Thursday, December 31, 2009

So, Now What?

Eleven beers can do a lot to a guy. Beers since eleven, eleven hours later can do quite a bit more. A guy that's not normally known for taking risks, for instance, may sit with his friend at the corner of their favorite watering hole, talking about some cockamamie scheme to eat and live off the land. The guy with the beer in him may agree to just about anything the guy who's super excited that the local sports team won their local sports contest, and his enthusiasm levels being off the charts may have excited the guy with too much beer in him.

Maybe the guy with the beers in him woke up to something he didn't know and didn't understand because his beer goggles made it seem like the greatest idea ever.

Okay, that's being a bit dramatic. Point is, I've now woken up to this thing I've gotten in bed with, and now, I've gotta make it breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And snacks. For a week. In July. Not only that, but, I have to grow and hunt and trap what I feed it. Every meal. For a week. In July.

Question is... how?

I turned to my dear and fearless leader Google, who creates products and services I can use which allow me to find anything I need. Some call it a search engine; I call it magic!

I'd heard of Square Foot Gardening before, and with my somewhat smaller yard, I figured this would be the best option. And so, I hit up Mel Bartholomew and his Square Foot Gardening website. I learned that the best option is 4' x 4', and for my yard, that's perfect. I've got close to 16' from fence to path, which will leave me roughly three feet between fences and two feet between each box. That's 32 crops I can grow, though I'll likely grow less and spread things out. I haven't decided particulars yet. That's something for another post.

I also decided that the hanging upside-down tomato plants weren't some sort of magic that happened solely based on some TV infomercial. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that it was someone simply capitalizing on another idea, and I was right. Turns out, people have been using 5 gallon buckets and pails for years. Not only do they do it for tomatoes but, they do it for peppers, too! That would definitely give me space -- in fact, I could put a pail at each corner of my garden, if I wanted to with a very minimal loss of space!

My brain raced with excitement as I priced lumber to buy my raised beds and looked around for the best prices on compost, peat and vermiculite. Problem was, I didn't know when to plant everything. Hell, I didn't even know how to plant everything. I know seeds started everything and I could get my own plantings and seedlings to transplant, but, would that be in the fair spirit of the challenge? No, I decided I would have to grow seedlings myself. I didn't know when to start anything.

That's when I found Skippy's Vegetable Garden, and, much more importantly, this calendar. With a last frost at 5/10 here in Zone 6 (being coastal), I need to get my onion seeds started indoors on 2/22. My pepper seeds have to start on 3/15 (Happy birthday, Jess!) and my tomatoes 3/29. But, what can I grow that'll be ready to harvest in July? Now I know. Can I grow potatoes? Yep! I can even grow 'em in old tires!

This leads me to my next question, and one that'll be a doozy: How do I get protein? The answer, I think may lie in science, namely, fungal science. While I'm not normally one for the humble parasite known as the mushroom, I think it's my best chance to get the protein I crave. So, I'm going to grow my own mushrooms, rather than forage something I'm not sure about and end up dead. Thankfully, there are kits available that make this a breeze. The half button half portobello kit may be my salvation.

The question is -- is that a food I cultivated myself? I didn't do anything except water the box the innoculated soil came in, and that's cultivation, somewhat. I'd love to know what you think in the comments.

Introduction: Mark

Greetings, land of blog.

My name is Mark, and I am the patriarch of this idea.

The 'rules' post below is an excerpt from an email correspondence with my family and friends about this idea I came up with. As my wife has already mentioned I have plenty of crazy ideas, most of which I keep to myself. This one made it past my 'certifiably crazy' filter so I spilled it out on the table. I was surprised by the positive feedback I got from most people I shared it with.

As from myself, I am self-employed and at this time have no co-workers, save my wife who helps tremendously with the paperwork. Last year I planted my first garden - a tiny 10x10 plot with too much shade. Had I needed that plot to produce food to live on, we surely would have starved. I very much enjoy hunting and fishing, though I am not very accomplished in either of those endeavors. I have long held a compulsion to harvest fruit from wild trees that I find, including the 30' mulberry that dumps buckets of fruit early in the summer.

So what is the purpose of this challenge? I hope to improve my hunting, fishing, and farming skills, and to learn more about edible wild plants in the local area. I also hope to foster a sense of community with my family and close friends that are engaged in the challenge as well. And who knows beyond that - perhaps I'll buy a Conestoga wagon and follow the California trail...oh wait I don't think that idea should make it past the filter...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In the beginning, there was a seed.

Hi my name is Ray and on yesterday my daughter called me. Wait, wrong blog...

I am Jessica and I am married to Mark, the creator of this whole idea. He tells me he has a lot of ideas, but keeps a majority of them to himself. I wonder what he comes up with when no one but the voices in his head are listening. He initially wanted to make this experiment last a month, but I talked him down to a week with only a little cajoling. It's harder to do permanent damage to oneself in a week. That and considering we have no experience or infrastructure for this type of undertaking, a week would also be less frustrating. I imagine eating like this will take up every spare moment not spent working or sleeping, and summertime in northeastern Ohio is too precious to waste weary and starving.

Mark was discussing his plans in more detail last night with me and our friend Sarah. It included raising and slaughtering chickens and a pig. When he told me this I actually heard a needle scratching across a vinyl record. First of all, we have less than a postage-sized yard with absolutely no backyard in which to shelter animal life, and death, from the neighbors. I think we have the smallest amount of yard possible to be legally called a yard. Any less and the only outdoor space we'd have would be the driveway and the non-existent planter boxes outside of our windows. I don't know how much space animals require, but I know we ain't got it. Second, I don't know if we are legally allowed to have farm animals, either due to animal cruelty concerns because of the lack of space or from a citywide ban or both. Is there a plan to protect the animals from all the unleashed dogs, stray cats, and asshole kids wandering the streets? Finally I am a hypocritical carnivore. I eat meat but I don't want to see it in all its various stages before it reaches my plate.

Speaking of legality, I don't know what the laws are for foraging on public land - not that discerning private property is always clear, especially in the county. I don't think Mark would get busted for taking some soybeans from public hunting grounds per se but I liken it to going five miles per hour over the speed limit. It's not worth an officer's time to pull you over unless he (or she) wants to be a prick or bust you for something else and is looking for an excuse to get the ball rolling. Plus there is the distant possibility of armed crazies mistaking foraging for stealing and/or trespassing.

So why are we doing this? I don't know if Mark is preparing for the (biblical, Mayan, zombie) apocalypse or if his anti-establishment leanings are getting more severe now that he's older and has no human co-workers to keep him in check. As for me I could tell you I am doing this because of some desire to save the world or improve my health but that would be a lie. I am doing this because I am beyond lazy and rarely prepare food for myself. Mark, restaurants, and prepackaged food makers prepare a vast majority of what I consume, and since Mark is doing this, I am doing this. Did you really expect me to change my behavior on the whim of my husband? Puh-leez.

Scratching The Itch

I'd just joined the Boy Scouts, and our first camping trip turned out to be a muddy, mid-November adventure through some mid-Ohio tract of land cut flat by glacial activity with steep walls leading to a small creek that was once a mighty river. Our scoutmaster, a tall, powerful man who seemingly had biceps on his biceps rounded us kids and our backpacks up and took us on a survival walk. The point was to show us what we could possibly survive on, had we gotten lost in the woods.

The leaves had already fallen and what was green was now either asleep for the winter or eaten by the plentiful deer. The first plant he pointed out, a dark green fern that looked a bit like the top of a carrot, though it smelled much more like a skunk. He put the offensive plant in his mouth and chewed, talking the entire time. "Now, if you're out and surviving, the important thing to remember is that things won't always taste good. But, you'll need to eat to survive."

The next morning, he was taken away in an ambulance, the fern far more poisonous than he'd ever figured it would be. Months later, he confessed that he thought it was a wild carrot when it was something much more poisonous.

Since then, I've been cautiously fascinated with the idea of being able to eat things that are unfamiliar, and yet, too afraid to do so.

My name is Peter, Pete if you're a friend. I'm thirty-three in February, overweight and looking to change that. Within the last few years, I've discovered that foods grown and overseen by the people who grow them with minimal processing are far, far tastier than foods that are processed and packaged. I can make a better tasting catsup than Heinz, and freshly ground hamburger is likely the true ambrosia fruit. My fiancee and I have belonged to a CSA for two years, and we're proud of that. To support local farmers is great, and we're very in tune with our local growers and producers.

Participation for me in this challenge leans toward a journalistic curiosity than participatory. I doubt my garden will take off, thanks to a 75-foot maple tree in my backyard that's fantastic for shade, and not so fantastic for growing. I'm a carnivore, so, I'd have to hunt and fish for protein, if it weren't for my pesky rule of not being able to look what I eat in the eye. (it's a real problem with potatoes, folks)

What I want is to learn more than that scoutmaster could ever show me. I want to hit the hills with my fellow participants and forage for berries or edible flowers and greens. I'd like to sit out as Todd and Mark fish, skeeved about putting a worm on a hook. I want to learn vertical gardening and being able to eat food that I cultivate myself. I want to have a bit of self-sufficiency in my life, and to be able to look at something I'm about to eat and take each bite with pride. I'd like to expand my culinary horizons so that I can reduce my dependance on the global economy and reduce my waistline, too.

Will I? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Introduction-- Kathleen

About me: My name is Kathleen; I'm 36 and am a grad student at Kent State. I am an avid environmentalist and see this challenge as a way to put my money where my mouth is so-to-speak; I believe that because of the current challenges we (the human race) are facing in regards to peak oil and climate change, we must create local food supplies and local economy if we hope to survive.

The Plan: My husband, Todd, and daughter, Katelynn are my beloved teammates for this challenge. Our current game plan is to plant permaculture keyhole gardens and vertical gardens in our small city yard, create an herb spiral gardening, buy a couple of chickens (we're hoping to find a couple of year-old RI Reds so that we can have eggs; if not, we'll buy babies and they will help with fertilizing and bug control-- eggs will have to wait until next year!). We currently have growing in the kitchen parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and mint. We planted raspberries last year, which are still small but produced fruit this year. We also planted grapes, but they may not be ready this year at all.
We know of some nearby places to forage for other fruit. I will give up coffee for the week since we can't grow our own, and replace it with herbal tea.

Our Challenges: Protein! I am a vegetarian, so need to find a space to forage for nuts and grow/ trade for beans. Todd is a carnivore, so he will need to hunt/fish for his protein. Katelynn is easy going about it and will eat either way.
The other big challenge for us is yard preparation. We will need to fence in our yard early in the spring (for the chickens, but also to ensure that our not-so-organic neighbors don't spray any of our gardens!) In addition, we have to have the soil tested-- we have used a raised bed garden in previous years but need to hugely expand the amount of garden space/ yard usage, so if the levels come back high (which I suspect they will), we will have to make raised bed keyhole gardens.


Here are the rules - at least the rules I intend to follow.

All foods eaten for the time period mentioned must have been taken directly from their natural source. Food should be cultivated through hunting, fishing, farming, or foraging. You may start collecting at any time (now) and can preserve these foods in any way, using any equipment so long as you do not add any non-cultivated ingredients. Freezing, drying, dehydrating, etc are fine - you cannot salt goods unless you go and collect the salt yourself. You may travel any distance you like to collect. You may have domestic (farm) animals for eggs, milk, meat, etc. so long as you have them at least 90 days prior to Market Day.

Please make sure you are POSITIVE of the identification of the plants you are foraging for. There are numerous guide books available that will help with identification, go to the library and check them out. Don't poison yourself or your family!

Share this idea with whoever you'd like! If you think there is someone else who would be interested in joining up with us, share it with them. If you know someone interested in doing it remotely, share it with them too.

We will begin Thursday, July 22nd, with 'Market Day.' Everyone bring their cultivated goods to family dinner and we can barter with one another for a better variety of goods.

Friday, July 23rd morning will begin the actual eating of our harvest. This will extend to the following Thursday night, July 29th, where we will conclude with a family feast. Everyone is to bring a contribution to the feast made solely from their remaining stockpiles.