Archive for Tasha Raymond

It won’t last long.

Another storm is sneaking it’s way through Maine. Supposedly we’ll see 6 – 8 inches in our area, but even if we do, I doubt it will last for long. 

The signs of spring are here. This morning the freeze was barely in the ground. While the top looked and felt solid, any pressure on the lawn give way, springing back in a manner of which reminds me of the descriptions of the tundra from my grade school science books. 

Coming out of the coop, I was graced to see the first flock of geese fly not more than fifty feet above my head. It was glorious. As they went on the alight in Blaisdell’s field, my smile became brighter with the prospect of gardens, firewood preparation, and summer adventures. It was a needed blast of happiness as people’s bitterness and jealousy have been attempting to sour every joy as of late. 

Stepping into the basement to get lunch out of the deep freeze for later, the smell of clean water seeping into the cracks in the concrete and the sound of the sump pump reminded me that, despite people’s belly aching, the snow is actually disappearing. 

Spring is coming. It’s sneaking around the corner this year, instead of jumping up from the hedgerow. Soon the greens will push forth from cool soil as transplants wait for the air to warm up. The basement will be a cacophony of chicken chatter. The welcoming smell of spread manure  will drift on the breeze. 

For now, we’ll enjoy the warmth of the fire. It won’t last long, as spring will be here soon enough. 

If the last storm was a joke…

…tomorrow and Wednesday’s storm must be the punchline.

This isn’t an April Fool’s joke.

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So many people were holding out hope that the local news stations were pulling a fast one on the people of Maine. Here’s the thing: It’s only March. Yes, it’s the last day of March and tomorrow is April, but you can’t bag on a lack of snowstorms until after April 15th, especially when this month has been so cold compared to normal. (If I recall correctly, they said it’s the fifth coldest March on record.)

What’s that mean for this homestead? Not much. We’re only getting 2-4″. That’s a dusting, enough to annoy the chickens and make things pretty. I’ll indulge in once again not being able to see dog shit piles and broken fences. One small breather before the craziness of prepping season begins.

The “Cheerio Seeds” Scandal

PlantViewI’m sure most of you have seen that General Mills has been giving out free wild flower seeds in order to help save the bees. The long and the short of the issue is this: Handing out free seeds doesn’t make up for the refusal to stop using the chemicals that are killing bees in the first place.

Let’s back up and look at what glyphosate is. Otherwise known as RoundUp, glyphosate is an herbicide created by a Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970 and was marked in 1974. Glyphosate is such a strong herbicide that it was also harming crops. This stemmed the research and funding for genetically modified plants that could tolerate the chemical in order for farmers to spread massive amounts of the toxin on their crops, killing weeds and not harming the crops at the same time. Eventually bio-engineers began designing “RoundUp Ready” crops which are now used extensively in the US and in a few other countries.

The severe drenching of fields with glyphosate and the engineering of glyphosate into crops has not been studied in full, but the amount of glyphosate “leeching” into honey is alarming, especially given that glyphosate itself has yet to be cleared of possibly be a carcinogen.  The EPA is currently researching this risk, but results won’t be available until sometimes this spring, at the earliest. Coincidentally (or not so), studies have also shown that glyphosate has drastically impacted bees’ memory abilities, hampering the ability to find food and return to the hive, and their appetite, leaving them starving while producing low amounts of honey and with no drive to collect pollen, which in turn means low pollination levels and poor crop yields.

(None of this post takes into account the other environmental impacts of glyphosate of the potential cancer risk, but we’re sticking to the topic of Cheerios and bees here.)

Cheerios has tested higher for glyphosate (RoundUp) than any recently tested food article, with levels over 1,100 parts per billion. Which means that the fields in which the wheat is grown for the cereal is drenched in the chemical. (The oats themselves do not contain glyphosate as there are currently no RoundUp Ready oats. However, General Mills does still produce other cereals with RoundUp Ready wheat.)

So what does the Cheerios branch of General Mills do? They launch a feel-good campaign, which is timed right in parallel with unsealed documents that have been discovered and which raise the question as to whether glyphosate is safe for use. Cheerios decides to give out packages of free wild flower seeds that consumers can plant to help the bee population. There are a few problems with these seeds:

1. The seeds are not marked as non-GMO/organic, which means there is a very good chance that they also contain glyphosate. Planting poison not marked as poison is still poison.

2. Seeds listed in the package are considered invasive in certain areas. The company’s response to this essentially equated to, “There’s still pollen, and that’s what the bees need.” Introducing invasive species only presents other problems. Please check the label carefully to make sure you’re not causing more harm! (For example, Forget-me-nots and California poppies – both in the mixture – are very invasive weeds in certain growing zones.

3. These seeds are not a promise from the company to end the usage of glyphosate. Anyone who has taken Advertising 101 or a comparable course can tell you that this is a “feel-good” campaign in order to raise customer satisfaction and to distract from the new information surrounding the weed killer General Mills uses on the grains that eventually become their cereal, which we in turn feed to our families.

If you would like to plant flowers for the bees, by all means, do so!

Fantastic lists of native plants to grow that will help increase pollination and bee populations can be found at The Xerces Society. Make sure that the seeds you are buying are from a reputable dealer who does not sell GMO seeds, or if they do, make sure it is from a seed company that clearly labels what seeds are GMO and are non-GMO. One great example of a company practising such transparency is FedCo Seeds here in Maine. Everything is clearly labelled in their catalogue and online.

Buy from local seed dealers who will know what will grow well in your area.

Aim for native plants if you are planting only wild flowers.

Grow non-GMO, organic crops if you are gardening.

Do good, but don’t by into the “feel-good” of a company trying to undermine you.

Knowing when to draw a line.

One of the most difficult things about homesteading is knowing when to limit what you’re going to take on each season. I have seen one too many homesteaders who dive in head first, getting all the cannonical homestead animals – chickens, ducks, goats, sheep… – and attempting a full jump into complete and total self-sufficiency all at once. Some of these people have a good chunk of change in the bank for fall back. Some have a rich uncle to bail them out of bankruptcy. Many are leaving a paycheck-to-paycheck situation, tired of having someone lording over them, and with very little in the bank for backup. What they all have in common is diving into the deep end without treading through the shallow water first.

I get it. I do. The self-sufficient lifestyle of a full functioning homestead is very alluring, especially to those of us with that as an eventual long term goal. Unfortunately there are a few rip-currents along the way, and without at least planning for the ones you know will come – set backs in loss of income, seasonal changes and the problems that can arise, the necessary care costs of certain animals – it’s easy to get pulled under and in over your head when you’re being pulled from one rip-current to another. The longer you go without catching your breath, the sooner burnout comes.

This is why, despite how badly we wanted to try our hand at it this year, maple syruping has been put on hold. We’re planning on expanding our gardens this year by adding an allotment on a family member’s property. We have a scheme to actually get blueberries from our own bushes. Our sights are set on high yields in our own backyard gardens. Syruping would have been aiming too far over our heads this season. Maybe next year we’ll test out those waters.