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

Feb 28, 2017

Why You Need A Digital Homesteading Journal

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

Why a Homesteading Journal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping a journal will make discovering all that quite easy.

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

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

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

Why Digital?

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

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

Suggestions for Making a Homesteading Journal

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

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

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

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

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

5. Include photos of your garden layouts.

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

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

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

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

Jan 27, 2017

Do Orchards Attract Wasps & Other Stinging Things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 20, 2017

Why We Use a Wood Stove on Our Homestead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 15, 2016

How to Know When Figs are Ripe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 31, 2016

Bear on the Homestead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, better a black bear than a cougar!

Oct 21, 2016

Fire on the Homestead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sep 30, 2016

How Do I Quit My Job & Start a Homestead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes and good luck!

Related Posts:

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

Title image courtesy of  Per.

Aug 12, 2016

Waste Not...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Title image courtesy of Valdemar Fishmen.

Aug 9, 2016

Ditch Fillers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6: 31-33

Aug 3, 2016

How to Know When Fruit is Ready to Pick (The Twist Test & More)

Q: "Can you tell me how to know when my apples and peaches are ripe and ready to pick?"

This is a question I receive almost every day. First, here are the simple steps to learn if fruit is ready for harvesting.

1. If it's fruit that's supposed to be a little soft when ripe (like plums or peaches), give it a gentle squeeze. If it's rock hard, it's not ripe yet. If it seems slightly soft, move on to the next step.

2.  Smell the fruit. Fruit ripened on the tree should generally smell sweet.

3. Put your hand under the fruit, barely touching it. If the fruit falls off, it's probably over-ripe.

4. Hold the fruit in one hand and twist your wrist. If the fruit comes off the tree, it's almost certainly ripe. If it resists, it's not ripe yet. To see how this works, be sure to check out my video on this "twist test," below:

5. Taste the fruit.

More Tips:

* As you become familiar with the fruit tree, you can also use color to help determine when it's time to test for ripeness. For example, our yellow plums are a yellow-green when unripe, but turn golden yellow when fully ripe (and almost orange when over-ripe).

Courtesy of Michael Palmer and Wikimedia Commons.
* Another good hint that fruit might be ripe is when it drops to the ground. There are many reasons this happens; some fruit drops because the it's growing too close together; sometimes fruit drops because of wind or disease; but sometimes it falls to the ground when it's ripe. Tasting windfall fruit is a smart way to learn if the fruit on the tree is ready for harvesting.

* Similarly, when wildlife starts taking an interest in your fruit trees, the fruit is either ripe or nearly so.

* Note that some fruits will continue to ripen once picked. For example, many experts advise picking pears when they easily twist off the tree, but then letting them sit for a week or more until they are softer. Peaches, apples, apricots, nectarines, and plums also continue to ripen once picked. Cherries do not ripen off the tree. However, with the exception of most pears and all avocados, the fruit will taste best if ripened on the tree.

* Typically fruit ripens on the outside of the tree first, and if a limb gets more sun than the others, the fruit on that limb will ripen first. In addition, limbs receiving southern exposure usually ripen first.

* Title image courtesy of General Sisi and Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 25, 2016

Sorting the Fruit Harvest - An Easy, Practical Method to Avoid Waste

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you buy fruit, even in bulk, the sorting has already been done for you. You just pick the fruit
that looks freshest, pay, and you're done. But when you have even one fruit tree, you'll soon discover you need to put a little more thought into gathering fruit. The method doesn't have to be complicated or terribly time consuming, but if you sort your fruit, you'll waste a lot less of it, and preserving it through freezing, dehydrating, canning, or cold storage will be much easier. Here's how I go about sorting our fruit.

Step 1: Windfall

When I gather the harvest, I always look for windfall fruit first; this prevents me from stepping on it and making it inedible. ("Windfall" just means fruit that has fallen to the ground due to wind or ripeness.) Some windfall fruit is too rotten or squashed to do anything with; I leave that on the ground for the critters and the soil. If you prefer, you can compost it. But if you gather windfall fruit every day, you'll find much of it is still useful. Don't worry if it has some bruised spots, bird "bites", or other less than pretty parts. You will cut those parts away later. I like to put all the windfall fruit into a separate bucket or bowl. (And, by the way, collecting windfall fruit is an excellent job for kids!)

Step 2: Harvest the Tree

Next, I like to gather everything I can reach by hand, then use our fruit picker for the rest. If you want, you can try to sort the fruit as you pick, putting the very ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit in one bucket and the rest of the ripe fruit in another. I prefer to get all the picking done without sorting, so I put all the picked fruit into one bucket (or more, as the size of the harvest dictates).

Step 3: Check the Ground Again

Often as I pick fruit, more fruit falls from the tree, so after harvesting the tree, I look around on the ground again for good fruit and place it in my harvesting bucket(s).
Sorting a plum harvest.

Step 4. Final Sort

When I bring the fruit indoors, I put the windfall fruit aside and separate the fruit that's super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) from the rest of the ripe fruit.

Ta-da! I'm done sorting!

What to Do With Sorted Fruit

Super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit: Eat it within hours; or prepare it that day in a dish (like cobbler or pie); or preserve it. Super ripe fruit is, in my opinion, best preserved by making jam or maybe pie filling. However, I usually freeze the fruit whole and make jam or filling when I'm not so overwhelmed with preserving the rest of the harvest.

Windfall fruit: This type of fruit often has bruising, so it's also good for jam, pie filling, or (in the case of apples) applesauce. Or, eat it within hours of picking off the ground.

Ripe fruit: Eat fresh, whenever possible. I recommend sorting through the ripe fruit every day, to look for fruit that is getting super ripe. Always eat this fruit first, or freeze it, or preserve it in some other way so it doesn't get wasted. Ripe fruit is also excellent for dehydrating; canning whole, halves, or in slices; or freezing in slices.

A Note About Harvest Abundance 

Recently, a reader commented that I should give much of my fruit to charity. We do give away some of our harvest, but we also think long term about our family's needs. Many Americans think only about the food needed for today or tomorrow - or maybe for the next two weeks. But homesteading philosophy dictates we think ahead at least a year. So yes, we have too much fruit for our family today, but we don't have too much fruit if we think in terms of the year. The reason I preserve so much while the harvest is ripe in the summer is that this food will be our fruit when fruit is no longer in season. This way, we aren't encouraging the modern idea that food should be shipped or trucked thousands of miles to us, and we know we can always have healthy fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals or canned with unwholesome ingredients.

Jul 18, 2016

When Your Well Runs Dry

The title of this post might make you think I'm going to blog about when your mommy well runs dry, or your wife well, or your Christian well. (Actually, these are all connected wells, aren't they.) But no. I'm actually writing about a literal water well.

Our new homestead's well has been wonderful. After a short time using it, our skin is less dry, my hair is shinier and softer - and frankly, the water tastes better than any city water we've ever drunk. But within a week of taking possession of our new homestead, I turned on the bathroom faucet...and nothing came out.

It was a Thursday night, so we called the best well company in the area first thing Friday morning. They were so busy working on other people's wells, we didn't hear back from them until Saturday. In the meantime, my 7 year old son, who eats fresh plums like they will soon be extinct, looked like he literally lived in a barn. Sticky hands and arms quickly become covered in dirt. We all needed a shower. The dishes were piled up in the sink. And we were lugging rain water into the house in order to flush the toilet.

Saturday night, the well guy came out. I really thought he'd say there was a problem with our pump, or something simple like that. But no. "Your well is dry," he said.

I confess, my first reaction was to ask God, "Why? Why, why, why???!!!" Our beautiful homestead no longer felt like any type of blessing.

You see, our state forbids drilling deeper into established wells to find additional water. So we have to drill for a new well. The trouble with that is, even though they can witch for water*, there is no guarantee that when they drill they'll find enough water for a decent well. But they charge you for the time it took to drill that well, of course. Oh, and the state now requires steel wells. Steel?? Steel rusts, which means your well will need expensive work when it rusts through. Sigh.

When I heard that our well was dry, my first thought was that we'd been duped by the previous owners. But after talking to them, we felt we couldn't prove anything at this time. I was pretty angry, and angrier still when we added up the facts and realized we could sue the sellers.

But while I was feeling upset with God about all this, my dear husband had the right attitude and soon set my heart straight. He said, "You know, I was beginning to wonder if we were on God's path, because everything was going so smoothly." I've typed before about his wonderful - and spot on - attitude about difficulties in life. Basically it boils down to this: If you're doing what God wants you to do, Satan has a keen interest it making it as hard for you as possible.

Then my hubby also reminded me of what is kind of his family's motto: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) All things. Not just some things.

So now I'm feeling more peaceful about our well. We are still waiting on an estimate for the cost of installing a new one, but the well guy already has a spot he thinks is suitable for drilling. And, praise God, we have rainwater collection tanks that are pretty full, and we've been able to transfer water from them into the dry well's holding tank, so we can flush the toilets and run the dishwasher. And, praise God again, my in-laws are just down the road, so we can do laundry and showers at their place.

My prayer now is that somehow this problem will be a blessing for us. I pray the new drilling spot will have abundant water. 

And I think we realize now, even more than before, that we need a back up plan for water. In fact, YOU do, too. Even if you live in the suburbs or city, your water could disappear or become undrinkable at any time. And if you rely on running to the store to grab water only after your city water is unavailable, chances are you won't be able to buy enough because everybody else will be out buying water, too. 

Did you know the Federal government recommends that all citizens "should store at least one gallon of water per person for three days?" And that doesn't include water for flushing toilets, doing dishes, washing laundry, or even taking showers.

One way everyone can prepare for loss of water is to keep commercially bottled water on hand. If you don't open those bottles, and you keep them in a cool, dark location, they will last at least until the expiration date on the bottle.

Some people like to reuse the bottles water come in; you can do that, but there's a little higher risk of the bottle leaking or the water inside the bottle becoming contaminated with bacteria. Always thoroughly wash re-used bottles in hot water and soap, then sanitize with bleach. For those of you who can, another idea is to use canning jars. As your jars become empty, sanitize them and add tap water and a lid. Store in a cool, dark location for up to three months.

For more detailed information on storing water, or if you want to know how to store water when you have a well, visit and read The American Red Cross' .PDF "Food and Water in an Emergency."

* Well witching (sometimes called "water dowsing") is considered nonsense by some, but I've seen it work splendidly many times. In fact, not only do many well drillers use this technique, but so do many city water and maintence workers. You can read more about water witching here.

Jul 12, 2016

Tour Our New Homestead

A few nights ago, as hubby and I enjoyed the view from our master bedroom, windows wide open,
rain sending in cool, refreshing air, I turned to him and said, "There's no doubt God gave us this homestead. That said, though...We did it! Yay for us!"

Getting here has taken a lot of hard, hard work, so it's good to relax a little and enjoy the fruit of our efforts - and the gift from our Father. However, there's also no doubt there's a lot of hard, hard work ahead of us. The difference, though, is that this is the sort of work that's fun to dream about; it's work that's more satisfying, too, because it's about building our dream, not prepping something for a future buyer (who will mow down all the amazing flowers you've tended for 15 years...but that's another story).

I'm sure I'll be sharing a lot of our projects on our Piece of Heaven Homestead, so you may as well see what the homestead looks like now. But first, I'd like to preface things by saying that the people we purchased this property from really build this land up from nothing but God's creation. When they moved onto this place, there was nothing but one apple tree and an old, uninsulated building to live in. Little by little, they worked hard to build a home - first just a small building, then building an addition, then a second story - plus outbuildings, an orchard, and so on. Though our homestead needs work, I by no means belittle all the amazing work they put into this place. And they'd be the first to acknowledge that the work needs to continue.

So let's start with the house. As I said, it was built piecemeal - and it's not yet finished. Hence all the quirks. When you walk in, you see the kitchen and dining area, and the living room. All are small. The kitchen is really just makeshift; the original owners always intended to expand and put in a proper kitchen. For now, it's serviceable, but once I'm preserving and cook more from scratch, it's gonna drive me crazy.

Most of the "counter space" is really little moveable carts (including one intended for a mechanic). The only two cabinets are so high up, I can't get into them without a stepping stool. And they have no doors. The real counter is orange Formica and is higher than average. The gas stove is pretty nice. But they left the whole kitchen really, really dirty, so I spent all of the first day in the house cleaning it...and it still isn't spotless.

The living room is small and narrow. By the way, all the furniture and whatnot that you see in these photos was left by the original owners.

From the living room, you walk through a closet into the one bathroom, which is oddly laid out and not quite finished.

Just off the living room is this wide hallway. They used it as a den. I'm thinking maybe the piano and bookshelves go here. By the way, throughout is newer laminate flooring.

I'll leave off showing the bedrooms, but this unfinished staircase (love the orange glow paint on the bottom step?) leads to the upstairs, which is all master bedroom. It's very large, but needs mudding, texturing, flooring...There is no bathroom upstairs. Oh, and the master came with a pool table. (A nice one, actually.)

There's a ton to do inside this house. Every wall needs paint, many surfaces need finishing. And, yes, I need a better kitchen. But any time I start to feel overwhelmed by the inside, I just look outside. And then I feel super duper happy.

Outdoors, the original owners put in a couple of pole barns and miscellaneous smaller structures. Over the years, they had chickens, ducks, turkey, sheep, goats, rabbits...and probably other livestock I don't know about. It's fun exploring, because every once in a while you bump into some little structure you didn't realize was there before, like this old chicken coup, half hidden in the brush.

And tubs. Lots of old tubs. Like this one.
My favorite outbuilding, though, is the hot house. It's not much to look at from the outside...

But I love, love, love the inside.
The original owners grew tomatoes here, well into December. They also had succulents and sunflowers in here, and left a few for us. The plants in the ground are some tomatoes I planted a few days ago. I'm about a month late getting them in, but I think they'll still produce well. The soil here - and in the main garden - is really bad. It's sandy, wormless, and looks totally dead. I need to add tons of organic matter to it. In the meantime, a little bit of good potting soil added to the stuff in the ground helps.

And lookee here. Outside, the hothouse has a huge rainwater collection tank next to it that feeds this little container with irrigation water. There are a number of rainwater collection tanks on the property. I love that this is already done for us!

Figs! I honestly had never eaten one (except in Fig Newtons). But there are four fig trees here, so I'm going to be experimenting a lot with figs, I expect! We tasted our first figs a few days ago; happily, we really liked them!

There are also lots of apple trees - I haven't counted how many yet - and their fruit is yummy. (I ate some when we came to view the property last year.) There's even at least one tree that bears winter apples. In addition, there are two mature cherry trees, a bunch of mature plum trees, bearing blueberries, and a young pear and apricot tree. I may add an additional pear tree and a peach tree this fall. I've been told peaches don't do well here, but our micro climate is warmer than much of the surrounding area, so I might get away with it. There's also a grape vine, but it's awfully shaded and doesn't bear much.

There are also berries everywhere. Most are wild..but there are also these domesticated blackberries that are huge.

This is the original home. It was also used as a schoolhouse at some point. It was here the people we bought from lived - with small children! - while they slowly built the house we now live in. I actually love how rustic and old it looks, but for the sake of it not rotting, we will be painting and probably shingling it. The top story has the washer and dryer - plus a sink, tub, and wood stove. Once we clean it up, I hope it will become a really awesome canning kitchen.

Like all the outbuildings, it's full of stuff. Some of it is kind of neat.

Like this cool vintage sink. The bottom story of the same building has been used as a sort of workshop and storage area. There are some neat things here, too, like these vintage trunks.

And this loom. (Which my husband and dad-in-law are awfully excited about, but which makes me think, "I'm not sure I'm that hard core.")

There are so many odd ball items down here. It seems like I could do something Pinteresty with these for the garden:
And that concludes the tour. There's tons I didn't share, of course. We have 15 acres of forest, for example! But now you know the basics.

I confess I'm loving this place - even the quirky house - more every day. And I keep thinking back to what the original owner told me (tears in her eyes) the day she and her family moved out: "But who better to leave this place to? It's like we worked and prepared this place just for your family!" I think there's a lot of truth to that. It's just like something God would do :)

Jul 6, 2016

Surprise! We Bought a Homestead

There's been something I've been dying to tell you. It's been in the works since last fall, but my
husband asked me not to blog about it until it was a done deal. Because, frankly, it seemed almost too good to be true.

The fact is, we won't be in our tiny house motor home for much longer. Because we bought a house.

Don't worry. It's still a little house in the big woods. It's still the foundation for our homesteading dreams. But God made it possible for us to live those dreams without struggling to live in a tiny house motor home. (Hallelujah!) Here's how it happened.

Back in 2014, I was looking at rural properties in our area. We knew it would be tough for us to afford something in our county, but were completely willing to sacrifice a nice house if we could get some land. But as I was doing this, unbeknownst to me, my husband was thinking. Thinking of a way to get us out of our expensive, more restrictive county, closer to family, and onto rural land where we didn't feel closed in by neighbors and could have animals, an orchard, and so on. His idea was for us to move into a motor coach on some rural land his parents were willing to give us.

The view from our coach.
You can read about my initial reaction to this plan here. That was were I started - with the thought that he was craaaaaazy. How were we going to live in a motor coach as a family of four? How would I be able to stand the close quarters, especially since one of our children has behavior problems? As I prayed about it, though, peace settled onto me. You can read about that here. In the end, I realized that many people in the world have far less than a motor coach for a house. We would be okay.

Then we started thinking about how we'd create a more permanent home on our new homestead. Initially, hubby thought we could build, or maybe put a manufactured home on the land. As we researched more, however, we realized permitting alone would cost us our savings, and there was no way to get a manufactured home, or even a trailer, onto our land without cutting a road right through my in-law's yard. Um, yeah, not happening. I also confess that the idea of starting completely from scratch was exhausting to me. In my 20s or 30s it would have been no big deal, but today, in my 40s and with two autoimmune diseases dragging me down, it seemed like too much. I just wasn't sure I was up for it.

Nevertheless, we figured God would find a way, and we prayerfully plodded onward, because we felt this was the path God wanted us to take.

The view from the house's kitchen window.
Trouble was, my husband wasn't exactly jumping on getting the house fixed up. It took a long time to find a shipping container to use as our storage container, and then...well, nothing was happening; I was frustrated.

Then, last fall, we learned a certain property my husband was familiar with was rumored to be going on the market. My husband was instantly excited because he'd been neighbors and friends with the sellers and loved the property so much he once told them, "If you ever sell this place, come to me first. I want it!"

Honestly, we didn't think we could ever afford this property, but my husband went ahead and called the owners anyway.

There are wildflowers everywhere.
Most people who live in a rural areas like their privacy, and it turned out the owners (I'll call them the Jones') had recently asked a real estate agent over to give them the market value of their home and land...only to discover the agent told potential buyers about the property, who were now driving up the Jones' private road and driveway. The idea of selling without having to put their property on the market and have strangers tromping through was of keen interest to the Jones'. Plus, having been neighbors with my hubby for years, they liked him a lot, and loved the idea of a young family taking over their land. We set a date to come see the place.

I remember that day both vividly and vaguely. We'd returned from an out of state trip to see my Dad only the day before, so I was pretty exhausted. (Later that day, we also learned my Dad-in-law was in the hospital with a deadly serious but unknown disease.) We drove up the gravel road and saw a rather plain saltbox style house. Then we walked in...into the kitchen, as it turns out - and my memory from there gets pretty vague. That's because there was virtually no kitchen - just two tiny counter tops in the corner. I was in a sort of shock because the one thing I really wanted was a good farmhouse kitchen. I never imagined this house would have virtually no kitchen.

I hardly remembered the rest of the house, but it was certainly big enough for us - though it had it's quirks. The upstairs was unfinished, but it boasted an amazing view. Downstairs, you had to walk through a closet to get to the bathroom, and the living room was way too tiny for entertaining, let alone for our family to hang out together...but then there was the outside.

The mature orchard, with tons of apples, plus cherries, plums, apricots, pears, fig trees, blueberries, and more. The little hothouse, where the Jones' grew tomatoes even through winter. The rainwater catchment system, with three huge tanks already set up. And acres upon acres of forest with lovely views everywhere. And the price? Way more affordable that what we thought it would be.

I was willing, and my hubby couldn't wait to buy the place - but I was concerned about how we could afford it. So we sat down and made a list of our current bills. Then we crossed off the ones we'd no longer have (like a water/sewer bill), and added additional expenses (like the fuel for my hubby to commute an hour and half to work every day). We thought it was do-able.

So we agreed to buy it. Amazingly, the Jones' said they would wait for us to make an official offer until our house was on the market. Really, a miracle, since we were months out from doing that.

We immediately set to work fixing up our suburban home and getting it on the market. It took longer than expected, but we did it. Our house sold...then the sale fell through...then we sold it again and had many delays...until finally we had funds from our house to give to the owners of what is now our place!

Because the Jones' needed more time to wrap things up before they moved out of state, we moved out motor coach and parked it at my in-laws. Then, once the new property was officially ours, we moved to the coach there, a bit away from the house. We've stayed here for about seven days, trying to give the original owners some space to get their moving done, but also getting tours of the various trails on the property, walking the property lines, and so on.
Our parking spot on our new property.
of our suburban home into our

Every day, when I walk out of the motor coach, I felt amazed - at peace, and so relaxed. This place is gorgeous. Better than I remembered. It's private, and lovely, and warmer than I anticipated. It feels miraculous. It is miraculous!

And let me tell you, a few weeks in our motor coach has only made me more appreciative. As the weeks passed and we came closer to living full time in the tiny house motor home, I found myself praying a lot about how I was going to keep my sanity in that little bus. God's answer wasn't what I expected. I didn't expect a house. And later, I didn't expect our house sale to fall through. (If it hadn't, it would have meant months of living in the coach.) But as my in-laws frequently say, "God's timing is perfect." And he loves to give good gifts to his children.

In fact, the story of how we got to this property is full of miracles and gifts. It all began with an inheritance from my brother; this allowed us to fix up our in-bad-shape suburban home and make it more valuable. It also allowed us to buy the coach - which in itself was a gift, since my husband was able to buy it for a low price. Another gift: Our newest suburban neighbor turned out to be a contractor who loved bartering; he did the work on our home in the suburbs that my husband and I couldn't do ourselves. (In exchange, my husband worked on his vehicles.) It was also something of a miracle that we had enough money left over from the suburban fixer-up that I could hire someone to paint the exterior of our home. By that time, I was utterly and completely exhausted from doing all the packing and much of the fixing up; I was also coming down with a virus - yet we needed to finish the house and get it on the market, or we feared we wouldn't sell the house in time to buy our new one. Then we sold the house within three days of listing it - definitely a miracle. It's true that sale fell through, but until then, the sale gave us peace in our hearts. Also, the sale falling through gave us far less time in the motor coach, for which I'm grateful.

Then we sold the house again, within two days. It was never a smooth sale; I told my hubby that was Satan trying to discourage us. But the house did sell, finally, and at the top of it's value. And let's not forget the fact that my hubby knew the Jones' - because if he hadn't, chances are we would never have had the opportunity to buy this property at all. And the price? That's definitely a miracle. If we'd try to buy this place in our old county, it would have been $200,000 or more than our sales price. Even in the county we now reside in, I feel we got an amazing deal. There is no doubt in our minds that this place is a gift from God. And we are thankful.