Tag Archives: Alaska

One Way to Reuse a Wine Bottle . . .

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So, ages ago (years ago, really), I had an idea for a cool polymer clay embellishment for an empty wine bottle.  It has taken me a long time, working in spurts, to finally finish it, but here it is:

The front shows a little cabin in the woods, with snow-covered mountains in the background.  It is a spring scene, so the birch or aspen trees have yellowy green leaves, and there are wild roses and irises in bloom.  Sigh.  It’s really not spring here (-28 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, and that’s warmed up about 20 degrees since last week!), so I’m gazing wistfully at this little clay world, willing spring to get here soon. 🙂

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The back lets you see the backyard.  The axe is stuck in the chopping block, and there’s a path back to the outhouse (you can just see that necessity – it’s in the middle left of the photo, above the irises).

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And here are a couple of close ups.

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It is for sale in my Art Fire shop, Butterscotch Grove, along with a few other things.  I’ll be going through my old never-posted stock from when I worked the Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market a few years ago and adding those items to my shop over the next week or so.  Those things will be bargains!

The Sun’s Going Away!

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Well, so much for maintaining a weekly posting schedule over the summer!  It is now late-September and our brief sun-time is waning.  Last Saturday was our final Farmer’s Market of the year, and this morning we saw our first snowflakes.  I’ve dug all my potatoes and stored them carefully away. (Good thing we didn’t get too many, since storage would be an issue – no root cellar.  Still, I’d have liked to get a bit more than “about double” what I planted.)  There are still carrots and beets in the ground.  Frost and moose very sweetly took care of the rest of my vegetable garden.  The Boy is now quite fond of moose, since he didn’t have to choke down any kale or cauliflower this year.  There is still buckwheat to harvest, and maybe enough barley to make a couple pots of soup.  And I just collected the last of the tomatoes and peppers from the greenhouse.  Oh, and we tried growing a couple of tomato family relatives called “Sunberries” and “Garden Huckleberries,” which are supposed to produce mega crops of dark purple berries that are best picked after a few frosts.  Well, maybe the “mega” part works farther south.  I picked a handful of Sunberries from the 35 or so plants I put in, but the Garden Huckleberries barely even set fruit.  Fortunately, those were two gift seed packets from Mom-in-law (Hi, MIL!).  They were actually a few years old, which is why I started so many – I didn’t really think many would germinate.

Though we did get some produce (enough to be thankful for!) it’s been a kind of disappointing year in the garden.  While I did manage to get some ripe tomatoes and enough summer squash to not mind composting a couple, we were overrun by chickweed

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The chickweed is still growing.

and bird vetch

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Bird Vetch – the Kudzu of the North

(and plantain, lamb’s quarters, dandelions and clover . . . ), and it was a very wet summer.

We did not get very far in our horizontal priority list, but we did manage to move our ducks outdoors! Hoorah!  The Husband build a lovely outdoor coop for them, with a nice enclosure, several covered areas and a pool for bathing.

They weren’t exactly “free-range”; there are too many free-range dogs and cats in our neighborhood to let them wander the property outside of a sturdy fence, and the property is too large to enclose (well, with our budget).  They did get to spend most of the summer outside, though, eating all the mosquitoes their little hearts desired (and as much chickweed as we could give them).  Meanwhile, the indoor coop has had a makeover.  The Husband emptied and cleaned it, and we’ve repainted the coop side with fresh white paint and polyurethane to protect the floor.

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I had to include The Husband or it would have been hard to see anything in the all white coop.

 

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Ducks back in their winter quarters

We are still working on the storage/work side.  That part can be done with the birds back inside, but since the return to winter quarters had to happen, those quarters needed to be ready first.

Currently we have 20 ducks and 2 bantam chickens.  They all returned to the coop but some are just visiting.  Several, at least, will take up residence in our freezer in a week or two.  Egg production has declined somewhat this year, and our spring hatching disappointingly produced only three healthy ducklings (and one of those even needed some help to get out of her shell).  Time to bring in some fresh blood.  Next spring we’ll order some new birds to improve the gene pool a bit.  We considered just starting over in the spring and sending all of them to the freezer, but that would mean no fresh eggs at all over the winter.  Store-bought isn’t enticing after having fresh for so long!  Also, we don’t have a stand-alone freezer.  Trying to fit 20 ducks in the above-the-refrigerator space would be a nightmare.  Hopefully, now that the birds have returned to the consistent 14-hour days and 50-60 degree temps of the indoor coop, they will think they’ve already been through winter and start laying like crazy.  If they don’t, we’ll have to do some investigating to find out who’ll survive the cull.

This time of year is always fun.  All the many things that should have gotten done over the summer but didn’t are still waiting.  School has started for both the teacher Husband and the homeschool Family.  The weather always seems to be gorgeous on days we are scheduled for indoor activities and iffy, at best, on those days we could work on those let’s-just-get-it-done tasks.  Let me tell you, wading through wet, waist-high bird vetch and slipping on overgrown chickweed to pick buckwheat in the cold rain is not my favorite part of autumn.  It’s all good, though.  The smell of autumn, the return of sunsets and the sight of the butterscotch birch and cottonwood leaves against the intense blue or smoky gray of the sky makes up for the yucky bits.

The Land Provides

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Seed catalogs have started to appear in our mailbox!! Yea! Spring is coming!  I can’t wait to see dirt (outside dirt, of course.  Sadly, we have plenty inside…).  Well, of course, I can wait.  I’ll need patience for another three months. (Four, if this winter holds on as long as last winter did.)

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The Garden in January 2014

May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013

Still, I love when the catalogs start arriving.  I’m going to have twice as much space for growing veggies this year, and no away from home job to interrupt.  And last year the property gave us most of what we needed to make a green house.  That will be going up as soon as we can remove a few small stumps.  What’s that you ask?  How did the property give us a greenhouse?  Well…

We had been pondering how we could build a greenhouse cheaply.  I’d seen a prefab one at Sam’s Club; it didn’t really look big enough or sturdy enough, but the price was decent (less than $200).  Husband went to check it out and discovered the much larger carport for about the same amount.  With some modifications and additional structural support, he thought that would make a really nice greenhouse for between $300 and $500 dollars.  He thought he might even be able to use some old pipe he’d noticed half buried in the woods on the property to lengthen the carport, or as replacement parts, if needed.  Turns out, the old half-buried pipe was all the pieces of a similar carport.  Only a few were damaged, and of those, most could be repaired.  And it wasn’t super old.

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Pipes Laid Out on Driveway, Summer 2013

He got some new pieces to replace the few unusable ones and lengthen the structure a bit, and built the first end wall last summer. We already had most of the plywood for the wall, salvaged from remodeling the inside of our house.

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Structure Complete. Sorta

This is a good sign, I think.  It’s like magic.  We have a need and the land provides.  I’m tempted to go stand in the middle of our field and say, “Golly, I could really use someone to clean my house….”

Making a Better World: Shortening the Food Chain, Part 1

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We Alaskans like to believe in the image Outsiders have of us as self-reliant hunters and gathers, living off the frozen fat of our outdoor icebox.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle, and even more who depend on hunting, fishing and berrying for a part of their yearly food supply.  Plenty of us, though, do most of our hunting in the aisles of the local Safeway or Fred Meyer store, where “local” usually means from Washington state or Oregon.
Both Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (deep bow to the high priest and priestess of locavoria!) cite the statistic that most food products eaten in the US have traveled an average of 1500 miles from place of origin to place of consumption.  I wonder if that average includes (and is therefore skewed by) the many, many miles almost everything in our grocery stores has come.  It is nearly 2000 miles just from Seattle to Fairbanks – and if it’s Iowa corn or California strawberries, it’s coming a whole lot farther than that.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tortuously complicated length of the industrial food chain, and how and why shortening that chain is in our best interests, as individuals and as a society.  Though The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the chains leading to four specific meals, there are two general types of food chains:  1. food going from point A to point B;  2. food A being processed into food products B, C, D, etc.  Shortening the first type means:  less fuel spent in transportation and refrigeration; more biological diversity, since varieties don’t need to be selected for ease of shipment; better taste and nutrition – foods are picked when ripe, not ripened chemically or on the road (Kingsolver calls shipped produce “vagabonds who wasted their youth in a boxcar”); and more peace of mind, since any disruptions in the food distribution system become less problematic when you can walk between points A and B.  Shortening the second type means, again:  less fuel for transportation, refrigeration and processing; more biological diversity (because processed foods contain so much corn and soy, US farms are producing more and more of these two crops and less and less of everything else); better nutrition, because eating whole foods equals consuming all the nutrients those foods contain, not just those that Science has identified as important or beneficial this month; and more peace of mind.  If you are eating un- or minimally processed foods, you know what you’re eating. (For the most part, anyway.  Did you know that the wax that makes apples and cucumbers shiny is a corn product?)
So, how do we, as non-subsistence-living Alaskans, shorten those food chains?  There are certain things we are stuck with (or stuck without, I guess), for instance staples like wheat flour, COFFEE, sugar, COFFEE, tea, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE.  Those things just aren’t produced here. (I guess, wheat flour and tea could be dropped from our shopping list.) Much as I’d love to follow Kingsolver’s example of consuming only locally produced food (with a few exceptions – each member of her family got one special food during their year of locavory), I don’t think that’s realistic for Fairbanks. I don’t think it is, but I don’t know for certain, so this year, I’m investigating local food sources. Next year, maybe, will be our as-complete-as-possible Animal, Vegetable, Miracle year.  So far I’ve found:

There are also options like buying a whole hog or cow from a 4-H member, a barley flour processor in the Delta area, and friends who hunt or fish :). And of course, there’s the “grow your own” option – which has its own challenges in the Land of the Midnight Sun (aka the Land of the Extremely Short Growing Season).

That’s actually a longer list than I’d expected (Yea!) and this post is getting long, too, so I’ll finish next week.

What do you get locally? If you’re in Alaska – what’s your favorite local food source?

Making a Better World: The Nature of a Garden

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Random Sheet of Metal on Property

            Our land was once part of a pristine wilderness.  We hope to recreate that environment, to erase all traces of human interference with nature.  Just kidding.  It’s true that the land was once “untouched,” but that was long, long ago.  Much of the “wilderness” around here is at best second growth boreal forest.  The early history of Fairbanks – building and heating the town, mining the hills, stoking the boilers of the steamboats – took a lot of wood, and rearranged mountains of earth.  Before that, Alaska Natives hunted and fished throughout the Tanana Valley.  This area has seen the impact of humanity for millennia, and there’s no way we could ever return a little over an acre of it to its “original” state.

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  We certainly weren’t thinking “pristine” as we hauled car parts, balled-up, rusty wire fencing, miles of electrical wire and pieces of bone (not human, thankfully)  out of our planting area. 

Part of Scrap Pile:  Fencing, wire, and an old rug

Junk Structure on Property

We are not trying to get to untouched.  But if we are not trying to restore our bit of subarctic suburbia to its primeval grandeur, how can I say we’re “making a better world”?  Might seem like hubris.

            First, I don’t buy the idea that nature is necessarily at its best without human impact.  I also don’t think “dominion over the Earth” means we should develop, pave, or make junkyards out of every blessed parcel of land we can.  In his book Second Nature¸ Michael Pollan suggests that pitting nature against culture (human activity) creates a false dichotomy.  We are, after all, a part of nature, not apart from it.  In a garden, the influence of the gardener is thoughtful, intentional and blatant.  We protect plants that might otherwise fail to thrive.  We plant stuff we want to grow in rows or beds.  We weed and water (and weed and water some more).  Pollan calls a garden “a middle ground between nature and culture, a place that is at once of nature and unapologetically set against it.”

            When I say we are making a better world (in a tiny way) by making this farmlet, I mean that by making our influence visible and useful, we are saving that land from the hidden forces that were slowly turning it in to a junkyard, and from the overt force of the developers who at best would have built a multi-family apartment there, and at worst would have turned it more rapidly into a junkyard.  I don’t believe that our cultivation of the land will create an eyesore.  We are removing trees, but not all.  We are planting new trees as well, and the new ones and the ones we don’t take down will have a better chance to thrive.  The dead wood that makes the property a fire hazard that is difficult to navigate will go – but its nutrients will be returned to the soil, in the form of mulch.  We’ll have to protect our plantings from moose and rabbits, but those creatures will also continue to use the land.  (It’s kinda hard to stop them!) 

Visiting Moose

We’ll be ripping out non-native invasive species, like dandelions and purple vetch.  And, of course, we’ll be feeding ourselves with the products of our labor, happily increasing the nutrient value of our food and the quality of life of our food animals while reducing our dependence on shipped in food and the related use of fossil fuels required to get that food here.  Whew – that’s a heck of a sentence!  But it sure sounds like a better world to me. 🙂

Some of our food animals - not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Some of our happy food animals – not little yellow fluffballs anymore!