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

Feb 4, 2016

Prioritizing Your Homestead: A Few Tips

Currently, I am working sooooo very hard to get our suburban house cleaned and painted and on the market. Truly, I don't think I could do it at all if my naturopath hadn't started me on a constitutional homeopathic remedy last summer; I just wouldn't have had the health and energy to complete the task. Even now, it's hard. I have no help (including no babysitters), I homeschool, I work from home, and I still have basic housekeeping chores and cooking to do. But...what keeps me going are thoughts of our new homestead. The wild elk in the clear cut forest next door; plenty of room for the kids to play outside; the possibility of an orchard; a huge garden; lots of critters...

Yet as much as we'd love to get the garden, the orchard, the egg chickens, the meat chickens, the goats, the pigs, and possibly other things going all at once, that is not practical. Homesteading requires a lot of time, energy, money, and planning. To succeed, we shouldn't take on too much at once. Setting up homesteading projects tends to take more time and money than maintaining them.

The question is, how does one decide which projects to do - and in which order? This is very much a matter of personal preference, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

Start Here

Read everything you can get your hands on concerning homesteading and specific homesteading projects.

Now read that last sentence again, because it is of utmost importance.

I can't tell you how many times novice homesteaders have asked me really basic questions about projects they are smack in the middle of. The worst is when it's about animals - and involves their suffering. (After you butcher your first chicken is not the time to ask questions about how to do it humanely, folks.)

Homesteaders need a lot of different skills. Skills take time to learn. Sure, YouTube videos and conversations with other homesteaders are helpful, but nothing (in my opinion) really takes the place of getting your fundamentals from reading.

Wants vs. Needs
In our society, wants often take precedence, but if you truly want to live a more self sufficient life, needs must take priority. Keep this firmly in mind as you carefully plan your homestead.

Get out of Debt
This must come before buying new land or beginning building projects. If you're always trying to earn money to pay off debts, you won't have the time or energy to homestead. Debt is about consumption. Homesteading is about production. Debt is about slavery. Homesteading is about freedom. Plus, from personal experience I can tell you that being out of debt and having a great credit rating will make buying your dream homestead much easier, even if you plan to do it with cash.

Courtesy  C. E. Price and Wikipedia Commons.

Few of us can afford acres and acres of ideal homesteading land. (And, in truth, there's virtually no ideal homesteading land, anyway.) So it's important to wipe that ideal out of your head and look at things more realistically. First, consider how you can save money for your homestead, even if you're only putting aside a small amount each month. Then consider: Should you put off your homestead dreams until you can buy acreage? Or should you start homesteading now, where you are. I always think the latter is best. First, homesteading requires skills and skills take time to learn. Start learning and practicing those skills now and you'll be much better off later. Second, there's no reason to wait. Why spend a fortune on organic and grass fed food when you could be saving a lot of money by growing as much of your own food as possible? And the money you save can go into your homestead land fund, if you wish. This is how my family - and so many, many others - began their homesteading journey.

Also think about how you can make land that is considered less desirable (and is therefore less expensive) work for you. Anna Hess, author and well known homesteading blogger, bought land that's hard to get to in the winter; it was a disadvantage she was willing to deal with in order to afford homesteading in a rural area. My family and I are moving into a wooded area. Turns out, you don't need to knock down all the trees in order to homestead in the woods. (You just need a clearing for a dwelling and for your garden.) If money for land is a concern, consider that you may have to move where others don't want to live. Set some realistic priorities (within so many miles of town, a year round creek, etc.) but be flexible, too. Think and plan carefully. Roads and driveways should go in first; then utilities (including wells and septic systems). Remember that permitting can be way more expensive than you think. Actually, it will probably all cost more than you think.

A place for you to live must come before most other projects, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy or build a traditional house. Many homesteaders start off in a tiny house motor home, mobile home, or used manufactured home. (New manufactured homes often cost as much as modest stick built homes, especially if you use a construction company that offers a limited number of home models to choose from.) For some, these "temporary" dwellings will become permanent housing. For others, they are a place to live while they build something else.

Courtesy of Spedona and Wikipedia Commons.
Begin with a Garden
I always recommend homesteaders start by growing food. Don't make the garden huge if you've never gardened before, or you have experience only with a small garden - because you'll quickly become overwhelmed. If you're in the city or suburbs, start by growing edibles in among the ornamentals. Then try a small edible garden. Later, if you have room, you can expand a little each year.

If you have the space (and it doesn't necessarily take much), plant some fruit trees and shrubs as soon as possible. They will take a few years to start producing much food, so it's important to get them planted now. (There's an old saying that fruit trees are best planted 10 years ago.) However, do pay attention to the needs of the plants and the quirks of your particular property before you spend a bunch of money on trees. If you plant them in the wrong place, you'll delay their food-producing years - and might even kill them.

Learn to Preserve
Begin learning how to preserve food as soon as possible. It doesn't make much sense to have a huge garden or animals for eggs, milk, and meat unless you know what to do with all that food. At the very least, homesteaders should know how to freeze, can (including pressure can), and dehydrate foods.

Start with Small Livestock
Chickens are excellent starter livestock. They are cheap to buy, easy to care for, don't require a ton of your time, and will give you healthier, cheaper eggs than store bought. Once we are moved, one of the first things we'll do is re-establish our egg-laying flock.

Once you feel comfortable with chickens, consider what other animals you might want to add to your homestead. Meat chickens are a natural second critter; their care isn't exactly the same as egg layers because they have different feed requirements and (unless you raise a heritage breed) are so dumb they will drown in a bowl of water. But they certainly aren't overwhelming if you're used to caring for a laying flock.

After that, it's really up to you to decide what additional animals you want on your homestead, perhaps adding a new type each year until you have all your want.

For us, goats are a priority because we'll need them as brush eaters. And while we eventually want dairy goats, I don't think I'll attempt them right away because my research shows they are pretty labor intensive compared to other homestead animals. Pigs are another high priority for us. My husband loves pork, and it's impossible to find store bought pork that's raised in a healthy way. Pigs are pretty easy to raise if you buy piglets from someone else, but it still takes time and money to build them appropriate housing and fencing - and like so many homestead animals, you can usually only buy babies in the spring or fall. Eventually, we will probably add meat rabbits to our repertoire, and possibly some turkeys. A dog to keep cougars away and at least one cat to help with woodsy rodent populations obviously have to come early on, too. Whenever we add a critter, though, we will first consider how much more time and money it will take us to do so...and we'll always have our property prepared (housing, food, water sources) before bringing them home.
Courtesy wfmillar and Wikipedia Commons.

Off Grid Options
Many homesteaders long to live off grid. I don't necessarily have that desire, but I do believe that if we use less stuff that needs electricity or other energy sources, we'll save money and be better able to live the life we want. If you have off grid dreams, start small. Hang your laundry to dry. Do dishes by hand. Use a wood stove. Then, if you desire, gradually work toward more expensive projects. Just make sure they make sense for where you live. For example, we live where it's overcast much of the time; it wouldn't make sense to spend a lot of money on a solar energy project (although our tiny house motor home is already equipped this way). On the other hand, we have quite a bit of wind, so we might consider harnessing some wind energy.

Really, all this advice comes down to a handful of things:

1. Do your research.
2. Plan carefully and as financially accurately as possible.
3. Take on one project at a time.

I hope this helps you prioritize your homesteading journey!

Jan 19, 2016

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know-How: A Book Review

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know How a Book ReviewWhen I first saw Andrea Chesman's The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, I was skeptical. Was this really a book I'd find useful? After all, I regularly cook from scratch using backyard fresh ingredients, and I'm well versed in food preservation. Happily, however, Chesman's book completely exceeds my expectations.

The first three-quarters of this book were what I found the most useful. Here, Chesman gives tips on outfitting the homestead kitchen for "field-to-table" cooking; gives basic (though excellent) guidelines on how best to harvest, store, and cook fresh vegetables and vegetables; gives advice on dealing with a dried bean or grain harvest; looks at a few ways to make your own sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, and apple cider syrup); discusses how best to deal with eggs, various homestead birds, and rabbits; explains how to handle fresh milk; and explores the hands on aspects of  other homestead meats (beef, lamb, goat, and pig).

I love the author's advice on explaining to a butcher what cuts of meat you want; this is a process that can be completely overwhelming if you've never done it before. Chesman also offers interesting details on how to make boiled cider and cider syrup - something I'd never even heard of, but which is a viable alternative to syrup and molasses for those with apple trees. She also answered some of my questions about fertilized chicken eggs: Are they edible? Are they gross? And her information on handling a bird carcass in the kitchen, including how to freeze it (she favors the spatchcock method) and what to do with other edible parts (like hearts and livers, not to mention feet), is excellent. I also appreciate the details on how to properly render lard and tallow. And why is it I never thought to render chicken fat? Chesman claims it's a wonderful for cooking.

The author also covers preservation techniques, including dehydration, pickling and fermenting, cold storage (cellar or fridge), freezing (which she seems to favor), and canning. Oddly, Chesman admits she doesn't do much pressure canning; she prefers frozen vegetables and can't imagine what to do with canned meat. In fact, she claims the USDA recommends boiling canned meat before using it - something I've never read in any canning book or reliable canning site (like The National Center for Home Food Preservation). She does, however, put to rest botulism fears. (As long as you follow the basic rules, you are fine.)

There's also a section on what to make with homestead milk. Here, the author focuses on some of the easier items, like butter and creme fraiche, yogurt, ricotta, and mozzarella. Next is a section on charcuterie - or processing meats like bacon at home. I think she offers an excellent beginner's guide here, making homemade corned beef, ham, and sausage seem totally do-able.

The last quarter of the book is all recipes. I find this the least helpful section of the book, since most of the recipes I'm really attracted to (from scratch cream-of-anything soup, sourdough starter, no knead bread, making whipped cream from fresh milk, kimchi, homemade liquid pectin, etc.) are found in other sections of the book. In addition, I found some of the recipe choices odd. For example, the author mentions repeatedly that lard is a fantastic choice for pie crusts - yet there is no recipe for one anywhere in the book. Instead, she chooses to include a butter-based crust recipe.

Yet while there are some things I wish the author had mentioned (growing stevia or sugar beets, for example) or gone into more depth about (what are the best ways to use rendered fats?), the fact is, an author can only cover so much in a single volume. Yes, Chesman is opinionated (in her mind carrots are great for grilling but parsnips aren't), but I don't mind this. Her opinions come from years of experience cooking on the homestead. I may not agree with every little point she makes - but the fact is, they are just little points. Overall, Kitchen Know-How is an excellent reference and one I recommend for every homesteader or field-to-table cook.

Related Posts:
The Backyard Homestead book review
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals book review

Dec 22, 2015

Best Homesteading Posts of 2015

People talk a lot about the negative side of the Internet - and certainly it has one. But there's one huge positive side to the web: The enormous amount of information available at the click of a mouse. I remember having to call a reference librarian to look up specialized information for me...and sometimes they turned up with little or nothing. I remember asking my parents questions and having to be satisfied with, "I don't know. Try looking it up in the encyclopedia." And then not being able to find the answer. But today, if my children or I have any question, we can easily and quickly look up the answer in about one minute!

Well, one area where the Internet is currently excelling is in proving information for homesteaders (and wanna be homesteaders). Never before have people been able to exchange ideas, failures, and successes in homesteading as they can today. And with that in mind, I want to share with you some of my favorite homesteading articles of 2015. Show these homesteaders some love! Click on the links and check out their excellent posts and blogs!

1.  How to Train a Rooster to Be Nice (Farm Girl Inspirations)

2. The 5 Stages to the 100% Self-Sustaining Flock (Abundant Permaculture)

3. How to Milk Once a Day (The Elliott Homestead)

4. Laundry on Our Off-Grid Homestead (Homestead Honey)

5. Tips for Starting a Food Forest (The Walden Effect)

6. 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Goats (Common Sense Homesteading)

7. How to Keep Goats Fenced In (Farm Fit Living)

8. Make an Outdoor Produce Washing Station (Homespun Seasonal Living)

9. 11 Tips for Using a Clothesline (104 Homestead)

10.  How to Create a Homestead on Wooded Land (Return to Simplicity)

Got a favorite homesteading article published in 2015? Please leave a link in the comments!

Aug 28, 2015

Making (Slow) Progress on Our New Homestead

Do you remember how sloooow time went when you were a kid looking forward to Christmas? That's how I feel, waiting for us to get moved to our new homestead. So I cling to the progress we have made. So far, we've:

* Purchased a shipping container to use first as a storage unit, then (once we have a house and aren't living in our tiny house motor home) as a shop for my hubby. It took forever to find one in our price range. (Don't believe the news stories that say shipping containers are plentiful and cheap! For most of the country, this isn't true. We were happy, however, that our container is one of the few not from China. Ours is from Japan and was used to ship motorcycles here. That made my hubby smile.) So, the shipping container is delivered and placed on top of a moisture barrier and blocks. Yay!

*  Got the shipping container insulated. We looked into buying a shipping container (or maybe a refrigerated truck) that was already insulated, but it was less expensive for us to add the insulation ourselves. We looked at many ways to accomplish insulation, and finally decided it made the most sense to hire a pro to spray foam into it. A bonus: This method uses up less space than other methods of insulation, so there's more room to store things. (Wondering why we bothered to insulate the shipping container? Because without it, changes in
temperature would cause weeping inside the container - which would lead to moldy books, papers, fabrics, photos...and a ruined piano.)

* Started packing and moving things into storage. For years, my husband used a small cargo trailer for storage, so everything he had in there is now in the shipping container. I've also started packing up the one room in our house that needs some repairs...and my husband has transferred those boxes into the container, too. (Incidentally, hubby says we have only two types of boxes: Books and fragile. So funny because it's so true!)

The past couple of weeks, I've paused in packing because it was just too much for me to start homeschool and pack, too. I will get back to it this weekend. Once the room is clear, we'll repair it. Then we can fix up the rest of the house - mostly paint, I hope.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Jul 3, 2015

Maximizing Your Mini Farm - a book review

I've found Brett Markham's book Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre (see my full review here) one of the better homesteading books available today, so when I saw his newest title, Maximizing Your Mini Farm, I was excited. Excited because, like probably all homesteaders, I'm always looking for ways to streamline - to make the most of the land, critters, and garden I have.

But, as it turns out, this book is poorly named. There is very little here about maximizing your homestead. Disappointing? Yes. But if I set aside the expectations the title gives me, I find this book is still useful.

The first chapter mostly recaps what Markham said about soil in Mini Farming. I understand why he included this short chapter; trying to grow food without making your soil awesome is an uphill battle likely to discourage gardeners. The rest of the first three-quarters of the book are chapters on how to raise particular veggies. I think the author's intention was to give readers his best tips for growing these veggies so they will get the most possible from their plants. But really, this section reads just about like any book on growing organic vegetables. He does make sure to cover pests, weeds, diseases, seed saving, and harvesting, and gives at least one recipe at the end of each chapter. Included are chapters on asparagus (including growing it from seed), beans; beets and chard; cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; carrots and parsnips; corn; cucumbers; greens; herbs (a little info on his favorites); melons; onions; peas; peppers; potatoes; summer and winter squash; tomatoes; and turnips, rutabagas, and radishes.

I found some of these chapters a little frustrating. For example, the author writes that "the glycemic index of a potato is influenced by the variety grown, where it is grown and even how it is prepared." Yet he doesn't give us any information on choosing or growing varieties that are lower on the glycemix index. Another example is in the chapter on onions. The author mentions multiplier onions, which self sow - making them, I'd think, the perfect thing to discuss in book about maximizing your garden space. But instead, the author chooses only to discuss standard onions, like those found in grocery stores. I also found it odd that the author didn't necessarily mention how you could get the most food from certain crops; for example, he didn't mention eating radish seeds or pea greens. Still, his information on planting, care, and so on is spot on.

The rest of the book is a sort of hodge-podge of useful information: How to make your own, simple, seed planting guide; how to plant small seeds easily; how to make a heated water platform for your chicken waterer (so it doesn't freeze in winter); how to make a PVC trellis; thoughts on weed control; a primer on making wine; how to make vinegar; how to make some simple cheeses; and a chapter with tips on how to make cooking from scratch a bit easier if you're busy (mostly through making up multiple batches, instead of one each night, then freezing the extras).

Maximizing Your Mini Farm has some great information, especially for novice or intermediate gardeners. But I recommend reading Mini Farming first and consider Maximizing Your Mini Farm as a kind of (admittedly large) appendix.

Jun 24, 2015

Tumbleweed Junction's Harvest Apron - a Review

If you're anything like me, you often find yourself outside meaning to pull just a few weeds or check the chickens' water level, only to end up harvesting veggies or fruits or eggs. And, again, if you're anything like me, you struggle with how to carry the food you've harvested so you can get it into the house. I usually ending up putting it in the bottom of my shirt - which I have to hold up to make a sort of hammock. But this just isn't practical - it's too easy to drop the food or have it stain your shirt. I've always thought that to solve this problem, I needed a harvesting apron.

So when Lorretta of Etsy's Tumbleweed Junction sent me one of  her harvest aprons to try, I was excited. No more stained, stretched out shirts! No more dropping tender fruit as I walked to the kitchen! And in fact, I've found the apron quite convenient. I just whip it on as I head out to the yard - just in case I find something I might want to harvest. It's light weight and comfortable, but sturdy enough for anything I might want to harvest in my yard.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Tumbleweed Junction's aprons. They are made from high end quilting fabric (designed to last!), not the cheap sewing fabric sold in too many chain fabric stores. The sewing is also extremely well done. Honestly, better than I could do - and I've been sewing since Jr. High.

I find the apron works extremely well for light-weight food, including eggs, herbs, lighter weight veggies (like beans and peas), and smaller quantities of heavier veggies and fruits. Recently, a friend brought me some lemons from her out-of-state yard, so I checked to see how well the apron would handle something heftier. It did just fine with probably 1 - 1 1/2 lbs. of lemons, but when I tried to fill the apron up all the way, I found I needed to hold the top of it with one hand, or the lemons would spill out.

Another thing I love about this apron is that people of many sizes can use it. I am currently a size 16 (but heading toward smaller sizes!), and some aprons just don't fit me well. They don't have complete coverage, and/or their strings are too short to tie around me comfortably. But this apron has neither problem - and it also fits my 9 year old daughter! Usually adult-sized aprons are overwhelmingly huge on her. That's not true with this apron. (In fact, she loves the apron so much, she's been doing most of the egg collecting, just so she can wear it.)

Occasionally, Tumbleweed Junction offers this apron in a child's size. Lorretta tells me that if there's enough interest in the child-sized version, she'll offer it more often - and may even start selling mother-daughter matching aprons, too. I'm sure you could contact her via Etsy if you're interested.

Also, Lorretta just began offering a sewing pattern for this apron - both the adult and child's sizes all in one package - so you can make this harvest apron yourself, should you wish. It's a nicely printed pattern, too, with color illustrations and clear instructions.

Overall, I'm loving my Tumbleweed Junction harvest apron.It definitely makes life around this urban homestead a bit easier. To order your own harvest apron, click on over to Tumbleweed Junction's Etsy shop.

May 8, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Ducks on the Homestead

While we grind away at the tasks we must finish here in the suburbs before we can move into our little house in the big woods, we are thinking and planning like mad scientists. For me, a lot of planning and dreaming is centered around what animals we'll add to our new homestead. One critter we are considering is ducks.

Now, there's a lot of talk about how "ducks are the new chickens," but I don't agree. First of all, I don't believe ducks are generally as easy to keep as chickens (especially if you don't have natural sources of water). But it's also important to note that ducks are not either/or situation. Many homesteads have both chickens and ducks - although they have different feeding and housing requirements and should be raised separately.

Why Would You Want Ducks? The Pros.

1. Ducks are excellent slug and snail eaters. They also eat mosquito pupae, potato beetles, Japanese beetle larvae, grasshoppers, and other bugs.

2. Ducks are generally better foragers than chickens, requiring little in the way of supplemental feed. Assuming you have enough foraging area for them, that is.

3. Those who are allergic to chicken eggs can often eat duck eggs.

4. Even when they free range, ducks are good about laying in their nest. They lay eggs first thing in the morning, whereas chickens gradually change their laying time and may lay someplace other than a nesting box if they are free ranging.

5. Most ducks breeds lay well even in winter, whereas chickens lay less in winter.

6. Ducks are supposedly easier to herd than chickens.

7. Ducks are hardier than chickens; they are less susceptible to disease and have "sturdier" babies.

8. Ducks are pretty easy keepers. Just give them a shelter for protection at night, water, and feed (which only needs to be supplemental if they have plenty of foraging space).

9. Ducks generally lay larger eggs - and their eggs are richer than chicken eggs (which could be a good or bad thing, depending upon your preferences).

Duck eggs. (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Why Would You Not Want Ducks? The Cons.

1. Chickens may not be Einsteins, but ducks are even more dense than chickens, generally speaking.

2. Despite the fact that some people say they let their ducks free range in their vegetable garden, ducks will eat the greens there.

3. When confined, ducks need more room than chickens.

4. Ducks will muck up all the water on your homestead. They dig with their beaks, but when those beaks get muddy or dirty, they wash them off. They will use whatever water is handy, including water dishes set out for other animals. .

Duck house. (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and Richard Croft.)

5. If you don't have a natural pond, river, or creek on your homestead, you'll need to create a water source for them. (It's true that ducks can live without water to swim and splash in, but it's unkind to raise them this way.) Many people use a plastic kiddie pool. But, as mentioned above, expect to clean small ponds or kiddie pools often. Even with a filter, the water will get very dirty, very often

Feb 16, 2015

Backyard Winter Gardening: A Book Review

Over the years, I've read a number of books on winter gardening, but Caleb Warnock's Backyard Winter Gardening is by far the best - for the simple reason that it gives easy to follow advice on the simplest ways to grow and harvest food in the winter.

Warnock is best known for his "Forgotten Skills" books, which look at the way pioneers sustained themselves and how we can recreate these skills for modern life. So it's no surprise that the methods included in Backyard Winter Gardening are old standbys easily duplicated today. Specifically, Warnock focuses on cold frames and hot beds.

A cold frame is just a low, bottomless box with a glass lid that's set over vegetables. Warnock explains he's used many types of cold frames, including the store bought variety and cold frames made with straw bales and a piece of glass. But, he writes, his simple, inexpensive, homemade two by four cold frames work best. Happily, they are extremely simple to make and even someone without building experience should be able to create one.

The author also uses hot beds; they have the same construction as his cold frames, but before planting vegetables in them, the author puts fresh manure or green clippings beneath the soil; as these decay, they keep the temperature in the box quite warm.

Using one of these two devices, Warnock grows an abundance of vegetables in winter, including beans, cabbage, lettuce, peas, spinach, and even melons. Between these fruits and veggies and the produce he keeps in his cellar, he easily feeds his family all winter.

In addition, Warnock offers details about his geothermal greenhouse - an underground greenhouse that requires no electricity and gets quite hot (100 degrees F. or more), even in Utah's coldest, snowiest winters. Here, the author grows tomatoes year round and keeps tropical fruit trees.

Warnock also mentions overwintering some veggies. This produce isn't really growing during winter; it's just staying fresh by staying in the soil. He includes carrots, beets, and other vegetables in this list, and also shows readers how to harvest them pre-winter and store them in a cool location, like a cellar or garage. I was especially excited to see that if stored correctly in a box in a cool place, many vegetable tops will continue growing, giving fresh greens all winter.

Throughout, Warmock stresses that choosing the right seed for growing food in winter is essential. Not all varieties do well in the cold, dark months. To help readers find the right type of seed, he includes the names of some of his favorite varieties and gives advice on the best places to find winter vegetable seeds.

The only thing I feel this book is missing is some information about using tunnels for winter gardening. I do realize the author is trying to focus on the most old fashioned and easy ways to winter garden, and tunnels are more of a modern invention. But at the back of the book, the author excerpts some of his gardening journal, mentioning tunnels briefly, but never explaining why he doesn't recommend them. (Elsewhere in the book, he mentions the high winds his area receives, so I assume this is why tunnels don't work well for him. Still, it would be helpful to read what he feels the pros and cons of tunnels vs. cold frames and hot beds are.)

In addition, it's important to remember that Warnock is somewhat selective in the foods he mentions in the book. For example, he neglects to mention parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, or collards, all of which are good winter vegetables. On the other hand, he talks about his amazing trials growing cantaloupe in hot beds (!) and has a chapter dedicated to mangels, an excellent through little-known crop for livestock.

Finally, several times in the book, Warnock refers readers to his website or blog. For example, he suggests checking his blog for an update about growing cantaloupe in winter. But when I arrived at his site, the search feature wasn't working. In fact, his blog looks a little neglected, with loading problems and infrequent posts.

All in all, however, Backyard Winter Gardening is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to those who want to grow more of their family's food.

Dec 31, 2014

Most Popular Posts - for 2014, and for all time!

The most popular post!
It's always fun for me to see which posts are most popular on this blog. (They are never - never! - the posts I imagine will most interest readers!) Oddly, what shows up as popular depends upon what source I look at; but studying stats from Blogger, Pinterest, and other top sources, it's easy to see which posts are all time favorites and favorites for the year. And since recent months have brought a great many more readers to Proverbs 31 Woman, I thought it would be fun to share these lists with you - especially since many of the posts are from years' past. It's a pretty eclectic list; enjoy!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Top 5 Posts for 2014:

1. 52 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids

2. 10 Things I Learned During Our Tiny House Test Run

3. The Letter of the Week Series, especially Letter R

4. Free Art History Curriculum: Claude Monet

5. Walmart Savings Catcher: Hit or Miss?

Top 10 Most Popular Posts of All Time:

 1. How to Train Chickens  (it completely cracks me up that this is the most popular post among readers!)

2. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

3. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

4. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

5. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

6. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

7. Harvesting and Making Your Own Chamomile Tea

8. How Much Money Can You Save Gardening & Homesteading

9. 52 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids

10. Easiest Fruits & Vegetables to Grow

Dec 10, 2014

Why Winter Squash is the Perfect Homestead Food Crop

This year, I've made a concerted effort to try as many different varieties of winter squash as possible - because I believe winter squash is the perfect food to grow on the homestead. I'll tell you why in a moment, but first I want to encourage you to try as many varieties as you can, too. I don't think I've ever met anyone who loved all varieties of winter squash - and many of the more common varieties are not among my favorites. Therefore, I recommend going to local farmer's markets and farm stands to buy and taste new-to-you winter squash. Who knows which ones will be your favorites and a great new addition to your garden? (Most grocery stores don't even begin to cover the very wide array of winter squashes that are available. This guide gives you an idea of the many types of winter squash, but even it is incomplete.)

Now, on to my list of why winter squash is the perfect homestead food crop:

Carnival squash.
1. Winter Squash is Prolific. Most winter squash has pretty high yields. For example, one butternut plant should produce 10 - 20 large squash, depending upon soil and sun conditions. And squash are one of  the easiest plants to grow. Just direct sow the seeds, add water, and watch the plant go wild! Oh, and did I mention that squash leaves shade the soil so you have to water less often? And weeds are naturally suppressed?

2. Winter Squash Is Super Easy to Preserve. While you can dehydrate, freeze, and can winter squash, you don't need to! It will easily last until spring if you keep it in a cool, dry location. Traditionally, that was a root cellar, but if you're not fortunate enough to have one of those, the garage or even just a cool cupboard works just fine.

3. Winter Squash is Nutrient Dense. The exact nutrients and calories in winter squash depends upon the
All winter squashes can be pureed into soup.
variety, but all winter squash are high in nutrients - and very filling. All winter squash are high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B6, and C, and fiber.

4. Winter Squash is Versatile. Winter squash kept the pilgrims alive, inspiring the 17th century poem "We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,/If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon." But while the pilgrims may have grown tired of eating pumpkins and other winter squash, you should not. There are a great many ways to cook it. Our favorite method is to cut it open*, scrape out the stringy part and the seeds, add a dab of butter, and roast at 350 - 400 degrees F. until fork tender. If desired, you can sprinkle a dab of brown sugar over the finished squash. But other methods of cooking abound; try broiling, microwaving, adding to soups and stews, stuffed, or mashing like potatoes. For recipes, check out my Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook.

Roasted winter squash seeds.
5. Winter Squash Seeds Are Edible and Nutritious. Never, ever throw out winter squash seeds! They are rich in Omega 3s, zinc, maganeze, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and fiber. Click here for instructions on how to roast pumpkin and other squash seeds. (You can also sprout winter squash seeds.) We've found the flavor of the seeds mirrors the flavor of the squash, so butternut squash seeds taste different from pumpkin seeds which taste different from sweet meat seeds.

6. Winter Squash Seeds Are Easy to Save. Just remove the seeds, let them dry fully, then store them. It will take only a few seeds for the average family to have plants enough to feed them for another year. Of course, if you save seed from a hybrid winter squash, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not they will sprout and produce decent food. So when you can, choose heirloom varieties for seed saving. (Do remember that if you grow other varieties of squash, or any plants in the cucurbit family, they may cross-pollinate, leaving you with seeds that may not be true to the parent plant. For more on this, click here.)

Roasted winter squash.
7. Winter Squash is Great for Homestead Animals. Many farmers and homesteaders feed their livestock excess winter squash. It saves money on feed costs and is good nutrition for many animals. Traditionally, pumpkin and winter squash seeds were fed to chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats as a de-wormer. (Chickens will eat the seeds whole; for other animals, grind them and mix into feed.) I haven't found scientific proof this works, but it's certainly easy enough to toss the critters some winter squash once or twice a year. In fact, I never compost winter squash; I give any leftovers, the stringy inner stuff, and the seeds to our chickens. They love it!

8. Other Parts of Winter Squash Are Edible. You can eat winter squash flowers, just like you would slightly more traditional zucchini flowers. Wait until you're certain the flower has been fertilized and is starting to grow a squash, then snip it off and cook it. Squash flowers are yummy! The Indians also used to eat winter squash leaves. I confess I haven't tried this - because where I live, squash leaves always end up at least somewhat affected by powdery mildew. (Click here and here for my natural treatments for powdery mildew.) But here is more information on eating the leaves.

* One complaint about winter squash is that some varieties are difficult to cut open. While the tough skin of winter squash is what makes it easy to store for long periods of time, it's true that a kitchen knife is no match against some varieties, like hubbard or sweet meat. The solution is to use a hatchet or sawzall to cut up these varieties. Not interested in doing that? Select winter squash with more tender skins, like butternut and delicata.

Jun 5, 2014

How to Save Up for Your Very Own Homestead

So many people these days dream of having a homestead – a place where they can be more self sufficient and grow or raise their own food. But a large number of people I talk to are at a loss as to how to achieve this goal. Specifically, they think it's impossible - or nearly so - to get land to homestead on. There’s even a certain segment of this population who’ve come to believe that land is only obtainable if you’re rich – or get an inheritance. But I've talked to too many people who weren't rich, but were living the homestead dream, to believe this is true. So with that in mind, here are my top tips for snagging your very own homestead:

* Carefully consider your reasons for wanting to homestead. It's vital to fully understand why you long to homestead. Trust me; during the discouraging times, you need to know why you're scrimping and saving. For example, my main reasons for homesteading are: Higher quality, safe food for my family, and (eventually) a more rural lifestyle for my family. (I want my kids to be able to run around and play outdoors as much as they desire.)

* Consider what kind of homestead do you really need. Some people are happiest in the suburbs, where they can grow food, keep chickens, and tend bees. Others long to live more in nature, and have dreams of raising cattle. Try to be realistic here. If you've never lived in the country, but dream of a wilderness homestead, at the very least you need to spend a few months living in the middle of no where - preferably in the winter - before you sink your savings into a place you may end up hating.

* Check your credit history - right now. You'll need a report from each of the three major agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. By law, you can get one report per year for free. A good way to do that is to visit Read the reports carefully, and check for fraud, identity theft, or mistakes.

* If you don't have a credit history, like it or not, you will need one in order to buy a homestead. That means if you’re one of the few Americans who doesn’t have a credit card, now’s the time to get one. Then use it judicially to pay for items you know you already have money for - and pay the credit card off every month, on time.

* Unless your credit score is perfect, work on bettering it. The higher it is, the lower your monthly payments will be. (A score of 640 to 650 is considered the minimum standard for being able to buy a home/land. 750 or above is ideal.) How do you do this? Don't apply for new lines of credit. Pay your bills on time. Pay off your debts (it's okay to have a mortgage).

* If you're in debt, work hard to get out of it. Cut every bit of spending you can; it’s generally much easier to cut spending than to increase your income. If you need to motivate yourself, try pasting a picture of your dream homestead on your wallet, on your computer screen, or wherever you’ll see it before you make a purchase. You’ll also need to make a household budget. Be sure to browse the Dollar Stretching section of this blog for ideas on trimming your spending, and work on living without so much stuff.

* Save, save, save. Consider cheaper housing; I've heard of people living in their cars for a few months, to save a few thousand. This is pretty extreme – and not very practical or safe if you have children – but thinking outside the box and keeping your eye on the prize will go a long way toward helping you get your homestead. Consider every possibility: Every little bit extra that you have – even if it’s only a few dollars a month – needs to go into some sort of savings account. Every gift of money you receive, every bonus, every tax return. And while it may feel silly to deposit a few dollars in a savings account, over time, those little deposits do add up.
 * Consider other ways to bring in income. While you probably don't want to sink a bunch of money into a new business, could you start selling something on Etsy or Ebay? Is there anything homestead related that you could turn into a business now? (For example, do you grow enough extra food you could sell it at a Farmer's Market?)

* While you're saving and preparing, take look at real estate listings. Use a mortgage calculator, like this one, to get an idea of how much you can afford to spend on a homestead. Remember that there are lots of variables, though, including your credit score, how much of a down payment you can save (ideally, 20 percent of the cost of the homestead, though it’s certainly possible to do with less), and interest rates. Be sure to check different counties, too, since one county can have considerably higher property taxes than another. And don’t forget to allow for closing costs, which run from $2,300 to $4,000. 

* Look elsewhere if your real estate searches make you realize you can't afford a homestead in your current location. It's true that with cheaper land comes fewer jobs, but that doesn't mean it's totally impossible to find a job where land is less expensive. And if you can get an Internet-based business going, lack of jobs won't be an issue at all. (For great advice on starting such a business, I recommend Microbusiness Independence; it's only $2.99, but offers tons of great advice.)

* Consider free land. Yes, there are still places in the U.S. where land is free - with certain conditions (usually that a house of a minimum size is built on the land within a certain period of time). The reason these offers are available, however, is because the economy in the area is tanked and/or the weather conditions are harsh. Kansas has one of the more successful free land programs. There are similar programs in Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa.

* Consider alternative homesteads. Yes, I dream of a beautiful (preferably old, but restored) house on at least forty acres, but unless God drops that into my lap, it's not likely that's what we'll end up with. And that's okay. There are many ways to work yourself up to the homestead of your dreams; it's important to have an open mind when looking for land. For example, you might live in a camper or trailer on bare land, until such time as you can build a house. (Or you might decide living in a trailer isn't so bad - I highly recommend you read Trailersteading for a thorough look at this possibility.) Or you might have a smaller, older home in need of some repairs that you can gradually work on. Or you might need to reconsider your land needs. Could you make due with 5 acres instead of sixty?

* Homestead where you are. While you wait, you can still do some homesteading. City dwellers can plant pots of food on their roofs, balconies, and porches. Those in the suburbs can have bigger gardens, and maybe some chickens, rabbits, and bees. Everyone can read, read, read about homesteading. For more ideas, read "Homesteading Skills to Learn NOW."

The main thing is to not get discouraged. God has a plan for you. Focus on being in his will, and everything else will fall into place.

Apr 28, 2014

How to Homestead with Children {The Ins and Outs of Homesteading with Kids}

Ma and Pa Ingalls did it. As did thousands of other pioneers in the 18th and 19th century. But just how do you homestead with young children - without driving yourself a little bonkers? It’s a question I’m still trying to answer.

Before I had children, I had endless amounts of time. I had no idea this was the case - but given how much I got accomplished then and how little I seem to get done now, this must be how it was. Now that I have little people to care for, it seems I have zero spare time. Homesteading with children can, I've learned, be utterly exhausting.

Yet my husband and I are working on the homesteading lifestyle especially because of our children. We want them to have the freshest, most nutritious food. We want them to have self sufficiency skills. We want our family to have an outdoor, down to earth lifestyle.

But again: How does one accomplish this with young children underfoot?

After our daughter was born, I planted a vegetable garden as usual, keeping our into-everything baby in her stroller. But by the following year, that wasn’t going to cut it. Our little go-getter wanted to help Mommy. With everything. Fine, I thought. All those old-timey advice books recommend getting children started with chores as soon as possible; I can start teaching her how to garden now! It'll be wonderful!

First, my daughter dumped all the carrot seeds into a single hole. Then she over-watered them, so they floated into the garden’s pathways through the swiftly moving streams she'd created. Later, when a few carrots still managed to come up, she trampled over their tender baby leaves with oblivious little feet.

Homesteading with young children isn’t as easy as Ma Ingalls made it seem.

Now our daughter is 8 – and her little brother, 5. And I’ve learned a bit more about homesteading with children. I still don’t make it look as easy as Ma Ingalls, but each year, we do seem to get more accomplished – and as a family, working together.

Ideas to Try:

* Give each child a small garden or his or her own.
I found giving my daughter a large pot worked better for us than giving her a piece of land. While your child will be in charge of his garden, help him choose seeds wisely. Offer him a selection of easy to grow plants like peas, green beans, and sunflowers. Show your child how to plant, how to water, and how to weed. Then make sure you don’t tend to the garden - even if you fear the garden will fail through lack of attention. A dead garden is an equally good lesson as a thriving one!

* Work on the family garden in short sessions, giving very young children something else to do while you work. Babies and toddlers are fine in a playpen. Slightly older kids can spend a lot of time in a sandbox, with a mud puddle, or digging holes nearby.

* When children are older, teach them simple gardening chores according to their abilities and level of maturity. My children love pulling weeds and feeding them to the chickens. Other good chores include using a watering can and helping to harvest.

* Give children animal related chores. Yes, you will have to make sure they follow through, but kids love animals - and having another creature’s life in your child's hands is a great way to grow her level of maturity. Good jobs include collecting eggs, feeding and watering, and rounding up animals into their houses.

* Keep hand sanitizer near chicken coops, animal pens, and compost bins. Teach your children to use it after touching anything that might contain manure. While you’re at it, teach them to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth.

* Let your kids get dirty. Yes, they will track mud and dirt into the house no matter how many times you warn them not to. But getting dirty is a childhood joy and will help instill a love of homesteading in your children.

* Get children involved in the planning process. What vegetables would they like to eat next summer? What fruits? Do they want to raise rabbits? If so, what can they do to help care for them? And will they be willing to eat rabbit meat if you do raise rabbits? (Trust me; that’s an important discussion.)

* Do give children homesteading chores, or you’re likely to burn out. Besides, you want to instill these skills in your kids, anyway. Accept that they will probably not do the job as well as you. But every time they do the chore, they will get a little better at it.

* Allow your kids to eat food straight from the garden as long as they ask first. This is my children’s favorite way to eat their veggies.

* Make it easy for kids to clean up outside. An outdoor sink is a delight, but a hose with soap nearby and a place to put dirty boots is essential.

* Keep children away from potentially dangerous projects. Good examples include canning (although they can help with the prep work, like peeling fruits) or running tillers.

* Don’t neglect to keep part of the yard open as a place for kids to freely run and play. So many people today talk about how useless lawns are, and seem to want to pack their yards with gardens and adult eating areas. But lawns and open space are very useful - nay, necessary! - if you have children.

* It’s tempting to work during children’s naptimes - but don't! If you’re a super mom and really not sleep deprived (Really? How do you manage that??), go ahead. Otherwise, rest during their nap times. You’ll be a better parent – and homesteader – if you do.

* Allow time for your children (and you!) to pet the goats, blow dandelion seed heads, notice wild animals, and generally experience the homesteading life. Study how a cucumber miraculously turns into yummy food after starting out as an unassuming seed; that you must move slowly and calmly to catch a chicken; that dirt feels great between your toes…These are the things too few children get to experience these days. And that’s why you need to homestead with them.

Thanks, Ma Ingalls, for teaching me that.