The Homesteader’s Hangover Cure

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Sometimes we overdo it.  Yesterday was 420 and, while that’s not my thing, it might as well be an official holiday in my little town of North San Juan.  Yesterday was also the first warm night of the year.  Everyone was out having a good time.  My neighbor had a bonfire and we passed around the Captain Morgan’s.  Rum is not my thing either but as the saying goes…when in Rome.

 

Farmers can’t take days off.  When we call in sick, our plants die.  I had to be up at the crack of dawn this morning to water my seedlings and chase the deer out of my garden.  So I made the best Bloody Mary ever.

 

You will need a juicer for this one.

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Ingredients:

4-5 good sized tomatoes

2 carrots

A couple of fennel stalks (for the juice and as a garnish)

3 cloves of garlic

1 small chunk of ginger

1 jalapeño pepper

1 tablespoon balsamic

Vodka

 

Juice all the vegetables in the juicer.  Mix with the appropriate amount of Vodka, usually 1-2 shots.  You can even leave the vodka out entirely.  Add the balsamic and shake with ice.  Serve with a garnish of fennel.  You can garnish with the traditional celery but that’s so boring.

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Organic Slug and Snail Control

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Everything was going pretty well in our portable little green house.  Our peppers and tomatillos had started to sprout, their cute little stalks and leaves, bright green against the dark starter-soil.  And then one morning I went to check on them and it had looked like gnomes with little machetes had come in the night and lopped off all their leaves.  It turns out that we had a bigger problem than gnomes.  We had slugs.

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We grow our food without pesticides.  We get rid of weeds with elbow grease.  We use organic compost.  And yet, for a brief moment, I felt myself considering the possibility of using poison to kill the slugs.

There is organic slug killer on the market but it can be pretty pricey.

I had heard that a person could use a tray of beer to get rid of slugs but I had never tried it.  The theory is that the slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer and will go to it.  They drink it, get drunk, fall in and drown.  It’s like a slug frat party gone wrong.  And it works!  We haven’t had any more slugs in the green house since I set the trap.

Directions:

Step 1: Find a tray that will hold beer.  I used an old plastic storage box.  My neighbor cut the bottom off a plastic gallon milk jug.  Both worked.  Make sure that there are no holes or the beer will drain out.

Step 2: Locate a place where you have the biggest slug problem.  Dig a hole that will fit the tray so that the lip is level with the ground.  This might create a tripping hazard so try and put the hole in a place out of the way of foot traffic.

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Step 3:  Pour beer into the trap.  I’ve tried Miller High Life, Malt Liquor and Coors Light.  So far, Coors Light seems to be working the best.

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That’s it.  The slugs will come in the night and die.  We haven’t had a problem in our green house since.  If it rains, you will need to change out the beer.  Pour the contents of the dead slugs and used beer somewhere far away from your plants.  Remember, the beer is an attractant.  Without rain, you will probably want to change the trap and provide new beer about once per week.

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If you hate the idea of buying beer just to pour it out, the next time you are at a BBQ, take a jug with you and fill it with people’s left overs.  You could also ask your local tavern if you could have any left overs but there are probably laws against that.

The other precaution we use for slug-prevention is that we tie copper wire around plants that are vulnerable to slug attacks.  We have had a big problem with our peas this year. Copper wire is a hot black-market item because of its resale value.  (I recently saw a guy who bought an old airplane on Craigslist to strip it for the copper.)  It can be very expensive so it may not be practical.  But sometimes electricians and solar electric companies have a few scraps they can’t use.  I was fortunate enough to have a resource at my local solar electric company, California Solar in Grass Valley and got a couple feet of wire scraps.  So far, this technique has also proven successful.

Good luck!

You Can’t Wash Off Pesticides

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My partner and I recently bought a juicer.  It contained the following instructions: “Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly just before using in the juice extractor using a natural bristle brush and a biodegradable cleaner to help remove pesticide residue.”  (Not my punctuation. Thiers.)

 

It’s a well-intentioned set of instructions.  Washing food before eating isn’t a bad piece of advice.  I take issue, however, with the implication that pesticides are something that can be “washed off.”  Pesticides go much deeper than what they are sprayed on.  You can’t wash off pesticides.

 

We all eat dirt.

 

Most of us, when we think of pesticides, we get a visual of a 1970s, nostalgic biplane, spraying chemicals on a citrus grove, or a field of corn or wheat.  When we buy something “non-organic,” we don’t necessarily believe it has been doused in chemicals.  We certainly don’t make a conscious effort to buy chemical-laden products for our loved-ones.  Further, when we buy general products, we don’t automatically think that we might be buying chemically-treated, genetically modified food.  (GMOs aren’t labeled—so, in that respect, we aren’t privy to the knowledge about what we might be putting into our bodies.)  Most people go to the grocery store in order to find sustenance and, even when we know we are buying something unhealthy, most of us don’t count on that fact that it could be toxic.

 

When we surmise at the grocer and choose the romantic, “certified organic” variety in our grocery store, we hope that we are choosing a chemical-free staple for our family.

 

Wouldn’t that be nice?

 

But here is the truth: We are not eating the food we buy.  We are not eating the fruits or vegetables we put into our bodies.  That seems counter-intuitive but, in reality, the fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and everything else is nourished by the earth.  We eat the fruits of the earth’s labor.  We eat the dirt in which our fruits and vegetables grow.  When we eat, we eat all the micro-nutrients or the chemicals that come up from the ground, from the dirt, and we eat those things that make their way into our food supply.  We ingest only what our food grows in. 

 

Buying organic is certainly a step in the right direction.  The demand for such products determine the market.  The more we participate in the organic revolution, the more that it becomes available.

 

It is important to note, however, according to the book, “What’s The Economy For Anyway”, (Graaf and Batker) only .05% of American lands are in organic agriculture.  Sadly, much of the “organic” production in this country takes place in a sea of pesticides, on islands surrounded by a chemical ocean.  The threat of pesticide residue in our organic food is very real.  Farmers, with the best intentions, are often subjected to cross-contamination from their less-considerate neighbors.

 

Sadly, those who try to do the right thing and provide our population with chemical-free, non-genetically-modified foods, often find that their crops are contaminated by water run-off and cross pollination.  Many organic farmers have tried to challenge the issue in court, taking on companies like Monsanto, only to be denied justice by our judicial system.  The most recent and well-publicized court case on the issue is currently in appeals.

 

Still, the threat of pesticide “residue” pales in comparison to the threat of the actual threat that unapologetic direct-spraying of pesticides possesses.

 

Pesticides are NOT the icing on the cake; they are the flour, sugar and eggs of a cake.  If a crop has been sprayed with pesticides, those pesticides have infiltrated the most basic components of what you are eating.  And if the nearby land has been sprayed, we are still very much at risk.

 

As a metaphor, if a person, at a celebratory event, got showered with multiple bottles of champagne and then, that champagne happened to find its way into all of the glasses around that person, and then, that person drank every glass, would you get into a car with that person?

 

Not if you had common sense.

 

Then why would you even consider putting a food that had been exposed to a pesticide into your body?  It’s very much the same thing.  It’s like getting into a car with a drunk driver.

 

When you are imbibing in chemical food, you are allowing the makers of those chemicals and the agri-business that participates to dictate the health of your life and your chance of living.  It’s a crap shoot.  You may not die immediately.  But the more you play chicken with such things, the higher chance you have of getting hurt,

 

Our food production and supply has changed more in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000.

 

One of the most important things to know about so-called pesticide-free foods is that “organic” is a legal term.  It is a term that many farmers spend their life’s fortune to obtain and have their farm associated with.  Many farmers use their last resources to get a certification from the government that coincides with their values.  When you are buying organic and wondering why you have to spend a few dollars more, understand that you are subsidizing a farmer’s rights and morals to provide you and your family with chemical-free food.  You are paying the hidden tax for your government’s favor of agri-business.

 

“Organic” is a governmental certification.  It is a costly certification.  It is another way for the people in this country to pay for the terrible favors that our so-called democracy allows large corporations.  And, as with all governmental policy, not all of the certification criteria may actually be to your liking.  There are many aspects of “organic” that allows the certification with certain chemicals. 

 

There are farmers, with the same morals and values for chemical-free healthy food, who cannot put money into a piece of paper to tell you that they share your values.  It may be very much more important to know your farmer than to know your labels.

 

Yet, even so, knowledge is power.  We deserve access to the knowledge of what we are putting into our bodies.  We deserve “organic” without hidden costs.  And we deserve to know if our food is genetically modified.  Healthful food shouldn’t have to be something that is sought out.  It should be a given.

 

We can’t wash off pesticides.  We definetly can’t wash off genetic modification.  But we can all work towards the elimination of such detrimental aspects in our food system.  We can work towards the elimination of policies that compromise the health of our food system.  Our food,  our environment and the well-being of our families would benefit greatly.  We could all benefit from taking the steps in the right direction.  And we deserve it. 

How To Build a Bee Yard in Your Back Yard

Much has been publicized about the plight of the honey bee and more and more people are heeding the call to come to their rescue by becoming backyard beekeepers.  Even folks in New York and San Francisco are keeping hives on their roofs in the city proper.  There are lots that we can do to help the honey bee and becoming a back yard beekeeper (or a roof top beekeeper) is a great first step.

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Important starter questions:

Am I ready to keep bees?  This depends on the person.  Some folks learn by doing.  Maybe you are more comfortable setting up your hives, ordering your bees and getting stung a few times in the name of knowledge.  Some people like to take a class or read a book.  Some very seasoned beekeepers attend frequent classes and conferences to obtain the most up-to-date information about bees.  Determine your learning curve as it suits you.  If you want to just get going, that’s fine.  Just remember that a hive is a living organism and that it deserves care and consideration.

What equipment do I need?  In addition to your bee boxes, frames and hive lids, I would recommend, at the very least, a bee suit and gloves.  A smoker and a hive tool are also great devices in working with bees.  More is better.  But I understand that, like so many things, beekeeping equipment can be a tricky expense.  If you cannot afford a suit or other supplies right off, see if you can borrow supplies from a local beekeeping club.  Most beekeepers are really excited to meet newcomers who have an interest.  Many beekeeping supply stores have resources for equipment loans.  Also, try Craigslist or other want-ads for used supplies.  See about local resources.  For a screen bottom board, a great resource for mite control, I highly recommend: http://www.countryrubes.com/

Can my landlord prevent me from having bees?  In short, yes.  However, most landlords are worried about liability and not necessarily the bees themselves.  Have a dialogue.  The benefits of beekeeping far out way the setbacks.  Try offering your landlord a share of the honey.  Most people are afraid of bee stings.  And for landlords, they are afraid of retaliation if a person gets stung, especially if there is an allergic reaction.  Many people may have swelling if stung, but very, very few people are actually allergic to bees.  In fact, you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than dying from a bee sting.  Further, as a point of liability, it is nearly impossible to prove the trace of a bee sting and pinpoint the hive from which the bee came.  Of course, we should all be respectful to our neighbors.  If you know that the little girl next door is clinically allergic to bees, your yard may not be the best location to keep them.  My partner and I are renters and keeping bees is not a problem for us.  We talk with our neighbors.  Know your neighborhood and make the correct adjustments.  The most important tool that I have found is conversation.  Some people still have a very irrational fear of bees, but most people are just interested.  Strike up a conversation and see how it goes.

Let’s get started with your bee yard!

This article is about how to build a back yard bee yard.  If you feel that you are ready to create a space in your yard for your own hives, then this article is for you.   The following instructions are for those who feel confident enough with their beekeeping basics that they are ready to set up hives in the backyard and get going.  Let’s begin the construction of your back yard bee yard!

The following can be tailored to any space and will likely be easier for most people who live with a fairly level surface.  When placing your hives, you will want to select a bright and sunny space, away from an area where you might often work or play in your backyard.  I hope I’m not being too obvious when I say that it isn’t a good idea to set your bee hive on your porch if you plan on having barbeques on the same porch.

You may be wondering if your yard is appropriately-sized for beekeeping.  It really depends on how you want to use your yard.  If you have two acres but also have 17 nieces and nephews that come over for a weekly soccer game, even a large backyard may be unsuitable for bees.  If you only have ten square feet on the side of the house, but don’t plan on using the space for anything else, keeping bees there might be just fine.  One thing that is important to note, with regard to space, is that a hive’s flight pattern is not determined by where the opening of a hive is, but, rather, by where the food is.  Even if the hive’s entrance is facing west, the bees may fly out of the hive and turn around if their pollen source is in the east.  When placing your hives, consider that the direction of the bee’s flight may be anywhere around the hive’s placement.

Step One: Pull the weeds

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After you have chosen a bright and sunny spot for your hive, pull all the weeds, making a good 20-foot perimeter.  Pull the weeds.  Don’t mow.  Don’t weed whack.  And definitely don’t use Round Up or another pesticide; such supplements have a detrimental effect on bee habitats.  It may seem like a hefty initial commitment, especially if you are using an area once dedicated to a lawn.  Nonetheless, remove the vegetation at the roots.  You can use a garden fork as help.  It is important to rid the area of grass and weeds because managing a hive in a growing field is difficult and managing a field next to a hive is even more difficult.

Step Two: Make it level

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Once the vegetation is removed, make the ground completely level.  Use a leveling tool.  If your hive equipment is wobbly when empty, think about how volatile it will be when filled with 60 pounds of honey.  No one wants a toppled beehive in their backyard.  I used cardboard over the ground to help as a leveling indicator.

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When making my bee yard, this was the most tedious part for me.  I would dig, use the level, and figure out that I went too far the other way.  It took hours.  My neighbor chuckled all the while.  But I kept at it and I’m glad that I did.  Our bee yard was built on quite a slope.  I used scrap wood to reinforce the hill to avoid run-off.  I knew that I was going to put my hives on pallets so I would set them and measure.

It is important to raise your bees off the ground.  You can use bricks, pallets, cinder blocks ect.  I had a friend that welded and cemented metal poles into the ground in order to mount the hives.  That’s quite a luxury and the hobbyist beekeeper doesn’t have to employ such endeavors but without proper levitation, your equipment will be susceptible to rot and your bees will be more susceptible to ants and other pests.  Raise your hives on something.

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Step Three: Mulch to prevent weed growth

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I started with a cardboard foundation to prevent weed growth around my hives.  Most coffee shops, and even Craigslist ads, have good resources for free broken-down cardboard.   If you had a neighbor recently move in, this could be a great opportunity to make use of some of their waste and introduce yourself.  Whatever your method, the key is to make sure that the weeds don’t grow back around the hives.

After I made a reasonable outline with cardboard to prevent the initial perimeter of my bee yard from weeds, I put out an additional mulch to further protect my hives.  I used yard waste to make a substantial perimeter.

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Step four: Stacking

Once you have set the foundation for your back yard bee yard, stack your hive boxes, leveling all the way up.  If you notice that a part of your hives are wobbly, take the time to disassemble and re-level.  Remember, an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.  If your hives are off-kilter from the start, you are that much more vulnerable to a toppled hive.  Again, no one wants a toppled hive and a colony of disconnected bees flying around.  If you do it right the first time, you are saving yourself quite a headache later.

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Step five: Get your bees and live happily ever after.*

Once you have a beautiful set-up in place, you have a greater potential for harmonious beekeeping in the future.  Once your boxes are set on a healthy foundation, a healthy bee yard will likely follow.

*I wish that the “happily ever after” part were so simple.  I don’t want to lie to any budding beekeepers.  Most first-year beekeepers do pretty well.  It’s true.  Perhaps it’s “beginners luck.”  But most beginners fall in love with their bees and, at some point, are met with struggle.  Again, bees are a living entity.  It used to be that bees could survive and thrive with little attention or interaction from the beekeeper.  Sadly, that is no longer true.

Treat your bees like you would a pet, a garden, or your livestock.  Check on them periodically.  Learn about honey flows and what diseases might affect them.  Honey bees aren’t native to the Americas.  They were brought over with the Jamestown settlement, much like many of the items we eat today.  Conservative estimates say that 1 in 3 of each bite of food taken in the USA is the result of honeybee pollination.  It is in our own interests, as much as in theirs, that bees stay healthy.

There are many explanations from many scientists as to why the bees are waning.  Some say that it’s because of pesticides.  Some say that it’s because of a lack of nutrition due to mono-cropping.  Some say it’s climate change.  Some say it’s a lack of defense from old and new parasites.  It’s probably a combination of all factors.  No matter what the reason, as beekeepers, we have a responsibility to keep our bees healthy.

If there are number of reasons that bees might be suffering then there are a number of things that we can do to ensure their health.  Round Up and other backyard treatments are the worst of the pesticides.  We can discontinue their use.  We can plant diverse gardens with plants that are healthy and reasonable attractants for pollinators such as lavender, rosemary, blueberry and raspberry.  When the weather doesn’t serve the usual pollen flow, we can feed the bees a honey or sugar solution.  When our hives become pest-ridden, we can treat for those pests.

Building a bee yard and getting your first colony is just the beginning of your love affair.  As your experience with bees deepens, so will your love for them and your desire to look out for them.  I hope that this direction provides you with a sufficient and stable starting point.  I wish you luck and love.  With bees, I know that you will find both.

***I would like to thank Janet Brisson of Country Rubes Farm in Grass Valley for her kind mentorship, without whom, this blog would not be possible.  I would also like to thank Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping whose knowledge is thick like honey and whose conviction is as strong as a bee sting. Both Randy and Janet have taught me more than I could have ever hoped for. ***

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Sangria Recipe

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Sangria is a wonderful summer time treat made with wine and fruit.  Its deep burgundy color adds a lovely addition to any table.

 

1 bottle of wine

1 cup Orange Contreau or Triple sec

2 cups orange juice

1 cup cranberry-grape juice

1 orange, peeled and cut into small pieces

1 cup sliced strawberries

 

Mix all together in a pitcher.  Serve chilled.

Egg Hunt

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My local newspaper, The Nevada County Union, published an article about our local Moose Lodge cooking up 4,500 edible eggs for a local Easter Egg Hunt.  Reading the article, I kept waiting for a punch line.   Those interviewed celebrated the task of cooking up 4,500 eggs as a way to “give back to the community”.  But the article never did say what was to be done with the food after the event.  I sincerely hope that our local paper missed that part of the story where the food is donated to our locals in need after the hunt. 

 

Anyone who is a farmer, knows a farmer, or who has ever handled food professionally, knows that hoping for the distribution of 4,500 eggs, after they’ve been sitting in a field for several hours, is futile.  Even hard-boiled, eggs that have been handled by hundreds of children, after lying in field all morning, are probably not the most viable or savory product to distribute to our local hungry.

 

There are many children in this country, and many more abroad, who employ the festivities of an egg-hunt on a daily-basis as a way to feed themselves and their families.

 

According to our food bank’s website, The Nevada County Food Bank, 1 in 6 people in America suffer from hunger.  The website further explains that our local food bank serves an average of 2,920 people in our county per month.  If those eggs had been used for food, rather than for novelty, our Food Bank could have distributed almost 2 eggs this month per person in need.  I don’t think that the use of manufactured plastic eggs would have been a better alternative but, as it stands, the acclaimed 34-year-old tradition of our county’s egg hunt could use a revisit and further insight by those that host the event.  Maybe next year, those eggs could be donated to those in need.

 

I believe that the people of our local Moose Lodge presided over the egg cook-off with the best intentions and with love in their hearts.  I understand why egg-hunts have been a lasting tradition.  Watching my friends all over the country post pictures of their children at their respective community egg-hunts, and remembering my own egg-hunts and the joy I felt, I can understand why we perpetuate such annual events.  It causes children to smile.  And that’s an incredible thing.

 

But children get joy from a lot of things.  Wouldn’t we, as a society, be better off if we could find a way to harness childhood joy in something that provides a service as well as joy?

 

For me, the egg-hunt event outlines the very real need to reevaluate how we celebrate holidays in this country.  Egg hunts, though celebrated and organized around the Christian holiday of Easter, has roots in Pagan traditions.  Very much like bringing a tree into the home around the Christmas holiday, egg hunts, have been re-branded and adopted by Christians, even though, like “Christmas trees,” the affair is traditionally Pagan.  Ever-green trees and leaves were brought into the home centuries before Jesus Christ was born in order to symbolize the rebirth of life in the midst of winter.  Eggs are used in the spring in traditional religions to symbolize fertility.  Neither occurrence is traditionally Christian.  But both egg-hunts and homebound-trees, and the holidays that surround them, beg further examination.

 

In the USA, both Christmas and Easter have become holidays that allow an excuse for blatant and irrational consumerism.  My community’s egg hunt is a prime example.  How could there possibly be a good reason for wasting 4,500 eggs in a community with people who are hungry? 

 

There are a lot of people in my community who employ waste-free practices as a part of their everyday lives.  They are involved in charity, nourishment and community-outreach.  Growing up in or living through the 1980s, the pinnacle decade of excess, did not set precedent or equip those involved with a legacy of sustainability.  The subsequent years, if they have taught us anything, it’s that we are starting from less than zero.  So when something like a 4,500 egg waste is publicized as something to be celebrated, it’s disheartening, to say the least.

 

Traditions come from somewhere.  Such things as the celebration of life in winter, or the fertility of spring, come from ancient peasant and farming traditions that behold the power of mother earth and her cycles.  Because of grocery stores and the relative disconnect from farms and farming, our festivals have lost their core meanings and have subsequently been supplanted with many frivolous, wasteful and futile activities.  It is up to us and our communities to either further the loss of meaning in our holidays or to reinvent our traditions and festivals.  We can either perpetuate the current paradigm or we can revolutionize our future.  It’s up to us.

Orange Cabbage Salad

Most of us relying on our backyard gardens for vegetables are probably getting sick of the cole crops.  Cole crops, or the Brassica genus, include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard and brussels sprouts.  They do great over winter, even in places that get an occasional dusting of snow. Aside from chard, it’s about all that’s harvestable for us right now.  I am patiently waiting for peas.

 

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Here is a recipe that might help you through the last of the cabbage:

 

Dressing:

1/4 cup orange-infused olive oil

1/4 cup toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup white-wine vinegar

1 Tbl spoon powdered ginger

1/8 cup sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Honey to taste (optional)

 

Mix all ingredients together in a jar, tighten the lid and shake.  I like to let the dressing sit for at least 30 minutes so the flavors blend together.  You could even set the dressing in a cupboard over night.

 

Salad:

1 small head of green cabbage

1 small head of red cabbage

Green onions or chives

Fresh or canned orange slices, checked for seeds

Toasted peanuts or cashews

 

Chop the cabbages into small pieces and toss together in a bowl.  Finely chop the chives or green onions and add.  Add the orange slices, cutting larger wedges into bite-sized pieces.  Add the dressing and toss to coat the salad evenly.  Place the salad on a plate and sprinkle with toasted peanuts or cashews before serving.  Enjoy!

Garbage Service

There are things that a person gives up when moving from a city to the country.  I grew up in, and have lived my life in, densely populated areas—up until a year ago.  The move to the country was on purpose.  I mostly knew what I was in for, that I would be giving up my walks to the local coffee shop, the ability to stop in at local friends’ houses and the quick and easy decisions about a dinner outing to a myriad of restaurants offering international cuisine.  I did not realize that I would be giving up garbage service.

 

When I owned my own home, we paid about $75 every other month to have a garbage truck come every Thursday and remove our trash.  When I was living in apartments, the trash service was built into the rent and there was a convenient dumpster out back for waste reception. 

 

When you live in a rural community, there is no garbage person.  One has to haul garbage to the nearest “transfer station,” known fondly to most city-dwellers as “the dump.” 

 

In some cities, like Sacramento for example, the city sponsors a “green waste” program whereby folks can pile up their grass clippings, leaf piles and tree-trimmings, and a tractor will come and scoop it off the street and turn it into mulch for city parks.  It is a fairly wonderful system.  But the service is fee-based and land-owners have to pay for green waste removal.  (As a benefit to waste management customers in the Sacramento area, they provide a free class on composting.  You can find more information here:   http://www.msa2.saccounty.net/wmr/Pages/default.aspx  If you are not in the Sacramento area, please check with your local waste-removal company for similar opportunities.) 

 

There is no such thing as “green waste” where I live in Nevada County,.  Most people take their green waste and turn it into their own mulch.  Larger cuttings get thrown into what is called a “burn pile.” 

 

I had never heard of a burn pile until I moved to the country.  It is an unfortunate solution to controlled land-clearing.  When tree clippings and other land waste cannot be turned into useful garden additives, they are piled together to be burned, like a bonfire, in the wet season.  The process is fairy petroleum intensive and pollutant-based, as most people use a few gallons of gasoline to get the pile going and many piles don’t strictly contain the authorized components.

 

When a person has to employ such drastic measures for waste elimination, or when a person has to pay per the bag for trash elimination, and is personally responsible for hauling the trash away or eliminating it, a person takes greater notice of the waste that is created.  At least, my partner and I have.  We have stopped disposing of food waste in our garbage under the kitchen sink and have made use of a backyard compost pile.  We recycle everything from cat food cans to salad-dressing bottles.  We hand-cut our clippings into mulch.  If we don’t separate the recyclables from the non-recyclables, we have to pay more at the dump.  If we don’t make use of biodegradable resources, they become bio-intensive waste products.  We are vigilant.

 

Last week, after two months of garbage-accumulation, we couldn’t take the mess on the side of the house anymore.  It was time for a trip to the transfer station.  We bundled up all the recyclables and stuffed our bags of trash into large, black garbage bags.   We had five large bags of recycling and two bags of trash.  It cost us a whole $5 to dispose of all of it.

 

So, by the calculations of my nominal math skills, we are spending about $2.50/month for trash disposal. 

 

In urban and suburban areas, trash disposal is optional.  No one has to have a monthly bill for trash service.  Perhaps, for many people, the convenience of weekly trash pick-up is worth the price one pays for it.  But in a world of scarce resources and lacking incomes, it might be a luxury folks are willing to forego.  In my experience, financially and otherwise, it is probably a luxury that is wise to give up.

 

It is easier to adhere to good habits and vigilance when those habits and vigilance are a part of a greater system.  There are still many people who don’t separate recyclables.  Even for those who do  make an effort to put cans and bottles into a recycling bin, they often don’t take the time to rinse out a glass bottle that once contained olive oil and place it into recycling—because it takes a few extra seconds to do so.  But if those few extra seconds meant a few extra cents, would more people pause for such an endeavor?  Probably. 

 

I would like to send this out as a challenge to home-owners and landlords: consider giving up your trash service for a more sustainable and waste-resistant endeavor.  Allow yourself the opportunity to really think about the quantity of waste that a household creates and give yourself a chance to divert some of that waste into system of re-use.  Find a way to use all of your yard clippings, either as mulch or as compost.  It could save a lot of money and it could help the earth.  It’s worth a shot.

Reno

Reno

 

Yesterday was the worst blizzard in the Sierras so far this year and my friends, Debbie and Erich, decided to choose yesterday to elope.  So off to Reno in the snow we went.  Snow was blowing sideways over Donner Pass, and, after watching several cars crash at various intervals, we all made it to “The Biggest Little City in the World” in one piece.  My friends and I met up to celebrate the occasion.

 

Debbie and Erich have been engaged for several years, waiting for the money to have the wedding of their dreams—nothing elaborate, just a ceremony where all their loved ones could gather to witness and take part in a celebration of their love and commitment.  Well, as we all know, money isn’t exactly abundant for most people these days.  Pair an excruciatingly long engagement with a new job lacking health benefits for one member of a pair and you have a pretty good recipe for eloping.  Nevada’s lackadaisical marriage laws and Reno’s proximity made the city a perfect candidate for the occasion.

 

Reno is a victim of my own stereotypes and of its own circumstance.  It is a city birthed in the legacy of silver-mining in the middle of desert terrain, where hardly a plant could grow without very intensive soil improvements and abundant water-redirection.  After the mines went dry, the place grew on a consumer-based economy and sustained that way until it could no longer maintain the increase it needed to perpetuate the growth fallacy of the American economy.  Reno could easily serve as a case study for what happens when a Laissez fair economy based on an infinite-growth paradigm takes a turn towards reality.

 

I’ve only been to Reno once before but the city has always struck me as a place of sordid vices and sad depression, both in the emotional sense and in the economic sense.  I’m sure people born or raised in the community are left with other memories but this trip only deepened my impressions.

 

My last visit to Reno was in 2003, before George W. Bush’s second term in office, before the Iraq war and before what we now call the “housing crisis.”  Even then, it was a world of pawnshops, bright lights and questionable store-fronts surrounded by suburban sprawl.  Today, much of that sprawl is punctuated with empty dwellings and boarded windows.  Much of the bright lights have gone out.  Much of the pawnshops, on the other hand, seem to have made their way to this new economy and are flourishing under a sagging America.

 

The main strip through Reno’s “midtown,” is a long stretch of street connecting the area of the Circus Circus and Silver Legacy Hotels to the area of the Peppermill and Atlantis Hotels.  In between the two main sections of casino entertainment lie abandoned shopping malls and empty store-fronts, a testament to what was once possibly something that resembled hope.

 

Outside the casinos, a bar called “Filthy McNasties” sits next door to the “Boy Scouts of America Building” surrounded by liquor stores and the aforementioned pawnshops.  Inside the casinos, there is still a bitterness of loss fortune that such venues have always possessed: nicotine-laden grandparents pulling levers for a last-ditch effort towards riches, young co-eds behaving badly on spring break, gaggles of bachelors forcing a last hurrah on a young man about to enter fidelity.  The whole scene reeks of the very real possibility that the American Dream is turning into a nightmare.

 

Yet summing up America in a place where the local-economy is almost completely consumer-based, and where the consumption is generally aimed at frivolity, (at a time when 99% of the population has had to curb spending in order to make ends meet), might not yield a fair conclusion.  Still, if our nation is only as strong as its weakest link, my visit to Reno has left me with cause to worry.

 

But even so, every cloud has a silver lining.  While it wasn’t their ideal wedding, The Antique Angel Chapel in downtown Reno handled Debbie and Erich’s ceremony professionally and tenderly.  It was beautifully poetic and held gravity in a way that all wedding ceremonies should.

 

The joy of the moment propelled us into an equally beautiful night.  We shared drinks and dinner downtown, frugally saving our leftovers for a late snack and sharing what we had with those that didn’t.  We each played $5 at the penny slots, adhering to the whimsy of the moment and the town.  Debbie and Erich won $187 on a Ghostbusters slot machine.  The rest of us laughed at our $5 loss over a piece of carrot cake and four forks.  My partner and I shared a hotel room (and subsequently a bed) with my best friend, the three of us falling asleep just after midnight after too much giggling.  We kept it easy and sensible.  And we had a great time.

 

None of us were really financially prepared to attend a destination wedding on the fly.  I dug a dress out of my closet and was thankfully in charge of “something old” for the bride.  Except for the drive there, the event was simple and it was very fun.

 

Money doesn’t make the memories.

 

I will still think of Reno as a place of broken dreams.  But, perhaps, a place of broken dreams is the best place to start new ones.  And in that, there is still hope.