On Homesteading Burnout and the Need to Focus

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At book tour appearances we often said that, while we do a lot of projects as research for our books, readers should not try to do everything. Our message has always been that this movement is not an “all of the above” proposition; you don’t have to raise chickens, brew beer, sew, keep bees, make pickles etc.; you can go with your strengths and make friends with people who do what you’re not good at.

But do I follow my own advice? Not so much. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to focus on the things I’m good at and go KonMari on the stuff I’ve accumulated to do the things I’m not so good at. This is hard for me. By nature I’m a generalist not a specialist. But two potent memento moris showed up in my mailbox this week: my first AARP card along with an ad for the Disneyland of cemeteries, Forest Lawn. In the years I have left I’ll need to focus a bit more.

So what are the activities I can jettison?

Beer Brewing
The brutal truth is that I’m just not that good at it. I ruined the last three batches due to sanitation problems. I’ve never made beer better or cheaper than I can buy. The equipment takes up valuable workshop space. And then there’s the temptation of having five gallons of beer sitting around. Once I conquer the plantar fasciitis I’ll need to squeeze back into an unforgiving and unflattering fencing uniform. If I worked at it I could probably make some decent beer. But, again, I just don’t need that much beer sitting around the house. And to take the hobby to the next level I’d really need to start using kegs and that would mean more equipment.

Ham Radio
I’ve put this activity on hold. I probably should spend some time acquainting myself with my 2 meter handheld and checking in with some of the local nets so that I can use the radio in an emergency. But I don’t need to go any deeper than that right now. Maybe someday when I’m a little older and have activated my AARP card.

That I could only come up with two activities shows how much of a serial generalist I am. Not that there is anything wrong with being a generalist. In fact, the world might be better off if we were all a little less specialized. But there’s still a need to edit the list periodically.

How about you? Do you have some interests you have already or are thinking of ditching? Of your homesteady interests, which have been the most rewarding?

Saturday Tweets: Oatmeal, Bikes and a Pickle Maker

Kickstart the North Memphis Farmers Collective

Of the many vegetable gardens that sprung up in the wake of the 2008 econopocalypse, more than a few touched off neighborhood aesthetic disputes and visits from code enforcement officials. One such tempest involved Adam Guerrero, a high school math teacher in Memphis whose garden got him in trouble in 2011 (and whose cat allegedly damaged a neighbor’s 1991 Cadillac Seville–the horrors!).

As often is the case in these stories, there’s a happy ending. What began in one yard has grown into an urban farming movement transforming vacant lots into sources of food and jobs. There’s a Kickstarter:

The City of Memphis faces many challenges. Among them are blighted vacant lots, food deserts, health challenges, and unemployment. North Memphis Farmer’s Collective seeks to take these challenges and turn them into solutions by using what others see as waste as the fertilizer for vacant lots, thereby turning decay and blight into blossoming Urban Farms.

As we expand, we need the use of a tractor, chainsaw, wood chipper, other heavy equipment and garden tools to scale our operation and offer more naturally grown healthy local produce.  Currently our Collective grows fruits and vegetables by hand on over four acres of vacant property.

They have just seven days to go towards their $10,000 goal.

055 Guerilla Furniture Design

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My guest this week is designer, craftsman, carpenter and educator Will Holman. Will is the author of Guerilla Furniture Design and many how-to articles for magazines and web sites. During the podcast we discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Bold Baking

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As co-founder of a baking Meetup group, I get to see a lot of what Michael Pollan somewhat crassly calls, “crumb shots.” One consistent error that I see in many of those bread selfies, is that the baker did not leave the dough in the oven long enough. The crust is too light in color.

I’ve found that my best loaves are the ones where the crust is chestnut brown, taken from the oven just before it starts to burn on the bottom. Too soon and you have a light colored loaf with a soft crust and gummy interior. It took me a long time to figure out that you get a good crust by baking your bread almost to the burning point. Josey Baker calls this “bold baking.” It’s bold because it goes against the beginner’s fear of burning.

While crust color provides a convenient clue for when your loaf is ready to remove from the oven, oven temperature and baking times are also factors. If the bread bakes too fast you’ll end up with a soft crust; if the oven runs too cool you’ll get a crust that’s too hard. In our old O’Keefe and Merritt, I bake my bread at 500º F (260º C). If you’re using a convection oven you’ll need to bake at a lower temperature.

So be bold baker!

Strapping Bee Hives

Eric, of Garden Fork TV, posted a video response to my scary toppled hive situation. Langstroth hives are heavy and get tipped over by high winds, bears, teenagers and (where I am) earthquakes. Eric says:

Strapping your hives with ratchet straps, the good kind used by truckers, will reduce the chaos when a beehive is  knocked over.

We first started strapping our beehives as part of our bear proof the bee yard project. If the hives are strapped, the hives stand a better chance of surviving a bear in the beeyard. One can say that a ratchet strap won’t keep a bear from tearing open a beehive, but I’ve read where the strapping has helped save hives.

Read the rest of his post here.

John Zapf, our digital design podcast guest, came over to help me re-stabilize my own hives and they seem to have recovered (thank you John!). I need to make more substantial and termite proof stands in addition to strapping them. And in the comparison between Langstroth vs. top-bar hives, you can add tipsiness to the list of problems with Lang hives. I think I’m still in the Langtroth camp, but just barely.

Saturday Tweets: Artichokes, Rants and Rare Bee Art

Our Grape Arbor is a Stacking Function Fail

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Grapes on an arbor over patio furniture: what could possibly go wrong? It’s the very embodiment of the permacultural notion of “stacking functions.” The grapes provide both shade and food. The fantasy was to spend the summers like a Roman emperor, reclining on a couch and occasionally reaching up to grasp a succulent cluster of grapes.

Let me, however, add a few a few unsavory slices to this permacultural sandwich (in addition to the delusions of grandeur): rats, mice and squirrels. All day and night hungry mammals rain down half chewed grapes. And the freak rain over the weekend, combined with a few days of heat and humidity, got some very funky fermentation going. It’s like something out of my inner Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare.

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A poster by Benjamin Dewey. Available in his Etsy store.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post with a miraculous solution, like say specially trained roof Chihuahuas. I don’t. I do wish that the non-fruit producing Vitis californica vine that grows along our northern fence could be swapped with the prodigious one on the arbor. If fruit grew on the fence vine I could more easily net or cage it, or it least thin it out without having to move a ladder and patio furniture around.

As always, I’m open to reader suggestions or just commiseration . . .

054 Digital Design Tools on the Homestead

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Our topic this week is using digital design tools such as Sketchup to conceptualize and build simple projects around your house or apartment. Our guest is designer John Zapf, proprietor of  Zapf Architectural Renderings and the genius behind our chicken run. During the podcast we discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.