American Lit, because we are done with formal essays and are free to ponder the nature of story, of reality, of respect, and of  humanity  as we read Slaughterhouse Five and The Things They Carried. It has been a long year.
            This was in our minds yesterday as we trudged downstairs to the windowless computer lab to begin the performance task. For some reason, I am required to perform the scripted lesson before the test, but I have to leave the room while they read and write. I do not do well with scripted lessons. The question was written on the board as we walked in—something like “Where do you go for information and news? Why?”
            “Do we really have to write about that?” one girl asked, sighing.
            “Can we just talk about it?” another lobbied.
            In two seconds, we were off script. “Yes.”
            “Mr. Duerfelt.”  One student called out.
            “Yeah, he talks about the news every day,” another agreed. My task was to divide their responses into “traditional” and “non-traditional” news sources. Where does the APUS history teacher fall in that dichotomy? I put him in the middle.
            CNN,” one boy added. “Online.”
            “Newspapers.”
            “Radio.”
            “Oooooowwwww,” – the traditional response to anything “deep” and “intelligent” echoed through the room.
            “They want me to add these,” and I wrote Facebook, Pintrest, Vine, blogs, and smartphones, even though we all know that smartphones are the orange amongst the apples here, and we are smarter than SmarterBalanced.
            At this point, the class begins to laugh. The absurdity of the whole situation, of me, who does not own a mobile phone, use a smart board in class, and continues to show Wallace and Grommet on VHS the day before Winter Break, instructing my tech savvy class on the use of PINTREST as a source of legitimate news—like snapchat of a ninth grader’s hair is news!—overwhelms them. I read them a blurb about blogs and citizen reporters, we indulge in a moment of questioning whether “citizen reporters” are actual trained journalists, and we are done.
            “You are now ready to complete the performance task,” is my closing line, and they turn on their computers as I head upstairs to read ninth grade narratives.
            And I was struck, as I am every year in May, by how my students, how all of our students, rise to the occasion every day. We present them, far too often, with dumb stuff and they take it and run with it, creating something beautiful—or, at least, humorous--  out of the mundane over and over again. Every day, we are given moments of grace, of laughter, or intelligence. It is the greatest gift of teaching. We should not squander it on testing.




Sunday, May 17, 2015

Principles of Permaculture (via southern Oregon and the backyard...)

Principles of Permaculture, via southern Oregon

Stacking Functions-- chickens help with compost
1.     Practice protracted thoughtful observation, rather than thoughtless action.
2.     Hold resources at the highest level.
3.     Everything gardens.
4.     Use locally available resources.
5.     Waste is an underutilized resource.
6.     The problem is the solution.
7.     Work where you are wanted.
8.     Work with nature, not against her.
9.     Plant natives first, proven exotics second.
10. Plant edible and medicinal landscapes.
11. Start small and diverse, harvest your mistakes.
12. Stability comes from a diversity of relationships.
13. Stack functions.
14. Distribute the surplus.
15. There is a limit to how much the system can absorb.
16. Optimize rather than minimize.
17. Design systems that self-manage.
18. Consider relative location.
19. The primary client is the site.
20. Optimize edge; begin in favorable locations.

I would ad three more:
          Be in love with your life.
          Live deliberately.

          Some years are just cabbage years. They will pass.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Planning for Solar Panels, part one

Planning for the solar panels/greenhouse has begun….I came home last week to find two men sitting in my back yard, contemplating the blue wall. One had a notebook, the other a tape measure. They were discussing building code.

We began thinking about solar panels last winter, when we went to a presentation, not because we were interested, but because we wanted to think about something positive in town for a change. But, after hearing about the rebates, and looking at our electric bill, I was intrigued. We would not need a huge array to produce all of the electricity we use over the course of a year, especially if I took down a string or two of Christmas lights. We average 8 KWH per day. I called Abundant Solar, Kirk came out with his solar gain measuring tool from the 1970s, and he studied the west facing roof of the house. Not great…then he wandered into the back yard and eyed the blue painted wall of our neighbor’s garage. “Are you thinking,” he mused, “of adding any more buildings back here?” Why yes, we were. I had plans for a green house in that space. He nodded, climbed on ladders, examined tree shadows, glared at the huge yellow plum in the middle of the yard, and began to plan.

A few weeks later, we had generated a list. The structure should:
·        Generate all of our electricity over the course of the year.
·        Provide a warm place to start all of our seeds, raise chicks in the awkward stage (too big for house, too small for coop), and shelter the beehive in cold winters.
·        Extend the growing season—eggplants and hot peppers? Salad greens in winter? A citrus tree? A tea plant or two?
·        Hold the soaking tub and provide a nicer place to bathe.
·        Allow Mark to read outside and stay warm in the winter.
·        Not mess up the already existing eating area in the nook of the house and garage.
·        Look nice. I’d like the roofline to echo the shed’s interesting overhang, which Mark built.

Once we had the list and had paced around the backyard for a few hours, we called Mark Meyer, our builder, who is a genius at taking my vague ideas and turning them into beautiful structures. He was one of the men sitting in my backyard, contemplating the wall a few days later.  He had a sketch of a bayfront greenhouse that would sit under the panels, shifted to one side of the wall, before he went home to investigate building code. Just how close could we come to that garage? We should know on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, we have begun to assemble various parts. Mark found a pile of double paned windows in aluminum frames on Craig’s List for one hundred dollars. “It looks like a good deal,” he told me. When I followed up, the seller had found three more, and threw them in for the same price. We now had a pile of windows for the walls.
I then contacted a friend who had mentioned a staff of claw foot tubs—and yes, they have three in the backyard. I am welcome to one, also for one hundred bucks. Planning has begun.








Monday, May 4, 2015

May Day

May Day—the celebration, first of fertility and then of labour in Europe—has morphed into a glorious recognition of the Willamette Valley, here in Oregon. Everything is green and growing, blooming, budding, swelling with life. Wildflower festivals and walks, plant sales, Celebrations of Natural Features—everyone is outside. We take off the storm windows and move the heavy dining table outside, settling it back into the alcove between house and garage.

May Day rituals are all around flowers, creativity, and fertility. When I was little, I made little baskets out of construction paper, filled them with flowers, and dropped them on doorsteps. Now, we begin the cycle of wildflower walks, starting on the valley floor and slowly following the blossoms higher—Cascade Head, Mary’s Peak, Iron Mountain, The Three Sisters.  We will see many of the same plants, with slight variations, as we climb the mountains this summer. I keep the lists in a notebook; maybe, someday, it will help biologists understand how our environment evolved because of climate change.  We take long walks in town as well, enjoying the long evenings. At school, state tests and prom stress out the junior class, while my ninth graders kick back, read Romeo and Juliet, and beg to go outside. Sometimes I give in. I have missed the sun as well.

The gardens are planted. Cabbages are heading up. Mustards and kales are ready for dinner. Asparagus shoots for the sky. The artichoke in the back garden bed is striving for new records in size. The chickens are laying eggs, at least three a day, and I have eggs to spare. Potato beds have hoses and mulch. The bean bed is ready to be seeded and covered with the cold frame. The vining crops are planted in four inch pots and I am restless to move them into the garden soil. The beds need a little weeding and constant trimming to keep them neat.

Our menu is shifting as the winter squashes, potatoes, and onions are all finished. Greens are coming on strong. I dig through the cookbooks to discover different seasonings to disguise the kale and mustard greens. We cook huge pots of beans to mix with the greens and spread over whole wheat toast. A little parmesan cheese or a few kippers and we have a tasty dinner. There are some new potatoes from the volunteers in the garden beds; I dig them out as I clean out each bed.  We eat eggs, creating golden frittatas and quiches. Salad every night. Mint tea for desert.  It is all lighter, leafier, greener than dinners in January and February. When we need something more substantive, we buy some fish.

Out at the wildlife refuge, everything is shining. The ponds, flooded in winter to encourage the geese, are still full and catch the sunlight. Most of the geese have moved onto summer quarters, but ducks, newts, and bullfrogs still live in the ponds. One of the old houses on the property has not one, but two beehives, one behind a loose shingle and the other in the chimney. The parking lot buzzes with air born activity. When I followed the sounds, I startled three deer on the edge of the field. Flower bloom is at its peak; we identified 52 blooming plants on Saturday afternoon. Camas turns the swaths of  fields blue.  Checkermallows flash pink. In the woods, iris and fairy bells lurk under the trees. We walk carefully along some paths, which are lined with the new, shiny leaves of poison oak.

In the evening, we return home. Mark works on his compost heap while I make dinner. Tonight, we will have a rhubarb cake, salad, and a frittata with new eggs, volunteer potatoes, and a few spears of asparagus. I light the beeswax candles. It feels too warm for a fire inside, but the sea breeze makes an outside fire feel too chilly. Never mind. We will eat, bask in the last rays of the sun, and go to bed.


Rhubarb Cake: AKA as MayDay cake. Taken directly from Moosewood’s Book of Desserts

½ c butter
1 c white sugar

3 eggs
1 t vanilla
½ cup of milk

1.5 c flour (half fresh ground wheat, half white)
1 T BP
¼ t salt

2.5 c chopped rhubarb—or any other fruit you have around

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add half the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the rest of the dry. Stir in the fruit. Bake in a square pan, 350 oven, until done. It could take a cream cheese frosting—or not.