Category Archives: Gardening

Autumn Chores for a Cozy Winter

Ah fall!

It’s my favorite time of year. The colors, the crisp air, bonfires, warm soups and, even the ever present autumn cliche: Pumpkin. Spice. EVERYTHING!

It’s also a busy time on the ol’ farm.

Not only is there a lot that just didn’t get done with the crazy summer schedule, and getting our homeschool legs under us,  but there’s a lot that needs done every year to prepare for a smooth and restful winter.

With frost the past two nights, and a forecast for snow at 3000 ft, winter is definitely knocking on our door!

Here’s a basic list of the things we do to get our 100 year old farm house, and grounds ready for winter.

1. Clean And Mend Chicken Coop.  

We clean our chicken coop every spring and fall, by shoveling out the bedding and droppings into a compost pile where they can “cool” for use in the garden next year.  We replace it with several inches of clean pine shavings.  This is also time to replace light bulbs, cover windows with plastic, make sure water heaters are in good order, and in our case, secure the big blue tarp on the roof.  We’re just so classy.

We planned a new roof for the coop this year, but had some very expensive and unexpected repairs to the actual home, so the chickens get to be the trashiest neighbors on the block for one more winter.

We’re also using this time to enlarge the chicken run, and fix our rookie mistake of fencing the run with chicken wire.  Real fencing, folks.  Free Range chickens can be charming right up until they scratch up your spring plantings and poop on your front porch, and picnic table, playhouse, lawn mower seat. . .you get the idea.  They’re sort of gross.

2. Winterize the Rabbit Hutch

Rabbits are generally much happier with winter than summer, so they don’t need much.  We’ll give them a good deep bedding to burrow in, and make sure we have extra water bottles on hand for when they freeze.  During freezing weather we only fill the bottles half full.  Twice a day we take out a fresh bottle and bring the frozen ones back into the house to thaw.

3. Cover Windows With Plastic

We still have (possibly original, definitely old) single pane windows in our house.  We use clear shrink film on the downstairs windows, and  6 mil “clear” (it’s NOT clear) plastic in the upstairs bedrooms to help reduce heat loss.  It’s not the most elegant solution out there, but it does make a significant difference.

4. Drain and Store Hoses

It’s hard to believe we were still watering the lawn just a little over a week ago!  And the hoses are still strung all over the property.  Time to drain, roll and stash them in the shed.

5. Stock Fire Wood

We have electric heat, unlike a lot of the older homes in our area, so we’re lucky to not be entirely reliant on wood heat.  But is there really anything lovelier on a cold winter evening than snuggling up next to a crackling fire?  I also like to have enough wood on hand to see us through a power outage.  We were without power for five days once, before we lived in a home with wood heat, and we had to find friends to stay with.  I like the thought of being able to stay home and welcome friends next time.

6. Run the Mower Out Of Gas  

We could also use an additive to stabilize the gas, but we generally use the mower to clean up the last round of leaves (if the snow doesn’t get ahead of us), so we’re usually able to time it right to just go ahead and run the gas out.  And speaking of leaves…

7. Rake Rake Rake 

Shade trees are awesome.  They really do improve the quality of life in summer.  To the point that we usually don’t even need to use the AC.  In fact we didn’t ever use one until the crazy hot summer of 2015, and only a few times last summer, largely because we have huge shade trees on the sunny side of our house.  Huge shade trees full of leaves.  Which will fall over the course of six weeks or so, and need to be raked or otherwise removed several times.  We’ll use some of the leaves to mulch garden beds, some for jumping in, and the rest will get mowed into the grass.  Good times.

8. Put the Garden to Bed

The garden.  Let’s just not talk about how that went this year.  Suffice it to say there is a lot of clean up to be done.  Weeds and spent plants need to be pulled and burned, rabbit manure spread, fence mended, and perennials need pruned and mulched.

9. Clean and Store Garden Tools

After the garden is put to bed it’s time to clean and store garden tools.  I’ll admit I suck at this.  I usually run around the yard picking up shovels and rakes after the first dusting of snow, and hastily toss them in the shed.  This year I mean to actually clean, oil, and properly store my yard and garden implements, before I have to find them under the snow.  This is also a good time to stage snow shovels, ice-melt and sleds near the front door.

10.  Snow Gear

While it’s not exactly a “farm” chore, I also like to take this time to pull out all of the winter coats, boots, etc. to see what we need to replace.  Outgrown items can be cleaned up and sold, donated or stored for a younger child.  We did some of each this year.  Can you believe we somehow accumulated three pairs of size 4/5 snow bibs over the years?  I gave away two, and stored one for the toddler to grow into.  We shifted some gear from oldest to middle kid, and know what we need to replace before snow.  If you’re down with used gear, this is a good time to find stuff on craigslist of facebook selling groups.  We just snagged a good pair of boots this morning. It’s also a good time to hit discount stores for the best variety.  We waited a little too long on Costco coats last year, and the girls didn’t get the colors they wanted.  Horrors.

11.  Finally we have to make a dump run.  

We accumulate trash.  It seems like every spring and fall we’ve managed to accumulate a bigger-than-the-weekly-can heap of broken outdoor toys, ragged tarps, and other bulky refuse.  I try to have it hauled off before it’s buried under snow to grow mold all winter.

I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting to list here, but these are the most relevant to our household, and top priority.  Everything else will either wait, or be forgotten and we’ll mitigate in the spring.  Life does go on.

Happy Autumn!

Letting Go

As I started the new year, I had one major goal in mind: Getting Dressed.

I’m only half joking.

For the past year or so I’ve pretty well been living in the same crusty clothes, because I’m not going anywhere, and let’s face it, someone is going to snot on me.    From a purely laundry-logistics point of view it makes perfect sense to not get dressed.

Unfortunately it lends to also not doing other things, like uh, leaving the house, or showering, and let me tell you, things can start to stagnate.  When one hops out of bed and gets dressed right away, she is ready to face whatever the day has to offer.  Sunshine beckoning a walk?  Ready.  Friends heading to the library?  Ready.  Need to run to the grocery?  Ready.  UPS man at the door?   You get the idea.

Getting dressed is a pretty good resolution, so I’m keeping it.

Lately however, I’ve been slowly coming around to something bigger, something that could seriously change the direction of daily life, long term goals, and maybe even this blog.

I tend to hold onto things.  I hold onto tupperware lids, I hold onto old jeans, I hold onto big ideas.  I hold onto physical clutter, mental clutter, emotional clutter, despite the fact that they all bog me down and ultimately make me unproductive.  So this year, in addition to getting dressed, I’m going to work on letting go of things that no longer work for me.

Some examples of things I’ll be working on:

  • de-clutter closets
  • get rid of unused kitchen stuff
  • keep an ongoing Goodwill box by the back door
  • not plant foods in my garden that my family won’t eat
  • use disposable diapers for night and travel
  •  bring the kids home for the upcoming school year
  • butchering and replacing layed-out hens
  • replace/enlarge chicken run
  • evaluate weather I really want to keep blogging
  • not comparing our life/ garden/ ideas to yours
  • quit extracurricular activities we don’t enjoy

I’ll keep you posted!

New To Doing Things The “Old Fashioned” Way?

One of my favorite people recently started taking an interest in a more self-reliant lifestyle and has gotten her toes wet in the world of canning and seed saving, which I can only imagine will be addictive and lead her into even deeper waters.  What’s next? I’d imagine there will be at least a small garden in the works next spring, and perhaps eventually some bartering for fresh eggs or meat.

I’m so excited for her!  Naturally I want to share everything I’ve read, re-read, watched and learned so I sent a few favorite links via facebook.  Then I thought of another and another I ought to send.  Then I realized I’d better not send them at all, or she’d have nothing but links in her news feed, and she’d get annoyed and “hide” me!

That’s why I started blogging in the first place, after all.  I caught myself writing novels for status updates on facebook and realized it wasn’t the best way to share my ideas.

So, Kristin, rather than flood your news feed with a million links, I gathered them here and organized them by topic for you.  I hope it helps!

First up are a couple of magazines I read, which are LOADED with useful information and good ideas.  They both have archives and search boxes where you can access past articles to read online :

Backwoods Home Magazine.  This is the one that got us started down the crunchy/farmish path.  This magazine has it all.  From great recipes, to gardening, to earning a living without punching a time-clock, pretty much anything you want to know can be found in the archives.

Mother Earth News  A bit more commercialized and Hippie-Dippie (how they accomplish that paradox, I’m unsure), but also chock-full of useful ideas for gardening, alternative fuels, and farm life.

Gardening:

Starting a Self Sufficiency Garden, Even In A Small Apartment  Great ideas for small spaces and container gardens and what grows well in them.

Grow Open Pollinated Seeds for Self-Reliant Gardening  How to save seeds and ditch the seed packets.

The $1 Garden  I’d say one dollar is pushing it, but this article has some good advice for gardening without spending a lot.  FYI now is a good time to get seeds for cheap if your stores still have them.  Many will still be viable next year if you put the pouches in the freezer until spring.  I almost always have some seeds left over and use them the next year.

Plant Once, Harvest For Years  This one is all about planting things that produce year after year with minimal tending.  I really need to get around to developing an asparagus patch.

Amending Garden Soil in Early Spring  This is something I’ll be putting more time into this fall and spring.   Good thing we have plenty of chicken and rabbit poop!

Back To Eden  A film about how deep mulch gardening helps save on water.  Especially useful if you don’t happen to have irrigation.

Saving Seeds  The ins and outs of which seeds are worth saving.

Canning/Preservation:

National Center For Home Food Preservation  This PDF will be a good starting point for any beginning canner.  I’d recommend either printing it, or getting a copy of a good up-to-date home canning guide such as the Ball Blue Book.

Canning 101  A great read by one of my heros, Jackie Clay-Atkinson.  Actually we have several of her books and I read anything of hers that I can get my hands on.  This woman can do anything.

Make Your Own Dried Fruit And Vegetables  Not only practical but, much healthier than store bought snack foods.

The Survival Mom Radio Network  Here you’ll find information on such topics as gardening, food preservation, frugal living, health and wellness, and disaster preparedness.  Best of all you can listen while you work, so you’re not stuck in front of the computer!

And for tons of great ideas on everything from trimming the grocery budget to gardening to cleaning tips, mostly from other moms, be sure to check out the blog hops I’ve linked at the end of this post.

One small word of advice:  Don’t get so caught up reading about all the cool things you can do that you never actually have time to do them.  Actually, it’s probably good that gardening season is nearly over for most of us.  You can spend the winter making a list of things to try when spring rolls around!

Good luck, and have fun!

 

This post may be shared at The Homestead Barn Hop, The Homemaking Link-up, What You Wish Wednesday, The Home Acre Hop, and Simple Life Sunday.  Links go live throughout the week.

A Morning on The Farm

Dawn breaks on our view

Dawn breaks on our view

The girls are ready to be let out.

The girls are ready to be let out.

 

The garden isn't looking like much,  but take a closer look. . .

The garden isn’t looking like much, but take a closer look. . .

A row of onions has overwintered and is stretching arms high to meet the rising sun.

A row of onions has overwintered and is stretching arms high to meet the rising sun.

Spinach and lettuce have sprouted.

Spinach and lettuce have sprouted.

And there will be peas for shelling.

And there will be peas for shelling.

What a blessed life we live!

 

 

 

You Don’t Have To Be An Expert

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Looking back over our journey there is one factor that has held us back most.

I don’t know. . .

I don’t know how.

I don’t know if it will work.

I don’t know if we’ll like it.

Well, I’m here to tell you.

If you don’t know how, do a quick internet search, ask a neighbor or go to the library.  Once you’ve done that, if you’re still unsure, just go ahead and poke your toe into the water.  I won’t say dive in with your eyes closed.  Proceeding slowly, however, there is much about farming, (and just about everything else) that can be learned along the way.  So your chickens get a little too much scratch at first.  You’ll soon notice egg production “lay off” and make an adjustment.  So your garden doesn’t produce well, make a note and try something different next year.  You’ll learn.

If you don’t know if it will work, again, internet, library, neighbor.  And again, poke that toe into the water.  Move slowly, try not to spend too much, and make adjustments as you go.

If you don’t know if you’ll like it, there’s one sure way to find out.  Remember the first time Mom put broccoli on your plate?  Well, maybe not.

But she probably said, “How can you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?”

Find a neighbor with goats and ask if you can taste the milk.  Chicken-sit for a weekend. Grow a few tomatoes in a pots.  Again, moving slowly and trying not to spend too much, you’ll get a good idea if this is the path for you.

Bottom line is that you need not be an expert to get a start.  Even the “experts” had to start somewhere.  If you find you don’t like keeping chickens, gardening, baking your own bread, or milking a goat, put an ad on craigslist and another upstart can benefit from your experience, while you make back some of your investment.  And remember, the modern world will probably be waiting for you with open arms.

There is very little in life that can’t be undone.  So dispense with the “I don’t knows” and go get your boots on!

 

 

 

My Favorite Tips For Dealing With The Heat

Last week we had a few days in the mid-upper sixties and today our thermometer topped out at 102 degrees.  It’s located on the shady side of our house.  We don’t have any air conditioning.

Even so, it wasn’t until late afternoon that the house started to feel a little too warm for comfort.  We’ve lived here for nearly four years without an air conditioner and we’re fine with it for all but the hottest week or two of the year.  How do we do it?

  • Keep the doors closed.  I know it’s counter intuitive but keeping doors and windows closed helps a ton.  
  • Open upstairs windows and, if possible, arrange fans to blow air in one end of the house and out the other.  This helps by keeping the hot air that rises from downstairs moving out of the house.  Many newer homes have fans built into the attic vents, but ours is nearly one hundred years old, so we accomplish this by opening all the bedroom doors and placing a fan with air going in our bedroom window and out the kid’s room. ( At night we turn the fans so that they blow cool air into all the rooms.)
  • Close shades on the sunny side of the house.
  • Use a ceiling fan to help draw warm air up and out those upstairs windows/attic vents.
  • Keep plenty of ice on hand for cold drinks.
  • Never underestimate the value of a garden hose to the back of the neck.
  • Try to get outdoor chores done before the heat really turns up.  When it’s going to be in the 100’s I try to have all the outside chores done by 10 am.  Then I check on animals once or twice during the day to make sure they have plenty of water and aren’t over heating.
  • We’re lucky in that the people who built our home had some good foresight.  They planted shade trees on the southern side of our house.  In the summer they give us shade, and in the winter they lose their leaves and let the sun shine in the windows.  It’s something to keep in mind if you’re planning a new landscape scheme.
  • When all else fails it’s time to hit the river, lake, kiddie pool, or cold shower.  Use what you’ve got!

Don’t forget the pets and livestock when it’s hot!

  • Make sure everyone has plenty of water and shade.
  • Repurpose 2-liter soda bottles by filling them with water and freezing them to place in rabbit hutches, chicken coops, or dog houses during the day.
  • Give your pets their own pool.  Our dog has a small kiddie pool in her kennel for when we’re at work.
  • Use misters to keep especially heat-sensitive animals like rabbits cool.
  • Gardens, trees and lawns need extra water when it’s this hot, but to avoid sunburning them, avoid watering while the sun is beating down.  Set a timer to give a good soaking in the early morning or just after sunset.

What’s your favorite way to foil Summer’s heat?

Shared at The Homestead Barn Hop.

A Day In My Pajamas

I stayed in bed until 9 AM, and spent the entire day in my jammies today.  BUT, I accomplished an awful lot. 

First I made a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  Then I sat around awhile, drinking hot tea and slowly absorbing the caffeine. 

Once the caffeine kicked in I started to get motivated.  So I canned up a few pints of last year’s venison to free up some freezer space, and to have a quick and easy dinner option in the pantry.  I’m notorious for forgetting to pull something out of the freezer. 

Since I had to stay in the kitchen and babysit the pressure canner while it processed for seventy-five long, boring minutes I made lunch, and got the popcorn we grew last summer off the cobs.  The corn in the smaller jar is the stuff we dried with the husks on the cobs, and the larger jar we dried with the husks off.  I wanted to see if one way would pop better than the other.  I also held a few cobs aside to use for seed in next spring’s garden. 

Once all that was done and cleaned up I remembered I needed to make a batch of laundry detergent.  It doesn’t take long to mix up a batch so I was able to get a load of wash going right after I went out to feed and water animals and gather eggs, er, egg.  It’s that time of year.  At least they haven’t given up laying altogether. 

Most of my winter days aren’t quite this productive, but I was inspired by another mom-blogger who not only homeschools and runs a daycare out of her home, but finds time to blog about it nearly every day.  Kudos to you, Rose

I don’t know that I could do something cool enough to write about every day, but I do know that I should at least fight the urge to hibernate and do something

Next on the list is cooking dinner, and mixing up a batch of artisan bread to be baked in the morning. 

What does your typical winter’s day look like?

Linked up with The Homestead Barn Hop.

Sweet Pickled Jalapenos

We’re big fans of Mexican food around here.  While I don’t usually go for too much spice myself, I try to keep a can or two of pickled Jalapenos around so my husband can spice up whatever “bland Americanized Mexican” food I try to feed him.  That’s a direct quote. 

In the past I’ve just bought them at the store and kept a few cans on hand.  But when our jalapeno plant made a heroic push to put on a big crop right near the end of the garden season, I figured I’d give pickled Jalapenos a try.   Now, I can’t speak from experience since I don’t like the spicy stuff, but my husband and his buddies love them.  

I used the small 4oz jelly jars because it’s closest to the size we use at one meal.  I don’t like to have opened jars of stuff in the refrigerator because we inevitably “lose” it in there and it ends up going to waste. 

If you have a friend or relative who is a spice lover, these make nice gifts too.  In fact we just gave out a bunch for Christmas. 

You will need

  • 10 or so medium-sized Jalapeno peppers, sliced, with or without seeds
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T pickling spice
  • 2 C distilled white vinegar, 5% acidity
  • 2/3 C sugar

This is not a tested recipe from a book.  I’ve simply borrowed the brine recipe and processing time from my favorite cucumber pickle recipe. I was a little paranoid about trying it at first, because as home canners we are always warned about the dangers of untested recipes.  However, I did a lot of looking around and it seems you truly can pickle anything, and for many recipes canning is optional.  In fact a manual put out by the OSU extension office gives advice for how to use an untested recipe on page 7.  I choose to can mine because I’m a paranoid mom-type. 

Begin by gathering and setting up your canning supplies.  Sterilize your jars by scalding them and then hold them hot until you are ready to fill them.  This recipe will yield around nine of the four-ounce jars.  Simmer your lids.  Fill your canner and start it heating.  The prep on these only takes a few minutes, so you’ll want your canner nearly ready to boil. 

Add your vinegar sugar and pickling spice to a large sauce pan and start heating.  While it heats you can chop your vegetables and mix them all together.  When your brine boils, add the vegetables and let them boil for just a minute or so.  

Spoon the vegetables into your hot sterilized jars and cover with boiling brine, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Run a chopstick (or any clean utensil that won’t scratch the glass) around inside the jars to release any air bubbles. 

Wipe the rims of the jars and add previously simmered lids.  Screw on the ring to fingertip tight. 

Place the jars in your canner, and process for 10 minutes at a full rolling boil.  Check your canning manual for the correct processing time depending on your elevation and the size of jars you choose.

At the end of the processing time, remove the jars from the canner, and put them in a draft-free place to cool. 

After they’ve completely cooled you can check the seal by pressing down the middle of the lid.  If it doesn’t flex it’s sealed.  If it flexes, either put the jar in the fridge to eat soon, or reprocess it with a new lid. 

These can also be made refrigerator style, in which case you don’t need to water bath them, just put them into the fridge and wait about a week to start eating them.

I’ve linked this recipe up at No Ordinary Blog Hop, stop by for more fun ideas!

Happy Pickling!

 

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The Countdown Is ON…

Ah! It’s getting to that glorious time of year when I start counting down the days to the end of my work season.  I’m so looking forward to some much needed time at home with my children and catching up on some homekeeping projects.  I sometimes wonder how it must be to play a never ending game of catch up if one’s job doesn’t have a slow or off season.  I feel like I spend the off season getting my home in order, catching up on the things that get pushed aside during the busy time, and bonding with my babies.  How do moms who don’t get an off season cope?  Maybe some of you can enlighten me. 

The list of things I’d like to accomplish this fall and winter is ever growing, but here is what is on it for now:

  1. First things first.  Closet and clutter patrol.
  2. Work on getting my cottage food license so I can participate in our local farmers market by selling some of my dry mixes.
  3. Turn the play room into a guest/man room. 
  4. Can, can, can some more meat, and meals in a jar.
  5. Help my younger daughter begin to read.
  6. Take up a winter sport as a family.  Maybe cross country skiing or ice skating?
  7. Have a snow ball fight. 
  8. Sell some of the above mentioned clutter.
  9. Volunteer at school.
  10. Muck out the mud room.  (If my earlier clutter patrol doesn’t make it there)
  11. Re-decorate the master bedroom (Sigh, after the clutter patrol)
  12. Put the garden to bed by pulling weeds, mulching, and fertilizing with some all natural rabbit poo.

I had another in mind just as I sat down to edit this post, but it’s been shuffled to the back of my mind again.  Dang it!  It’ll come to me. I’m sure that I will be adding more and nixing some in favor of others, but isn’t that life?

What are your goals this winter?  What kind of winter do you have where you live?

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Photos From the Farm

 

We’ve been busy on the farm for the past couple weeks.  Pair that with returning to the 40 hour work week, and taking care of kiddos ( I know, welcome to the real world, boo-hoo, poor me) and I just haven’t had much mental energy left over for blogging.  But I have had the camera by my side so I’ll share some of what we’ve been up to.  I hope you’ll forgive my lack of photography skills.

Easter was great.  I’ve never hosted before because the spring work schedule never allowed.  But this year I knew I wouldn’t have to work Easter weekend so we were able to invite some friends and family for a delicious meal, egg-hunt and chit-chat around the fire pit. 
 

I’ve been trying to think of a good Bible verse or Dr. Seuss quote for over my garden gate, but my husband came up with this, and I think it’s perfect.   

We are good at a few things around here, but building isn’t exactly one of them.  Nevertheless, we have some very cozy bunnies, and the placement of the hutch in the garden will make it simple to spread all that wonderful rabbit poop out where it can do some good.  I’ll have to do a little research, but I’m thinking that I’ll rake the poop out into the garden each fall when we’re putting the garden to bed for the year. It’s nice to have these guys out of small cages on the shed floor. 

Wall-O-Water season extenders are pre-warming the soil in the tomato bed, where lettuce will grow in the shade of tomato plants.  I’m hoping this will slow the bolting of the lettuce when the weather gets hot.  The Wall-O-Waters went in last weekend and I aim to transplant my best looking tomatos this weekend.  Also sugar snap peas are sprouting under soda bottle greenhouses.  Peas don’t really need the protection but I was trying to get them extra warm so they’d sprout sooner.  I think it worked since many of them are starting to poke little green heads out of the soil, while their neighbors planted on the same day, but without the soda bottles aren’t up yet.

Shelling peas are waiting to sprout below the sticks against the fence.  I used to just let them climb the fence, but this year we have planted blueberries on the other side of the fence.  Also, the chickens, who mostly free-range now, would help themselves if the peas were to poke out of the fence.  I don’t have a solid plan for keeping chickens out of the blueberries when the time comes.  Pardon the ugly color of the house.  It’s one of those things we just haven’t gotten around to changing from the prior owners taste.

Nate finished the new strawberry bed and a mixture of June-bearing and Everbearing strawberries are happily growing in it.  We’ve used a scrap length of fence to keep our dig-happy puppy out of the beds until the strawberries are established and hide the oh-too tempting soil.  Last year’s strawberries spent the winter in the greenhouse and have already begun to blossom.  I can nearly taste them now. 

What is new on your homestead? 

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