Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Issue of Natural Garden Practices

      In the garden, pests happen and fertilization needs to happen. Walk through any garden center and you will be bombarded with an overwhelming display of products claiming to fix this problem and improve that growth. Images of giant tomatoes and vibrant flowers cover brightly colored bottles and boxes all in the attempt to catch our eyes and take our money. Yuk. I shake my head and pass on by. This homestead is no place for the chemical crazy offered in those isles. While I do not have a perfect garden, nor do I have all the answers, let's take a look at our line up anyway.

Getting it growing.
1. Amend it with animals.
    The best way to work a garden plot is to put animals on it. Once we are off season in a garden area, the hens and herds are given a chance to do some much needed maintenance. Goats clean what the donkey doesn't; chickens scratch and work the soil eating pests, eggs, and weed seeds- everything adds fertilizer as it goes.
2. Amend with muck.
    I keep a constant rotation of barn gleanings (poo/shavings/hay) going in any area of garden not currently producing. Once spent crops come out of the ground, muck is generously mounded on/worked in and left to decompose in place.
3. Compost tea.
    Oh the wonders of compost tea! So simple and so often overlooked, compost tea is simply well decomposed compost steeped in water and sprayed on garden foliage and watered into the roots. Our local master gardeners make a batch every week adding in kelp and fish emulsion for a little extra boost.
4. Let it rest.
    Every garden needs a time out. My large garden areas where large crops like corn and beans grow are sown with cover crops after grazing and amending. Smaller garden areas and raised beds are covered and solarized with dark black plastic or fabric to kill out anything left behind.
   You can grow plants without fertilization, but they will never produce to their potential with out some additional help.

As for the pest.
1. Pick it.
    A tedious task, but very effective- picking caterpillars, stink bugs, and tomato horn worms is often the way to go. Smaller pests such as aphids are given a blast with the hose to 'pick' them.
2. DE for me.
    I love DE for so many homestead issues, especially the garden. A good dusting under the plants and a light dusting on the foliage takes care of most soft bodied pests. If this doesn't cut it, BT works wonders for caterpillar problems.
3. Soap it.
    Mixing 1/4 cup grated laundry soap (such as Fels-Naptha) or a home made/natural bar of soap with 1 gallon warm water will help. This is often sprayed on the underside of leaves to get little pests.
4. Sick it.
    Ducks and guineas roam my garden freely and love picking nasty pests off the plants!
5. Neem oil.
    This is my last resort because it can be rather harsh and it smells a bit strong in my opinion, but when you have to you have to.
   Let me say, addressing the pest issue is always a bit of a struggle because we often destroy the good with the bad. Over the past several years I have been working to learn and identify garden predatory pests in order to see how nature takes it's course then stepping in only when I have to.

   Summing it all up, my garden style is 'less to more'. Knowing where we draw the line in our convictions about natural/organic/conventional, we can start our approach with less intervention and move toward more as the need arises.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Natural, Organic Or What?

     Garden talk often leads to the daunting and often misunderstood question, "Are you organic?" My hesitation to answer that question is prompted by the fact 'organic' is often misused and grossly devalued. "Are you a natural gardener?" What on earth does that mean? After all, gardens are not 'natural' they are cultivated by man. "So what are you?" I am a bit of both.
  
      When  we sat down to plan our gardens thoughts of nasty pests and ravishing disease never crossed our minds. All too quickly we were faced with caterpillars, aphids and the all aggravating stink bug. It was time then and there to determine how far we would go in combating pests without defeating the purpose of our homestead.
        A few considerations:
        *Small children. With little ones active in working and consuming the gardens, gave us concern over some methods of pest control, herbicides, and fertilizers.
        *Home well. Having the source of our water right here on the property leads us to further question conventional resources and their effect on water supply.
        *Stocks and flocks. Our animals graze the gleanings throughout the garden season. After reading the labels of most garden products we realized how many are dangerous to them.
      An article from "Organic Gardening" explains my definition of natural/organic gardening, "An organic gardener strives to work in harmony with natural systems and to minimize and continually replenish any resources the garden consumes." Excellent. When I consider the effects of most conventional methods for gardens, they don't fit the model my definition allows. Realizing that conviction and my desire to be a good steward of what God has entrusted me with, it was time to determine what we would do.
      Now that we have defined our garden type or style, it's time to look at what we do to handle the pests, problems, and nuisances plaguing the homestead garden. Join me tomorrow as we peek into the tool shed for a look at methods, products and plans for our natural organic garden.          

 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gardening to Feed a Family



     I love planning a garden; seeds scattered all over the table, pencil and paper in hand, imagination running wild. When you sit down to plan a garden, anything seems possible. The joy of dreaming up a spring garden is a wonderful thing, but.. a little thought is required if we actually plan to have enough to feed the family.
     First and foremost I considered what was already making regular appearances on the family table. We had green beans, carrots, greens, tomatoes, potatoes and onions daily. Then I took into consideration what we needed to have on our table. Every once in a while there needs to be variety like Bok Choy or Mesclun greens, fingerling potatoes or sweet potatoes.
     Next on the considerations list is preservation, after all, the harvest arrives but the food isn't necessarily eaten all at once. Knowing that dehydrating, freezing and canning are all things I have and will do with our harvest, I can plan for extra produce to put up for the off season. With a list in hand, it was time to search out the tools needed to plant enough.
      There are two charts I absolutely love and use every garden season. One shows us how much of each plant to plant per person in the family. Now the downside is, every family is different- some of us have tots and some have teens. Some families eat fresh in season and some put away for later. When we look at a chart like this, we need to bear in mind the generalness of it and adjust it as we gain experience.
        Here is one from "Garden Know-How":

Vegetable Garden Size For A Family Per Person

VegetableAmount Per Person
Asparagus5-10 plants
Beans10-15 plants
Beets10-25 plants
Bok Choy1-3 plants
Broccoli3-5 plants
Brussels Sprouts2-5 plants
Cabbage3-5 plants
Carrots10-25 plants
Cauliflower2-5 plants
Celery2-8 plants
Corn10-20 plants
Cucumber1 – 2 plants
Eggplant1-3 plants
Kale2-7 plants
Kohlrabi3-5 plants
Leafy Greens2-7 plants
Leeks5-15 plants
Lettuce, Head2-5 plants
Lettuce, Leaf5-8 feet
Melon1-3 plants
Onion10-25 plants
Peas15-20 plants
Peppers, Bell3-5 plants
Peppers, Chili1-3 plants
Potato5-10 plants
Radishes10-25 plants
Squash, Hard1-2 plants
Squash, Summer1-3 plants
Tomatoes1-4 plants
Zucchini1-3 plants

     The other chart I rely on to plan my planting comes from dear Granny Miller, a blogger no longer blogging, but who graciously left her resources on line for us to glean from. Her chart gives us a planting plan for a family of four.

http://www.granny-miller.com/a-garden-planner-for-home-food-preservation/

     Already this month, my mind has been busy sketching and scheming since some of my garden seeds need to get going next month. Though my family has changed as children grow up, we still plant a full family garden with the intent not only to have plenty but to be able to share with others.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting Real with Homestead Gardening

     The very first thing we got up and running on our homestead was a garden. Early on, it was a challenge to reclaim the garden plot as weeds and bugs had taken over the fertile soils. We tilled and pulled, weeded and burned row upon row trying for success; it was a task! Before the soil is turned, there has to be a plan. Let's look at a few tried and true always on the list garden crops.

1.Greens.
   If nothing else, grow greens. Rich in nutrients, antioxidants and minerals this crop is essential to good health and nutrition. I plot plenty of space and plant in succession to keep them going. Knowing my area's climate, our green varieties vary in season to beat the heat. Leaf and head lettuce, chard, kale, cabbages and collards are on the list for every garden planted.
 

 2.Beans.
   Easily grown, beans are a productive crop even when only a few plants are sown. We have tested both bush and vining varieties with success with both. I will say, the only beans we didn't have much luck with was wax beans; they just don't do well in my area. Green, rattlesnake, scarlette and turtle beans are regular guests in our homestead garden.

3.Tomatoes.
   While I find tomatoes a challenge, their versatility and vigor are a complement to so many dishes. My family isn't partial to the yellow varieties, but give them a beefsteak or cherry tomato and they are good to go. Even when we only had a little space, tomatoes had a spot.

4.Herbs.
   Fragrant, medicinal and full of nutrients- herbs are an area I constantly strive to learn more about. Early on we stuck to the basics, basil, rosemary, parsley, sage and thyme, but these days we grow every herb we can get our hands on! Once they reach a hearty size, we start harvesting and drying them in preparation for the intense summers that often destroy the tender plants.

   This list is quite simple and rather small it seems, but our early gardens were just that- simple and small. Little successes urged us on to bigger beds and expanded rows. We started small, but didn't stay that way long! Tomorrow, we take a look at the challenge of planning the garden to feed a family.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homesteading 'Under the Weather"

     A homestead is a busy place; activity flourishes as crops and flocks thrive. Unfortunately, there are times we just want to snuggle into our nests for some rest and TLC. It seems this week I am homesteading under the weather as sinus pressure and a knee injury slow my daily activity. No matter the issue, homesteading stops for no one. Here are some of our plans of action for handling the workload when one of us is less than par.
     *Band together.
     With a house full of children, homestead chores were covered by those where well. Sometimes it took quite a bit of delegation to get it all done, but when we pulled together it ran quite well.
     *One thing at a time.
     Once children started moving away, there were less of us to pitch in. Sometimes the chores fell to only one person as the other was resting and recovering. The only way to get it done was one thing at a time.
     *Trudge through.
     These days, my husband and I trudge through whatever the situation. This week, we are definitely pulling along as we sniffle and drag our way through the stalls and down the halls.

      I think it's time for another cup of hot tea and maybe some elderberry as I snuggle on the couch and rest away until the 'weather' improves.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Pardon the Interruption



     Please excuse the interruption as we hop over to the sewing room for a long awaited post. After several months struggling to get this little ditty quilted- it is finally done! Today we slip over and look at calculating for the bias in preparation to bind the quilt. Join me:
http://simplyhandquilting.blogspot.com/2013/12/calculating-bias.html

     On another note: our Etsy shop is temporarily 'closed' while we revamp our inventory and consider the direction we would like to take for 2014. Thank you.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Nourishing the Homestead

    This week our homestead braced itself to face freezing temperatures and plenty of nasty drizzle. A roaring fire, a hot cup of coffee, and a simmering pot on the stove are the only ways to warm work weary bodies. One wonderfully frugal and amazingly nourishing way to feed the homestead family is a steamy bowl of bone broth soup. Made from chicken or beef bones, the broth is rich in nutrients and minerals- the addition of herbs and greens add healthful antioxidants and flavor.   I can't stress enough the blessing of freezing/canning your own stock; you just can't buy it! Personally, I cook for stock 24 hours..12 with meat/12 with bones and juices; this way all the nourishing goodness is pulled into the broth. We use our bones more than once, adding in fresh veggies and water letting it simmer another 24 hours. Once drained, I freeze broth for future use (freezing some of the meat for emergency meals).
    As far as vegetables, we use what's on hand; soup works with garden availability. Sometimes it has tons of veggies; sometimes only a few. Herbs are generally fresh if available, but I do dry herbs for winter, and use them when I don't want to slosh through the mud to get some.


NOURISHING SOUP

Broth:
1 whole bird, skinned and washed or 1 roast, bone in
8 cups water (or enough to cover)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 onion
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 chilies (fresh or dried)
1" nub ginger
celery/carrots
Place all ingredients in a stock pot (or crock pot) and cover. Simmer 12 hours- low and slow. Remove the bird/roast- take the meat off the bones and refrigerate until needed. Place the bones back in the stock pot and simmer 12 more hours..skimming if needed.
The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it is. 
After 24 hours, strain through a fine mesh sieve (or cheese cloth), discarding bones/veggies. 
Either freeze the stock in quart containers or place it in a large pot and make soup.
NOTE: We are blessed with available beef bones straight from a butcher. When using only bones, I roast them in the oven 400 degrees for 45 minutes. This gives a nice smoky flavor and gets the marrow working before they simmer. You don't have to roast first, but I like the flavor it brings.
Soup:
Broth from above (fresh or thawed)
4 onions, coarsely chopped
8 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 celery stocks, coarsely chopped
2-4 zucchinis, thick sliced
1 small head broccoli, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 inch of ginger, grated
2-4 tablespoons sea salt
2-4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
small bunch basil, rosemary, sage and oregano
a large bunch of thyme
meat from earlier cooking
fresh parsley (to top at serving)

In a stock pot, simmer all ingredients (except the meat and parsley) until veggies are fork tender. Stir in meat just to warm..adding parsley at serving time. 
This soup freezes well in serving portions or quarts.
   We have been eating this soup for several years now; it's a perfect cool weather meal flexible for many variations. These nourishing soups are also perfect when recovering from illness, detoxing after heavy meals (or seasonally), and after a nasty migraine. My guys like their soup with a mess of crushed crackers or a hot flaky biscuit!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Homesteading with Baby

     One of the greatest joys in life is the blessing of a baby. No part of my homestead journey will ever be as fulfilling or precious as raising my children. The desire of my heart was to raise healthy, hearty children who love their Lord and understand the workings of His world. Here on the homestead, we strived to fulfill these goals with good stewardship and careful planning.
     Nourishing
     The first need of an infant is nourishment. From birth on, little ones demand for nourishment grows and changes as rapidly as they do. I am a strong supporter for nursing, using our bodies as God intended. On demand but someone routine, we seemed to fall into a natural rhythm. When that rhythm seemed unsatisfying, basic cereals were added followed by soft fruits and veggies.
      At first, I purchased baby cereal until a wise woman pointed out the reality- it was the same thing as adult, just finer. From then on, cream of rice and oatmeal were purchased, run through the blender until fine, and made for the babies the same way baby cereal would have been mixed. Fruits and veggies were steamed and mashed- they ate what we ate but before any seasoning was added. Finger foods quickly arrived on table as our babies always joined the family on my lap, in their seat, or in a high chair.
     Diapering
     The second basic need of an infant is the diaper. Cloth diapers were our family's path of sustainable and frugal babying. Soiled diapers were kept in a small trash can with a lid, washed every day, and lined dried. I used hand made laundry soap with extra borax to wash my diapers, adding vinegar to the rinse cycle. Diapers were run through the was cycle twice. Baby wipes were hand made; some cloth, some disposable.
     Disposables were a roll of paper towel cut in half and placed in a round plastic container with a lid. Non disposables were old cloth diapers cut in rectangles and placed in a plastic container with a lid. I mixed 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons baby soap, 1 tablespoon baby oil and poured it over my wipes. If you pulled the cardboard center out of the paper towels, the towels came out just like commercial wipes. Lavender essential oil is a great addition to these natural cleaning wipes.
     Dressing
     Many of our little one's clothing were hand made by my mother; a one of a kind dress maker. Simple onesies, sleepers, and play clothes were either hand me downs shared with friends or second hand purchases.
     Chores
     I believe in having all hand on deck, involving everyone in the work and in the play. Babies and toddlers joined me in all my homestead chores, always inviting conversation and participation as they were able. For little ones, work is play and togetherness is something they crave; chores offered both. Working together to get the jobs done offered us time to sit down and play together- thus teaching them work before play and that we can get it done and then have fun.
     Choices
     Our families' choices often brought raised eyebrows and shaken heads from friends and family. Not many other people want to change a cloth diaper or mash the carrots before the baby eats. Knowing this, we rarely left our children with sitters or even in church nurseries and looking back, I am sure my family is stronger and better for it. Homesteading is a choice that requires sacrifice and service. When it came to our family, we faced the choices understanding the sacrifices and accepting the service it required.     

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Homestead Pantry

      Visions of a homestead pantry may bring to mind the image of colorful canning jars neatly arranged on simple wooden shelves. While it's true, a large part of my pantry is home canned goods some things just don't come from the farm. Let's take a list at my standard list of on-hand items that not only line my shelves, but stock my fridge as well.
       Pantry Staples
*Flours.
  Dependent upon the budget, flours can be whole wheat or whole wheat berries. I prefer the whole wheat berries due to their nutritional value and, when properly stored, have an excellent shelf life. Either way, flour suitable to the family diet is very important.
*Sugars
  Honey is the primary sweetener in my home, often purchased at our feed store since it is raw and unfiltered. I keep white and brown sugars on hand for baking. Once again, the type of sweetener in stock depends upon the expenses at that time.
*Salt
  Essential for preserving and preparing food, I keep a large box of salt at all times.
*Leavenings
  If any baking is to be done there has to be leavening. Yeast, baking soda, and baking powder are key to a flaky biscuit or a tender cake.
*Oils/fats.
  Olive oil is my standard on hand oil, as is a shortening for baking.
*Vinegars
   Apple cider vinegar is my all time all purpose vinegar and definite must have. White vinegar is primarily used for cleaning, but is called upon in the kitchen for some canning recipes. When the budget allows, Balsamic is brought on board for a little change of taste.
*Cocoa powder/chocolate chips
  Home made is best made and chocolate never goes out of style. There has to be chocolate!
*Spices
  Most of my herbs are growing outside my door, but cinnamon and vanilla have to be purchased as does pepper and the occasional odd spice I have decided to try out.
*Tea
  Much of our teas are herbal, however, we keep green tea and Ceylon on hand.

     Perishables
*Protein
  Whole, bone in chicken and a whole, bone in roast are the top two contenders.
*Beverages
  Milk and Orange juice are readily available and on hand staples.
*Butter
  I cook with real butter. You can't beat it!
*Catsup/Mustard
  These two are the primaries, with occasional visits from hot sauce and mayo (often made here at home).
*Carrots, Celery, Ginger Root, Onions & Garlic
  Here is the start of almost every meal.
*Greens.
  Cabbage, kale, lettuce, or whatever is in season are vital and necessary.
*Cheese
  My husband can't live without it- ask anyone.

     Paper Goods
*Toilet paper
*Tissue/Kleenex
*Paper towels
- on a side note, paper towels are a luxury and are not always on hand or in use

    Cleaning Goods
*Vinegar/bleach
*Dish soap
*Wash soda/borax/baking soda
- I dust with a damp cloth and use a lemon oil when the need arises

     In the understanding that I shop as little as possible- bulk shopping monthly and grocer trips as needed (weekly or biweekly)- this list may seem meager to some. No coupons are clipped and I do not go from store to store chasing prices. We have a store we visit regularly tracking their sales and mark down items and stocking up accordingly. There is also a wholesale/bulk store in town that offers us the opportunity for discounts and quantity. I have two pantries that stay well stocked with foods purchased or grown/canned or dried. Just this week we found a great price on apples giving a perfect opportunity for dehydrating and putting away for later.
    At the request of a friend, tomorrow we will take a look at homesteading with baby. Peek at how we managed food, diapering, and wipes while keeping the chores done and meals on the table.
 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Frugal Family Table

     Early in our homestead years we faced the challenge of feeding a growing family on one income. No garden or coops in place, no farm markets nearby, food had to be purchased from local stores meaning careful planning and practical prepping. Those years were made easier by my experience as a frugal farm kid with grandmothers who could stir up any thing and stretch the unimaginable. It was time to hone in those skills and compliment my husband with hard work and careful consideration.
       Let me start this time of sharing by telling you I did not purchase jar baby food and rarely purchased baby cereal. No formula, no baby wipes and no diapers (but that is another post). My children ate real food, period. Butternut squash, carrots, peas and beans are easily steamed and mashed for little ones. Okay, I know that sends some people to the ceiling, but babies do not have to have liquidy foods- mashed foods are fine. Now that I have lost half of you, let's move on.
Our basic meal layout:
1. Breakfast whole foods.
    Very few cereals every grace my pantry- and time is often short in the morning when you have little ones to care for. My favorite go-to breakfasts are: baked oatmeal, whole grain waffles, scrambled eggs. Each of these can be easily complimented juice, milk, or fresh yogurt. To keep cost low, I only purchase orange juice and it is only served at breakfast. Waffles are the most time consuming, so we made a double batch Sunday evenings for a light meal- daddy was home to help with children so mommy could cook. They were frozen and ready to toast for morning meals. Baked oatmeal was baked the evening before and reheated or served cold. Eggs are easily scrambled in a canning jar and refrigerated for cooking in the morning.      
2. Light lunches.
    Simple was my plan for mid day meals. Fresh fruits, sandwiches, or leftovers were easy to pull together with hungry children at my feet. I am a 'all hands work together' mom, so if you could walk you could help- table setting, laying out bread, serving fruit were all areas for little helpers (baby was always nearby and included in the chatter:). If we had fresh yogurt it was often served with a spoonful of honey or jam.
3. Hearty evening meals.
    Roasted meat is always on the menu. Each week a roast and a chicken were made, deboned, and on hand for meals. Tacos, spaghetti, meat with veggies, and soups were rotated and arranged with on hand produce to give us plenty of variety. Biscuits, rolls, breads were made by hand with all hands helping (so much fun!). Bones from our meat were placed in the crock pot making hearty broths for soups/stews. Nothing goes to waste in a homestead kitchen.
4. Treats are treats.
     I am not a food Nazi- I like fun food as much as anyone, but it has its place. Cakes, cookies, ice creams and such are simply an occasional treat shared and enjoyed. When children help make items, such as cookies, they grasp a special appreciation for them realizing the time it takes to achieve such a sweet reward. Lack of convenience breeds appreciation- believe me, I appreciated those cookies after making them with three toddlers!
    Tomorrow we will peek into the pantry for my standard shopping list; staples, perishables, and paper goods are all on the docket!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Homesteading and the Family Table

     As a homesteader, the challenge most faced is putting healthy meals on the table that are nutritious yet frugal. Figuring out how to budget standard expenses, the expanding of our homestead, and keep whole foods on the table- that's a challenge to make any person weary. Fortunately, I grew up in a frugal farm family- quite a blessing when it came to furnishing the family table.
A few of my personal strategies:
1. Whole foods.
    When faced with a tight budget it is easy to cave into the propaganda of cheap convenience foods, but those packages are not nourishing, filling, or truly frugal. My budget was kept with basic whole poultry, roast, and sale items (such as fish). Whole items/bone in meats are not only better price, they offer better nourishment and the opportunity to make bone broths for extending meals. To further complement the meats, whole vegetables fresh or frozen, real fruits in season, and staples such as flour, honey, and yeast. Properly nourishing the body yields stronger immunity and less medical visits.
2. As fresh as possible.
    The garden/home grown produce is ideal but not always practical due to budget, experience, or season. When there isn't a garden, many people feel the need to visit farmer's markets- my budget just didn't cover that and there were very few in my area. Instead, we visited U Pick farms- we quickly discovered they often offer great sales at season end. Another tip we discovered was that frozen produce was often better quality than fresh- after all, those peas were picked and frozen where the fresh ones were transported and sitting. My last note on purchased produce- bulk is better. A bag of apples/oranges and a bundle of bananas is healthful and cost effective.
3. Get growing.
    As soon as the soil was available and ready, we set simple seeds to get us going. Leafy greens, basic roots, and some herbs are a perfect starter plot with quick results and little effort. Those early attempts encouraged us to hit the library and read every thing they had on gardens, herbs, and crop rotation. When planning our growing, we took into consideration what we were already buying and the amount of space we had to work with. Our garden came first, but the chickens soon followed as a source of home grown goodness.
4. Keep learning.
    Homesteading, for us, has been a continual journey through learning. Gardening, animal husbandry, natural health practices and herbalism are all areas in which we continually strive to educate ourselves further. Being willing to learn and grow/experiment and try keep us evolving as individuals, as a family, and as a homestead.

     My children may have grown up without lunch meats and chips, but they grew up with good food and the understanding of where their food came from. Knowing all it entails to get a burger on a plate is grievously missing from our peers' mind set. Very few understand the value of a good egg or what real milk tastes like, the color of fresh cheese, and the utter joy of butter just churned. At whatever stage we start the key is that we are starting. Fanciful meals and too much variety are over rated. Being gathered together at the old wooden table sharing roast chicken, steamed carrots and fresh greens nourishes not only the body, but he soul as well.
     Tomorrow we will dig a little deeper into furnishing the family table with my standard meal layout, weekly prep, and stretch it tips.



Monday, December 2, 2013

Time for a Closer Look

      Homesteading is a fluid, ever changing atmosphere challenging us to push forward and press on. Over the next several days I invite you to join me as we take a closer look at the elements and skills found here on our homestead. Let's meet for recipes, animal husbandry, growing success and failure. We don't have all the answers, and we don't do every thing right. What we have is experience we are willing to share with you. Let's take a closer look and see what things we find as we travel the homestead.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Return to Routine

      After the holidays one  of the toughest things to do is return to the homestead routine. I never considered myself a 'routine oriented' individual, but it does seem more efficient and productive to keep things flowing in a timely and orderly manner. (I will admit, days of reading, fishing, hunting, and family gathering were sure nice!)
     One of the first and foremost routines to get back on track is the feed/milk schedule. Creatures take comfort in habit and tend to be calmer and more productive when they know food will come when the sun hits that certain place. Over the years, consistent milking routines have proven a better yield and smoother milking experience. Our current doe was on a twice a day schedule, but with cooler weather and a breeding season her production merited a 'one time a day' switch.
         The flock has been in molt much longer than I like. Getting them a bit of additional protein will help encourage production when winter days' forage is meager. A fresh bit of greens, some added calcium/mineral pans, and a little crumble in their feed ration should fuel them up.
           Most of the garden froze, leaving only the cold hardy crops not eaten by squirrels (they have been terrible this year). The herbs are surviving under frost covers while we work to improve our greenhouse space. Getting the garden back on track will mean pulling dead/frozen plants, removing irrigation, and preparing the soil for spring.

Before any routine returns to this homestead, plenty of coffee has to be served! 



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Homestead & Holidays

     Holidays bring a special challenge to the homestead, especially if you intend to holiday away from home. I am blessed to live rather close to my family making holidays here or there flow much easier that most. Either way, homestead chores will need a little changing to get us through the gatherings.
     The week before a gathering I try really hard to get all the harvesting in, preserving things as I go. Often, this means long night hours in the kitchen in order to pull it off. From there the garden is 'on hold' until the gatherings are over. Only emergency chores get done, such as tossing a frost cover on tender items before a freeze.
     Livestock never give us a day off, so chores are done as closely to their routine time as possible. If we are going to be late we try to give them a little extra hay to hold them over until we return; hens are fed early if we will not arrive home until dark. We try to clean stalls/coops a few days before the gatherings; feed is purchased and portioned before as well.
     While our regular work slows significantly, other tasks keep us on our feet. My goal for homestead gatherings is comfort. When a person comes to my homestead I deeply desire they feel welcome, warm, and right at home. The fireplace is going, home made beverages are on hand to share (herbal teas/coffee/cocoa), plenty of comfy seats and hearty food is available for drawing them near. If children are joining us, there are activities set up with them in mind.
      For years when little ones visited us the horses were decked out in their finest attire ready for rides and rubbing; carrot nubs were in buckets for little thank-you's. To prevent fingers from horse bites, children gave treats in an empty bucket instead of handing them with their hands. The tractor would be adorned with colorful corn and leaves; the trailer attached was filled with hay and pumpkins for little hay rides.
      As a quilter, we often planned secret projects for the children- handprint quilts, artwork quilts, or wood working. Slipping off to the wood shed offered privacy as we worked together; I would finish projects if needed, wrapping and delivering them on Christmas. Facing the joy of grandparenthood, I truly believe those days will be upon us once again!
     Holidays on my homestead are not times for pomp and fanfare; no fancy recipes or loud decorations. The heart of my home is a simple one; one aimed at comfort and welcome. My d├ęcor may be simple, colored leaves and pretty pinecones, my dishes may be ordinary, but know you are always welcomed with a warm hug, a thoughtful smile, and the very best we have to offer. Blessings to each of you this Thanksgiving. May we each reflect on the many gracious roads we have traveled and the amazing Lord who has seen us through.




Sunday, November 24, 2013

Homesteading with the Weather In Mind

     This week found us facing heavy rains and dropping temperatures. Weather like this finds us bundling up and hunkering down as the wind howls around us. Freezing weather, just like extreme heat, makes milking and gardening quite a challenge left only to the homesteader with deep convictions. The past few mornings have challenged my devotion as my fingers freeze and my plants wither.
      Whether laying out a garden or planning how many chickens to keep, considerations have to be made for extreme weather conditions. The garden needs to fit the season and be planted in time for a reasonable harvest before the weather shift occurs. Knowing my area's weather patterns helps me determine when and how to plant- but it never prepares me for the heartbreak that comes when those plants succumb to the elements. I tend to be a jump in feet first homesteader- planning big and building bigger. This means- I grieve the 80 tomatoes that withered in this summer's 117 degree day or froze in the first winter frost. It took me years to learn you can't fight nature, you have to work with it. These days I plant winter crops that will endure frosts and limit anything I will have to cover or loose- same goes for summer heat.
      Most adult animals are sturdy enough to handle a warm bed/windbreak with freedom to wander about during the sunny hours. Shady areas with plenty of water access relieves the stress during extremely hot days. Texas weather offers only rare occasion to need heat lamps or warming blankets with our goats/poultry. Breeding is worked around the extreme weather possibilities to ensure babies are old enough to regulate body temp and endure with minimal assistance.
       The lesson I have learned, the hard way, is to work within the reasonable limits of your capabilities and know the weather patterns for your area. It isn't reasonable to have more animals than my barn houses or larger crops than I can cover or water. Keeping in tune with the climate around me offers the best guidance to our homestead plans.

 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When You Have to be Away

     Yesterday found me away from home touring the beautiful gardens of Mercer in Humble. Due to the time and travel required, homestead chores fell to others which brings to mind the all important task of preparing for time away.
     Homesteading is a commitment that requires our time at home and limits our ability to get away. County fairs, livestock shows, camping or the occasional trip often allow us time to locate a 'sitter' and prepare them to fill our shoes. We invited our home sitter to join us for chores before being left along to the task. While this is preferred, it isn't always practical. When an emergency occurs we need to be prepared and set for a last minute sitter to step in and handle the home.
      In order to be ready for any and every sitter situation, labels are everywhere! Feed bins are located near the coup/stall they supply and labeled clearly: who the feed is for, how much to feed, and how often to feed them, with a note to check water when you feed. Emergency kits are inside each feed bin, specific to that animal with clear directions and phone numbers. A master list is inside the large freezer we store extra feed in. This gives detailed feed times, our feed routine, and special instructions. Brooders contain feed bins specific to their flock and have a master list inside their gate.
Milking directions are posted on the refrigerator next to the milk stand.
     Before we get to focused on the barn, we have to remember the gardens. Our homestead has three large gardens and a greenhouse. While they don't need as much attention as the barn does, neglecting it would be tragic. Each garden has it's own duties which are listed inside the greenhouse. Short term sitters usually face the task of watering and maybe picking a few green beans.
         The notion to pay or not to pay is a touchy one. Often our sitter is someone living close by willing to do the task and take home the rewards: eggs, milk, fresh picked veggies and herbs. My times away have been very short, only a day or two, and are few and far between.
          All of this may seem a bit overkill- let me be honest in saying my lists and labels are a bit outdated and well in need of revamping. With holidays on the way, work that sometimes finds me out of pocket, and all the other little things in life that make being away possible it's definitely time to re-up the notes and get that homestead sitter situation planned out- we never know when we find ourselves having to be away.







 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Day Away

     It has been a while, but today I am taking a day away from my homestead to visit the beautiful Mercer Arboretum in Humble, Texas. Here in lies an educational adventure in horticulture and beauty. See you tomorrow, hopefully refreshed, inspired, and ready to resume my daily routine!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Homestead Chore Rotation and Relief

     Chores are abundant on the homestead, but the workers are few. Depending on the size of your family and the age range of the children, the workload can seem ominous. Our family had a system for getting things done, sharing the load, and allowing for rest.
     When our homestead was new and our children school age, our chores rotated on a two week basis. This offered each family member opportunity to learn the various needs of each animal and garden plot. In the barn, rabbits, large stock (horse, cow, donkey), small herd (goats/dog), and poultry were assigned a family member. They had to learn the needs of that stall: water/feed requirements, stall upkeep, hoof/health care and be prepared for emergencies such as injury, illness, or birth. The 'odd man out' was in rest mode- preparing the breakfast for those busy with chores.
     To keep things simple, feed bins were labeled for each stall/animal listing how much feed to give and how many times a day. A first aid kit was in the bin as well, with a procedure checklist for minor ailments. Visiting cousins and friends buddied up with one of the kids getting the opportunity to see how things work and to help out if they were interested. During our foster family years, new family members kept the buddy rotation until they felt comfortable or were old enough to take rotation on their own.
     In addition to the barn chores, we have three garden fields: large crop/fruit, kitchen garden/greenhouse, and the herbal/rose garden. Rotations in these gardens followed suit with the barn rotations. Everyone spent time learning propagation, seed starting, weeding, harvesting, and planning the plots.
     Once the children aged up entering those early teen years chores took on a different routine. In their maturing they sought to take ownership of different areas of the homestead honing those skills and refining the plans. That doesn't mean we didn't take turns caring for things, but their was an overseer to each area. As overseer that teen set up feed purchasing, planned for any amendments needing made, bought, sold, bred and planted the areas they were in charge of- life skills easily applied to so many areas of adult life.
     These days there are less hands on deck. Chores are assumed by those home and available. I am overseer of the stalls, coups, and gardens and I do so gladly for I know the precious memories created from years of sharing side by side.