T-Minus 37 Hours

Well, if you’ve read our blog, know us, or have heard crazy rumors about us elsewhere – you already know that we’re seriously interested in living a simpler, healthier, less-complicated life. We’re also big on “community”- not in the common sense of “being involved in lots of stuff close to our home”, but in the idea of community – more specifically, living in such a way that we are interdependent on others around us who wish to do the same.

In about 37 hours we’ll be attending an auction where we’ll likely be bidding on a piece of real estate that could further our efforts and journey to live a simpler life.

We’re joined by three other families in this pursuit – “our community” of sorts. No, we’re not looking to start a commune or anything of the sort. We’re not the type to sit around the sweat lodge in our hemp shirts singing Kumbaya and howling at the moon. We just value friendships and working together. We are interested in being in closer physical proximity in order to make the process of living a simple life shared among others a bit easier. And so, we bid…

We have goals… Big goals.

We want to be out of debt… All of us.

We want to grow healthy, organic food… Lots of it.

We want to give food away… For free.

We want to bless people in our community… Anyone who needs it.

We want to restore to ourselves and our families, a sense of community.

We believe this land would allow us to do these things we’re already doing in part, but better and more effectively. There are many, many impossible challenges to getting this land but we’re going to go and bid regardless. We have no idea what will happen, but we don’t need to. Our hope isn’t pinned on getting this land and we’ll press on regardless. Nevertheless, if you’re the praying sort, we’d covet your prayers for success and the means to make this happen. Please leave a comment and let us know you’re with us.

Get out of debt, or invest?

We’ve spoken to several financial planners and investment advisers over the years and unequivocally, they’ve recommended investing funds on hand rather than reducing essential debts like mortgages and student loans. Certainly, the math behind this makes sense because good return on investment is based on two things – time and compound interest. The logic goes like this. If you pay off your debt on hand, then begin to invest, you lose those years of compound interest on your investments. For many years we thought this was a wise way to go.

Over the last few years though, we’ve come to see things differently. As our lives become simpler, so our ideas about finances. Our entire western culture is built on a desire to better one’s life in ways that generally allow one to accumulate more stuff. Our education is geared around preparing our children for this pursuit. We make sure they get an adequate education that will prepare them for pursuing the amount of material comforts they’ll need or desire. Once they begin working a job, they begin to prepare to maintain this status until the end of their days.

To us, this seems rather silly. Is not life about more than working a job and having stuff? We’ve come to see that his is an empty pursuit that robs people and families of their essential well-being. It drives families into debt, which results in more work to service their debt. Truly, “the borrower is servant to the lender”.

Once we began to see that money is an illusory carrot dangled in front of the masses of society in exchange for servitude, we began to change our minds about debt. No longer are we concerned about how many thousands of dollars we’ll have when we reach 65. Rather, what kind of people will we be at 65? What kind of lives will we have lived? Will our resources have been used for good, or to line the pockets of the super-wealthy? What will our children be like and what will the experiences of their lives be? Without exception, for us being debt free as soon as possible provides more enjoyable answers to those questions. Are we saying investing is bad? No! But for us, we’ve come to see investing in debt reduction to have far more value to our lives than investing those same funds to get “more”.

Being debt free truly brings freedom. Does freedom have a price? Debt brings a lack of freedom as one is contractually bound to pay back their debt, therefore must gather the resources to pay their debt. This means choosing a job and schedule that gives one the resources to pay this debt. At the same time, we’re living in a culture that encourages more debt. Don’t believe us? Our entire economy is based on this premise. Debt IS currency in the USA. Not sure about that? Do some research on fractional reserve banking sometime.

Being debt free allows people and families to choose to spend their time doing what they enjoy, where they desire to do so, and with whom they desire to do it with. Does that mean NO work? Not usually – but it does give one the freedom to enjoy more trivial work that provides only what is needed. If we were debt free, we could invest a much smaller amount of time outside of our home and interests than we do now. To us, that has far more intrinsic value than any gains we could experience by investing our resources elsewhere.

So get out of debt or invest? Which is it? We would say getting out of debt is investing – and perhaps the best investment one could ever make.

Please share your comments!

What does juicing have to do with simple living?

Even though we’re just today starting our 10-30 day  juice fast, we’ve been juicing for quite a while now. We’ve never really blogged about it before but thought it would be fun to document our juice fast journey as we’re going along.

One might ask “what does juicing have to do with living simply?

Good question! To answer, we must look at the big picture of life, health, and wellness. It’s easily understood from anecdotal and probably statistical information that the health of the average American is in decline. True, we might be living longer, but that’s likely due to advances in pharmaceuticals and technologies that extend life for those in poor health. I don’t believe people are living longer because they’re healthier – in fact, quite the contrary.

Part of our philosophy of living simply is a desire to live with as little dependency as possible on practices, systems, and technologies that have not been present from the beginning of humanity. That doesn’t mean we do so in every case – but where we can, we do. The way our current culture obtains and uses food is one such system we are eager to reduce our dependency upon. We’ve gotten removed from some basic wisdom regarding what we eat and how we get it. We believe this has caused a massive up swing in chronic illness, disease, and prescription drug dependency. So eating poorly from a broken, industrialized food system has, in our opinion, caused a massive and expensive dependency on another industrialized medical/pharmaceutical system. Interestingly enough, there are some corporations that control both food and medicine. These large corporations are killing us for profit.

We resist these things by eating as healthy as we can. We’re not rabbits and don’t eat like them! Healthy does not mean vegetarian or vegan in our book, but eating foods that have experienced no to minimal processing and transportation. We don’t do this completely or thoroughly but have still experienced much benefit. As a biproduct of changing our diet, we’ve seen a massive decrease in our sick visits to the doctor (3 or so visits among 6 of us in the last 3+ years). So just by eating differently, we’ve reduced our dependency on the medical and pharmaceutical establishments. This has allowed us to live simpler and less expensively. For certain, our grocery bill has gone up, but ask yourself “would I rather spend money on healthy, delicious food, or expensive, perhaps harmful medicine?”.

Welp… juicing is perhaps the simplest and affordable way to “reboot” or “jumpstart” one’s health. We’re juicing and particularly juice fasting at the moment to promote health and wellness in ourselves as a way to simply maintain our health. Can you see the connection? There’s no point in trying to be simple in every other area of life if we’re slaves to drugs or ongoing medical intervention. What happens if/when those systems are not available? From what we’ve seen, nearly every course taken by those who have beat terminal illness has included juicing. We believe there’s something to this. We’ve also seen in movies like “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” that others have benefited greatly from juice fasting. So, we’re giving it a shot.

Simple living starts with the individual. First they change their mind, then their body, spirit, soul. Then that individual can go on to change their family, their friends, and their community. That’s our goal – to restore ourselves and others to simpler, healthier, and gratifying lifestyles.

If you’d like to join us, or have additional questions, please let us know! We’ll be posting another post later on today that lists what kind of juicer(s) we use and where you can get them. We’ll also start to share our “recipes” for juicing and maybe even some before and after pictures (if we get comfortable with the idea of those being on the internet!).

Happy juicing!

Open-Pollinated, Heirloom, Organic, or Hybrid – I’m confused!

There can be some confusing information about seeds when choosing to plant a garden. Who would have ever thought there could be so much strong opinion and controversy surrounding the kind of seeds we plant in our gardens! If you’ve shopped for seeds, you may have noticed several terms related to the type and origin of the seeds. These include “heirloom”, “open-pollinated”, “organic”, “hybrid”, and “bio-dynamic”. You might even find some more terms in your shopping!

So what do each of these mean and how do they affect you and your gardening? Let us explain…

Hybrid

Hybrid seeds are those that are derived in the labs of universities or large multi-national corporations. In nature, seed varieties emerge as plants naturally pollinate and the DNA of separate species combine to produce a new species that combine the two. Hybrid seeds are those where that process is purposefully performed in a lab, skipping all the happenstance of nature and replacing it with careful, calculated measures intended to produce a desired result. Furthermore, Hybrid seeds are often created by combining genetic material from species that would not typically combine in nature. This is done to create plants with more favorable characteristics such as color, growing season length, taste,  disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. Because this process occurs in a lab, the typical hybrid result – once grown, is unable to reproduce in kind. Therefore, if one were to keep the seeds of a hybrid variety and plant that seed, the result would not be the same as the parent, but of one of the original contributors of the genetic material of the hybrid seed. This is if the seed grows at all. Oftentimes, these are sterile, or have been “programmed” by the producers to not be able to reproduce.

GMO or Genetically Modified Organism

GMO seeds are those that have been engineered in a lab in such a way that genetic material is modified to produce a certain result. It would be fair to say that all GMO seeds are hybrid seeds, but not all hybrid seeds are GMO. In some cases, the genetic modifications simply mimic nature’s process but in a matter of weeks rather than millennia. Other GMO seeds are far more concerning and at times combine even non-plant genetic material with plant material to produce “super plants” that are resistant to pests and diseases and in some cases even produce their own pesticide! GMO seeds are hybrid and therefore cannot reproduce in kind. It is this family’s opinion that many GMO seeds should be avoided because of the “frankenseed” nature of them. These seeds may contain genetic material that would not normally be found in foods consumed by humans.

Heirloom

Heirloom seeds are simply seeds that are not mass-produced or engineered by large multi-national corporations, but rather come from the slower, manual process of individuals and families preserving the seeds of their best crops over time. . These seeds have been chosen from seasonal crops over many years or decades because of their unique and positive attributes.  Technically, these seeds are not necessarily “open-pollinated” because a farmer of gardener could have manually pollinated their plants in a greenhouse or field for the desired result. Nevertheless, heirloom seeds were produced under circumstances that are harmonious with the natural order of the plant world.

Open-Pollinated

Open-pollinated means that the plant has naturally pollinated in nature without human interruption in a lab. These are varieties that emerged by chance “as the wind blew” genetic material from one variety to another.

Organic

Organic seeds are those that were grown under organic growing conditions and have met the requirements for considering seeds to be certifiably organic. This usually means that the seeds were produced in an environment free of harmful pesticides or chemicals. Some would debate the impact this has on seeds themselves since the resulting plant would not necessarily be effected by the environment in which it’s parent was created. However, others would argue that the DNA of such plants could be damaged or unfavorable altered by being produced under such conditions. In general organic seeds are non-GMO and usually non-hybrid but open-pollinated varieties as well. If you plant these seeds, keep the resulting plant’s seed and re-plant it, you’ll get the same variety of plant. It doesn’t make your plant or garden “organic” all by itself . You’d still have to maintain organic conditions and processes to do so. That’s the topic for another blog – not this one 🙂

Biodynamic

According the wikipedia.. Biodynamic agriculture…

“is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.

Biodynamic seeds are those that were created under such conditions and/or are intended for those wishing to plant the seeds under such conditions. Usually, this means that the seeds have been certified to be Biodynamic by organizations that define and maintain the standards for such. Most gardeners will not need to concern themselves with using certified biodynamic seeds unless they’re looking to start or maintain a certified biodynamic garden. This is not the interest of the average gardener, but usually a commercial pursuit.

Which is best to use?

We’ve been asked this question plenty of times. There’s no single answer to this question. As a family, we  endeavor to use organic, heirloom, open-pollinated seeds. We do so because we want seeds that were not created in a lab by those driven by profits. We also want to be able to save seeds from year to year in order to maintain a sustainable food production system. However, doing this carries some risk. In general, hybrid seeds are often going to produce higher yields and more resistance to pests and disease than most open-pollinated varieties.

Growing food can be similar to investing in the stock market, some (like us) want a balanced “portfolio” of produce that maximizes reward and minimizes risk. Therefore,  because we try to grow large volumes of our own food, a portion of our planting is often hybrid seed. We still try to avoid most GMO seeds. We choose this mix (at the moment) in order to get more return on our labors and less risk of loss. Were we to plant all open-pollinated varieties, or even single varieties of hybrid seeds, we’d be vulnerable to loss if a pest or weather pattern wreaked havoc on our crop.  However, our “emergency” seed supplies are entirely open-pollinated should we ever need to use them. No matter what you plant, consider planting a variety of the same fruit or vegetable. This minimizes risk and can also provide more enjoyable result.

Conclusion

People garden for a number or reasons. The choice of what seed to grow should be based on the reasons one gardens, the desired outcome, and the convictions of the gardener. We garden to grow our own sustainable food. We also don’t care for the immoral and deceitful business practices of some of the companies who produce hybrid and GMO seeds. We choose what we choose for our environment. At the end of the day, you must make your choices based on your needs. Take the time to learn more about the seeds you buy no matter what kind you decide to use. By doing so, you’ll become a healthier, wiser, and better gardener.

Kefir: The dairy “swiss army knife”

One if the things we’re interested in doing is maintaining a good variety of healthy foods, but in a way that is affordable and sustainable. At this time, due to where we live, we cannot  get a cow or goats for milk. Despite this, we still want to be able to produce simple dairy products on our own without having to depend on the market for every dairy product. We still have to purchase milk, which we get raw from a local farmer.

Enter Kefir – an ancient fermented milk drink that has been around for eons. We think that kefir is the swiss army knife of dairy for those looking to be able to use one item to produce a variety of other items. Kefir on it’s own is much like yogurt and offers all the same benefits, but in bigger doses and with less work. If kefir grains are added to fresh milk, they will ferment the milk within 24 hours. Once fermented, the resulting kefir can be left to sit for another 1-3 days during which time it will separate into curds and whey. The curds can be eaten, or further refined into “laban” which can be used as cottage and cream cheese right away. Or, salt can be added to this laban and becomes the basis for harder cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Also, kefir can be fermented to different lengths and strengths producing different tastes and usefulness.

This whole process does not require refrigeration and is a good way of getting usefulness from milk without energy use. Further, the kefir grains are constantly growing and multiplying, thus keeping the owner in a constant supply of kefir grains to eat, use, or share with others.

This is all in addition to many health benefits known to accompany kefir!

If you’re looking to add a “tool” to your simple life arsenal – particularly if you have access to a fresh supply of milk – consider kefir! You won’t be disappointed!

Backyard Garden Chicken Coop

We get quite a few questions about our chicken coop from time-to-time, so we thought we’d put together a post with some pictures of our chickens in their home environment.

Backyard Garden Chicken Coop

Backyard Garden Chicken Coop

Choosing the location
We thought long and hard about where we wanted our chickens on our property, and in what kind of place we wanted them to live. We live in a normal neighborhood where chickens are quite unusual, and so we didn’t want to be the bane of our neighbors existence by turning the backyard into a petting zoo or litter it up with junked up buildings and contraptions. We have just under an acre of property with a wooded section at the very back. We placed the coop as far from the house as possible. Honestly, we did this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost was an expectation that it would stink. There’s no smells to speak of unless you stick your noggin directly in the hen house or just don’t take care of the birds. Also, we garden extensively and didn’t want our wandering chickens to eat the fruits of our labor. That too has not proven to be a problem. We let our chickens free range a little each day (usually), and they’ve never wandered more than 100′ from their coop. This is in part because we wrangle them like sheep if they go where we don’t want them.

Choosing the coop design

Modified "Garden Coop" design

Modified "Garden Coop" design

After much searching around, we found plans online for a The Garden Chicken Coop. We really liked some of the features, but quite honestly, found it lacking in a few ways. That’s not to speak poorly of the design or designer. It’s a plan that allows for customization. We also didn’t care for all the materials used or some of the design. We heavily modified the plans, keeping primarily the main rough framing concepts and the roof design. Everything else we switched around. It was a good starting point.

To the original Garden Coop Design, we first added an external clean out door so we could clean the contents of the hen house out and place them right into a waiting wheel barrow. The existing design had the clean out door much smaller and inside the coop which made little sense to us. Yes, we could get a wheel barrow inside the coop, but that’s far more cumbersome than doing it from outside.

Garden Coop with Modified Cleanout Door

Garden Coop Modification: Front Clean out Door

Secondly, the existing design had the chickens walking up a ramp/ladder into the floor of the hen house. We chose to place this on the side so that we had more floor space. This also allowed us to build a floor that completely slides out for cleaning.

Chicken Ladded going into side of chicken coop

Garden Coop Modification: Chicken Ladder going into side of chicken coop

Since we got into this poultry stuff for eggs, we also wanted an easy way to get access to the eggs. The Garden Coop design had one small door and seemed like it would require at times, blindly reaching into this little door to fish out eggs. It also required using some of the hen house floor space for the egg boxes which might make them get crapped in more often, thus making the eggs even more dirty than they already get. We solved this by building external nest/egg boxes with a hinged roof. This makes fetching eggs simpler and also allows us to easily replace the nest box bedding. The original design was described as being fit for up to 8 birds. We had 10 (lost one due to illness) and currently have nine in ours now. The nest box changes gave us room for an extra bird or two.

Garden Coop Modification: Egg/Nest Boxes

Garden Coop Modification: Egg/Nest Boxes

Garden Coop Modification: Egg/Nest Boxes with Accessible lid

Garden Coop Modification: Egg/Nest Boxes with Accessible lid

While we really like cedar, it seemed a bit overkill and also more labor intensive as an outside wall material. Instead, we used OSB for the inside walls and T111 siding for the outside wall sheeting. We trimmed the outside with pine 1x. We chose Australian Timber Oil By Cabot  for the outside finish since we had used this on our children’s fort and swing set with much success. We also added two vents (one on the front, one on the back) to make sure that there was plenty of ventilation which is very important with chickens. This was easy to do, however we could not center the vents on the walls because of our roost location inside. No big deal.

Garden Coop Modification: T-111 siding

Garden Coop Modification: T-111 siding

The original plans also called for a clear roof. Since this was wooded, we knew that there would likely be leaves and other debris on the roof and didn’t really feel like looking at it all the time. Also, we wanted to make sure the chickens got plenty of shade when needed. We decided on Ondura roof sheeting. It was reasonably priced, opaque, and very easy to work with.  It comes in a variety of colors. We chose brown since we had used the same material and color on our children’s fort.

Garden Coop Modification: Ondura Roof

Garden Coop Modification: Ondura Roof

Lastly, the plans called for the door to swing to the inside. We changed this so that it open to the outside. This just made the construction easier in some ways and also makes it easier to get into the coop without letting chickens out, and also without swinging the door into them.

Building the coop
We’re a pretty handy set of people, so it took about one day to get the framing finished. It took another afternoon to place the inside/outside walls on, another day to stain the entire coop, and about a day and a half to place all the hardware cloth in place. The roof took about 3 hours. This was done with the help of a friend, so two adults for most of the project.

Is it safe for the chickens?
The Garden Coop design calls for burying the hardware cloth about a foot under ground on all sides of the coop. We thought this was good advice and followed it. We’ve not lost a chicken yet to a predator (pretty amazing since we live in the mountains of PA!). We’ve seen no signs of attempted break-ins either. This is a very secure design if followed carefully.

Future additions & what we’d do different next time
One of the downsides of our coop’s distance from the house is that it’s far from a power source. We plan on running some wire down to the coop so we can install some lights on a timer to keep egg production up. We also want to have the option of having a heat lamp if it gets too cold, and also a heated watering dish. We’ve already purchased the timer and lights, but haven’t mustered up the gumption to trench  190′ of power line down to the coop.

Had we to do over again, we would have made the back wall of the nest/egg boxes also hinged to make it even easier to clean. It’s not cumbersome now, but could be slightly better. We’d also have extended the area under the nest boxes to create a shelved “locker” on the outside to store our galvanized feed cans in. They currently sit under the egg boxes. We’ve not had any problems with animals, but would like them to stay a bit cleaner. We might still do this later on as an upgrade.

Lastly, clean out doors on the front AND back would be great. That would make every area of the hen house cleanable from the outside without crawling into it. We can make do as is, but it would have been nicer that way.

Harvesting Broccoli

Today we pulled our first head of broccoli out of the garden for our dinner. We thought it would be a good topic to cover.

Broccoli Ready To Harvest

Broccoli Ready To Harvest

Knowing when the broccoli is ready
There are a few ways to determine when broccoli is ready to harvest. First, it must have a head of broccoli of course! Second, the florets (the smallest part of the broccoli that you eat) should be about the size of a match head. Lastly, the color of the florets should be a dark green. If the florets are mostly yellow, your broccoli is either not ready to eat, or it has a nutrient deficiency or disease. If the rest of the plant looks healthy, assume that it’s just not mature yet. The picture below shows what a “ready to eat” head of broccoli looks like. We had hoped for larger heads of broccoli, but we’ve had a weird growing season and our soil was not in prime shape.

Cutting the head of the broccoli

Cutting the head of the broccoli

How to harvest
Harvesting broccoli is very easy. With a sharp knife, make a quick clean cut 5-6 inches below the florets where the stems gather into the main stem of the plant. We like to have an inch or so of the main stem  on the cut piece. This makes it easier to handle and store until used. Once the head of the broccoli has been removed, you’ll likely notice that the remaining stem is hollow. This is normal.

The remaining broccoli plant

The remaining broccoli plant

What do to with the remaining plant
Some might assume that the remaining plant has no further use. Others might assume that the remaining plant will re-sprout a new head of broccoli. Neither is exactly accurate. Assuming favorable conditions (sun, water, temperature), the remaining plant will sprout additional smaller heads of broccoli from the side of where the main head was removed. These are perfectly edible and make a fine addition to salads, or cooked as a side item. These generally will not be very large.

Cabbage Worm hidden among the florets

Cabbage Worm hidden among the florets

Things to watch for
In our neck of the woods, we have to deal with Cabbage Worms, which are actually not a worm at all, but a caterpillar. These are the larvae from cabbage moths which are actually not a moth but a butterfly. Confused yet? Anyway, we could spray for those I suppose, but they’re just as easy to pick off the plants (this is referred to as “mechanical” pest control). We take the worms and feed them to the chickens who despite not liking broccoli, enjoy these pests! We like this because we use the worms to our advantage to keep the chickens happy and healthy.

After you harvest your broccoli, check for cabbage worms. They’re easy to spot. They’re dark green and contrast well with the stalk of the broccoli. Just pluck them off. You could also try filling a bowl or pot with water (a little at a time) and inserting the head of broccoli upside down into the water. This should make the worms climb up the stalk where they’ll be easier to remove. If you do this too fast, you’ll just drown the worms and then they’re harder to get off. Of course, you can also look for them after cooking, depending on how you cook. That’s admittedly not such a nice experience ;-).