Simple Living Archive


You’ve Got Mail. And it’s Chicks!

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

There’s nothing quite like having a box of cute, fluffy chicks arrive in the mail. It’s miraculous, notes author and homesteader Ben Hewitt, that a newly hatched chick can survive without food and water for exactly the amount of time it takes to mail a package from anywhere in the United States to anywhere else in the United States.

If you’re considering purchasing some mail-order chicks, read the following excerpt from Hewitt’s recently released The Nourishing Homestead for tips on housing, fencing, feed, and more.

Or, if you think ducks might be more your speed, here’s a comparison of ducks vs chickens from Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener.

Cheep! Cheep!

Chickens and Other Poultry

The crazy thing about chickens is that you can order them through the mail. Actually, this is not entirely true, because you don’t order chickens through the mail; you order chicks. Day-old chicks, to be exact, and it shouldn’t be possible but it is, because chicks hatch with just enough energy in their tiny bodies to live for two or three days without food or water. As it turns out, this is precisely long enough for them to be shipped via mail from pretty much anywhere in the United States to pretty much anywhere else in the United States.

Although I have become
 accustomed to it by now, it 
would be hard to overstate just
 how extraordinary and delightful it is to walk into our post 
office each spring and hear the
 cheeping of our freshly hatched 
birds from behind the counter.
 The notion that something so
 fragile and alive can be sent
 through the mail seems to me 
to border on the miraculous. I
 mean, is it merely coincidence
 that just-hatched chicks can survive without food and water for precisely the amount of time it takes them to traverse America by train, plane, and automobile? Surely it is. Surely there could not have been some sort of grand plan in place since the days of the Red junglefowl, the Asian bird from which all modern chickens have evolved over the past 5,000 years. But still: How many other newborn creatures can survive being enclosed in a cardboard box and then sent on a dark, hurtling journey across thousands of miles?

Every year, there comes a day in late May or early June when the boys and I drive home from the post office with a box of chicks on the passenger seat, filling the car with the smell of wood shavings and something that’s harder to identify, and which is perhaps best described as the smell of chick. It is a warm smell, and if it is possible for a smell to have a tactile sensation, it is the smell of soft. The boys always want to pull “just one or two” out of the box to hold on their laps for the ride home; imagining the chaos that would inevitably result, I always prevail upon them to wait for the three or four minutes it takes us to get home.
At home, we carry the box gingerly to our brooder setup, which consists of an open-floored “box” of screwed-together boards, about 12 feet by 12 feet. We assemble our brooder in one of the small greenhouses, although doing so requires constant monitoring, as only a short period of sun on an otherwise cool and cloudy day can fry the birds if the sides aren’t raised. A heat lamp dangles from overhead, low enough that the heat is directed into the box, but high enough that there’s no danger of fire. We make a crude “peak” with two-by-fours, over which we drape plastic to retain heat. This allows us to run the 250-watt heat lamp intermittently, saving electricity, and we can even swap the high-watt bulb for a 100-watt incandescent bulb on warmer days. For the next three weeks, until their feathers come in enough to insulate them from the cool nights of late spring and early summer, this is their home. We bring them clippings of grass and other organic material every day, along with whatever waste milk the pigs aren’t consuming.

Chickens are simple creatures. And while fast-growing meat birds seem to be particularly lacking in charisma, the same cannot be said of layers. Perhaps I should not be so quick to admit this, for it may reveal something unflattering about our general level of sophistication, but this family has passed many hours doing little more than watching our birds. This was particularly true in the early years of our homestead, when we allowed our small flock of layers to roam in the yard, close to the house. Owing to the preponderance of vegetables in this area today, and chickens’ fondness for perfectly formed green peppers, we no longer allow them to range near the house. But I won’t soon forget the times Penny and I sat on the front stoop of the house, watching those curious birds do their little dance.

Pasture Requirements

Again we have a creature that is well adapted to a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems. Like pigs, chickens do very well in forested areas; after all, every single chicken alive today evolved from jungle fowl. But so long as they have some shelter and shade, chickens also do very well on established pasture, and there’s nothing like a good dose of chicken shit to turn grass a shade of green so vibrant it looks digitally enhanced.

The surprising thing about chickens, particularly given how small and light they are, is their capacity to do tremendous damage to the soil via compaction. In remarkably short order, they can turn a small, fenced-in pen into a barren wasteland of stone-hard soil. Not only does this ensure they’re extracting few nutrients and calories from the ground, but it also does damage that can be remedied only over long periods of time or via mechanical intervention.

It’s hard to prescribe a fixed amount of pasture per chicken; what I can say is that we keep our flock of about 20 layers enclosed in a single length of flexnet for perhaps two weeks before moving them. We move our meat birds much more frequently, mostly because there are 500 percent more of them, but also because they are much larger than our layers.

Fencing

We utilize the same flexnet for our chickens as we do for the goats and sheep. It’s important to move their shelter regularly within the flexnet, or they’ll quickly “burn” the ground under the shelter with nitrogen-rich manure. How often you have to move it depends entirely on how many birds and at what stage of growth they’re at; when we have 100 mature meat birds, we move it at least twice per day. When we have a dozen layers, maybe only every other week.

Housing

There are innumerable designs for portable chicken coops, and if none of those ring your bell, you can always buy a $1,500 unit from Williams-Sonoma that comes with “white glove delivery” including on-site assembly. Or you can do like we do and knock together simple structures from materials on hand. We have constructed a variety of mobile structures over the years and have come to rely on a very light “chicken tractor” built on skids and covered by a tarp for our meat birds. The lack of weight is critical, since we’re often moving it twice per day and because the nature of our land means that many of these moves are in an uphill direction.

For the layers, we prefer a somewhat sturdier structure that of course accommodates nest boxes and roost poles. In general, the simpler and lighter the design, the better it’s worked for us. We prefer structures that offer plentiful headroom for those times we need to enter the coop and that feature at least one clear roof panel to provide more natural light for the birds. We’re also extremely fond of having nest box access from outside the coop.

By winter, the meat birds’ home is the freezer (with a last move to the oven or pot of bubbling lard) and the layers usually move into the tomato greenhouse, which has been outfitted with nest boxes, roost poles, and copious amounts of bedding to reduce compaction.

We also maintain a permanent, fenced-in run with an old coop that we semi-jokingly refer to as the “Problem Poultry Pen.” The PPP becomes home to any birds with a propensity to escape their portable coops, until we can either determine how they’re escaping or eat them. In keeping with our theory of building flexibility into our animal housing, the PPP has also served as a winter home for pigs.

Summer/Winter Feed

Both our layers and meat birds receive organic grain, table scraps, and, if there’s more than the pigs can consume, waste milk. The milk is particularly helpful in curbing the meat birds’ enormous appetite for grain. We are constantly scheming ways to reduce the grain inputs to this small farm, but we have not yet evolved to the place where our birds do not require grain. This summer, we are planning to incorporate Harvey Ussery’s maggot feeding system (sticking the carcass of a small animal into a bucket with lots of holes and letting the maggots that form drop to the ground for the birds), as well as cultivate a plot of comfrey for chicken feed.

I know some homesteads that simply allow their layers to have run of the place, and the hens seem to find plenty to eat without supplemental feed, at least during the warmer months. But they also seem to find places to lay their eggs that are never seen by the human eye. Never mind what a flock of hungry hens can do to a row of almost-ripe green peppers.

In a further attempt to curtail our grain habit, we are also experimenting with ducks again, in the hope that their proclivity for foraging will reduce our dependence on purchased grain. During the brooding stage for all our poultry, we bring clippings of grass and other greenery. Another trick we learned from Harvey Ussery is to feed hard-boiled eggs. Of course, this only works when we have an excess of eggs.

Minerals

In the winter, we mix a couple of cups of kelp with every 50-pound bag of grain. In addition to supporting the health of the birds, the kelp helps to keep the yolks dark yellow when there is a lack of other greenery to eat.

Breeds

We’ve been all over the map with chicken breeds, from heritage to commonplace. In all the years we’ve kept poultry for eggs and meat, the only breed that’s really stuck is the Kosher King. Kosher Kings are relatively fast-growing meat birds that in our experience, are vigorous, prone to foraging, and still capable of producing 6- to 7-pound roasters at 10 weeks. They are also exceptionally tasty, producing a large quantity of the dark meat we covet. We purchase cockerels from a small hatchery in Pennsylvania called Clearview Hatchery. There is no website, and the owner always answers the phone himself, which might be part of the reason his prices are so reasonable.

Interestingly, Kosher Kings are the very breed permaculturist Ben Falk discusses in his book The Resilient Farm and Homestead as being difficult to contain and
 generally unsuited to his
 farm. Our divergent experi
ences with the exact same 
breed are yet another
 reminder that the powers of
 observation should always
 trump the dogma of concept.

For layers, we have experimented widely, looking for catchphrases like great forager, exceptionally cold hardy, and consistent layer. We’ve been quite satisfied with Golden Comets, Rhode Island Reds, and Lace Winged Wyandottes, but we’re always experimenting. This year, we’re getting Black Javas, mostly because we have a local source for chicks.

New Audiobook—Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

If you’ve ever yearned to slow down, let life’s winds wobble you, and devote yourself to the act of anticipation rather than immediacy, then learn to ride a unicycle. Or, you could follow the thoughtful and guiding principles of  author, homesteader, and unicyclist Mark Schimmoeller in his latest book Slowspoke.

Now available as an audiobook, listen along as the author reads from this inspiring, and engrossing, tale that blends cross-country unicyclying, finding one’s true love, and learning how to fight for what is truly important in your life, and that of your family.

Even for those of us who have never experienced the peculiar pleasure of seeing the world from atop a unicycle, Schimmoeller’s book and the life lessons it contains are relatable no matter how many wheels get you from place to place. His memoir is about more than a cross-country trip on a unicycle; it’s a meditation on a way of life that Americans find increasingly rare: one that practices a playful, recalcitrant slowness.

See what we mean by listening to the following sample of the audiobook that is now available at Audible. Narrated by Schimmoeller himself, he describes setting off on his journey and what he packed—books, food, and money for along the way. Enjoy the ride, the slow, slow ride.

Peppered throughout the book are what Schimmoeller considers his “guiding principles”—moments of often humorous, pithy advice on how unicycling is inherently connected with the nature of slowness and the art of getting there, no matter where “there” exists. Fifteen of these principles from Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America are listed below.

In Schimmoeller’s characteristically unassuming way, these best practices appear to be for fellow unicyclists, but truthfully he is reminding us that it isn’t the means of transportation that matters. These ruminations on the importance of mindfulness end up speaking to each of us, if not as literal unicyclists, then as travelers traversing often rocky terrain without stopping to enjoy the view.

15 Life Lessons from a Unicyclist

(adapted from Slowspoke: A Unicyclists Guide to America by Mark Schimmoeller)

  1. Relax the emphasis on arrival.
  2. In squandering time you demonstrate its availability.
  3. Unicyclists must become devotees of anticipation.
  4. If you find yourself looking up at the sky instead of at the terrain in front of your wheel, it’s likely you have fallen.
  5. Don’t go on a straight road unless you can curb your desire to get someplace.
  6. Adventure begins only from a feeling of security.
  7. Motion without consideration of beginnings and endings can shelter a unicyclist from time and speed and progress.
  8. The art of unicycling is knowing, in part, when to give in to desire.
  9. It doesn’t make a difference one way or the other if a unicyclist takes a break.
  10. The act of falling partway plus corrections equals movement.
  11. The simple act of reducing your velocity…could eliminate a significant number of sharp turns in the world.
  12. It’s conceivable that someone could study wobbliness long enough to discover a corollary of strength.
  13. When it comes to attracting the opposite sex, don’t compete with bicyclists.
  14. There are limits, too, to slowness on a unicycle…The pace should inch just ahead of sorrow.
  15. A unicycle is who you are. For whatever reason, you are not any other form of transportation. You are a unicycle. Please love yourself.

A Man Apart: Remembering Bill Coperthwaite’s Radical Life

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

A Man Apart is the story—part family memoir and part biography—of Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow’s longtime friendship with Bill Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life), whose unusual, and even radical, life and fierce ideals helped them examine and understand their own.

Framed by Coperthwaite’s sudden death and brought alive through the month-long adventure of building with him what would turn out to be his last yurt, Forbes and Whybrow deftly explore the timeless lessons of Coperthwaite’s experiment in intentional living and self-reliance. They also reveal an important story about the power and complexities of mentorship: the opening of one’s life to someone else to learn together, and carrying on in that person’s physical absence.

A review in Booklist puts it best: “In this loving tribute to Coperthwaite, Forbes and Whybrow have crafted an inspiring biography … Interweaving anecdotes of their own interactions with Coperthwaite, including the construction of a final, sunlight-filled yurt, the authors capture the full spectrum of this sometimes curmudgeonly man’s gregariousness, resourcefulness, and optimism. Although Coperthwaite’s dreams of worldwide cooperative and sustainable communities have not yet been realized, this reverent memoir will help keep his environmental ideals alive.”

We asked the authors about Coperthwaite’s life and his influence upon them and others. Here’s what they had to say.

Both of you had similar, but different experiences, as mentees of Bill Coperthwaite. How did they differ for you, how did they overlap, and how did you incorporate those different lessons into your own shared experience as a family?

Peter: Bill gave us both a powerful example of how to live a life: the role of work and how to protect what is most meaningful. Our decision to turn to farming and a life led closer to the land was given great encouragement by our relationship to Bill. I had little skill working with my hands before meeting Bill and he opened that entire world up to me. It’s very true that the experience of learning how to carve a spoon became the encouragement to do a great many other bigger things with my life that relied not just on my mead but on his head and my hands working together. That’s been enormously influential and satisfying in my life.

Finally, Bill’s model for how he lived on the land in deep relationship to place and nature changed how I thought about conservation and the role of people and community in land conservation. Directly because of Bill, people and their relationship to nature and to one another became a part of what conservation was meant to protect.

Helen: I think the fact that we knew Bill somewhat differently, and yet shared the understanding that he was central to our life together, makes our story richer and more layered. In some ways Peter’s relationship with Bill was more intimate, and yet as with all intimacy, that also made it more difficult. Bill and Peter did very important work together over the years with land conversation and creating community and it was not without its tensions. I was on the sidelines of that work, and yet Peter and I would have long conversations about it. My relationship with Bill had its own dimensions and really deepened as he aged and our children grew up.

What are some of his lasting lessons in your lives, and what do you think he’s left you to keep figuring out?

Peter: How to live the life you really want as opposed to the life society wants you to lead or the life your parents and family want you to lead. How do you stick with what is truly most important to you. Experience of life is far, far more important than possessions. How do you stay on the edge of experience as opposed to sinking into the comfort of possessions?

Helen: I think what I ponder most since his death is how we learn through life. He showed me that you never have to stop learning or being curious or even traveling in search of new experiences. He went to China when he was 83! He made me think a great deal about how we teach our young, how we treat our old, how the way we approach education is often against the grain of how we naturally learn best. He opened my eyes to how education should be rooted in multi-generational community life, and its goal should be to create empowered, self-aware citizens who want to come up with empathic and just solutions to the world’s problems, not just able to compete financially in a global marketplace and achieve individual status. We started home schooling our youngest daughter after Bill died, and almost every single day I want to talk to him about teaching. I’m left figuring out the How.

Bill Coperthwaite is often compared to Helen and Scott Nearing, and even described as a “modern-day” Henry David Thoreau. Is that accurate? Was he something else entirely?

Peter: Bill considered himself to be a public intellectual and social critic like Thoreau and Nearing, which is why those labels have stuck on Bill. But Bill’s life hasn’t yet achieved that same status because, in my view, he was actually more true to the dogma and less good of a writer than either Nearing or Thoreau. Bill’s experiment in living was more rigorous and true to his values and lasted longer than Thoreau or Nearing, but he didn’t have as effective ways to talk about it. Bill never got a phone and never went on the lecture circuit like Nearing regularly did. Bill remained in true opposition to society: from it but not of it. In this true sense, he lived the better example but it was a much harder example for people to find.

Helen: Like many things, it is and it isn’t accurate. When someone lives a life that is so unusual there are few examples to go by, and few comparisons to make that someone would understand. Bill was strongly influenced by Helen and Scott Nearing. He shared many of their values of how to live, how to be in service, and in particular he and Scott believed passionately in trying to live a life that was not part of a system of exploiting others. With Thoreau he shared an ardent pacifism, and a reverence for nature. He went well beyond Thoreau in his committed experiment in simple living. I think Bill shared an impish sense of humor that comes out in Thoreau’s writing at times. Scott Nearing, on the other hand, Bill thought to be “terribly dour.”

The Nourishing Homestead: Practiculture and Principles

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Whether you live on 4 acres, 40 acres, or in a 400-square-foot studio apartment, the lessons you’ll glean from The Nourishing Homestead by Ben Hewitt (with Penny Hewitt) will help anyone hoping to close the gaps that economic separation has created in our health, spirit, and skills. This book offers practical ways to grow nutrient-dense food on a small plot of land, and think about your farm, homestead, or home as an ecosystem.

Ben and Penny (and their two sons) maintain copious gardens, dozens of fruit and nut trees and other perennial plantings, as well as a pick-your-own blueberry patch. In addition to these cultivated food crops, they also forage for wild edibles, process their own meat, make their own butter, and ferment, dry, and can their own vegetables. Their focus is to produce nutrient-dense foods from vibrant, mineralized soils for themselves and their immediate community. They are also committed to sharing the traditional skills that support their family, helping them be self-sufficient and thrive in these uncertain times.

The Hewitts’ story is reminiscent of The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing, and is sure to inspire a new generation of homesteaders, or anyone seeking a simpler way of life and a deeper connection to the world.

Ben Hewitt uses the term “practiculture” to describe his family’s work with the land—a term that encompasses the many practical life skills and philosophies they embody to create a thriving homestead.

What is “practiculture”? Here is how Ben Hewitt describes it:

The term practiculture evolved out of our struggle to find a concise way to describe our work with this land. Of course, no single word or term can fully explain what we do. But in practiculture, I feel as if I have something that is concise but also opens the door to a broader conversation. It’s an intriguing word, and not one that yet enjoys widespread understanding. It also contains elements that are immediately recognizable: Practical. Agriculture. Practiculture. And not just agriculture, but culture, as defined by our work with the land, cultivating its teeming populations of beings and bacteria. The longer I do this work, the less I feel as if we are practicing agriculture so much as we are simply practicing culture.

Practiculture also refers to our belief that growing and processing our food, as well as the other essentials necessary to our good health, should be both affordable and, for lack of a better term, doable. Practical. It should make sense, not according to the flawed logic of the commodity marketplace, which is always trying to convince us that doing for ourselves is impractical, but according to our self-defined logic that grasps the true value of real food to body, mind, spirit, and soil.

Finally, practiculture is about learning practical life skills and the gratification that comes from applying those skills in ways that benefit one’s self and community. This sort of localized, land-based knowledge is rapidly disappearing from first-world countries in large part because the centers of profit and industry would rather we not possess it. They know that its absence makes us increasingly dependent on their offerings.

The Hewitts also live by some touchstone principles, ideals and ideas they return to at times when they are faced with a decision to which there is no obvious answer. We’ve listed a few of them below, but additional principles (and full descriptions) can be found in The Nourishing Homestead, and are worth reflection.

As Ben Hewitt writes, “This is not a literal list, etched into stone or rolled into a yellowed scroll, although years ago we did create a written document to help us determine the direction of our land-based practices. Truthfully, we are not always able to act in harmony with these principles. There are times when circumstances compel us to behave otherwise. But even in these cases, it’s valuable to understand and acknowledge the compromise we’re making.”

Guiding Principles:

  • The way we think, act, and perceive the world is a reflection of the world we wish to inhabit.
  • We will produce the most nourishing food possible.
  • Real nutrition comes only from vital soils that enable plants and animals to express their full potential.
  • The labor to produce nourishing food is itself of value.
  • Do not let the logic of the market dictate the logic of the homestead.
  • Resilience of systems is the outgrowth of diversity, redundancy, simplicity, and, ultimately, resourcefulness.
  • Resourcefulness of body, emotion, spirit, and skills is just as important as resilience of systems.
  • The manner in which you spend your time is, in fact, the manner in which you spend your life. Time is not money; it is life.
  • We are not stewards of the land; the land is the steward of us.
  • Interdependence, not self-sufficiency.
  • Living in alignment. It is important to us that our daily activities comprise as much as possible actions we enjoy and which can be defended ethically and intellectually, not only from the perspective of humanity, but also from that of the natural world.
  • When in doubt, be generous.

Consider adopting a list of your own. If nothing else, it may compel you to think carefully about your guiding principles, and in this regard, become a step toward living life on your own terms.

 

Our Most Popular DIY Projects of 2014

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

If leading a more sustainable life is topping your list of New Year’s resolutions, then check out our most popular do-it-yourself projects of 2014.

These how-to blog posts share a common focus on developing the skills and knowledge needed to create true change—the kind that begins with us in our own backyard. Whether you’re interested in identifying wild edibles, using a wood-fired oven, learning to graft fruit trees, or increasing your garden’s productivity, this list of projects is sure to inspire a greener, more resilient way of living.

For more of 2014′s most popular content countdowns, browse our lists of Top 10 Blog Posts and Top 5 Food & Drink Recipes.

Happy New Year!

#6: How to Use Lambsquarter from Root to Plant to Seed

This excerpt from Katrina Blair focuses on the edible and medicinal uses of lambsquarter, one of the “super weeds” that can be found growing all over the world. Featured in the New York Times gardening roundup, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds is the only book on foraging and edible weeds that focuses on the thirteen plants which together comprise a complete food source and extensive medical pharmacy and first-aid kit.

#5: Build a Wood-Fired Oven in Your Backyard

In this excerpt by bread expert Richard Miscovich, you will find a few general masonry design recommendations to get you thinking about how to turn your dream wood-fired oven into a reality. Check out the rest of From the Wood-Fired Oven for a wide range of useful recipes for home and artisan bakers, as well as oven designs, live-fire roasting techniques, and more.

#4: The Endless Arugula Bed

What does it take to extend your gardening season? In The Resilient Farm and Homestead, Ben Falk shows how using a simple structure of quick hoops and greenhouse film to overwinter arugula can provide fresh greens as early as mid-March. Try producing your own endless bed of arugula using these instructions, or experiment with another crop from Falk’s book.

#3: How to Graft the Perfect Fruit Tree: 5 Grafting Techniques

Interested in keeping an orchard but intimidated by the prospect of grafting? R.J. Garner’s The Grafter’s Handbook is the classic reference book on plant propagation by grafting. This excerpt, revised and updated from the original 1947 publication, details five key techniques for grafting established trees, such as cleft, oblique, rind, veneer, crown and strap grafting.

#2: Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix

Michael Judd, permaculture designer and author of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, reveals his special recipe for blueberry soil mix. How does it work? Instead of pulling material from distant ecosystems, Judd creates a soil mix that imitates the plant’s natural forest edge habitat.

 #1: The Ultimate Guide to Sheet Mulching

The number one do-it-yourself blog post of the year is a tutorial on how to prepare and install the ultimate, bombproof sheet mulch. Starting new layers of mulch in the fall is ideal for spring plantings. Be sure to check out the rest of Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway for more expert gardening advice on creating your own backyard ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Books to Curl Up With This Winter

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do?

We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading list. With topics ranging from sustainable meat production to the secret lives of black bears to life lessons from a contrary farmer, and more, these books are sure to lighten up your days and keep your mind active long after the first signs of spring.

So throw another log on the fire, grab a blanket, and tuck in for the long haul with these new and classic favorites from Chelsea Green.

Winter Reading List

An Unlikely Vineyard by Deirdre Heekin
Ranked one of the best wine books of 2014 by The New York Times, An Unlikely Vineyard tells the evolutionary story of Deirdre Heekin’s farm from overgrown fields to a fertile, productive, and beautiful landscape that melds with its natural environment. Accompanied throughout by lush photography, this gentle narrative will appeal to anyone who loves food, farms, and living well.
Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America by Mark Schimmoeller
Slowspoke is about more than a cross-country trip on a unicycle; it’s a meditation on a way of life that Americans find increasingly rare; one that practices a playful, recalcitrant slowness. Schimmoeller intersperses recollections of his journey with vignettes of his present-day, off-the-grid homesteading with his wife in Kentucky and their effort to save an old growth forest. This memoir, deemed “profoundly simple, funny, and sincere” by Publishers Weekly, will help you slow down and appreciate every winter day.
Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White
This book tackles an increasingly crucial question: What can we do about the seemingly intractable challenges confronting all of humanity today, including climate change, global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, and economic instability? White believes the answer lies in the soil beneath our feet and our efforts to sequester carbon.
In the Company of Bears by Benjamin Kilham
In this book, Kilham unveils his groundbreaking work observing communication and interactions between wild black bears. Diagnosed with dyslexia, Kilham comes to discover that thinking differently is truly his greatest tool for understanding the natural world. You might not master the art of hibernation this winter, but In the Company of Bears will open your mind to the insights the non-human world can offer. Now available as an audio book!
Angels By the River by Gus Speth
In this compelling memoir, you follow Speth’s unlikely path—from a Southern boyhood to his career as an influential mainstream environmentalist to his current system-changing activism. Speth calls for a new environmentalism to confront the complex challenges of today.
Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever by Gene Logsdon
How do farmers relate to life and death? In this collection of essays, Logsdon reflects on the intimate connection farmers have with the food chain through his experiences as a farmer up to his most recent bout with cancer. Kirkus gives this book a starred review and calls it a “perceptive and understatedly well-written meditation.”
Carbon Shock by Mark Schapiro
It may be cold outside, but things are heating up in the atmosphere. Schapiro’s book is an investigative study into the relationship between climate change and the economy. His in-depth analysis into the cost of carbon in our daily lives will inspire you to not only think deeply about the impact of climate change, but also to put on another sweater.
Defending Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman
Niman writes from the unique perspective of an environmental lawyer and vegetarian turned cattle rancher. In her latest book, she explains how, contrary to public opinion, cattle are neither inherently bad for the earth nor for our nutritional health. She convincingly shows how, with proper oversight, cattle can play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems and are an irreplaceable part of the world’s food system. According to the LA Times, Niman’s argument for sustainable meat production “skewers the sacred cows of the anti-meat orthodoxy.”
The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray
In this award-winning book, Ray explores the crucial value of saving seeds in the local food movement and shares stories from numerous seed savers, as well as tips on how to save seeds yourself.
Taste, Memory by David Buchanan
In this book, Buchanan examines the relationship between past and present farming through the value of culturally forgotten foods and new varieties. He draws from his experiences as a grower of various heirloom species to show that thoughtful selection is necessary when matching diverse species with the needs of a particular land and climate.

Winter Survival Tips From Mat Stein

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Now that temperatures have started to dip below freezing and most folks living in colder climates have witnessed their first snow flurries of the season, it’s time to get serious about winter preparedness. Make sure you are ready for stormy weather and extreme cold on your next road trip with these winter driving tips from author and survivalist Mat Stein (When Disaster Strikes, When Technology Fails).

Stein’s books are comprehensive guides for self-reliance, sustainable living, and emergency planning. For more survival advice, check out his essential packing list for a grab-and-go compact survival kit.

Safe travels!

*****
Car Survival Tips for a Blizzard
By Matthew Stein

Every winter, thousands of people are stranded while driving in the snow. On more than one occasion, I have been overly confident in my abilities to drive in hazardous icy and snow covered roads, forgetting that I may know how to drive in the snow, but that does not mean the other guy does. When driving in winter weather, it is best to heed the old Yankee saying: “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst!”

Prep for Winter Driving:

  • Make sure that your car’s antifreeze and windshield washer fluid can handle the predicted lowest temperatures. It is both frightening and dangerous when you find yourself blinded by a slushy spray that coats your windshield, only to discover that your washer fluid is frozen and worthless. You can pick up an inexpensive plastic meter with different colored balls inside it for measuring to what temperature your car’s antifreeze is good for freeze protection.
  • Carry chains and make sure they really fit your tires and that you know how to install them. It is a good idea to practice putting your chains on in broad daylight on dry pavement. It is much harder to figure these things out in the middle of a blinding snow storm at night when you are cold and wet and lying on your belly in a foot of new snow. The night before I wrote this, I was helping a motorist around the corner who was stuck on a hill with wet snow that had packed to ice. He had a pair of brand new cable chains, but had no clue as to how to install them. That particular style of cable chain was pretty near impossible to properly tighten when installed in the snow, rather than on pavement, so after spending a half hour trying to get the cable chains properly installed, we ended up towing him with a rope and a four-wheel-drive pickup. Some states outlaw tire chains, but in a dicey situation on treacherous roads, I figure it is better to be safe and use the chains than to worry about breaking a rule. If you have a set of traditional tire chains, you should also carry spare chain repair links and at least one set of chain tensioners (not for use with cable chains).
  • Bring along a flashlight. Very useful for flagging down cars, warning people of an accident, and an absolute must
    for installing tire chains in the dark. I personally prefer a waterproof back country style headlamp over a standard flashlight, because it leaves my hands free and shines wherever I point my head. Have you ever tried installing tire chains by yourself while holding your flashlight in your teeth
  • Carry extra food, water, and clothing, including a warm hat, mittens or gloves, and a warm jacket that preferably has a waterproof but breathable outer shell, such as one made from Gore-Tex. Make sure you have boots that are adequate for trudging through miles of snow. Tennis shoes just don’t cut it in the snow, and frozen toes are no fun!
  • Carry a snow scraper for clearing your windshield, a broom for brushing snow off your car, a compact shovel for digging your vehicle out of a snow bank, and sand or a piece of burlap for traction in case your wheels become stuck.
  • Check the weather forecast and updated road conditions.
  • Stash a spare key on your car. Motorists sometimes get locked out of their vehicle while installing tire chains. I like to bring along a water proof poncho, tarp, or rain jacket and rain pants for lying in the slush while installing tire chains.

To Stay in Your Car or Abandon It?

People ask me this question, and I tell them there is no single right answer, though there is an optimal answer for each situation. Assuming you are stuck either in traffic that has come to a stop, or along the side of a road, here are a few thoughts and guidelines:

  • Is your car in a dangerous position where there is a significant chance you may be run into by another car? If so, abandon your car and relocate yourself to some nearby place where you aren’t in danger!
  • How much gasoline do you have in your tank? Do you have enough spare clothing to stay warm inside your car without running the engine? If not, and you may be stuck for a long time, ration your gasoline by turning your car on for a few minutes at a time to warm the heater, then turn it off again. In my part of the country (High Sierras near Lake Tahoe), major freeways over mountain passes can stay closed for days, and I have been stopped in traffic for eight hours while waiting for accidents to clear. At times like these, it is common for motorists to run out of gas while idling to keep their car heaters going.
  • What is your footwear like? Are you equipped to walk for miles in the snow and spend the night outside if necessary?
  • If your clothing is not really adequate for spending long hours outside in the snow, is there enough passing traffic to hitch a ride to a nearby town, or is all traffic stopped and the road shut down? If your chances of hitching a ride are slim, and your car is parked in a safe spot, you are probably better off staying inside your vehicle.
  • In a desperate situation, lacking suitable boots for snow country travel, you could use a knife to slice up your car seat cushions to make strips of thick insulation that could be wrapped around your feet and lower legs to provide the insulation needed to protect your feet from freezing while trudging for miles through the snow. Wires from your car could be twisted until they break to provide cordage for tying the insulation around your feet and legs. If you lacked a knife, a piece of plastic or metal trim could be pried off your car, or perhaps broken from an item like your glove box, to provide a sharp edge for slicing your seat cushions into usable pieces of insulated fabric. Also, the mirrors of your car could be broken to provide a sharp piece of glass, though it would not do any good to break the windows, since they are made from tempered safety glass and would shatter into tiny unusable pieces.

Chelsea Green Publishing Turns 30!

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Explore a slideshow of cover images from some of our most iconic books over the past 30 years. Excerpts from these books and close to 100 others are all part of a new Chelsea Green anthology celebrating our 30th anniversary – The Chelsea Green Reader.

This collection offers readers a glimpse into our wide-ranging list of books and authors and to the important ideas that they express. Interesting and worth reading in their own right, the individual passages when taken as a whole trace the evolution of a highly successful small publisher—something that is almost an oxymoron in these days of corporate buyouts and multinational book groups.

Take a walk down memory lane with us and check out this selection of book covers from 1985 to the present.

Fresh Fig Pecan Bread for the Holidays

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Sure to be a hit at any holiday gathering, master bread baker Richard Miscovich describes this Fig Pecan Bread as slightly sweet, delicious, nutritious, and soothing. Here is the full recipe from his latest book, From the Wood-Fired Oven.

*****

Fig Pecan Bread
By Richard Miscovich

One of my favorite baking books—and one that gives me a lot of inspiration to develop new breads—is The Book of Bread by Jérôme Assire. It’s a beautiful book with great photos of breads from around the world. I was ready to put a dried fruit and nut bread into production when I saw a collection of Swiss breads that included Sauserbrot made with wheat and spelt flours and including chestnut and grape must—unfermented freshly squeezed juice. I dropped the juice and whole wheat flour but added a higher ratio of spelt flour and included walnuts, dried figs, and oats. I immediately recognized it as a slightly sweet bread that was also delicious, nutritious, and soothing. Have it at breakfast, at teatime, or as a bedtime snack.

Be sure to use old-fashioned oats or the thicker, chewy kind you might be able to get through your local miller. “Quick” oats don’t give the bread the same texture and don’t look as pretty on the outside of the loaf. Whole wheat flour can be substituted for the spelt flour, but the taste won’t be quite so distinctive. Whole-grain spelt flour and the addition of a high percentage of pecans and figs will make a denser dough. Be aware that the dough will be delicate and that spelt has a shorter proofing tolerance than hard red winter wheat.

It took me several years to realize I should replace the walnuts in this formula with pecans, partly because a pecan tree grows right next to my ovenhouse. In the fall, local pecans are available at roadside stands and people stock their freezers with bags of the rich nut meats, more milky, tender, and fresh than those available in most stores. Enjoy fresh, local nuts if you are lucky enough to have access to them.

We’re also grateful when somebody drops off a load of pecan wood. The logs split nicely, and the branches can be cut into manageable lengths with a pair of heavy-duty loppers and a reciprocating saw. Pecan wood provides fewer BTUs than oak, which means it is less dense. This is an advantage when a fire is just starting and needs heat to accumulate so that the hot firebox will support a more complete combustion. Oak requires a hot environment to get started, so it’s best to add pecan early on and save the oak for later. The pecan also combusts efficiently—little ash is left over after a load of pecan is burned.

We inherited three fig trees when we bought this property. Mid- to late July is when the figs start to ripen. I like to harvest twice a day, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon when the sun warms the sweet and sensual fruit. I so appreciate these two local trees, pecan and fig, that give us beauty, shade, oxygen, fresh nuts, bountiful bowls of figs, and fuel.

Yield: 3 medium loaves
Prefermented flour: 20%
Wood-fired oven temperature window: 425°F to 450°F (218–232°C)
Home oven: Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C).

Levain Ingredient Weight (g) Volume Baker’s %
Bread flour 120 1 cup 100
Water 120 1/2 cup 100
Liquid sourdough starter 14 1 1/2 tbsp 12
Total 254

Combine the flour, water, and starter. Mix until smooth. Cover and allow to ferment at 77°F (25°C) for 8 to 10 hours.

Final Dough Ingredient Weight (g) Volume Baker’s %
Pecans, halves 150 1 3/4 cup 26
Figs, dried, chopped 230 1 1/2 cup 40
Water 345 1 1/2 cup 80
Levain 240 *
Bread flour 335 2 3/4 cup 79
Whole spelt flour 123 1 1/4 cup 21
Oats 57 2/3 cup 10
Instant active yeast 2.3 1/2 tsp 0.4
Salt 12 1 tbsp 2.1
Total 1,494.3
Extra oats to roll loaf as needed as needed

* Best measured by weight; volume varies with ripeness.

Desired dough temperature: Adjust the water temperature so the dough is 77°F (25°C) at the end
of mixing.
Lightly toast the pecans, chop them, and let them cool. (Be sure they are completely cool before adding them to the dough so they don’t affect the dough temperature.)
Before measuring the figs, remove any tough stems, chop the figs, and set them aside.

Autolyse: Remove 14g of starter from the levain. Pour the water around the edge of the levain to help release all of the preferment. Add the water and levain to the mixing bowl. Add the flours and oats, but hold back all the other ingredients. Mix by hand or a mixer until thoroughly incorporated and homogeneous, but you needn’t develop the dough at this point. It’s okay if the dough is still shaggy. Cover to prevent a skin from forming and autolyse for 20 to 30 minutes.

Mixing:
By hand: After the autolyse, add the yeast and salt. Mix the dough with your hand and a plastic dough scraper for a minute to incorporate the ingredients.
Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand using the techniques described in chapter 6. Hand mixing will take about 8 to 10 minutes. The dough is going to seem wet, but you’ll see the pecans and figs transform the consistency when you add them at this time.
By mixer: After the autolyse, add the yeast and salt and mix on slow speed for 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes. Stop occasionally while mixing to scrape the dough off the hook. Reduce the mixer speed to slow, add the pecans and figs, and mix until incorporated.
When complete, the dough will be smooth and slightly tacky; it’ll pull back when tugged. Remember, the dough will develop considerably during fermenting and folding.

Primary fermentation: Place the dough in a covered container and let it ferment for 2 hours, folding once after 60 minutes.

Dividing/preshaping: Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into three pieces. Preshape each piece into a loose round ball, and place bottom up on a lightly floured surface. Cover the loaves and let them rest for about 20 minutes.

Shaping: Shape the loaves into bâtards. Roll each onto a damp cloth and then into a tray of oats. Place the loaves seam side up on a non-floured couche. Allow to proof for 1 to 11⁄2 hours.

Scoring and baking: Just before baking, turn the loaves onto a lightly floured peel. Score with three angled cuts across the loaf. The oat coating makes scoring a bit difficult. Be sure to use a new blade and score assertively. Bake in a steamed 450°F (232°C) oven.
Or place in a heated combo cooker, score, cover, and place in the oven. Bake for approximately 40 minutes.

How to Use Lambsquarter from Root to Plant to Seed

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Some people might take one look at a patch of lambsquarter and yank it out of the ground to rid their garden or yard of an undesirable weed. Not wild-foods advocate and author Katrina Blair. At her home in Durango, CO, she tends to her lambsquarter and a number of other so-called weeds with the utmost care.

Why, you ask? Because according to Blair’s extensive research weeds are entirely misunderstood plants. In her new book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, she focuses on the thirteen plants which together comprise a complete food source and extensive medical pharmacy and first-aid kit.

Blair’s philosophy is sobering, realistic, and ultimately optimistic. If we can open our eyes to see the wisdom found in these weeds right under our feet, instead of trying to eradicate an “invasive,” we could potentially achieve true food security and optimal health.

Lambsquarter is one of Blair’s 13 “super weeds.” You can blend its leaves into a green juice, sprout its quinoa-like seeds and use them in a salad, mash its roots into a cleansing soap, and more. In the following excerpt, learn all about the edible and medicinal uses of lambsquarter and find recipes for a variety of lambsquarter-based foods and products.

Happy foraging!

*****

Edible Uses of Lambsquarter

Lambsquarter is exceptionally nutritious. Our bodies can produce fourteen of the essential amino acids, but eight of them need to be found in external sources. Lambsquarter is one of those valuable sources.

The whitish dust present on each leaf is made up of mineral salts from the soil and is an indication of its mineral-rich value. Often the lambsquarter leaves will taste salty and therefore make quite a nutritious salt replacement or addition to dishes! Lambsquarter seasoning is made easily by drying the leaves and mixing them with other spices.

Lambsquarter is packed with essential vitamins and minerals. For example, 3.5 ounces of raw lambsquarter, which is about 1 cup of greens, contains 73 percent vitamin A and 96 percent vitamin C of your recommended daily allowances suggested by the USDA. It is also a fantastic source of the B vitamins complex including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.

Use Like Spinach

Wild lambsquarter vary in their tastes. The flavor is related not only to different species, but also to the stages of growth and to the soil conditions. In general, however, all lambsquarter leaves are edible. The wild greens can be used just like spinach. They can be eaten fresh in salads, juiced, and added to any recipes that call for greens. They are best eaten when younger, however; when the leaves mature with age, the flavor can change due to a greater potency of oxalic acids. I find that when lambsquarter has built up too many oxalic acids, I experience a slight burning sensation in the back of my throat. This is why I recommend tasting the leaves by themselves before harvesting any quantity of them. This is especially important when making green juices or smoothies. When downing a liquid in several gulps, your body does not have the time to tell you to stop.

Harvest Seeds in the Fall

The seeds make a highly nutritious food staple for multiple uses in recipes. They can be harvested in the fall and ground into cereal or used as flour for bread. Similar to quinoa, lambsquarter seeds can be easily sprouted in one to two days. Add the sprouts to any meal to benefit from the rich nutrients.  Lambsquarter seeds also make great microgreens. They start out small and frail looking but given time grow into healthy plants with delicious flavor.

All lambsquarter seeds are edible; however, some are easier to use for a food staple than others. The wild versions have varying natures of seed production. Some varieties are easy to harvest and separate the chaff, while others are quite difficult. When possible, separate the seed from the outer layer and always taste the wild grains alone before adding any seasoning or salt, to get the true taste of the food. This practice will protect you from overeating something that your body would normally tell you to stop eating.

Wild grains are more potent than domesticated grains and a small amount is often enough to sustain your energy. Another way to increase the seeds’ resources is not to cook them, but instead to sprout them. Sprouting the seeds is a natural way to let the outer layer fall off on its own. Using lambsquarter sprouts is a way to increase seed benefits and sustain your winter storage to last even longer! If wild plants are potent already and go a long way, sprouted wild grains are even more concentrated in nutritional value and truly go the extra mile for supporting your optimal health.

Medicinal Uses of Lambsquarter

Lambsquarter is an important source of food that can be considered a key staple, while at the same time it is also an extremely valuable medicine. When the leaves are chewed into a green paste and applied to the body, it makes a great poultice for insect bites, minor scrapes, injuries, inflammation, and sunburn. The greens are beneficial for soothing arthritic joint pain when chewed into a mash and placed directly on the sensitive areas.

The leaves support the decrease of pain by reducing inflammation and bringing about an increase of circulation.

A tea of the leaves is beneficial for diarrhea, internal inflammation, stomach aches, and loss of appetite. The tea can also be used as a wash to heal skin irritations and other external complaints. Soaking the body in bathwater with lambsquarter tea added will support skin health by toning and tightening the tissues.

The green leaves when eaten in their fresh raw state are particularly beneficial for supporting the healing of anemic blood conditions. The leaves are exceptionally rich in iron and help to increase blood cell count and overall vitality of the circulatory system. The greens and seeds are very high in protein and phenolic content, and also have significant antioxidant capacity for eliminating unwanted free radicals in the body.

The roots contain a significant amount of saponin, which creates a natural soapy quality when mashed or beaten. In addition to the roots being extremely useful in making a cleansing soap, the composition of saponin also creates a cleansing and laxative effect in the body when drunk as a tea. Lambsquarter root tea is helpful for removing excesses from the body by the way of assisting elimination.

The young greens, especially when tender in the spring, can be juiced for their calcium and vitamins A, C, and B complex in addition to vital enzymes, chlorophyll, and trace minerals. The juice has a gentle detoxifying nature. Lambsquarter is an important green in this day and age of accumulated pollution. The greens are valuable for purifying the body of unwanted toxins due to their exceptionally high chlorophyll content. The chlorophyll binds with or chelates toxins that may be stored in fat cells and removes them in the urine. Our body is wise and tends to isolate toxins away from our vital organs by storing them in fat cells. When the toxins are released into the bloodstream it is key to have a source of chlorophyll to bind up the toxins until they are discharged from the body. We want to assure that they are not redeposited in the body while in the bloodstream. Fasting is a beneficial way to detoxify the body; however, because of the concentrations of petrochemicals found in our daily environment, it is wise to avoid fasting on water alone. It is best to have the support of wild greens in the form of dilute juices to protect our cleansing bodies from the potential side effects of environmental toxins causing harm on their way out.

The young lambsquarter green juice is delicious, but when the leaves get older, make sure to taste them first to know if the flavor is agreeable to you. The gentle astringent properties of lambsquarter make it healthy for tightening internal organs as well as externally for skin. The juice makes a beautifying and cleansing body wash. It is also a useful mouthwash for tightening the gums and eliminating bad breath.

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: Lambsquarter Recipes


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