Category Archives: Homesteading

If it has to do with homesteading, and I’ve written about it, you can find it here. (minus preparing food, that gets in own category!!

Spring is HERE!!

This past weekend, our entire family enjoyed being outside working on projects.  I spent Friday morning in solitude and I walked around our property marveling, as I always do, at the beginning of Spring.

Naming this season “Spring” is no mistake.  The greenery springs forth from the ground and the buds spring forth from the trees.  I feel like I can actually feel the excitement from the plants.  They are waking up after a long winter’s nap.

Blueberry Buds in the Spring

Blueberry Buds in the Spring

Spring makes me feel hopeful.  Spring is filled with possibilities and new growth.  I wonder what trees and bushes will fruit this year.  I wonder how my lettuces will do (I have been learning how NOT to raise lettuce.)  I am so excited for all the possibilities.  All of the cliches, all of the sayings feel so true to me.  It feels as though they have been written just for me.

Maple Buds, welcoming the sunlight

Maple Buds, welcoming the sunlight

Everything seems to be waking up to welcome the warm weather.  As we stretch out our arms after a long rest, the trees and bushes reach out their leaves to collect the sunshine and feed themselves.

Pear Tree waking up to Spring

Pear Tree waking up to Spring

The dandelions open to feed bees the first nectar of the season.

Dandelion Blooming

Dandelion Blooming

Strawberries are starting to bloom as well.

Strawberries starting to bloom.

Strawberries starting to bloom.

Strawberries in bloom.

Strawberries in bloom.

And we already have some of cultivated edibles ready for eating.

Parsley we planted last year.  We used this in our Thanksgiving dinner and its the first thing ready to eat this year.

Parsley we planted last year. We used this in our Thanksgiving dinner and its the first thing ready to eat this year.

Welcome Spring, we are glad you have back again!

 

Plant Your Own Cash Crop: The Sweet Potato

This is the time of year to start planning your garden.  The time for thinking about the first warmth of spring and the taste of a salad made of lettuce straight from your garden.  As such, I want to discuss a an unexpected “cash crop” that we planted last year.  The sweet potato.

I’m not sure why I decided to plant sweet potatoes, but I’m glad I did.  I planted them by way of an experiment.  I do plant a lot of things in my food garden, but I like to plant things in random places.  I like to experiment.  After all, who says my herbs have to be in an herb garden.  I have parsley planted next to my blueberry bushes in the front of the house.  Why? Because the area gets wonderful sun exposure, and I wanted to see if it would work.

Back to the sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes (especially the organic ones) are very expensive in the stores.  They are about $3 for one sweet potato.  That’s crazy.  And they are easy to grow.  I planted mine in less than ideal conditions, and I got a huge return on my inputs.  I highly recommend going organic for your sweet potatoes.  The conventional sweet potatoes have all sorts nastiness sprayed on it.  Here is a smart young woman who shared why we should be going for organics (or just growing your own).


Quick Aside, Vocab Lesson:

When you plant sweet potatoes, they come from slips. A slip is a sweet potato sprout that shoots off of a sweet potato in storage.  Mine were white, about an 1/8 of an inch in diameter and about 6 inches long.  I bought 25 slips for $15.  They probably sent me more like 35 slips. For the $15, I got baskets full of sweet potatoes.  Well over $100 in sweet potatoes.  And I don’t have to do any fancy processing to store them.  Easy, with a high return.  AWESOME.

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What are Ideal Sweet Potato Conditions?

LIke almost every planting instructions I’ve run across, it is ideal to plant your sweet potato slips in “loamy, well drained” soil.  I planted mine in a range of soils that went from 90% rocky (as in, there was almost no dirt) to only about 30% rock.  In the super rocky soils, I barely had a yield,  I got one sweet potato per slip. But where it was only mildly rocky, I had a wonderful return.  I got pounds of potatoes off of one slip.

I’ve read that sweet potatoes do not do well in clay soils.  They grow thin and gnarly.  I say give it a try.  We’re not trying to win any veggie beauty contests, we’re trying to grow some yummy food to put on the table.

I had them in full sun and I watered them when I first the planted them.  As in, I watered them once, and never watered them again.   However, these guys do like their water.  So if you have a dry season, be prepared to give your sweet potatoes a drink weekly.

How to Plant Sweet Potatoes?

Place the fat end of the slip in the ground.  Cover  a few inches with soil and water a bit.  The End. That’s all I did.  These guys are so resilient that if you unknowingly leave a slip on the ground, you may very well come back to a plant there.  This is my kind of gardening.

I live on a hill exposed to the south, so the soil heats up nicely, but if you live in a colder climate, or you have a short growing season, you may want to heat up your soil by laying some black covering over the ground for a few weeks before planting

They are beautiful viney plants. so be sure to give them plenty of room to spread out and grow.  If you’re doing the whole row thing, plant the potatoes within the row 18 inches apart with the rows spaced 3 feet apart.  Or do as I did, and plant them all around your property.  It was landscaping we could eat.  Pretty and Tasty.  Sounds good to me.

In fact, here is a photo of one of the the blooms I got to enjoy while the tubers were growing:

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Climate Considerations:

Sweet potatoes like it hot.  They also enjoy a long growing season.  They need about three months to reach maturity.  So plant them as soon as the danger of frost has passed.  I have read that you need to get the potatoes out of the ground the day before the fall frost hits.  If not, the potatoes are ruined, and you may get grumpy.  I was very careful to get my potatoes out in time, but I missed one.  When the chickens were free ranging, they dug it up, and it looked beautiful and food worthy minus the fact that the chickens ate half of it.  This was in December.  We had had several snows.  This makes me believe that I didn’t have to be so hyper about getting my potatoes out of the ground.  But maybe it was luck.  Do what feels right to you.

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes:

Dig them up.  dig a little wider, pull gently and brush the dirt off.  Try not to bruise the sweet potato.  I try to use my hands for the most part.  Brush the dirt off.  DO NOT PUT ANY WATER ON THEM.  The only time you should wash them off with water is right before you eat them.  They store best with a little dirt on the outside. Keep any potatoes out that you may have bruised (damaged the skin) for eating soon, BUT NOT IMMEDIATELY.

Curing Sweet Potatoes:

Put them in a cool place for at least 10 days ( I waited over a month). Then you can eat them as regular.  I have not experimented with this, but I have heard that eating freshly dug sweet potatoes is disgusting.  I didn’t have to try that myself.  Maybe you would like to experiment?  If so, let me know how it turns out.

Storing Sweet Potatoes:

Store them in a root cellar or basement.  Some place cool.  DO NOT STORE THEM IN THE FRIDGE or any place below 50 degrees F.  This will make them go bad.

They store up to six months, although use your judgement.  If after 6 months, the potatoes look good, keep them and eat them.  Six months is just a rule of thumb, not  law.

Eating Sweet Potatoes

Oh!Boy!  This is the fun part! Make them how you like them.  Baked, Fried, mashed.

This is one crop that will earn it’s keep in your garden.  This plant has a high rate of return, stores easily, is super good for you and is relatively easy to grow.  Plant on, my friends!

 

Views Around Our Home

I love our home.  I love the location of our home. I love the land our home is on.

Recently, I wrote about how I was treated to a Bald Eagle in our back yard: here.  Being treated to a beautiful natural view around here is part of normal life for us.

I went for a run around my block and it started to snow.  It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a picture (thank goodness for small camera phones!):

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So then, I hopped of the road to enjoy the snow coming down on the creek.

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I even get to see healthy foxes by my home.  I always see him about a half a mile away from my house and my chickens.

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And in the morning, I get to see this sunrise:

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By moving out into the country, I have one day a week that I spend 4 hours commuting, 2 hours to work and 2 hours home from work.  The rest of the time I work from home.  It is worth every second of every minute I spend commuting to have this sanctuary be my home.  I love it here.  I love the people here and I love my life here.  I can have chickens, a huge garden, and a wood stove.  While it’s not perfect, it’s my home.

As time passes, I will continue to make updates to our home that will make it more and more ours.  We’ve lived here just over two years, and have spent all of our resources on the outside: Planting trees, bushes, shrubs, a garden and creating a home to have happy chickens.

I look forward to continued growth in our home and ourselves.  Thank you for sharing in our journey.

Free-Range Chickens: It’s not that Great

Through experience, I came to find out having our chickens go free range is not as wonderful as I had once thought.  Our fence that holds the chickens in fell down.  It is a temporary fence, and it’s easy enough to put back up, but all 18 chickens got out from the garden area. At first it was wonderful.  I looked out from the window above my kitchen sink, and I was treated to a view of chickens doing chickeny things on the hillside.  20150104_091436

Chickens are funny creatures.  When they move, it looks like they have choreographed a comedic play just for you.  Their scratching is great for the garden while it is fallow, as I discussed in this post.  However, when they are in spots that are not meant for them, they can wreak havoc.

As Fall was rolling in, I mulched around my trees, brambles, bushes and strawberries.  I used straw in most places, and some pine needle “straw” around my blueberries and strawberries in the front of the house.  Loose mulch is chicken crack.  They love scratching in the loose mulch.  I think it’s like a chicken treasure hunt.  While I want to provide the best life for them I can, I am less than thrilled that they scattered the mulch, I apply the mulch to protect the plants and feed the plants as it breaks down.

I applied the pine needles in the front of the house.  I was a little disheartened when I walked out my door and saw this:

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They dug up my strawberries, exposed a ton of dirt and pushed all the dirt onto the driveway:

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Later, they were running out into the road.  Running into the road is not especially good for their long term well being, as moving cars and chickens do not mix.  And there was poop where poop does not belong.

Overall, I am not a fan of having my chickens free-range.  It is unsafe for them, and a headache for me.  And I also don’t believe the opposite approach is good either where they are cooped up in a small space and they can’t even spread their wings.   In my opinion, the best way to raise chickens is by using a rotational grazing pattern.

Rotational grazing is used by those who have any number of animals: pigs, cows, sheep, and yes, chickens.  The basic idea is the chickens (or insert your animal here) start off in one fenced in area.  They have lots of room to be a chicken.  They can scratch, find new tasty bugs, and make me laugh.  Once the land has been worked over by the chickens, but the land is still in good shape, you move the chickens to the next bit of paddock.  The chickens now get lots of new goodies and they aren’t depleting your land.

Meanwhile that first piece of land you had them in is now benefiting from the extra fertilizer and the bit of disturbance from the chickens.  The chickens won’t come back to that paddock until it is ready for them.  That is ideal.  BUT this is not what I’m doing now.  I have a slow paddock shift.  Where I’m letting the chickens go crazy in my garden, and they are tilling and fertilizing the soil.  When it’s time to plant in the garden, I will move the chickens into the system I described above.

 

 

The Eggs Are Back!!!

Over the Christmas baking season, I had to buy eggs.  17 hens in the coop, and I had to buy eggs.  Hmm, that didn’t feel good.  I’ve heard advice to put a light on in the coop.  It will fool the chickens to think that the days are longer and they will lay more.  I have refused to do this.  Why? I think there is a reason that chickens do not lay when the days are shorter.  I do not want to go against nature.

So between the molting and the shorter days, we were getting anywhere from no to 2 eggs a day for a total of about six eggs a week.  We ate a lot of oatmeal during this time.

I think our egg drought is OVER!  Our egg collection number have gone as such: 3, 3, 4, 6, 3.  WOOOO!!!! We’re back and we’re eating omelets!!

We have some really neat colors coming in, too.  We have blue, pink with brown spots, pink with white spots and brown.  No white ones to be mentioned yet.  20141229_103452

Herb Profile: Lavender

Lavender is beautiful, smells great and easy to grow.  It is one of my favorite smells.  You can use it infused in your teas, as a garnish on your soaps, or simply as fodder for bees.  And super bonus for lavender: It’s a perennial!! Which means you plant it once and you’re done.  It will continue to come back and you can harvest it time and time again.  The roots will continue to grow and harbor an ecosystem that continues to mature.

Variety Selection:

There are many different types of lavender.  I have four planted in my garden: English “Jean Davis” Lavender, French “Boysenberry Ruffles” Lavender, “Grosso” Lavender and “Lady” Lavender.  My Lady Lavender is only grows to a height of 10 inches, while the Grosso Lavender can grow as high as 2 feet.  Lady and Grosso have purple flowers while the Jean Davis has white flowers and Boysenberry Ruffles have reddish-purple blooms.

The point is not to outline the differences in each variety, but to draw your attention to the fact that there are many different varieties that are better for different purposes and different planting zones.

20141229_103057The Grosso Variety has the strongest aroma, while the Boysenberry Ruffles does not have as strong of an aroma.  How do you make sure that you get the best Lavender aroma from your selected plant?  When you are at the nursery, brush the top of the plant and inhale.  You will be able to detect the different intensities of each plant by doing this.

If you want a beautiful blooms, you may want to select a variety that blooms a bit longer.  For example, Jean Davis only blooms in summer, while Grosso and Boysenberry bloom spring and summer.

Buying and Planting Lavender:

I purchased my lavender from a nursery.  They come in little pots and are easily transplanted.  You can plant certain varieties by seed, but you need to start them inside, and only certain varieties do well propagated from seed.  Most other lavender can be propagated from cuttings.  However, lavender is rather cheap to buy and easy to grow.  I will be experimenting with growing lavender from cuttings in the future.

Plant your lavender in a sunny location, in well drained soil.  It’s that simple.  Select a location, dig a hole, put the roots in, cover the roots with dirt.  I also mulch mine down with straw.  I mulch everything with straw, though.  I use straw because it is local and sold by a small, family owned farm.

Two types of Lavender: English Lavender in the foreground and Grosso in the back ground.  They are still green in December.  What a treat!!

Two types of Lavender: Jean Davis Lavender in the foreground and Grosso in the back ground. They are still green in December. What a treat!!

What can Lavender be used for?

Lavender naturally adds beauty to your land while feeding bees and butterflies.

Culinary: You can have lavender infused teas, oils and vinegars. It can flavor cheese, sugar and honey.  It is also a wonderful garnish.

Medicinal: The medicinal uses for this is long: the scent causes a relaxation response in the body, relaxing muscles, while having sedative, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.  Lavender is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-septic.

Other Uses: It can be used in a sachet for your drawers or as an add-in to potpourri.

Lavender is a beautiful addition to any garden, and also works as a companion plant as it repels fleas, moths, whitefly and ticks.  Although the ticks may seek refuge in the  plants just outside the lavender barrier.  The lavender sachets can also repel mice and rabbits!  These qualities make it an ideal companion for:

  • Your Veggies: carrots, leeks and you brassicas (this is your broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, etc).
  • Your Flowers: Roses love the benefit of the pest repellent from the Lavender.  The Lavender also works as a living mulch, shading and protecting the soil.
  • You Fruit Trees: By bringing in pollinators and repelling the moths and whiteflys, lavender will make your trees happy!!!

I will be adding a lot more Lavender around my property in the coming season.

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Another Bird of Prey

I walked to my back door and looked out the window at the sky.  I saw a typical sight, a crow attacking a large bird, presumably a turkey vulture.

First of all, crow are amazing animals.  They will defend their territory against birds of any size.  When watching the aerial show, I noticed this turkey vulture had some non-turkey vulture characteristics.  For instance, vultures wing tips are finger-like.  This means that the wing tips splay out and you can actually see distinct feathers at the tips of the wings, whereas bird of prey have a wing with a more solid looking wing.

Yes, this large bird had the wings of a bird of prey.  This bird was much larger than any hawk I’ve ever seen in my back yard.  As this bird was driven closer and closer attempting to get away from the attacks of the crow, I saw it was a …

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Bald Eagle.  Yes!! A bald eagle came into my backyard and perched upon the tree to see what could be seen.  The Eagle sat there for about 30 minutes, surveying the land, and taking a break after a recent attack.

Several times, it seems as though this Eagle was looking at my chickens for a bit of a snack.  My chickens, at that time were no more than 30 feet away from me.  My thoughts on an Eagle eating my chickens? “That would be pretty cool if I got to see an Eagle land that close to me!”

However, I don’t believe I would be as excited if an eagle ate 3 chickens in one day, as those hawks had. It still would be amazing to see an eagle that close in the wild.  Fortunately/ Unfortunately, the hawk had no interest in the meal that was below him.  He flew off, leaving myself and everyone in my house filled with excitement, gratitude and a sense of awe.

My Great Coop Coup

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about getting stuck in the chicken coop for an hour.  I came to a lot of conclusions, one conclusion I didn’t include in that post was how I escaped.

While I came had some powerful realizations about my life while in the coop at the end of the hour, I was ready to get out.  So I was relieved when I heard my mom letting the dogs out of the house.  They came to the edge of their fenced in yard and started barking.  They were just within sight from the window of the coop.  I was so happy.  They were my Lassie’s.  I started banging on the metal roof of the coop.  But I didn’t start making a racket soon enough to catch my mom’s attention before she went back in.  That’s fine, I knew I could get her attention to release me from my impromptu meditation chamber once she came out to let the dogs in.  At least I hoped so.

So I strained and I watched the dogs’s movements, hoping I would see them scurry to the door when my mom came to the door let them back inside.  When my mom came out to let the dogs in, she noticed that one of the dogs refused to move away from the fence.  That dog was Tuxy.  Our old Border Collie/Collie mix.  (He looks like a black Lassie.) 20141215_142907While she was goading him to come inside she heard the ruckus I was making in the coop.  She rushed outside to release me.

I was free.  I got a big hug from my mom, and then went on to give a big hug to my son.

Since then Chris has added a safety release string on the inside of the coop which he tested.  20141215_145514

It consists of a long string and a drilled hole.  Simple and Effective.

The Dandelion Mind: Do you have it?

Do you have the Dandelion Mind? I know I do.  What is the  Dandelion Mind and what does it mean?  First let’s talk about a dandelion in real terms.  I’ve talked about why these weeds are a blessing before. I love this plant which others deem a weed.  I love it for so many reasons:

  • Dandelions are dynamic accumulators of nutrients.  A dynamic accumulator is a plant that mines nutrients (micro and macro) and minerals from deep within the earth and brings these nutrients to the surface.  This helps with overall soil health.
  • The dandelions break up compacted soil.  They make the soil more habitable for other plants.  They are paving the way for other plant life.
  • Dandelions are resilient, and spreading the seeds of the dandelion is fun and easy ! (think of blowing the beautiful white fluffy head and making a wish)
  • All parts of the plant are edible or useful.  They even have medicinal qualities which aids digestion.
  • It is a beautiful flower.

But others can see Dandelion as a nuisance:

  • It’s not grass.  It grows wildly and spreads easily.  It is therefore a weed.

What does the dandelion mind mean to me?  The Dandelion Mind means you try to mine value and bring that value to the surface to help the beings around you.  Whether that’s cooking a healthy meal, teaching someone a skill, or just leading by example.  Being the best you you can be.  You try to be useful.  You ask yourself what you can do to help.  Spreading your way of doing things can be fun, much like spreading the white fluffy seeds of a ripe dandelion.  Dandelions add beauty in the world.  You might add beauty  through music, art or by modeling kindness.  You have your own unique beauty to add.   But beware, not everyone sees the beauty of the dandelion.  That doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful, it just means that there are some folks who don’t see it.  And that’s okay.  The dandelion will still bloom, providing nectar for the bees, and flowers for a child’s bouquet for their mother.  The Dandelion Mind celebrates the differences.  The Dandelion Mind is not mad at the grass for not being a Dandelion, it still mines the nutrients and breaks the compacted soil, making the land more fertile for other plants to grow, including grass.

The dandelion will continue to live and thrive where it is needed most.  So if you let your beauty shine, and contribute by being true to yourself, no matter what the surrounding opinion, you have the Dandelion Mind.  So bloom on beautiful Dandelions, bloom on.

Seed Saving – Squash

I had a rough year with squash.  I planted four kinds: Delicata, Pie Pumpkin, Butternut, and Spaghetti squash.  I find all of these types of squash to be delicious.  Squash Vine Borers agree.  They decimated my squash vines.  I yielded a total of 1 Delicata, 2 Pie Pumpkins, 7 Butternut Squashes and 1 Spaghetti Squash.  The Borers’ yield was much higher.

The squashes that survived, survived the plight of the borers.  They also fruited in the soil, the pollinators, and the climate specific to my area.  These squash were open pollinated, which means that the bees were responsible for pollination.  I could have pollinated them myself so that I would have a more reliant seed result, but I did not.  Perhaps next year.

I am saving the seeds from my squashes as these seeds come from plants that are well adapted to the growing conditions in my garden.  That way, as time progresses, the plant that evolves from these seeds will be custom made for my garden.  Here’s how I saved the seeds (and this method will work for any squash):

When I was ready to eat one of my squashes, I started to prepare it as usual, cutting down the middle of the squash.

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I scooped the seeds out, and put them in a glass mason jar.

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Then I filled the jar with enough water to cover the seeds.

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And then I let the seeds sit fore a few days.  I think I left this one sit for almost two weeks.  That’s a bit of a long time, but It works.  After this time the top of your water may get some growth:

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Drain your seeds.  I drained my seeds directly outside, as there was a definite odor to them.

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Run them through a sieve to clean your seeds.  Use cold water here.

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Don’t be afraid to use your hands.

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Lay the seeds out on paper towels and allow to dry.

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Make sure the seeds are completely dry, and I mean SUPER DUPER COMPLETELY DRY, if there is any moisture, your seeds will mold.  Once dry the seeds are ready for storage.  I put mine in an old glass container, labeled it, and now I’m ready to plant my butternut squash next year.

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I will do the same with the rest of my squashes, so that I have squashes that are hand selected by me for the characteristics I want.