What you are looking at is hard proof that my crazy life is slowing down ever so slightly. Because framing this piece is a project that has been lingering on the bottom of my 'To-Do' list for almost eight years, and now it is done!
The summer after my junior year of college, I went on Le Petit Grand Tour d'Architecture through Italy and Greece. Tuscany, Rome, Venice, Capri, Pompeii, Corfu, Athens, Mykonos, Santorini....we were all over! Our first stop was in Florence, so it was just a few days into the trip when I spotted this watercolor.
A row of artists were set up along the street as we exited the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. I hadn't planned to buy too many souvenirs on the trip and I worried I was being hasty choosing one in our very first location.
But, those colors! That texture!
And we had been warned: "When you see something you know you love, just buy it. The opportunity won't present itself again." So I bought it and somehow kept it safe for the rest of the trip. And all the way home. And through the next 8 years and multiple moves.
Amazingly, in the pile of boarding passes and museum stubs that represent this trip, I even managed to keep the card for the artist, Vittoria Scaffidi.
There is a nice little pocket for it in the back of the frame. And as luck would have it, I had no need to worry. Florence actually was one of my absolute favorite places on the trip, so it's the perfect place to have a memento from.
I love talking to other people who have traveled around Italy because everyone has such wildly different favorite places. For many it is Rome or Venice. For me, it was Florence and Capri. Quiet places with an abundance of natural beauty, warm people, and amazing food. (For example, the linguine with mussels that was so good I had to eat it twice in 3 days.)
Another awesome thing about finding the card with the artists' name is that I was able to google search and find some other travelers that have pieces of her work (posts here and here). One even had great pictures of the artist and the other art stalls along that street:
The artist has a unique technique and it feels like a steal to have gotten it for a low 'street-art' price. Do you purchase art when you travel? How do you keep it safe?
To see all travel posts, click here.
Man, this grow-your-own-food stuff can be hard sometimes. If it were easy, I suppose everyone would be doing it. I mean, look at the benefits:
But it is damn.hard. For some it might be the time commitment. Watering and weeding are daily chores. So is looking out for pests, diseases, and intruders. There is the multitasking, the cost of tools and supplies, and the physical work.
And then, there is the fear of the unknown. Personally, I enjoy most of the chores. Particularly the way they feel important and force all other thoughts out of my mind when I'm doing them. But if there was any aspect that was going to put me off, it would be that uncertainty. I research myself to death only to go into the new project still feeling like I have no clue. The more reading I do…the more conflicting advice I encounter.
Starting potatoes in containers might be one of the worst projects so far in that regard. There are truly a million ways to grown them. The argument for growing them in containers instead of underground is that you can produce more and harvest them without scratching and damaging them, so I decided to go that route. First, I bought (2) 5 gal containers…then I did more reading and realized that I would only be able to start a few potatoes in each because of the small width.
…went back to the store and bought (2) 11 gallon tubs….realizing later that I had traded up in width and ability to start more potatoes, but I had sacrificed upward room for growth which might be more important. THEN, I pulled Matt into the project, only to be confronted with the fact that I hadn't done the best job with drainage and that I couldn't even explain how they grow! Yikes.
It's one of those moments where I stop and say..…wtf do I think I'm doing?
Well, what is there to do? I had already drilled these holes and just felt like there was no going back.
I told myself these three things to calm down: I can make adjustments later. I can do it completely different next year. And above all, no matter what happens, I STARTED. Which means I'm closer than I was before to getting it right.
And whaddyaknow, the same night I had an epiphany that made everything ok: the chicken wire we placed around the tubs for protection sets us up perfectly to hybrid in the 'potato tower' method! Huzzah!
But I should start from the beginning.
1. I purchased 2.5 lbs of 'Sangre Organic' certified seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. They shipped March 30th. $12.50 + shipping
Potato, Sangre Organic. Catalog #1535A
2. I purchased (2) Behrens 11 gallon tubs from Farm n Fleet. $16 ea. I used a power drill with a 1/2" drill bit to put drainage holes in the bottom. (Why is using a power tool so fun??!) In the future I may need to drill a few more drainage holes in the sides, but that can be done anytime, unlike these bottom holes.
If drainage REALLY doesn't work this year, I will have to consider more/bigger holes or rocks in the bottom of the containers. We'll see.
3. Placed the tubs where I wanted them (in full sun) and added 4" of garden soil.
4. WE (Matt got involved here) placed the 8-9 potatoes in the tubs with the 3 most sprouting eyes of the potato pointing up. Potatoes are a rare root vegetable that grow up instead of down. Also, I had read that you can place about 3 potatoes in a 12-13" wide container. For each inch wider, you can add 1 more potato. Since my tub was 20" wide, I supposedly start up to 10 potatoes in each.
5. We made sure the potatoes were at least 2-3 inches apart and covered them with 4 more inches of garden soil.
6. We then added chicken wire around the tubs to deter creatures from digging in the soil. (These are placed in the easement behind our house/behind our neighbors garage due to lack of full sun spots left in our yard. This area is basically an animal freeway, so this step was especially important here.)
7. So, the potatoes will sprout 'tubers', these kind of upward growing roots that will break through the surface of the soil and develop foliage. Once those leaves and flowers have an abundance of nutrients, they will channel it into growing more potatoes along the tuber under the soil. That is why, as the foliage grows upwards, you keep adding more soil. The plant will keep adding more potatoes in that space you create (hopefully).
With these tubs, I realized I would only be able to add more soil once or twice. BUT, back to that potato tower stuff... Some people simply use chicken wire filled with a ring of hay and center of garden soil to grow their potatoes. Once I run out of tub, I can increase the upward potential by following their example and doing a ring of hay around that there chicken wire to create sides. Assuming the foliage keeps growing higher and higher, using the potato tower method will likely double my harvest (or better!) Hoorah!
Finally, in 10 weeks or so, the foliage should start to yellow and die, and that will be my sign that the potatoes are ready to harvest. At that point, I will dump the tubs over on a tarp and start the process of a. enjoying the hell out of some potatoes and b. preparing many for storage. We will even set some of them aside to be the seed potatoes for next year.
I will be straightforward here: my goal is to get to a point where we never have to buy potatoes from the store and this method provides us with fresh, awesome potatoes during the summer and fall, and enough stored to get through the winter and spring. My guess is that 30-50 lbs a year would do us very well, and I can't wait to see how much this yields.
Do you agree that potatoes are one of the first homesteading crops you should grow? Or are they just too easy and cheap to buy in the store? As always, TIPS AND KNOWLEDGE WELCOME! And you can see all of my beginner homesteading experiences here.
Now here's a post I never thought I would write! For starters, I was a vegetarian off and on for several years. I've been eating meat for the last few years now and recently had a flash of intuition that vegetarianism is behind me once and for all. But that is a topic best left for another day.
What really makes this a surprising post for me is that I hated bacon most of my life. My brother did, too, and we were nearly cast out of our house every time my grandpa made bacon and we refused to eat it.
But, they say your taste buds regenerate every 7 years, right? And I gotta admit, I actually enjoy bacon now!
But I only like it how I make it at home - a little on the under cooked side. Not too crispy. And certainly not burnt.
I also don't like how it tastes when it's left to fry in all that grease that accumulates. Too much fat to meat ratio ruins the flavor in my opinion. So once or twice while it's cooking, we'll grab the skillet off the stovetop and drain the grease off into a can that we keep in the freezer.
You can't pour bacon grease down the sink anyway, and we also like knowing that we are draining off excess fat that we don't need to be consuming.
Until recently, we would just throw out the can when it was full and replace it with a fresh one. But throwing that can in the garbage (instead of reusing or recycling it) was nagging me. As was throwing away fat that I thought might be reusable. So I began researching.
UGH! This is one of those simple practices that is such a no-brainer it makes me angry I'm just now catching on to it. Basically, whoever you are, wherever you are, you could be doing this now.
What is lard and how is it different from bacon fat (aka bacon grease)
I was vaguely familiar with the substance knows as lard and that it can be used to grease a pan for cooking, but I also learned that lard is what you get when you cook down the fat from an unprocessed cut of pork. This does not include bacon, which gets smoked and therefore does not have the flavor-neutral component expected of lard. But the only real difference is that a smoky flavor is imparted in the fat that we are draining off, so you wouldn't want to use bacon fat for baking sweets, or for healthcare products like lip balm.
Or would you?
Frugal and healthy!
Here comes the good part. Not only is bacon fat a totally FREE cooking fat for sautéing and frying (yay frugality), it's also pretty healthy! If I am understanding correctly, it's another one of those nutrition facts that got all turned around somewhere. You can go read this awesome article that gives the benefits of cooking with lard (or, in our case, bacon fat) in detail, and with scientific facts.
Long story short, lard/bacon fat is heat stable, heart healthy, high in Vitamin D, and a healthy source of cholesterol.
1. During or after cooking bacon, drain the grease from the pan off into a container like an aluminum can. It's ok if bacon pieces get in there. We'll strain them out later.
2. Keep it in the freezer, adding bacon fat to it until it's full.
3. Turn a small crockpot or saucepan on low, and scoop the bacon fat out into it.
4. Stir occasionally as it melts. This took about 30 minutes for me.
5. Once melted and thoroughly warmed up, place some cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer or colander over a bowl or measuring cup.
6. Pour the heated bacon fat over the cheesecloth.
7. Now place the colander with cheesecloth over the crockpot dish and repeat the process (alternating between the measuring cup and crockpot).
8. Repeat until the bacon fat looks clear of bacon crumbles. I found that pouring out the last few drops in the garbage each time got rid of some of the bits of bacon and darker grease that would otherwise get through the cheesecloth.
9. Pour into a mason jar (or other glass container with a lid) and keep in the refrigerator (not freezer) for up to a couple of months.
Overnight, it will return to it's solid state. I plan on spooning some out whenever I am making chicken on the stovetop, cooking potatoes, and who knows what else. In a perfect world we'll run out about the same time that the can in the freezer is full and ready to be turned into more usable cooking fat.
The next step
Each new homesteading task I acquire seems to come with 10 more things to consider for the future. But, that's what I love about it. It's challenging and meaningful.
For me, the next step is sourcing bacon locally from pastured pigs. This will increase the health benefits and make it even more sustainable. I'm planning on heading to the Quad Cities Food Hub / Freight House Farmers Market this week to find some.
So, I'm very curious: is this something everyone else is already doing? Or has 'lard' sounded like a bad word to you, too? If you give a shot, let me know! I'd love to hear how it works for you.
All gardening, homesteading, and cooking posts can be found over here.
We may have had a to save a chilly, rainy day in Tybee Island, but the next day? The next day was freaking HARRY POTTER WORLD DAY.
You guys. I don't even have the words. HP is one of my favorite book series of all time. When I was commuting to college in Chicago, my classes would finish for the week, and I would have to race to the Metra to get out to my car in Elburn. There was seriously nothing better than spending that hour an half on the train reading Harry Potter uninterrupted, with lots of snacks.
I never got into the HP movies, so going to the theme park was my first chance to see it all come to life. The following post will contain way too many pictures and absolutely no cares. You've been warned.
The first thing we did was board the Hogwarts Express going to Kings Cross Station in London (platform 9 3/4, of course).
We were guided into a train car with a few other passengers and off we went. As the train took us from one park to the other, the screens (strategically placed as train car doors and windows) came to life, along with special effects, making it seem like we were on our way to Hogwarts with the students. (There is a Youtube channel with tons of videos of Harry Potter World here).
Kings Cross - London
I thought people were exaggerating when they said Diagon Alley is really hidden, but we had to walk around 'London' a couple of times before finding the entrance. Once inside, there was so much to take in! Owls were coming and going. A giant dragon was breathing fire down on the crowd. And kids were using their interactive wands to make statues spray water and window displays put on a show.
Our mission was window shopping and Butter Beer.
Don't be fooled by the picture, it took hours of waiting to get on the ride. But alas, it was awesome. My personal favorite! After exiting, we ventured into Knockturn Alley for for the 'darker arts'.
I was so glad we saved Hogsmeade for the evening, so I could see Hogwarts Castle all lit up. Waiting in line for this ride is definitely not boring. You're taken on a tour through Hogwarts, and every room has more to look at than you can even keep up with. Ron, Harry, and Hermione appear every now and then in holographic form and build the story.
The tour includes: the dungeon, greenhouse, Dumbledore's office, Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, the Sorting Hat, Gryffindor Common Rooms, and finally the 'Enchanted Benches' that take you on the Forbidden Journey ride. You can read a ridiculously detailed account of the ride here.
All posts from this trip:
Still to come:
To see all travel posts, click here.
Hello, there! My name is Nikki Jones and this is a place for me to write about my travels, my urban homesteading adventures, and whatever else my little heart desires at a given moment. Like many personal-blog bloggers, there are times I write daily and long streteches I'm not inspired to write at all. And that's ok! At any rate, I'm glad you're here.