Planting a Fall Garden in Zone 5

So it wasn’t just me; gardening this year sucked in general. I found several discussions on Twitter and on Facebook forums. Talk of melons dying on the vine and pepper plants failing to produce. But one thing I noticed a lot of people saying was that NOW, in mid-September, their plants were suddenly producing, fruiting, and flowering.

Then I got a promotional email from Burpee Seed Co. with a sale on “fall garden” planting. I figured, what have I got to lose, right? You saw how I leveled my garden in frustration the other day. It’s totally primed for planting. And the brussels sprout that’s been languishing in there since May seems to have finally decided to grow. It’s over a foot tall now.

It was a torturous wait, ordering those seeds, as 4 days of perfect growing weather slipped by. But I had no seeds left over from other seasons, and they’re long gone from the local stores. Now that’s one issue I’m going to make sure I never face again. Next year I’m going to be all about seed saving.

Finally, the seeds arrived, on literally the final day of the recommended planting time. I think all bets are off this year as to what the weather will do, though, so do guidelines really apply at this point? I ordered peas, carrots, and lettuce. I’m skeptical about the carrots, but these are supposedly a fast-growing variety that work for a fall crop. I’ve had great luck with spring pea crops here, so I’m optimistic about those, and lettuce is a shoo-in.

So we’re on the way. I really hope it works out with the carrots, because I want to try canning them.

Oh, the other thing I read recently is, you can take pepper plants in for the winter and they’ll come back next season. I was reading about people who have pepper plants in their fourth years or more. When it starts getting cold, I might dig up the ghost pepper and tobasco pepper that have been lazing around in the garden and bring them inside for the winter. My only hesitation is that the dirt will have those little flies that seem to show up whenever we have indoor plants. But if they can live for years that way, isn’t it sort of irresponsible to knowingly let them die?

Some people were saying they take them into the garage for the winter. I guess that could work, but don’t they need light? Also, if I keep them in a sunny window over the winter, I feel like there’s a chance that they might produce some peppers, and that’d be cool.

I suck at homesteading!

Now is the summer of our discontent.

Learning comes in fits and starts, I’m aware of that. Well it’s time for a fit.

I suck at homesteading! UGH! My air-locked jars of carefully submerged pickles do a much better job of growing mold than I do growing anything other than mint in the garden. And to make matters worse, yeah, my pickles are OK. But I don’t LOVE them, and neither does my family. I feel like if you’re going to go to all the work, you need to love the end product.

I’m more or less failing at pickling, but not completely. The fail is in the fact that there’s no point in my doing significant amounts of it. The only thing that might be worthwhile was the jar of pickled green beans I made (not from our own garden green beans, unfortunately). Those are crunchy and pretty tasty. But it’s not like we’ll be eating them at every meal.

I spend substantially more on creating my garden and failing at growing stuff than I would have if I just went out and bought the things. I have recognized this reality as it applies to tomatoes some time ago. But it also seems to apply to the rest of the garden.

Let me back up a sec. So yeah, my garden. It’s a 4×4 square of strawberries adjoining a 4×8 square of mess. The strawberries actually grew just fine, but the chipmunks ate them all. ALL. And I love the chipmunks. So I’m not going to begrudge them their survival skills. Which are better than mine. Clearly.

The strawberries. The chipmunk farmers took test bites out of all of them, and can vouch for their quality.

I know late summer gardens carry a high risk of looking like crap, if you didn’t keep up with the weeding, which I didn’t. It’s kind of hard to keep up with that mint. Actually at least we’ve used the mint now and then in a glass of water.

I tried to keep my garden expectations low this year. Planted a few brussels sprouts plants, a bunch of green beans, and a row of celery just because we saw celery plants at the store and wanted something green in there. Later on, my husband came home with a couple pepper plants. Now, the green beans did alright. But we only harvested a couple pounds at most, and only ate a few handfuls. So that was just a big waste. And that seems to be the pattern. I want to do this stuff, but if I even manage to get to the point of an end product, there’s a 50/50 chance it will go to waste.

I’m sure this will look better once I’ve weeded out the mint tomorrow, but it won’t be any more productive.

This was a really weird year, weather-wise, so the brussels were confused, I know that. But my friends who planted just random stuff all over their yard in random places, way later in the season than I did? They’ve got cucumbers. They’ve got bundles of basil drying in their basement. Today I ate the one little weirdly-shaped cuke I grew. It was delicious, but I didn’t feel very self-sustained.

I’m not giving up, but I’m certainly feeling frustrated today.

Day 2

With the fit-throwing out of the way, I spent a few hours cleaning up the garden.  I’ve got some carrot, lettuce, and pea seeds coming, and though it’s cutting it pretty close for the carrots, I’m going to try for a second harvest. Even mostly bare, though, it looks better than it did yesterday.

So, reasons this garden may not be working. Well, probably sun exposure. It’s the spot the previous home owners had their garden, but there’s a big hedge next to it, and that’s got a couple problems associated with it. First, it does some shading. Second, it’s well-established and encroaches very quickly into the garden. It’s not helping me keep things looking nice to have to do that much cutting back.

Drainage should be pretty good. The surrounding land is pretty acidic with all the pines in our area, but these raised beds are filled with soil I brought in, so that shouldn’t be a factor.

Could also be that I planted things at the wrong time. Some years, this garden does awesome. So I guess for now, we just go for the second planting and see what happens.

 

Survival Games Coming in 2017 and 2018

Well hell, looks like there are a LOT of survival games coming out in the next year or so! I only knew about a few of these.  I was just getting started on a second play-through of Fallout 4, but now I feel like maybe I want to save myself.

Note: I realize I’m horribly mixing survival games and apocalypse games here. That’s really not appropriate, but since I’m a huge fan of both, it’s hard not to. Survival games, for the record, are games where the basic needs are a focus for the game’s success mechanics. So like Don’t Starve, where you need to be worrying about food constantly. A game like Days Gone, I believe, is less focused on those survival elements, and it’s more just about the apocalyptic setting. Which is still just fine with me, but I thought I should acknowledge the distinction.

Here are the ones that I probably won’t be able to resist.

Survive the Nights

This one’s got a very 7 Days to Die vibe to it, and that’s a game I have 500 or so hours of gameplay in on, so the odds are good I’m going to try this one out. The only downside for me is that it’s on the PC. I’m at a point where WASD gaming takes a horrendous toll on my hands, so hopefully it’s controller compatible.

Looks like it should be available any day now as an early access game on Steam. I know a lot of people who flat-out detest early access games, but I am not one of those people.

Raft

This is one I already knew about but it has come a LONG way from the initial alpha version I watched. I love that you’re essentially building a floating city.

Rise of the King

Oh heyell yeah. A wintry theme, which is one of the things I really like about The Long Dark, but with a more medieval flavor.  This appears to have been a Kickstarter that was cancelled. That in itself is not a game over; DreamCade Replay failed the first time around but leveraged what they learned to come roaring back for a very successful second try. However, the last post on Rise of the King’s Twitter account was back in May regarding that cancelled Kickstarter. Never a good sign when a game dev goes silent for that long. Also not a good sign when their website’s blank.

Ylands

Not for me, probably, but I think my kids are going to LOVE this one. They’re big into Minecraft and Roblox, and things like Terraria and Don’t Starve. I tried playing Minecraft with the kids, but for survival gaming, the graphics just don’t work for me.

State of Decay 2

I didn’t actually play a ton of the original State of Decay. It was a little too “on the rails” for me, I prefer more of an open world style (and I know it became that, but not in the time I played it).

The sequel sounds more open-world, so I’ll be tempted, but I don’t have an XBox anymore, so that leaves PC as the only option yet again. I have a decent gaming laptop at this point, but I tend to be more PS4-focused these days.  The multiplayer elements do sound interesting, but they require an XBox Gold subscription. This one’s probably going to get cut from my roster for that reason, but I’m leaving it here because it’s a solid entry in the survival games genre.

Frostpunk

As I watched the video above, I was writing down games that caught my eye. I drew 2 stars next to this one. It was only later I found out it’s from 11 bit studios, the creators of one of my all time favorite survival games, This War of Mine.  Count me in. LOVE these guys, and I have no doubt whatsoever that this game is going to be right up my alley.

It’s obvious they’re carrying forward the tough choices element from This War of Mine.  Which, by the way, if you haven’t played, get it. But be warned, it’s brutally difficult.

Days Gone and Far Cry 5

Caught the reveals of both of these during this year’s E3, and I’m on board for both, no question. They look fantastic! Days Gone reminded me of Dying Light, another one I really enjoyed playing, and one of the few I’ve finished in recent years. And I realize that makes me sort of a hypocrite, not liking State of Decay for being on the rails, but loving Dying Light, which is very much on the rails. Hmm. Maybe it was playing in 3rd person that turned me off on State. If so, that’ll be a point against Days Gone, too.

Days Gone: They see me rollin’… they hatin’…

I’m a late-comer to Far Cry, but I played almost all the way through Far Cry 3. The “burning the drug fields” level is one of the most memorable segments I’ve experienced in any game, ever. It was a perfect song choice, and gave you that feeling of being the star in a movie.

So that turned me on to the Far Cry series, and I’d be interested in Far Cry 5 even if it weren’t for the fact that it takes place in Montana and I grew up in Montana. Done deal. Where do I sign? I’m also really enjoying the character videos they released. It’s feeling like it’ll be a world I can lose myself in, and these days, that’s really what I’m after. Plus, there are indications it may have fishing…

I will acknowledge one problem with the list above. There’s no way I have time to play even just the games mentioned here, and Red Dead Redemption’s coming in 2018. I’m not sure how I’ll handle this problem, something’s gotta give. All I can say is thank the gods Bethesda hasn’t got an Elder Scrolls coming in 2018, because then I’d REALLY be screwed. Gah, but the new Wolfenstein’s due out in October. It’s Bethesda, it’s a Fallout-ish aesthetic, and that’s my kryptonite.

I have to come to grips with the fact that I can only play one or two big games any given year. At the moment, these are the “gotta haves”:

  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Oct. 27, 2017)
  • Frostpunk (TBD, maybe by end of 2017)
  • Far Cry 5 (February 27, 2018)
  • Red Dead Redemption: (Spring 2018)

Raft and Days Gone are tier 2 for me. I’ll play them if by some miracle I get through the list above and don’t then go back to Fallout 4. Survive the Nights is kind of a wildcard for me. If they can actually pull off what their teaser video showed, I would have to get it. But it’s coming at a time when there’s just so much survival games competition. I like wine, but I can’t drink wine 24/7, you know?

And it gets worse. I just found out that Mojo Bones actually did wind up releasing Impact Winter this year. I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this one, but it was another Kickstarter that didn’t work out. And another dev team that didn’t let that stop them, it seems:

Impact Winter appears to be having a rough time of it right now on Steam, though, with mostly negative reviews focusing on bug issues. Bugs can be fixed, so I hope they sort it out, but I’ll hold off for now. At this point I’m kind of glad to have the excuse.

Sake It to Me

It’s about a month or two into my fermentation journey, and I’m at a point where I feel pretty comfortable with brewing kombucha (4 batches with 0 mold so far), and the lacto-fermented dill pickles are looking good, too. So I found myself at that point where I was kind of thinking, OK, what do I do next? Sourdough?

Something whispered that I was ready for the dark side of fermenting. What? No! I brewed beer at IncrediBrew once, and it was definitely too complicated. My brother actually bought me a beer brewing kit many years ago, and I never even tried. The whole idea of the various stages and temperatures was very intimidating. Maybe now it wouldn’t be if I really looked into it. I mean, I have several friends who brew.

But for now, I thought, beer, no. But maybe wine. And then for some reason the idea of sake crossed my mind. I looked it up, and landed on this page. It sounded actually kind of easy to do. Just grind up this little rice wine bath bomb and sprinkle it in amongst some rice. I figured it was worth a try. So I ordered the yeast balls on amazon, and was lucky enough to locate a nice 5 pound bag of glutinous rice at my local grocery store.

I made a batch of sticky rice, and spread it out on a pan to cool off, as per the directions. I pounded up the sake ball into powder. Once the rice was cool, I took two wide-mouth jars and started layering in the rice and powder, as directed. The 3 cups of dry rice made enough cooked rice to nicely fill these two jars.

And that’s it? Could it be that simple?

It MIGHT be that simple. I say this a few days later, though I can’t remember exactly what day I started this (Power Tip: if you’re fermenting stuff, keep a journal or a label or a note on the calendar as to WHEN you kick off various ferments). I have my two jars of rice sitting around, and there’s definitely liquid in there. I’m having to burp those jars every day, because I can see the metal lids buckling up from the pressure. I opened one all the way today to make sure it wasn’t moldy, took a sniff, and…

it smells like sake! Exactly like sake. I think it IS sake. The rice is gradually disappearing and this clear liquid is gradually replacing it.

That’s just badass. But I do wonder. Every other set of directions I can find is LOTS more complicated. There’s a debate raging about the difference between rice wine and sake (not sure I actually care about this distinction). And is all the rice supposed to disappear and turn into sake? Unsure. I suppose I should try some of it.

The other thing is, if the apocalypse hits, I can’t be ordering sake balls on amazon. I feel like I need to find a more sustainable way to make alcohol, like maybe hard cider. And seriously, I do want to try making sourdough…

When the Simple Life Pays Off

I recently came across a review for a book, When the English Fall by David Williams. I knew right away it was for me, because the review title was, “The Amish Guide to the Apocalypse”.

I’ve often thought about how the Amish are well-suited to surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. The Amish are famous for choosing to live without electricity. They produce their own food, and make their own things. They’ve also got a stronger sense of community than most of us. Community is so important in a survival scenario, and though I do think most of us would do a good job of coming together, the Amish are already there.

As luck would have it, there was an Audible audio version of this book. I started listening on my commute home that day. I’m about ⅔ of the way through at this point, and really enjoying the story. In a sense, it really is the story of the ant and the grasshopper. Most of the modern world is full of grasshoppers, and some day that’s going to be a problem.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but When the English Fall is based on an apocalypse scenario I haven’t seen explored very often. At least, it’s one I haven’t mentally explored much. The story will appeal to homesteaders. It’s all about self-sufficiency vs. scavenging activities. That was an interesting element, too. I can’t actually think of any other apocalyptic works that don’t focus almost entirely on scavenging.

I found myself feeling somber and sad as I listened, sort of world-weary. It’s not a good feeling, so I don’t know why I keep seeking it out. But I do seem to. Watership Down and Station Eleven are two other stories that give me those feels. Watership Down isn’t an apocalypse story, but parts of it give me that same feeling. Maybe just an overall sense of mortality?

At any rate, I enjoyed When the English Fall, although it’s unsettling. The apocalypse scenario it describes is one I hadn’t mentally daydreamed about before. It’s a lot less survivable, and I think, actually a lot more likely, than the typical high mortality rate event that leaves you and 0.01% of the population. But in either scenario, my bet’s still on the Amish.

Animal Husbandry in the Apocalypse

If you want to play the video game version of this concept, looks like Where the Goats Are might be just the thing. It’s not on Steam, but it’s available for PC or Mac at a price of your choosing on itch.io.

I haven’t played it yet, so if you get it let me know what you think! There’s an onslaught of survival games coming in 2018, and I’m a bit overwhelmed, but I’ll try to get to this one. It looks peaceful, with an art style that reminds me of Monument Valley. Interestingly, video games also typically focus on the scavenging aspect of the apocalypse. I wonder if the appearance of When the English Fall and Where the Goats Are coincide with a shift in approach to the genre?

Back to Basics Living Summit

I just signed up for this the Back to Basics Living Online Virtual Summit. It’s free, and it’s in 3 days (September 10 – 16, 2017), so I wanted to hurry up and share it in case you’re interested.

This appears to hit all the things I’m interested in. Homesteading, frugality, clean eating, gardening, canning, solar power, bread-making…

It actually looks super amazing. Says 28 experts will be taking part, presenting on various areas of knowledge to do with sustainable living. My biggest concern right now is how I’m going to be able to watch ALL of it, though for about $50 you can get permanent versions of all the presentations.

What I have to wonder now is, has this stuff been going on all around me, this whole time, and I just wasn’t looking for it? I’m thinking yes, it probably was. I mean, I was aware of some of it, but I think that was the tip of the iceberg. It’s exciting! I may have to break into the Whole New World song.

Oh, and by the way, last night it was time to sample the second jar of dill pickles I’d made. They were 2 weeks old now, and at 1 week my son had said they weren’t sour enough for him. The hurdle I have to overcome there is that he grew up on store-bought vinegar cured pickles, and he may not develop a taste for the good kind. But I read that as they continue to ferment, they will get increasingly sour, so I gave the second jar another week. And sure enough, he said they were a lot closer. We’ll get there!

Learning How to Make Kombucha

I still remember the first time my husband, John Doe, had me try kombucha. Despite all the warnings he gave me about it being an acquired taste, and that it was going to be unusual, my first reaction was still a solid, “Honey… I think this has gone bad. No, seriously…”

In the years since, we’ve embraced the probiotic goodness that is kombucha. Even my daughter, Elizabeth Doe,  loves it. Which has actually become a problem, because as you may know, the stuff’s not cheap. We’re talking $3.50/bottle, and Elizabeth will gladly drink a bottle a day if we let her. So when John saw an ad for a free demonstration on how to make your own kombucha, we were there, dude. They even said there’d be starter cultures for everyone to bring home. That’s kind of a big deal, because you can’t brew without it, and you gotta “know a guy” to get one. 

And probiotics are going to be really important in the apocalypse. Because we won’t have anitbiotics kicking around for very long. We’re going to need strong digestive tracts to avoid dying of dysentery.

Even though there were far more attendees than expected, my daughter managed to score a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). There was one place we’d heard that term before prior to this demonstration (see below). We left with live demonstration knowledge (there’s nothing like hearing instructions first-hand, with visual demonstration and taste testing), a sheet of written directions, and our very own SCOBY culture. #WINNING

So the way it works is, you make a strong sweet black tea, let it cool to room temperature, and pop that SCOBY in to do its work for a couple weeks or so. The tea is its food, and the colony will transform that super sweet tea into a more vinegar-like healthy drink. Our first brew was very small, only a quart, because it was the biggest jar we had on hand and because My First SCOBY was a small colony. Because of this, there was only enough first brew kombucha for a single serving of second brew (2 weeks later).

The first ferment was tasty, if a bit too sweet, but sweetness is easily remedied in kombucha brewing, simply by waiting longer. Just needed to give them a little more time to eat up that sugar, see.

Our second first ferment had a bigger home; the recommended large pickle jar, covered with a kitchen towel and rubber band. That was a couple weeks ago. That batch made enough to fill 7 kombucha bottles. 5 of those were just old kombucha bottles we’d washed out, two were from a box of Brieftons bottles I’d ordered that were recommended for these purposes.

Many people just drink the kombucha at this point, but I’m very interested in the flavoring angle, which is done during the second ferment. For the second ferment, one adds some fruit and fruit juice (about 1/4 that and 3/4 first ferment). Then you cap the bottles, airtight this time, and wait a couple days.

We kept our jars in a big plastic bucket, because there’s a chance these bottles will burst under the pressure from the second ferment carbonation. None of ours has yet, but I’m vigilant about “burping” them (loosening and then re-tightening the cap to allow some gas to escape). I’ve read you’re supposed to do this 1 – 2 times/day, but even once per day, the hiss of the escaping gas doesn’t sound like it was on the verge of exploding. However, I have seen people post that their jars blew up, so better safe than sorry I guess.

Our first second ferment. Not to be confused with our second first ferment, or our second second ferment…

Anyway, I split a Dole pineapple fruit cup into two jars, and filled them the rest of the way with brew. I also did a couple with freshly sliced ginger, a couple with fresh cubes of watermelon, and one with frozen grapes. This is very much the experimentation phase right now, and I was just going with whatever I had on hand. Our instructor had recommended pineapple if we wanted carbonation.

Pineapple: Lightly carbonated after 2 days, and overall delicious.

Ginger: Definitely just cutting up slices of ginger root isn’t enough. It maybe had a taste of ginger, but it was very faint. No carbonation, but still delicious. More or less, I’d say this was just the first ferment.

Grape: From the start I expect I didn’t put enough grapes in this, because they were frozen grapes and I was worried about making things too cold for the cultures.

Watermelon: My initial assumption was that watermelon should result in as much carbonation as pineapple, since it seems equally sweet.

One thing that’s obvious now is that bottles of kombucha you buy in the store are artificially carbonated (so is beer, and of course, soda). So it’s going to be an adjustment, if you’re used to drinking kombucha with that level of carbonation. I’m hoping to increase the level of carbonation, but that’s an experiment for another day.

Why the obsession?

Modern life can be overwhelming. Most people aren’t lucky enough to have a job they’d call “fun”. Bills and taxes aren’t much fun, either. And then there’s politics. With all that going on, who doesn’t love the idea of a reset? That’s one factor that makes the concept of having to survive an apocalypse alluring (zombies optional).

But for me, the call of the wild isn’t only there because adult life is stressful. I grew up in semi-rural Montana, gathering cattail root, fishing, and making teepees from the get-go.  My favorite part of Euell Gibbons‘s writings is when he and his friends hole up in a remote cabin for a weekend, challenging themselves to live off the land. And in the spirit of Patrick McManus‘ stories, yes, I have caught fish dinners for my family.

I’m also seriously into video games, specifically the survival games genre. If a game offers the cooking skill, I’m IN. In real life, I’m mediocre at gardening, but my Fallout 4 settlements are rocking food production.  I have over 400 hours logged on 7 Days to Die. Gathering grass, stone, and twigs to make an axe never gets old. As I drive to work, I look at buildings and assess their suitability as apocalypse bases.

Like I said, I’m not a great gardener, not like my Mom, which is one reason edible wild plants are of interest. But I love the idea of growing my own food. I think I’d be better at gardening if I had more time. If you’re a successful gardener, I’d love to hear how you manage to see it through to harvest. My biggest issue is starting off strong but getting busy with other things. Weeds see their opening, and go for it, and it’s all downhill from there.  I guess that’s a common story.

My great aunt had a garden full of dill and cucumbers, and her lacto-fermented pickles are legendary. I’ve tried and failed for years to replicate them, but I think I’m getting closer. And that’s another element in play. I started brewing my own kombucha this year, and that’s been working beautifully. It’s got me inspired to try the pickle project again, and for some reason, that appears to be working, too.

So the apocalypse fixation, and the gardening, and diving into food fermentation this summer, I feel like all that comes together in an interesting way I want to talk about. It’s safe to say that not a day goes by that I don’t think about one or more of the above elements. Is all this normal? I guess maybe that’s one reason I started this site; I’m hoping there’s more of us out there, and that I’m not secretly crazy.