Archive for May, 2011

Reuse Tues: Me, Over There

Posted on May 31st, 2011 by Tonia No Comments

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon another gal tweeting the #ReuseTues hashtag! It was a very exciting moment and we instantly started emailing about doing guest posts for each other. I’m honored to be over on Kaylee’s blog today talking about reusing milk jugs, coffee cans, and mason jars. Go check it out!

Five Steps for Surviving Summer Projects

Posted on May 31st, 2011 by Tonia 3 Comments

It’s the tail-end of May! Spring is just flying by! For all practical purposes, it’s summer already! We have a few old apple and plum trees around the property, and this week when the sun came out after several days of thunderstorms, they all started blooming at once. Their decedent scent is hanging in the damp, foggy air. It’s heavenly and intoxicating.

Mike and I have been toiling hard to clear an area for the 11 trees we brought home from the Winter Greenhouse. There was an overgrown area next to our garage that gets good sun, and we decided it was the perfect spot. It has been a really hard project, and, as you can see, it’s not finished yet. I’m so tired of raking and shoveling and hauling brush, but the vision of a pretty grassy knoll full of beautiful little blossoming trees propels me forward.

There are many other visions and projects for the homestead on the horizon, waiting their turn. Everywhere we look around here, there seems to be something to fix, improve or make.

The hard truth is that there are simply not enough summer months to accomplish all the ideas we have in our heads. We’ll probably have the place exactly as we want it by the time we’re ready to croak. This is a pretty frustrating realization, especially after spending the whole winter cooped up inside together, dreaming about all the “fun” improvements we were going to make around the place come summer. Turns out that stuff is much easier to imagine than to do, and there is a lot of sweat, sore muscles and blisters in between.

It was nice to get away for the weekend and to be out in the woods with friends and family. We laughed a lot, we told stories, we played highly-competitive-bocce, we ate remarkably good food, we snuggled cozily in sleeping bags and read, we hiked, we tickled the babies and tried to keep them from eating dirt, we roasted marshmallows, we stared unblinking into the hot fire for hours. Our priorities got a reset. Our arms got a rest. Our minds got distracted.

And when we got home, we looked around at the apple blossoms, the vivid green grass, the perennials, the gardens, and we walked into our cozy house and felt a wave of love for the place. We’re excited to get back to work with new perspective and refreshed attitudes.

No big deal. We’re not afraid of hard work! We’re like the hardest workers we know {bahaha}! We’re new at this homesteading thing and we need to grant ourselves a little patience and not let the To-Do List call all the shots. One thing at a time, with breaks in between. We won’t get everything done this summer. But we will get a lot done. We will enjoy the work because we love our home and feel immensely thankful for it, and all our efforts makes it feel even more like home because our fingerprints are all over it.

Survive Summer Projects in Five Easy Steps:

1. Listen to NPR on the radio while working {the time passes more quickly and you get smarter.}

2. Take rests in the hammock, preferably with a cold glass of lemonade nearby.

3. Allow yourself to buy a cute new tank-top that will show off your new arm muscles {this one’s for me. Mike’s not really into tank-tops.}

4. Recognize when a break is needed from all-things-homestead and go do something completely unrelated…like  canoeing, dancing, or playing music together.

5. Remember to stop and smell the apple blossoms.



Also this week: A black bear visited our backyard, the salad greens we planted outside started to peak up through the dirt, the Poppies look like they’re ready to bloom any day now, the town’s Farmer’s Market started up for the summer, and the wild leek season came and went in our neck of the woods {we made delicious potato and egg scrambles with them.}

Earth Friendly Camping

Posted on May 27th, 2011 by Tonia 3 Comments

Happy Memorial Weekend! Every year, my family and a big group of our close friends head out into the woods for three fun-filled days of camping. Depending on the weather, our usual activities include a boccé tournament, lots of frisbee throwing, hiking, lots of eating, singing and playing instruments around the campfire, telling stories and listening to someone read out-loud, and a swim in the lake for those who are brave enough {the water is still FREEEEEZING!}

We’re all sharing food potluck style. Most of us are preparing food ahead of time to cut down on messy cooking and clean-up at the campsite. I made a huge pot of hearty soup to bring, quiche-muffins, and supplies for Bloody Mary’s {using mason jars as glasses}. I’m already excited to gather around the picnic tables and enjoy the poo-poo-platter with everyone. Because of course camping, like the rest of life, is really all about the food for us.

I figured a fair share of you will be camping this weekend as well, or in the weeks to come, so what better time than the present to go over some reminders about how to enjoy yourself in the great outdoors while leaving as small a footprint as possible.

McLain State Park – Houghton, MI – Memorial Day Weekend 2007

Doesn’t that look like fun? It is! We have camped many places over the years, and some of my favorite spots are right here in Northern Wisconsin! And that’s the first point I’d like to make: you don’t necessarily need to go far from home to have a great camping experience. Less travel= less fossil fuel usage= a greener camping trip. Find a park near you.

Now, there’s a few different kinds of camping. “Leave No Trace Camping” is when you leave the place you camped exactly as you found it. No trace at all that you were ever there. It’s harder than it might sound, and there are actually several differing schools of thought on how to do it correctly.

Glacier National Park, MT – July 2008

If you have ever camped in the backcountry somewhere, you probably know at least some of the principals and methods of LNT. It’s  really good stuff to know and to apply no matter where you’re camping. Here are some of the basics:

  1. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Travel and camp on established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. Good campsites are found, not made. Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, and focus activities on areas where vegetation is absent. In pristine areas, disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  2. Dispose of Waste Properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your camp for trash or food scraps. Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug six to eight inches, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap*. Scatter strained dishwater.
  3. Leave What You Find. Cultural or historic artifacts, as well as natural objects such as plants or rocks, should be left as found.
  4. Minimize Campfire Impacts. Cook on a stove. Use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. If a campfire is built, keep it small and use dead sticks found on the ground.
  5. Respect Wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance. Feeding wildlife alters their natural behavior. Protect wildlife from your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  6. Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Be courteous, respect the quality of other visitors backcountry experience, and let nature’s sounds prevail.

*Some folks are under the impression that it’s OK to bathe themselves or wash dishes in a water source {lake, river, etc.} as long as the soap they’re using is biodegradable, but that is not correct. Even biodegradable soap takes a long time to break down, and it needs to be filtered through the layers of the ground in order to break down completely. Dispensing it directly into a water source is no bueno, you guys!

Second Beach – Olympic Peninsula, WA – April 2011

On the other end of the spectrum, RV “camping” is when you drive a large vehicle into an RV park, hook it up to electricity, and hang out in it. And then there is the most common form of camping, “Car Camping”, which is when you drive to a reserved camp spot {usually in a State or National Park}, unload your tent and all your gear, and settle in to your home away from home. A fire ring, a picnic table, and a nearby bathroom/shower-house are usually in the picture. It’s not as cushy as being in an RV but it’s not exactly the backcountry either.

Arches National Park – Moab, UT – March 2009

Big Rock Campground – Washburn, WI – Labor Day Weekend 2010

This weekend we will be CC-ing on the outskirts of the Chequamegon National Forest. Car Camping is tricky, especially in a large group like the one we’ll be in, because it’s just comfy enough that some of the LNT principals can be forgotten or forgone in favor of more convenient options. A couple naughty examples: Using disposable plates and cups, because it’s easier than washing dishes. Buying plastic jugs of water instead of filtering your own into a reusable container. Throwing trash in the fire, or throwing it in the trash bin instead of packing it home and recycling it properly. Lots of people, pets, and vehicles means lots of flora and fauna disturbance and displacement…and lots of nasty DEET-filled bug spray in the air. We’ve all seen these less-than-Earth-friendly campers before, or maybe we’ve even been them.

The upside, though, is that folks are getting out into nature and enjoying it, which will hopefully in turn motivate them to help protect it so their childrens’ children can also enjoy it. And in the meantime, all of us can camp responsibly and show ‘em how it’s done.

Sylvania Wilderness Area – Land O’ Lakes, WI – August 2009

Helpful links to make your next camping trip more Earth-friendly:

Homemade natural insect repellent {there are specific recipes for mosquitoes, ants, and beetles. Citronella candles also work wonders against mosquitoes! Just keep one burning on your picnic table.}

A list of eco-camping-gear, in case you’re ready to trade in your disposable dishes for something Mother Earth would approve of.

RV’s can be green…kinda.  Tips for greening your RV, if you’re really that opposed to a tent.

A basic camping packing list {it’s a PDF, so you can print it out}

{Sorry about the fuzzy photos…in my rush to get packed up for the impending camping trip, I can’t be bothered to find the original files for them, so I pulled them off Facebook- UGH!- and they are low-resolution. I know, I know…not the outstanding-supreme-top-notch quality you’ve come to expect….but the wilderness calleth and I must hurry forth!}

How to Graft a Fruit Tree

Posted on May 23rd, 2011 by Tonia 1 Comment

Mike and I share a love of fresh fruit- especially the kinds that can be grown in our northern climate. Where we live- the Chequamegon Peninsula- is considered one of the best regions to grow fruit in the north part of the country. Apple orchards are everywhere up here, and the town to our north hosts a huge Apple Fest every October.

Fruit trees bring beauty to any property with their gorgeous and divine-smelling blossoms. They’re small {especially if you stick to the dwarf varieties and prune them} so even if you don’t own much land, you can enjoy them! We planted a Compass Cherry tree in our tiny front yard when we lived Duluth- it was a housewarming gift from my dad- and it did great and gave us juicy dark red cherries every June!

Go do some research, figure out what types grow in your zone, and place an order with these guys! You can thank me later when you’re enjoying your first homegrown fruit salad. ;)

Now that we own enough land to do it, we’re planting our own orchard {not a commercial one- just for us and family/friends/locals who want to come and pick}. We’ll be doing some apples, but since there are already so many apple orchards around, our focus will be different varieties of cherries, pears, plums, and apricots. We’re also determined to coax a peach tree or two to survive up here…but we’ll see about that…

We splurged and purchased about 11 potted fruit trees from the Winter Greenhouse that are already several years old, but most of our trees will be started as scions, which need to be matched with a rootstock. This is the more affordable way to go about growing fruit trees, if you plan on having a lot of them. It also forced us to learn the valuable skill of grafting.

Our friendly University of Wisconsin Extension Agent stopped by our house and gave us a lesson {it’s his job to assist anyone in the area who asks for help with anything agricultural. And we didn’t have to pay him because the UW does. What a sweet deal, huh??!?} After the lesson, Mike got busy with all the little scions that have been sitting in our ‘fridge.

Here is a visual guide to the process, but we are not professionals, so if you plan on trying this yourself, I would recommend reading one of these books before you start.

Pick a rootstock and a scion that are similar in size.

We’ve chosen to do a tongue-and-groove joint {there are several different ways of joining grafts}. Shave one end of the scion with a sharp pocket knife in one smooth stroke on each side to create a nice point. The cambium {the inner layer of the scion} is now exposed, and this is the part of the scion that fuses with the rootstock.

Notch the end of the rootstock with the pocket knife, creating a slit in which the pointy scion tip will fit. The *most* important thing here is for the scion’s and rootstock’s cambiums to be perfectly matched up: living tissue in contact with the other living tissue.

Holding the scion and the roostock together firmly, wrap the connection with stretchy rubber tape- pulling the tape tight as you do.

Ta-da! Look how cute. This one’s ready to grow big and strong.

Keep it out of frost for now, and do not touch the graft! It is extremely fragile until it heals. If you, or anything else, bumps it at all, the cambiums could become mismatched and the two parts will not fuse together.

Now just repeat the process a bunch more times…