October

Thoughts on Celebration

What do we celebrate?

It seems like a good question to me. By determining what we celebrate as a culture, and how we celebrate as a culture, we can gain an accurate picture of what we hold dear.

For some reason I am obsessed by this video (and not just because it is vaguely pornographic.) This song reached the #1 spot on the charts this summer in the fastest time since the 1960’s. It was the summer anthem of 2010. I admit that it’s catchy. The lyrics and the images both celebrate youth, beauty and sexuality, and while I’m not opposed to celebrating any of these things, it’s the way in which they are celebrated that greatly troubles me.

We often celebrate a beauty that is not real, a youth that is not real, a sexuality that is not real. It is contrived, but not for the sake of imitating the real. On the contrary, the contrived is preferred to the real. Give us airbrushed bodies instead of ones that wrinkle and sag, we say. Give us pornographic fantasies instead of sex. Give us bodies taut with chemicals and surgery instead of real youth. Why do we prefer the unreal instead of the real? I think it is because of what we celebrate.

If we celebrate only youth, beauty, and sex, we are only celebrating those things that are fleeting. They fade and pass; they cannot remain. By celebrating what cannot last, we are always disappointed. That is why the imitation of the real is so much better, we think. Skin may lose the glow of youth, but plastic does not. Sex may not always reach the heights of passion, but the fantasies of our pornographies always do. In this way we try desperately and foolishly to celebrate the eternity of fleeting things.

Why do we not, instead, celebrate the eternal?  Why do we not celebrate the stories, and the words that, over the ages, have given countless weary souls respite? Why do we not celebrate the spirit, that eternal part of us that will someday unite with God? Why do we not celebrate eternal cycles of birth, love, and death?

Instead, we celebrate the transitory . We celebrate that which decays, and fantasize of wrapping and preserving these things in plastic and cotton candy…

The last of the harvest

We had snow for the first time yesterday; big flakes came down for about an hour, but nothing stuck. The temperatures quickly dropping (25F this morning) it was time to get the remaining veggies out of the garden.

Moose hunting season is almost over, which means the harvest season is coming to an end. We’ve got chicken, salmon, halibut, moose (and soon turkey) in the freezer; mead bubbling in the pantry; and carrots, onions, potatoes, and cabbage stored in the crawl space. I feel like I’m starting to live a legitimate “homesteading life.” Next year: bees, a chicken coop, and more garden boxes.

I love Alaska.

A final garden update

The growing season is quickly coming to an end. In all honesty, it has not been a good season here in southcentral Alaska. We broke records for consecutive days of rain, and the temperatures never got that impressive.

a portion of the harvest...

Here’s my recount of the growing season:

Cabbage:

All my cabbage did well, though the heads were fairly small. I’m not sure if that was a result of mulching with cardboard, or simply because of the weather. I’m hugely impressed with Johnny’s Storage #4 variety. They make incredibly dense heads, and I’m excited to see how long they will store this year.

Carrots:
As expected, the carrots did awesome this year. I grew a purple variety called Purple Haze, which turned out very well. They’re really sweet. I always grow Bolero as my storage variety, using pelleted seeds. Frankly, we’re going to have so many carrots this year, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

Potatoes

The potatoes were a disappointment again this year. They start really well, but the leaves turned yellow halfway through the summer. I dug all the tubers this weeks, and while I probably have 30-40 lbs of potatoes, I should have had way more considering what I planted. I need to do more research on potatoe cultivation…

Lettuce/greens

Another great year for greens. I tried romaine for the first time, and they turned out great (but I had to wait until the end of July to harvest them). I also grew a baby salad mix this year. A six inch by three foot strip gave me probably a dozen cuttings, and the baby greens were never bitter. I’ll definitely rely on the salad mixes next year to keep us in fresh greens. The kale went crazy like every year.

Corn/pumpkins

As already mentioned I got ripe corn for the first time in four years. I think I’ve come up with a plan for next year to have a decent harvest. All of my transplanted corn matured, but none of the corn started from seed did, although those plants and ears are actually larger.  The pumpkin vines all have cantaloupe-sized fruit on them, and our surprise indian summer has given them an extra week or two. I’m still not sure they’ll mature, but it was fun having them in the garden.

Onions

My onions are tiny again this year. I knew that I did not start them early enough, but I thought they would do better, as I was pretty diligent about weeding their corner of the garden. More research needs to be done on the onions too….

For the winter:

I really need to get a soil test done. I’ve been adding local organic fertilizer the last couple of years, but I need to see if my soils are lacking anything.

I’m going to try propagation this year with currants and gooseberries. I’ll post updates this winter or spring on my progress.

The corn harvest…

Here is Alaska, growing warm-season vegetables is hard, if not impossible. I’ve been trying corn for the last 3 years, and I’ve finally harvested my first ears:

Don’t laugh at their diminutive size. They have less carbs that way.

In all seriousness, though, I think I’ll try a different variety next year, and start them earlier. This year I used Denali Seed Company’s “Yukon Chief” variety. In previous years I have used “Spring Treat” which seem to produce larger ears, nut I think I picked them too early, because they were never ripe. Considering that this summer/fall has been unusually rainy and cool, I’m hoping next’s year’s harvest will be a little more…robust.

I’m also trying pumpkins this year, and have given them the prime spot in the garden. I have several fruits that have grown on the vine, but I’m not sure they’ll mature in time. We’ll be getting our first frost within the next several weeks.

How to make raspberry-currant mead

Hey everyone,

I just put up my recipe for making mead. We finished picking 20lbs of wild currants about a week ago, and I have my first of two six gallon batches fermenting right now. I opened a bottle of last year’s mead the other day, and it was incredible!

How to make home-made soap

I just finished putting together a tutorial about making your own soap. You can check in out here.

Dipnetting

Here in Alaska, we are allowed to go dipnetting for salmon. Dipnetting is nothing more than putting a net into the water and waiting for a fish to swim in. While the odds of catching a fish might not seem terribly good at first glance, the salmon runs up here are such that one can “dip” dozens of fish in a day.

The mouth of the Kenai River, where we are allowed to dipnet.

Other Alaskans with their dipnets in the water, waiting for a salmon to swim in.

Last week, we went dipnetting on the Kenai River. All said and done, we caught about 75 sockeye salmon. Between halibut fishing, an earlier dipnetting trip, and butchering the chickens, or freezer is about full. We’re not sure how we’re going to fit a moose into it. (Methinks its about time for a bigger chest freezer).

Bears like chickens too…

We came home from the local 4th  of July parade to a peculiar sight: our large, bear-proof trash can was upside-down in the driveway. We took a look and sure enough, a bear was trying to get in. You can see the outline of its print on the can.

You can sort of see its paw and claw prints on the can.

It was no surprise that a bear was in the yard. After all, we live on Bear Mountain. But I was shocked it hadn’t gotten into the chicken pen. However, when I went to freshen their water, I saw this:

A worthy attempt...

Thankfully, he didn’t get in. Ironically, all he had to do was to flip the plywood roof up and he would have been in bear heaven…There are now heavy rocks on the roof. Thankfully, its the 4th of July and people are lighting off fireworks everywhere. They should keep the bear away for a day or two. In the meantime, it’s time to think about butchering.

Chickens

Beyond gardening, I am raising chicken for the first time. In mid-May, I picked up 20 Cornish cross chicks from the local hatchery. One died a couple of weeks later, though I’m not sure why. I think it had internal issues, and seemed really lethargic.

Happy chicks in the crawlspace

We put the chicks in a whelping box in the utility room underneath the house. While those accommodations worked well for the first month, they quickly became way too stinky for the crawlspace.

My lovely pen.

At about 4 weeks, I built a pen for them out of some old wood we had hanging around. The pen isn’t pretty, but it’s cheap, keeps the rain out, and can easily be taken apart. When I put the chickens out, I was concerned they might be cold, as they hadn’t feathered out completely. However, they did fine, though I noticed that their food consumption went way up.

The chickens at 4 weeks

Dinner

A few days ago, I had a friend help me move the pen onto fresh ground, but in the process we accidentally crushed one of the chicken’s feet. We decided this would be a good time to try out first homegrown chicken. It was delicious! It was definitely leaner that the chicken you get at the store, but in a good way. Still very tender. Here’s the recipe I used to BBQ it.

The rest will be in the freezer soon. Butchering and plucking will be a new experience for me, so we’ll see how it goes!

Garden Update Part 2

Having just finished weeding my garden in the rain, I thought it might be a good idea to add a picture of its current state…

The garden at the end of June

The early harvest: kale, mustard greens, and radishes

Garden Update Part 1

The transplants for the year

It’s been an incredibly busy summer, and as such, my blogging has suffered. This is my desperate attempt to catch up on what has been happening in the garden:

I planted in mid-May, which is a bit early for Alaska. Luckily, it was a very warm May and the plants did well. This year I experimented with using cardboard as mulch. I had a lot of big cardboard boxes left over from installing cabinets, and decided to lay them over my cabbage, broccoli, and carrots.

The cardboard has been working wonderfully on the cabbages and broccoli that are planted further apart. I simply used a utility knife to cut holes where I put in the transplants. It has eliminated the need for weeding, and does a great job of conserving soil moisture.

The prepared garden

As you can see from the picture below, I had to use large rocks to hold the cardboard down.

The garden in early June

The cardboard didn’t work as well on the carrots. The rows are too close together, and it means that the weeds are able to sneak through one side or the other.

The carrot bed

More gardening updates to come!