Solar Tracking

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

Progressive East Tennesseee


          Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, run by Bill Nickle, is located near Knoxville Tennessee, tucked back along narrow windy roads that follow the rhythm of the hollows and ridges of the state. It is a beautiful quiet place where deep things happen slowly. Six years ago, when we visited, Bill showed us the straw bale house he was building. It was tiny, but lovely, with warm plaster walls, radiant floor heating that ran off of the wood stove, and a peep hole behind the plaster to show off the straw construction. The walls were thick and kept the building cool even on a hot summer day.  The entire building was powered by three solar panels and a small wind turbine.  This year, more things are happening.
            Bill took us on a tour of the entire place.  We saw a cozy new cabin for interns, a beautiful round house built totally from recycled materials, a vegetable garden that was about to send cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash tumbling down hill to local kitchens, and the high field where people gather for equinox and solstice celebrations. Several new homes were under construction. One was straw bale, another would be cob. A young couple was raising bees and queens, and their hives were stacked on the edge of the field, painted in vibrant colors and swarming with activity. Bill described the coming vision quest, where eight people were coming to sit alone in silence up on Narrow Ridge for three days, searching for answers to their lives questions.
            The most serious new addition to the center was the natural burial place, high on the side of a hill. Bill saw a need to return to a simpler—and less expensive—method of burial and the group has worked with that state to open the first natural burial spot in Tennessee. People are buried in plain wooden boxes, without embalming. A flat marker is placed at the head of the grave and when the entire area is full, it will return to the forest so that generations to come will, as suggested in “Thanatopis”, be walking on the bones of those who have come before. It was a beautiful, peaceful spot, surrounded by lush second growth. Several graves were already there, covered in wildflowers. This small place  was inspiring and made us feel connected to a wider circle of people all working to change the world where they are.


     
        Another bright spot of the trip, oddly enough, was in the city of Knoxville. Downtown Knoxville is blessed with some stunning old buildings (with some 1970s towers mixed in) that have been left alone since the energy drained from the inner city to the sprawling strip malls of the outer limits in the 1960s. But downtown is reviving. Market Square, a bulge in the grid plan surrounded by three and four story buildings, has been rediscovered and small shops and cafes are moving in. There is a small park full of sculpture, seating around fountains, and people walking through, looking for lunch or a place to people watch. We ate outdoors at Tomato Head, and the food was excellent—lively and fresh. More importantly, the city is encouraging housing downtown and tall apartment buildings are going up in the strip of blocks between downtown and the river. As more young people decide to live in the city and not buy a car, putting housing, shopping, and entertainment all within walking distance is an excellent idea. We liked Knoxville—and Chattanooga, where we were the day before to visit the aquarium—and now I am wondering what else is happening in the mid-west that I need to know about.

Greens and Beans on Toast: AKA dinner in fifteen minutes


Slice an  onion and start is cooking on the cast iron pan. Use olive oil Add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic.
Chop a large bunch of greens-- any kind, but collards or kale, something stiff, works better. Mix them up inf need be. Add to the onion. Add some salt and pepper.

Slice some whole wheat toast and put it in the toaster.

Go downstairs and fetch a can, or, if you are lucky, a jar of home canned beans from the shelf. Open and add to the greens.

Grate some Parmesan cheese.

Layer the whole thing-- toast, greens and beans, cheese. Eat.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Canning Season has Begun

         
  Some years, the preserving season comes on quickly. This was one. It has been a warm, dry spring, so I should not have been surprised when my friend Maureen, who has two lovely cherry trees, casually informed me that the cherries were ready. Cherries wait for no man; they must be picked and preserved within twenty four hours, unlike later fruits and veg, which can sit in the larder for a few days until there is time in the schedule book. I dug out the two picking buckets, scrubbed out some dirt from last season, and headed over.
            Her trees are beautiful. Green healthy leaves with the deep red fruit hidden underneath in dense clusters, the center pruned out so a tree climber can hoist herself up to the highest point for the ripest fruit, and a convenient branch to rest the bucket on while picking high. We picked for forty five minutes and filled our two buckets with glistening fruit. But it was already beginning the downward slide; some were bird pecked and others beginning to rot. Just in time.
            At home, we set up the pitting assembly line with the food dryer between us. I pit, Mark splits and arranges on a tray. It took an episode of This American Life  to complete the task in the cool evening. While Mark set up the dryer in the dining room, where it would hum into the night, I pitted six more pints for canning. As always, we had lids left over from last year. You never know, really, when the season will end and exactly how many lids you will need. The steam canner made quick work of the six jars and by bedtime, we had processed two thirds of the fruit. This morning, I ran another, smaller, load through the dryer and tossed some into the freezer for a pie. We are, after all, leaving for vacation in the morning.

            So the season has begun. I have tucked raspberries and cherries into the freezer, washed off the canning equipment, and stashed the canner in the larder half way down the cellar stairs, where it will spend the summer.  Next week, I will inventory what we have left and what we need to set aside for this summer, but we will always jump on an offer of free fruit. 

Cherry Pie

Make and roll out two crusts. Lay one in the pie pan and set the other aside to turn into lattice work.

5-6 cups of cherries
2T of tapioca
.5 c of sugar 
.5 t salt

Mix fruit, sugar, etc together and spread into pie shell. Using a knife or pastry wheel (much cooler looking!), cut strips of dough. Lay across the fruit and weave together.

Bake in 350 oven until bubbly. Eat with vanilla ice cream in the back yard.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Summer Water

     

potato bed with hoses
      The Pacific Northwest is defined by our relationship with water; we have two seasons—cool and wet and warm and dry. Settlement is along rivers and our summers are cooled by the sea breeze that sweeps inward in the late afternoons. During wet winters, we may not see the sun or moon for months, but we enjoy hunkering down under the sheltering clouds, walking home in the misty dark. Then, one day, somewhere between Memorial Day and the Forth of July, the rains stop. The clouds break. The sun comes out and stays out until the fall equinox storms move in late in September. The change in weather marks a significant shift in water use and distribution in our house. Let’s just say not much leaves the property during the dry season.
            The shift happened this weekend. After a nice rain, a dramatic midnight thunderstorm, and a power outage at school (hope springs eternal for being sent home early…) early in the week, the clouds parted. Saturday morning, I went downstairs to find the dish pan and scoured it out to catch all of the sink water. Then I rummaged through the stack of five gallon buckets for the short, wide one with the decent handle to transport the dish water to the various wine barrels holding fruit trees and bushes around the house. Finally, I made the watering chart and placed the pink flamingo magnet on the kiwi vines.
      
shower stall
      That evening, after a warm day at the Mother Earth News Fair, we set up the outdoor shower. Mark attached the hose to the basement sink; it was an easy task because we had already threaded the hose through the unused drier vent last summer. Meanwhile, I found the towels, soap, and shampoo, and cleaned out the tub. Leaves swept out quickly, then I scrubbed it down with an old cloth and flushed the system onto the ground, right where the bunny had dug a burrow. After our first shower washed out the tub, I hitched up the hose to redirect the water into the flowerbeds. From now on, we shower outside.
            When we come back from vacation in two weeks, I will hitch up the laundry system. We have a 55 gallon drum in the basement which catches three loads of laundry water. When it is full, after a week’s worth of washing, I hook up the same pump and move the water out to the flowerbeds that the shower does not reach. Tuesday mornings, as the clothes dry and the barrel drains, are unusually humid times. 
            Because we cannot water the vegetable gardens with greywater, I also spent some time messing around with garden hoses. One side of the garden is on an irrigation line that allows me to shut off the water to each bed separately, which is very handy as the summer winds down or a soaker hose springs a leak.  This week, I replaced an ancient sweat hose and mended a few leaks, then covered all of the lines with straw mulch.  The other side of the garden is one strung together system—old soaker hoses cut in half and attached to pieces of garden hose— which is fine for this year, as the entire three beds is planted t in potatoes and will all need to be shut off at the same time. When we rebuild those beds, we will replace the one long hose with the same system of hoses and valves that works so well on the other side. Once the whole system is mulched in, it works quite well, keeping water right where I want it. I know I have succeeded when the grass dries out between the beds.

watering chart
            Summer, the dry season, has begun. We are all collectively worried about the lack of snowpack in our mountains and the impact of the warm dry spring on our fruit crops. Here, we save whatever water we can, hauling it out to return to the earth.



Chard or beet greens and ricotta pie:

Make a pie shell.

Saute a large bunch of chopped greens with onion, thyme, and garlic.

Mix 4 oz of ricotta with 2 eggs and 3/4 cup of milk or cream. Add cooked greens and pour into the pie shell.

Bake in 350 oven until firm, abot 45 minutes.