August 2009 Archives

Urban Homesteading: Doing What You Can

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lettuce seeds 2

For the past ten years my summers have been punctuated by preserving projects.  Every summer I make jam, pickles, dry tomatoes, dry herbs, make relishes, and put up dilled beans.  This is the first summer in a decade when I have not had the time or the energy to do my usual preserving projects.  It was my plan to do at least a few of my usual projects and photograph them for tutorials to share with all of you here.  I want you to be able to come here and find all of the basic canning projects you might want to do and feel confident that you can do them with really clear instructions.  I was putting off posting much because I didn't want to post unless I had a tutorial of use or an informative article.

But then I realized something; I realized that many of you out there are in the same boat as I am in myself: you're working many hours a week to pay your bills and are scrambling to find the time to do the homesteading projects that you love doing.  I have been lucky to have been able to have stayed home and not worked outside the home for most of the past decade.  I am equally lucky that when the time came that I had to get paid work in order to keep our house and our son clothed, I landed an excellent job.  So I'm not complaining about having to work, but trying to figure out how I can work 30 hours a week and still find time to make my own lip balm, can tomatoes, and sew curtains for my old house.

What I have been telling other people for years is that urban homesteading is about doing things for yourself within a modern and urban context.  It isn't a contest in self sufficiency.  It's an exercise in learning to make things that are higher in quality than you can buy.  It's about empowering yourself with the know how most of our grandparents had because there is something deeply satisfying in being capable of taking flour, water, salt, and yeast and producing a loaf of bread that is as good or (often) better than you can purchase in the store.  When the bread shelves in the grocery store are empty you won't be afraid, you can make your own.  It's the spirit of doing things for yourself even though it will take longer than it would to pay someone else to do it.  I have begged people not to feel left out if they live in small apartments in a big city because the spirit of urban homesteading can exist and be satisfying  on all scales.  In a small apartment you may not have room to store a year's worth of tomato sauce and jam but you can do small batches that will still give you a profound enjoyment and satisfaction.  You can still make your own dinner napkins and you can do all kinds of repurposing projects.

What I realized this week is that no one is reminding me of these things.  No one is telling me to stop worrying about the fact that I am quite possibly not going to have the time or energy to can at all this year and instead just make spectacular use of the seasonal produce we have right now.  I might not be able to make tomato sauce to last me all winter (I usually can about 500 pounds of tomatoes) but I sure as hell can make some tomato sauce from scratch right now while the tomatoes are flavorful, local, fresh, and properly ripe.  It's so easy to forget that the most natural thing any of us can do is to eat seasonally.  Soon enough I won't be buying any tomatoes at all because their season will end.  So why waste time fretting over what I can't do and simply enjoy what's fresh now?   So this post is to remind myself, and anyone else in my position, to not get overwhelmed by what we don't have time to do and instead make the very best out of what we do have time for.

I believe that if I prepare better this fall and winter around my house and garden I might be able to make more time next summer for the kinds of projects that I look forward to each year.  If I find good ways to fit more homesteading into my schedule I'm sure you'd all like to hear about it so I promise to share details.

In the meantime I will start posting more often.  It won't be the preserving tutorials but there are smaller projects I have going on around here like saving carrot seeds from the garden, cooking (more recipes for making the best of seasonal produce) and I realized that it isn't particularly time consuming for me to write plant profiles.  I want to have a ton of those for people to reference so that you can come here and access a comprehensive volume of information on all the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that an urban homesteader might find useful to grow.

So this post is to remind you and me to go easy on ourselves.  If you are working full time and don't have a ton of time for homesteading activities, don't let yourself become mired in frustration.  Rejoice in the things you can do with the time you do have.  It's the spirit of urban homesteading that feeds our spirits and builds our confidence- it isn't about doing everything.

On this happy note I'm going to go clean my kitchen and then do an experiment with substituting lemon juice for citric acid for curdling milk.  The question has been asked how this substitution might be achieved and I'd like to discover and share the answer to it which I can do today since I have the milk for making ricotta and plan to make a casserole of grilled vegetables in ricotta. 

Happy homesteading!
Headmistress Mrs. Williamson (Stitchy)

 Homemade Ricotta (A tutorial on making your own ricotta)

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