Showing posts with label Homesteading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homesteading. Show all posts

Sep 26, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not...Making the Most of Orchard Fruit

Waste Not, Want Not Making the Most of Fruit in the Orchard
The black and white photo caught my eye because it featured two women standing next to a tall pyramid of canned food. Though I spotted the photo on the Internet*, it originally appeared in an early 1900s newspaper, and the caption said the mother and daughter team had canned hundreds of jars of fruit that year. The mother bragged, "We didn't waste a thing."

That photo was pretty awe-inspiring, and made me think about how previous generations prided themselves on their lack of waste, whereas all too often the current generation doesn't even realize how much it is wasting. Especially when it comes to food.

As a general rule, homesteaders are thrifty and resourceful, but amid the hot, seemingly-never-ending work of the harvest season, how often do we let food go to waste? On our homestead, my goal is to avoid food waste as much as possible, and to preserve as much of the harvest as I can for human consumption.

When we moved to our current homestead, there was already a small orchard in place. I quickly learned that while this was a true blessing, it could also be overwhelming. Today, I have a solid system in place to help me preserve the orchard's harvest each year.

Unripe Fruit 

The first batch of fruit homesteaders usually deal with is unripe. Maybe they've taken the time to thin their fruit trees (which typically results in larger single fruits); maybe the trees have naturally thinned themselves by dropping unripe fruit on the ground; or perhaps a storm has knocked young fruit off the trees.

If you're like me, you grew up being told unripe fruit was unfit to eat. My mother promised me tummy aches and digestive complaints if I broke this rule...but as it turns out, a lot of cultures eat unripe fruit. We can, too.

Preserved immature figs.
Unripe Figs: In the Greek and Turkish cultures, unripe figs are commonly eaten in a sugar syrup.

1. Cut off the stems of the figs and make a slit at the bottom of each fruit.

2. Place the fruit in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cover and gently boil for 15 minutes. Remove the figs with a slotted spoon.

3. Wash the pot. Place the figs back in the pot and cover with water. Boil and strain them again. If the figs are soft but still keeping their shape, they are ready. If they aren't yet soft, boil and strain one more time.

4. Place the figs back in the pot and add water and granulated sugar to make a syrup. Traditionally, equal parts water and sugar are used, but you can make a lighter syrup, if you wish. Also add about 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice for every 1 1/2 lbs. of uncooked figs. If desired, add some strips of lemon peel, and about 6 whole cloves. Cover and bring to a boil, cooking until the liquid turns into a thin syrup. During this process, if some of the figs start to lose shape, remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

5. Cool the syrup and the figs. 6. Thoroughly wash some glass jars and fill them with the prepared figs, leaving about 1 inch headspace. Cover with the syrup. Place lids on the jars, refrigerate, and begin eating after a week's time.
Immature apple pectin.

Unripe Apples: Use immature apples to make your own pectin for jam-making or health. Click here for complete instructions. 

Immature Plums, Peaches, or Nectarines: Unripe plums are regularly eaten throughout Asia and the Middle East. How do they make them edible? By pickling them. In the Mediterranean, baby peaches, no bigger than olives, are also pickled and eaten. But peaches and nectarines don't need to be so small to make great pickles.

Basic Fruit Pickle Brine: Into a medium saucepan, pour 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of kosher or canning salt, and 1 cup of water. Place over high heat and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Cool completely, stirring once in a while. Place fruit in freshly washed glass jars, cover with brine, and refrigerate. Allow the pickles to sit a week or two before eating.






Other Unripe Fruits: Poaching makes unripe fruit more tender and enhances any sweetness while helping to remove bitterness. Poaching is best used on fruit that is fairly close to ripeness.

1. Cut the fruit in half and, if possible, remove the core or stone.

2. In a saucepan, add enough liquid to cover the fruit. You may use water, beer, wine, or a sugar syrup. If desired, add spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, or ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, bring the liquid to a simmer, and add the prepared fruit. Simmer until fruit is soft.

3. For particularly green fruit, allow the food to sit in the poaching liquid in the refrigerate overnight. In addition, fruit that is nearly ripe is salvageable by using it in baked goods. For example, chop not-quite-ripe peaches and add them to your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe.

Windfall applesauce.
Windfall Fruit 

When our fruit is ripe (or nearly so), but the wind or over-ripeness has made it fall to the ground, I don't leave it for the birds. (Letting fruit rot around trees encourages pests.) Every day, I look for windfall fruit; that way, very little of it ends up so mushy its only use is the compost pile. Don't be concerned if windfall fruit is bruised or has holes from birds or other critters.

To use windfall fruit, I cut away any bad parts and use the rest for pie, cobbler or crisp, jam, jelly, or (if you have apples or pears) applesauce or pearsauce. Sometimes I also put better quality windfall fruit into a bowl designated for food that should be eaten that same day.


Handling a Bumper Crop

If you have large amounts of ripe fruit, it pays to start preserving it right away. Set aside some for fresh eating, but then get right to work dehydrating, canning, or freezing the rest. Putting some fruit in freezer bags to turn into canned food later is a life saver. For this reason, I try to ensure the freezer has plenty of empty space before the orchard season begins. Most fruits freeze just fine whole; place them on a rimmed baking tray and pop them in the freezer. When they are hard, put them in freezer bags. But when I'm really pressed for time and I know I'm going to make jam with the fruit, I often just throw the fruit in a freezer bag and call it good.

Not sure how to preserve your fruit? The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a gold mine of information on how to can and freeze just about anything. And to learn how to dehydrate your fruit (or other foods), click here.

And, of course, it's always nice to share with friends and family. My husband's co-workers love the bags of apples my hubby brings them! You might even look into sharing your fruit with a local charity that feeds the hungry. Sadly, not all of them allow home grown food, and you'll want to be sure the organization has a good reputation for not letting produce spoil, too.

Waste Not, Want Not
Making fruit scrap syrup.


It used to be that when I cored or peeled any fruit, I just dumped those trimmings in the compost bin. There's nothing terrible about that. And there's nothing awful about feeding those trimmings to livestock, either. (Be careful feeding too much fruit peelings to chickens, however; it will make their eggs taste "off.") But I really try to use those peelings for human food, when I'm able.

One way to do that is to make fruit peel syrup. It's an easy process and makes a thin syrup perfect for pancakes, or even to use with savory dishes. (For example, peach syrup is a nice marinade for pork.) Here is complete information on how to do it.

You can also turn fruit skins, cores, and pits into jelly. Easiest of all is apple peel and core jelly, which requires no pectin and can be made low or no-sugar. See the recipe here. The process is very similar with other fruits, except you'll typically need to use pectin for them. For example, when I recently made pear jelly, I boiled the trimmings just like I do for apples, strained to make juice, but then followed the directions on a box of commercial pectin to make the jelly itself.

Peach Peeling and Pit Jelly

This recipe works for any fruit.

1. Place peach peels and pits in a large pot. Just barely cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to sit overnight.

2. Strain the mixture; compost the peels or feed them to your animals.

3. In a clean, large pot, mix together the resulting liquid and 1 box of powdered pectin. Bring to a full boil. Add 3 cups of granulated sugar. Stir and return to a full boil until the jelly reaches 221 degrees F.

4. Ladle into hot jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Apple vinegar in the works.
Fruit Scrap Vinegar

I also sometimes make vinegar from fruit scraps. It's very easy and results in some really tasty vinegar. Homemade vinegar should not be used for preserving, because there's no accurate way for you to ensure it has the correct acidity to safely preserve food. But you can use it in salad dressing, as a marinade, or in cooking.

1. Warm 1 quart of filtered, non-chlorinated water. Stir in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar or honey, stirring until completely dissolved.

2. Wash some glass jars and fill them about half full with coarsely chopped fruit scraps (peels, cores, bits of fruit - but not rotten or bruised parts). Pour the sugar water over them, leaving about 1/4 inch headspace. Cover with cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band and allow to sit at room temperature. Stir once a day with a freshly washed spoon.

3. After about a week, the liquid will appear dark. Strain, composting the fruit scraps or feeding them to animals. Pour the liquid into freshly washed jars, cover with cheesecloth, and allow to ferment 2 or 3 more weeks, or until you like the flavor. (When tasting the vinegar, use a freshly washed spoon and don't double dip.)

4. To store, place a plastic lid on the jar and keep in a cool, dark location, like the refrigerator. Is it

Is it Safe to Use Fruit Pits and Seeds?

Most people believe apple seeds and fruit pits contain cyanide (or, depending upon who you're talking to, arsenic). But according to Rodale's Organic Life, the Guardian newspaper, and other sources, there's nothing to worry about when using pits or cores to create food for your loved ones. The truth is, apples, apricots, plums, pears, peaches, and cherries do contain amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when chewed. (There's no natural arsenic in any fruit.) However, according to Nordic Food Lab and other expert sources, cyanide isn't heat-stable. So when you cook pits and cores to make syrup or jelly, their toxicity disappears. In other words, there's no need to worry about making anyone sick. Furthermore, according to experts, even enthusiastic fruit eaters would have a hard time ingesting enough seeds/pits that their body could not naturally detoxify the fruit's toxicity.


* I have literally spent hours trying to find this photo again so I could share it with you. No luck!

Sep 15, 2017

The Little Chicken Who Couldn't

This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Our Internet line was down for five days, so I'm playing a lot of catch up! (Not only do I work exclusively online, but my children were doing online school, too. Oy.) And while I was disconnected from the world, a lot of things happened at the homestead - including the hatching of our hens' eggs.

X marks the incubating eggs.
Mama hen had been sitting on 10 eggs for 21 days. When she first started sitting, I carefully marked each egg with a penciled X, so I'd know exactly which eggs were being incubated. Then I left Mama to it.

I knew the general advice is to separate the mama hen from the rest of the flock, but I had no way to do this, and I wanted to see what happened if I did things the old fashioned way - letting Mama do all the work.

Well, Mama was an excellent broody hen. She sat diligently every day, only getting up rarely to drink, relieve herself, and eat a wee bit of food. She growled at us when we checked on her (yes, hens can growl!), though she never pecked when I peeked under her. (I'm telling you, Australorps are the sweetest chickens ever!)

One day when I went to collect the other hens' eggs, I laughed because I found two eggs immediately in front of Mama's nest. I assumed (ahem) the other hens wanted to lay in her nest - because hens are like that; you can give them each a nesting box, but they'll all lay in the same one. Then, I thought, they couldn't hold their eggs any longer and out they popped in front of Mama's nest.

Mama, sitting diligently.
Well, a few days later when I went to cook with those eggs, I got a surprise. I was making a huge batch of pancakes to freeze for my children's breakfasts, and when I cracked one egg, the contents were bloody. Upon closer inspection, there was an embryo in that egg. Gross. That huge batch of pancake batter had to go in the trash, but the kids were fascinated to see a real embryo up close and personal.

I knew then that the egg had originally been under Mama, and somehow got booted from the nest. And over the course of the next several days, I found a few other partially incubated eggs with embryos in them. (Needless to say, I started cracking eggs in a separate bowl before adding them to whatever I was cooking.) Embryos only develop in fertilized eggs if those eggs have been incubated (i.e. warmed up by a sitting hen or an electric incubator). So either Mama booted those eggs accidentally, or other hens snuck into her nest when she got up for a quick break and they booted them, or Mama rejected the eggs, thinking they were bad.

None of those embryo-filled eggs had pencil marks on them, by the way. Note to self: Use a pen next time.





In the end, though she had six eggs under her at the end of 21 days, only one egg hatched. In other words, only one egg had been under her for a full 21 days.

Some people asked why I removed all the unhatched eggs after that time. Why not just leave them under Mama and let them hatch when they were ready? I had two good reasons not to do that. The first is that most hens will abandon their chick before they abandon the eggs in their nest - which means the chick has pretty much zero chance of survival. In fact, this scenario played out on our homestead.


I heard peeping on a Monday afternoon. By Tuesday afternoon, I could still hear peeping, but couldn't see any chicks. I didn't want to disturb Mama too much, so I didn't peek under her. I assumed (see how my assumptions lead to bad things?) she had chicks still hatching.

That night, however, when my husband locked up the chickens in the hen house, he looked inside with a flashlight. There, in a spot underneath the slightly raised nesting box, was the chick, peeping for Mama to help him. Somehow, he or she had fallen out of the nest. But Mama would not abandon her eggs. (Hubby says broody hens are a lot like Daleks from Doctor Who, but instead of having a one-track mind that says "Exterminate!", they have a one track mind that says "Incubate!") Fortunately, this happened during a heat wave, so the chick didn't die of cold, and my husband tucked the chick back under Mama, who seemed grateful.

Mama and her chick.
The second reason I needed to dispose of the additional eggs is that in 21 days, Mama had hardly eaten or had anything to drink. By the time chicks hatch, the hen is much thinner and really requires a break from sitting in order to be healthy.

So, the other eggs were gone and Mama was focused on her single, cute little fluff butt. The chick seemed bright and alert and curious, and Mama had her work cut out for her.

By the third day, she took the chick out of the nesting box and let it wander around the hen house. She showed it the water and the chick feed and taught it to eat, and she remained highly protective, even fiercely pecking my husband once. (Normal for the average hen, but really aggressive for this one.)
Mama love!
Then she must have taken the chick outside to teach it to scratch. That evening, my husband found the chick dead in the chicken run, its eyes pecked out.

We'll never know exactly what happened. Maybe the chick took a turn for the worse, it died suddenly, and the rest of the flock did what chickens do to dead things. Maybe the chick showed signs of illness, which chickens greet with cannibalistic fervor. Maybe the chick fell of the ramp to the hen house and was injured or died. Or maybe Mama simply didn't do a good job protecting the chick from the rest of the flock, who, not knowing what it was, assumed it was food.

Sigh.

It's never easy when animals die on the homestead, but at least I know we gave the chick every chance and that nature took its natural course.

My husband says he wants to use an electric incubator next time. Personally, I'd like to give Mama another chance, but this time put her (and her chicks) in a smaller run of her own, safe from the rest of the flock. We'll see.


Jun 19, 2017

Dealing with Ticks, Naturally

How to Naturally Deter Ticks
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Country living isn't new to me; I grew up in a rural area. But ticks? Yep, definitely a new-to-me experience. And this year, ticks are already much, much worse than they were last year - a trend throughout the nation, I read. And while the little buggers completely gross me out (just writing this post makes me feel like ticks are crawling all over me), I don't relish the thought of spraying my family with DEET day in and day out. So here are a few things that have helped us keep the ticks at bay naturally.

(Please bear in mind that I don't live in an area where Lyme disease is currently a factor. If I did, I might be more inclined to use DEET as the lesser of two evils.)

1. Yard Maintenance. Keeping the grass mowed goes a long way toward keeping ticks out of the yard. Yes, some ticks hang out on bushes and trees, but a many more seem to lurk in tall grass. Keeping that grass short obliterates a tick's favorite hang out. In addition, having gravel or bark borders surrounding common human hang outs (like the deck) may help keep ticks at bay.

2. Dress Right. When you're in tick-infested areas, wear boots with long pants, or tuck your pants into your socks. It may look dorky, but it keeps ticks from climbing up your legs. Long sleeves help, too.

3. Cloak Your Scent. Many types of ticks know what to jump on by that creature's smell, so anything you do to mask your smell will help deter ticks. We've been using tea tree oil - apparently successfully. (That is to say, we've never found a tick on us after applying it.) I just dab it onto our ankles (or the ankles of our boots), our wrists (at the pulse points, just like you'd do with perfume), and our necks. Since mosquitoes are also a problem for us, I also want to experiment with using Thieves' Vinegar. I've made a batch (you can read about that here), and it stinks a lot, but we haven't had a chance to use it yet.

4. Check Right Away. As soon as you're out of the tick-infested area, check for ticks. Remove all your clothes and check every nook and cranny. It's best to put those clothes directly into a sealed, plastic garbage bag, or directly into the washing machine (which should then be turned on), so any ticks on your clothes won't be loose in the house.

5. Remove Ticks CORRECTLY. If you find a tick, remove it carefully. So many of the tick-removing ticks neighbors and family told us about - or that we read about on the internet - are not recommended because they allow the tick a chance to regurgitate into your blood stream, increasing the likelihood it will pass on some disease to you. Methods to avoid include using a match or heat source, using manual rubbing, or using bag balm, petroleum jelly, or some other oil. The CDC recommends using tweezers, but I find this usually results in the tick's head being left behind - definitely not what we're after! Then I discovered the Tick Twister. When I first bought this device, I was highly skeptical. It seemed too simple and too much like tweezers. But trust me, this baby works! You just insert the tick between the tongs of the device, then turn, like a screw driver. Out comes the tick, head and all!

6. Dealing with the Dog. One area where we still struggle is with the dog, who is basically a 90 lb. tick magnets. Tea tree oil is toxic to dogs. (According to Pet MD, uou could could safely use .1% to 1% tea tree oil, but I doubt it would be strong enough to keep ticks at bay.) Our neighbors use garlic powder, sprinkled into their dog's food. When they told me this, I was surprised; I thought garlic was toxic to dogs. But further research online and in books indicates that it's a matter of proper dosage. The book All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets claims dogs can have 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder per pound of food, 3-4 times a week. (If your dog is anemic or has other health issues, talk to your vet before giving the dog garlic.) I plan to start feeding our dog this tiny amount of garlic powder to see if it really does keep ticks at bay.

How do you deal with ticks? Leave a comment and share your wisdom!



May 18, 2017

Realistic First Year Homesteading Expectations

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I know so many people who've been waiting and hoping and praying to homestead for years. And when they finally get the opportunity to live on some land, they want to do everything all at once. They want chickens, goats, pigs, a milk cow, a huge vegetable garden, an orchard, an herb garden...RIGHT NOW. Unfortunately, they're setting themselves up for disappointment and discouragement because what they want is impossible. So let's talk about what is realistic when you first start homesteading - whether that's in the suburbs or in the sticks.

Hard Truths About Homesteading

Hard Truth #1: Money is probably the number one thing that prevents most people from homesteading on the scale they wish they could. Unless you're quite wealthy, it's just not feasible to buy land, build a house, obtain animals, house animals, and so on in a year's time.

This is not to say that you shouldn't do as much as you can with as little as you have. In fact, making do is really at the heart of homesteading. But you simply can't fudge on, say, animal housing. You can build it from scraps, yes. But chances are, you'll have to buy at least some materials in order to make the housing truly safe for your animals. (If it weren't for the cost of animal housing, our homestead would already be a menagerie!)

Hard Truth #2: It takes time to acquire the skills you need to run a homestead. Unless you grew up on a farm, you probably don't have all the skills and knowledge you need to run a full fledged homestead. That's okay! Give yourself time to learn. Want chickens? Read multiple books on the topic - not just one! This will save time, money, and heartache. Then give yourself time to implement the skills you've read about (because reading about it and doing it are very different things) before you move on to another skill.

Hard Truth #3: It takes time to run a homestead. We all wish we could quit our jobs and homestead full time. Very few people are blessed to achieve this. So, for now at least, assume you'll have to continue working away from home. That means you'll have limited homesteading hours. Don't over-estimate what you can accomplish during those hours.

Realistic First Year Goals

So what is a realistic view of what you can accomplish your first year homesteading? Honestly, that's hard to say because it depends upon your financial resources and how many hours you work at your job. But assuming you work ordinary hours, and you have a middle class income - as well as a strong desire to set up your homestead -  I think the following goals are completely achievable:

1. Start Composting. This is a homesteading basic that reduces your garbage considerably and benefits your garden and orchard...and you can do this virtually anywhere - even if you live in the city! Composting can be as simple as burying organic matter in the soil, or as expensive as buying several enclosed, rotating compost bins. More Info: Learn how to compost.
 
Composting is an important first step when homesteading.
2. Start a vegetable garden. It doesn't have to be huge - in fact, it probably shouldn't be. As your skills grow, so can your garden. And don't get hung up on pretty. Yes, raised beds made of rock are beautiful, but you can grow just as much food in berms that cost next to nothing. The important thing is to start growing food! More Info: Learn how to start a garden.
 
My very first productive garden beds.
3. Plant some fruit trees. Plant them soon, because they take a few years to begin producing fruit. However, it's better to plant trees in the fall...so take spring and summer to look for sunny locations and the least boggy land for your trees. Learn more: Fruit trees for small spaces.

Our first fruit trees were these columnar apples in pots.
4. Start learning to cook from scratch. I don't recommend trying to making everything from scratch when you're first starting out; that can be really overwhelming! Instead, start by making your own spice blends and baking mixes, then learn to make bread. And so on. More info: See more from scratch recipes.
 
Homemade bread isn't as hard as you think!
5. Get chickens. If you eat eggs, chickens are a homesteading essential, and - once you're set up with a hen house and run - are not expensive to maintain. More info: Learn the basics of chicken keeping in my Chickens 101 posts.
 
A portion of our first flock of chickens.
6. Plant a few herbs. You don't have to create a large herb garden right away. Instead, just choose 3 - 6 herbs you'll use for cooking and medicine and put them in pots. There! Done. More info: Learning to grow kitchen herbs.
 
Herbs in pots are easy.
7. Learn to dehydrate. Drying fruits, vegetables, and herbs is one of the easiest ways to preserve. You don't have to spend much on a dehydrator (I love my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator better than the expensive Excalibur some friends have. You can add as many trays to the Nesco as you want.) Learn more: See my dehydrating posts.
Dehydrators preserve fruit and veggies you grow, forage, or buy.
8. Learn to water bath can. This type of canning is less intimidating than pressure canning, and allows you to put up jam and jellies, pickles, and fruit. It's the perfect way to start building up your food supply. More info: Learn how to use a water bath canner.
Canning makes self-sufficiency easier.
Related Posts: 
* Homesteading Skills to Learn NOW - before you head to the farm
* How to Save Up for Your Very Own Homestead
* Prioritizing Your Homestead: Where to Start & Where to Go From There
* How Do I Quit My Job & Start a Homestead

Feb 28, 2017

Why You Need A Digital Homesteading Journal

If you're serious about feeding your family off your land - whether that be a suburban backyard or a many acre farm - keeping a journal is important. Farmers have been doing it since paper became readily available, and you should, too. But to really get the most from your journal, keeping a digital journal is, in my opinion, an absolute must.

Why a Homesteading Journal?

The simple answer is that a journal will save you endless amounts of time and frustration. For example:

Have you ever grown a wonderful variety of veggie but forgotten it's name or where you purchased it? That won't happen again if you keep a journal.

Have you ever wondered exactly how much money you spent on the garden, or the goats, or the chickens, or the homestead in general?

Ever wondered if you're saving money by growing and raising you own?

Ever wondered if there are places where you can cut back on expenses?

Ever tried to remember exactly when your goat stopped giving milk last time she was bred, or which rabbit you bred with which last breeding season?

Keeping a journal will make discovering all that quite easy.

In it, you can keep track of such things as:

* Weather patterns and temperatures
* Names of plant varieties you've grown or want to try to grow
* Notes on how to grow specific varieties of plants
* Dates for when seeds were started
* Dates for when varieties came to harvest
* Notes on how pounds of each plant you harvested
* Dates for when varieties died back due to frost, disease, pests, or other variables
* Sketches or photos to remember garden layouts
* Notes to assist in the rotation of crops
* Notes to help you remember the outcome of garden experiments
* Figures tracking gardening expenses
* Notes about how specific varieties taste, or work best in which recipes
* Records of how much you've preserved, and how quickly you went through your preserved food
* Notes on which herbal remedies seem to work best for your family
* Reminders about what time of year to forage certain foods, and where to best find them
* Notes on how much milk, meat, eggs you're getting from your animals
* The dates when your hens started and stopped laying
* Information on how long milk animals keep producing
* Notes on how long it takes to grow out meat animals
* Breeding and lineage notes

In short, anything at all you might need to remember about your homestead should go into your homesteading journal.


Why Digital?

Traditional garden and farm journals are hand written and kept in binders or notebooks.They are certainly useful, but it can take some time to look up the notes you're specifically after. However, if your journal is, say, in a Word document, finding what you need is a breeze! Just use the search feature to bring up the information you want.

For example, this spring, I needed a list of the vegetable varieties I grew last year. All I had to do was open up last year's journal and search "seeds sowed," and I instantly had the list in hand.


Suggestions for Making a Homesteading Journal

Everyone has different preferences, but here are some things that work well for me.

1. Each year, create a separate file for your journal. Its name should simply be the year, or "Homesteading Journal [year]."

2. Keep every year's journal in one folder (named, for example, "Homesteading Journals").

3. In the Word document, separate entries by the date. Use bold lettering to make separate entries easier to find, in case you are just browsing the file, instead of using the search feature. Consider putting keywords, like plant and animal names, in bold, too.

4. Type in everything, even if you're sure you'll remember next year.

5. Include photos of your garden layouts.

6.  Scan plant tags and include them in the file, too.

7. Scan in all paperwork related to your animals. This will serve as a backup to any paper files you might need to keep, but also make access to them easier. Be sure to tag all photos with a keyword, to make searching easier.

7. Keep a back up copy of your journals on a separate drive.


In just a few minutes every day, you can easily collect a huge variety of highly useful information in your journal. And by looking back on your notes frequently, you'll become a better homesteader, and your homesteading efforts will be easier and more successful, too.


Jan 27, 2017

Do Orchards Attract Wasps & Other Stinging Things?

Q: I want to plant an orchard in our front yard, but my husband says that's a bad idea because it will attract bees and wasps. Is this really a issue?

A: Our front yard is lined with fruit trees, and we love it! Not only do the trees provide cooling shade to part of the yard, but they are pretty, too. In fact, I can't wait to see what our yard looks like in spring, with all the fruit trees blooming!

Fruit trees - like pretty much any flowering plant - will attract some bees. That's actually a good thing, for at least two reasons:

1. The bees pollinate the trees, which makes it possible for them to bear fruit.


2. Bees are struggling, in case you haven't heard. Not just non-native honey bees now, but even native species. So giving them a source of pollen is a positive thing.

Our yellow plums.
The good news is, bees that are out gathering pollen are not generally aggressive. They are unlikely to sting anyone.

As for nastier stinging things, like wasps, we have had zero problem with them. In fact, when I do see wasps in someone's orchard is because they are attracted to rotting fruit. That is a problem easily solved if you simply keep fallen fruit cleaned up:

1. Harvest regularly, and preserve or give away excess. This helps prevent fruit from falling and being spoiled.

2. Use fallen fruit for jams or jellies. This requires checking the orchard daily and collecting any fallen fruit that isn't rotten.

3. Give any livestock you may have fallen fruit that you wouldn't want to eat, but that isn't rotten.

4. Compost the rest. (But don't over-fill your composter with fruit, or it will decompose way too slowly.)

Does this sound like a lot of work? It can be, depending upon the size of your orchard. But if you're planting fruit trees because you really desire to grow your own food, I think you'll find you're easily motivated.

And I can tell you that if I had a bare yard that needed landscaping, the first thing I'd do is add fruit trees to it.


Jan 20, 2017

Why We Use a Wood Stove on Our Homestead

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1. Wood is nearly free. We can heat our entire house all during the cold season without spending much. That's because we live on 15 mostly forested acres, and there is always dead wood that needs removing from our forest. But even when we lived in the suburbs, we used a wood stove and rarely paid directly for our wood; we just asked around and found friends who had fallen trees they wanted removed,or a tree they wanted taken down. (A task you shouldn't attempt unless you've been trained, by the way.)

You might wonder why I didn't say our wood is totally free. Well, because it takes time and hard work to cut it up and stack it - work that involves using a saw, which runs on gas. We figure we spend about $30 per year, tops, on saw gas. Plus there is maintence for the saw, which my husband can do himself, so it might cost a few dollars. Completely worth it, in our estimation. And, if we really needed to, we could use hand tools. So yes, burning wood is a nice act of self-sufficiency.

Even if you have to buy wood, though, you might save money. Here's an interesting news article comparing the cost of wood heat to other forms of heat in different parts of the U.S.

2. Wood is sustainable. We couldn't possibly use all our 15 acres of trees for heating our home. We can't even use up all our dead wood every year. And by removing dead trees from our forest, we are making the way for new trees to grow.

3. No worries about outages. When the electricity goes out, the propane tank is empty, or the gas line is broken, we don't have to worry. We'll still be cozy warm. And even though we don't have a cook stove per se, we can still cook on top of our wood stove - so we eat well during outages, too.

4. Quality of heat. I always feel warmer and more cozy when I'm in a house that uses wood heat. That's because wood stoves use radiant heat - they warm things around them, which heats the house more quickly and keeps the house warmer.

5. Efficiency. Assuming you have a newer stove, wood heat is quite efficient. And you will quickly learn which types of wood burn the hottest and longest in your stove, which makes this form of heating even more efficient.

6. Ambiance. What is cozier than sitting on the couch with your favorite warm beverage next to a wood stove while a storm is blustering away outside? Nothin'.

P.S. If you're concerned about the environmental impact or sustainability of wood stoves, I recommend this article.


P.P.S. Wondering what that fan is on top of our wood stove? It's an eco-fan that helps direct the heat of the stove toward our living area. It runs completely off the heat of the stove. We love it!



Nov 15, 2016

How to Know When Figs are Ripe

Since moving to our new homestead this summer, I've learned a lot about figs. Turns out that while figs are easy to grow, it's a little tricky to know when they are ripe. That is, unless you know these easy tips:

* Look at the color. Figs come in a variety of colors. Some stay green, even when ripe. But most turn a darker shade when they are ready to harvest.

* Touch the fruit and pay attention to firmness. Figs that aren't ripe are hard. As figs ripen, they get softer. A truly ripe fig will be quite soft; you can create an indentation in it by gently pushing with one finger.



* Look for cracks along the skin. When a fig is soft and has cracks, it's time to harvest it.



* Look for pests. In my experience, when a fig is ready for harvest, you'll find ants on the fruit, and possibly fruit flies.

* Check the stem for sticky sap. If it's there, the fig isn't quite ripe.

* Finally, do a taste test. If the fig doesn't have much flavor, it's not ripe yet.

* Do note that figs don't ripen once they are off the tree, but you can store fresh figs in the fruit drawer of your refrigerator for several days.

Oct 31, 2016

Bear on the Homestead

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Nothing like looking out your bedroom window Halloween night and seeing not little children

dressed in costumes, but a large black bear sauntering by. Yep, my friends, we don't live in the suburbs anymore!

Of course we knew there were black bears in our area, and we even knew one had been on our property; when moved here in June, my children led me through a walk in the woods, and I found bear scat just feet from our house.

But I'd hoped all the commotion of moving, plus noisy children, plus all the engine noise my hubby makes when he's around had scared the bear further into the woods.

Then a neighbor told us he'd seen bear scat nearby, all full of apples. Sure, there are apple trees here and there around people's homes on this mountain, but we have by far the most apple trees - and our orchard is on the edge of logging land, where people are scarce and critters abundant. We wondered if a bear was coming into our yard at night...

Then last weekend, when hubby and I were taking a walk on the logging road just above our house, we saw a bear bed, right by the road, just 5 minutes away from our house. Hmmm...

Then last night, I heard my son banging around downstairs. (He's like a clumsy moose wandering the house when he gets up to use the restroom at night). I was getting out of bed to remind him to be quiet when I noticed one of our motion detector lights was on. So I took a peek out the window as I passed by...and there was the bear, casual as you please.

I woke my hubby because the bear was headed straight for the chickens and my daughter's pet rabbit. Both are secured in cages, but if a bear really wanted in, he probably could break in. Fortunately, black bears mostly eat plants. Still, we listened hard for any commotion. However, the two fruit trees that still have a few apples on them are in that same area - and apples are a much easier food source for a bear who's already pretty well fattened for the winter.

But now I feel like I can't let the kids play outside alone. (Yes, we have a dog, but he's still very much a puppy.) Worse, hubby has to cross the yard in the dark to get to his car in the early morning. "Maybe you should take your spotlight with you every morning," I said. "Um...yeah," he replied.

The good news is, black bear attacks are very rare. Nevertheless, today I'm teaching my kids the best way to deal with a black bear who thinks our orchard is his.

Anyway, better a black bear than a cougar!
 

Oct 21, 2016

Fire on the Homestead

Last weekend, the coast guard put up hurricane warning flags - something long timers tell me they have never seen in our area. But God heard our prayers, and the hurricane turned into nothing more than a wintery rain and wind storm that caused minor damage, mostly in town. We felt we were out of the danger zone. Then something awful happened.

At 4 a.m. Monday morning, when my dear husband stepped outside to head to work, he was horrified to discover that one of our outbuildings - a big, lovely pole barn - was glowing red with fire.


After he called 9/11, he immediately called me on his cell phone. I thought I'd heard some weird bumping noises, but figured it was just one of my children. Then I thought I heard a man's voice yelling; I almost got up, but the noise went away and I thought it must have been one of my children listening to a CD. (They like to listen to radio dramas in bed.) But no. The bumps were the sound of the metal pole barn warping and falling apart, and the yells were my husband's frustrated response to initially dialing 9/11 incorrectly because his hands were shaking so hard.

We are waiting for the insurance company's permission to knock this down.
As soon as he told me the building was on fire, I slipped on some jeans and a jacket and ran down the driveway to meet him. The pole barn was already done for - the roof had caved in, the metal doors were warped and falling off, and the whole thing looked melted. We were in shock, especially since we'd just been working in there.

Sunday afternoon, hubby and I were working on sorting the contents of this pole barn - mostly furniture and antique and vintage household items. And I was so happy because I found two metal shelves that seemed made for holding canning jars. I loaded those shelves with everything I canned this summer, and some of what I'd moved from the old house. Jars upon jars of applesauce, plums, jams, green beans, chicken soup made from our own chickens... I was so pleased to have a decent place to store these home canned goods - finally. In fact, I almost took a photo to share with you; then I thought, "I'll do it tomorrow."

That night when we went to bed, hubby talked about his dreams for that pole barn. He wanted me to be able to sit by the wood stove in a comfy chair with a book. He wanted me to be able to store books there, if I wanted, or to use it as a sewing and stained glass creation room. Whatever relaxing thing I wanted. My personal space - something I hadn't had since the children came along.

Interestingly, we ended the night with an email from a friend, telling my hubby that someone he'd known in our area had recently died in a house fire...

So there we were in the wee hours of Monday morning, huddled together and watching the fire until fire department came and put out the flames. We prayed and thanked God that no people or animals were hurt. That we'd had such a stormy weekend, and everything was soaked with water. That the fire didn't happen during our dry summer, when it surely would have spread rapidly to neighbors and the forest. That we weren't looking at the embers of our home. So much to be thankful for! And we feel that in some way God was protecting us with this fire. That may sound weird to some, but I know God uses all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Even dry wells. Even fires.We feel His hand firmly holding and protecting us.

In the wee hours of the morning, it was disturbing to watch the building burn. Seeing the wreckage by daylight is almost worse. I can see the metal shelves that still hold my canning jars, which are warped and melted. Oh, it's painful to see all that healthy food I was so pleased to have for my family (after hours and hours of work) gone!

The canned goods on those wonderful industrial shelves...
It's amazing how intact many of those jars still look.
See the spot where the fire wasn't nearly as hot and the building almost looks normal? That's exactly where my canning jar shelves are. The liquid in the jars considerably cooled the fire in that area.
What caused the fire? Since the building didn't have electricity, and since there was nothing else in the building that could ignite a fire, the fire chief felt it was a flue fire. We are still waiting to hear what the insurance company's fire inspector thinks, but we did notice he went into the wreckage and pulled out the entire wood stove flue. It's badly cracked.

Folks, we've had wood stoves all the years we've been married (15), and my husband has had them most of his life. This was such a freak thing.

Yes, it hurts to look at the remains of that pole barn. But, oh my friends, it could have been much, much worse.

 

Sep 30, 2016

How Do I Quit My Job & Start a Homestead?

Q: "I want to buy a farm, quit my job, and homestead. I want to keep chickens and bees, and maybe ducks and goats, and possibly alpaca. How do I do this and make some income, too?"

A: I don't like to tell people they can't achieve their dreams. (Although hearing "You can't" can be a fantastic motivator!) So let me say this instead: The dream you have is not easy to achieve. Oh, how many of us would love to live the farm life and make enough money to cover the cost of feed, medical care, and other things we can't provide for ourselves! But in the modern world, it's really, really difficult.

First, to achieve this dream, you'd need to buy land suitable for homesteading that wasn't very costly. You'd have to pay cash, too. (No debt from now on, because it will crush your homesteading dream! Homesteading and debt don't mix. At. All.) Because the land is relatively cheap, it will probably be way out in the boonies and might be difficult to get to. It will probably not have a livable home on it; you'll have to build that inexpensively, with cash, and probably little by little. Or you could choose to live in a mobile home of some sort. The land may not have a septic system or well, either, let alone animal shelters, fencing, etc. You will have to slowly create those things yourself. That means hanging on to your job and homesteading in your spare time. It will be a lot of work, and you'll have to keep your eye on the prize or you will burn out.



Slowly, you can add animals and a garden and an orchard. All if this will require money to establish, so again, you gotta keep your job for now. Eventually, you can try to become self-employed. That might mean running a CSA or farmer's market stand, or selling the offspring of your animals, or selling meat you raise - or, probably, all of the above. But looking at my homesteading friends, most often their money comes from part time jobs unrelated to homesteading.

Another way your dream could work is if you're married and your spouse works full time while you stay home and homestead. Perhaps the majority of homesteads are run this way, and it's what my husband and I do (though I do earn a little extra money on the side, through my writing). Money will be tight, especially as you establish your homestead. Trust me, animals, feed, fencing, outbuildings, buying fruit trees, starting a garden...it all costs more than you think it will!

Either way, you'll likely have to change your lifestyle. Most homesteaders live frugal lives. They use free wood heat (they cut and stack the firewood themselves), and no air conditioning. They don't buy much at the grocery store - just basics they can't grow or raise (like coffee!). Most homesteaders don't go on vacation, except maybe a day trip now and then. Their clothes are few and not fancy. They don't buy lattes and shop for entertainment. They don't go to the movies and their restaurant outings are few. Their homesteads always "need work" and there are usually animals they'd love to add to their farm, but can't quite afford yet.

This is the reality of homesteading for the vast majority of people. But it's a life with abundant rewards, too. If it's the life for you, you'll soon stop longing for your typical American lifestyle because you'll find homesteading is so much more fulfilling.

Homesteading is a dream that isn't instantly achieved. (Maybe that's part of what makes it so rewarding.) And if it's your dream, start working toward it today, right where you are. Even if you live in the city. Build  homesteading skills as you go, and once you do buy your dream property, you'll be that much ahead.

Best wishes and good luck!

Related Posts:

* Homesteading Skills to Learn NOW - before you head to the farm
* How to Save Up for Your Very Own Homestead
* Prioritizing Your Homestead: Where to Start & Where to Go From There

Title image courtesy of  Per.

Aug 12, 2016

Waste Not...

It's been an interesting week on the homestead. We began by celebrating the return of water, but shortly after sighed because the washing machine began spurting water all over the floor. Then the propane oven leaked gas (my fault for accidentally - again! - turning on one of the knobs when reaching for a high shelf above the stove). Then the baskets of apples I'd picked began rotting.

We first noticed it after an evening out. We walked into the house and BAM! rotten apple smell. I sorted through the apples right then and there and was happy to only have a handful for the compost bin. But the next day, I imposed upon my mom-in-law (for her stove, her jars, her kitchen) to make applesauce. Today, I'm making apple pie filling for the freezer. Where I will put that apple pie filling, I don't know, because my freezer is full of yellow plums. Even after making jars and jars and jars of (delicious) plum jam, plus canned plums, plum pie filling, and dehydrated plums.



In the meantime, the prunes (and maybe more apples) need harvesting, the dehydrator never stops, and the wild berries are begging to be picked.

It's a little overwhelming, all this abundance. This morning, though, my husband comforted me: "Honey, there's no way you can preserve every piece of fruit on this homestead."

Yes, I knew that in my head, but my heart felt relieved to hear it spoken aloud. Because it's true; when you have nine apple trees and eleven plum trees and no animals (yet!) to help you consume them, there's going to be some "waste," no matter how much you give away or preserve.

I put "waste" in quotes for a reason, though. Because fruit that falls to the ground or stays on the trees or vines feeds the wild critters. Once we have our homestead animals, they will enjoy fruit that's less than perfect, too. And there's always the compost bin, where "waste" turns into a valuable resource for building up the soil.

So, I take another deep breathe (usually taking in the amazing smell of apples and cinnamon combining) and thank God for this gorgeous place and the longish journey, full of miracles, it took to get here.



* Title image courtesy of Valdemar Fishmen.

Aug 9, 2016

Ditch Fillers

We aren't ditch diggers. We are ditch fillers.

It saved us thousands of dollars to connect the new and old wells ourselves. And by "ourselves" I mean my husband and dad-in-law. They rented a trencher and installed the pipe last weekend. But then my hubby started fretting that it might rain before he could fill the trenches back up. Right now, the soil from the trenches is light and sandy. But after a rain, it would be compacted and the job of filling in the trenches considerably more difficult.

So, I offered to fill the trenches while he was at work.

I've always been willing and able to work hard, but after a couple of hours of filling those trenches, I was ready to quit. And only half the job was done. So today, I enlisted the help of the kids. ("There will be ice cream when we're done!")

They cheerfully helped me fill in the rest of the trench (at least the part my husband was ready to have filled in), and even though we were largely working in the toughest area - where the berry brambles were seriously in our way - they didn't complain.

Something I've learned about kids: Generally, they are eager and willing to help if they feel their job is useful and helps the family as a whole. Picking up toys, on the other hand, well - good luck with that!

As you can imagine, I'm now catching up on laundry and other cleaning chores that were difficult to do with the small amount of rainwater and the tiny amount of well water the old well was producing. And oh, the new well water! It's abundant and crystal clear! I really feel the well running dry was a blessing, because the new well is just plain better.


"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Matthew 6: 31-33