5 Good Reasons You Should Start Homesteading NOW!

5 Good Reasons You Should STart homesteadin now!

So you want to homestead?  Welcome to the exciting, crazy, productive, and exhausting world of homesteading!  There is so much to think about and plan, it is hard to know where to start.  People approach me on a regular basis asking for advice on starting a homestead.  So here it is.

When is the best time to start a homestead?

Yesterday.

Yesterday is the best time to start a homestead.

If you are too late to do that, then today is the best time.  I have heard countless reasons to put it off.  “We want to have everything planned out first.”  “We are waiting until we are more financially stable.”  We are waiting until we can tell it is just the right time.”   “We are waiting until after we have our children.”  “We are waiting until we are done travelling.” Those are obviously all important reasons, and for some people, starting now isn’t an option.  But for many people, these reasons are partly procrastination and partly sheer intimidation.

Because homesteading IS intimidating.  It is expensive to buy property.  It is constant daily work.   It’s a huge challenge to homestead with small children.  Travel is vitually non existant, at least not without extensive and sometimes expensive planning.  But it is also extremely rewarding.  It is highly educational, and it is, after all, how you want your children to be raised.  So what is holding you up?

5 Good Reasons to Start Homesteading Now!

Madelaine holding meat chick

1.  Start homesteading before your children are too OLD to value it. 

We started homesteading about 5 years ago, when my youngest was one year old.  We started slowly with just 5 chickens, and gradually increased our workload as we were capable.  My youngest child has known no other life and so the daily chores are a part of life.  Growing food is a part of life.  Milking goats is a part of life.  Life and death are a part of life.  And she wants it all!  My eldest child is much less interested in the daily activities and had a harder time adjusting to the switch from commercial to homemade food.  My middle child is somewhere in between.

 

apples watermarked

2.  Enjoy the fruits of your labour as soon as possible.  

Why wait until everything is ideal?  There may be no ideal time.  If you start now you and your family can start benefitting from your efforts and from chemical-free, healthy, GMO-FREE food that much sooner.  The SECOND you purchase your own property plant your fruit trees.  Make your orchard the first priority.  It takes years to grow a fruitful orchard but only months to set up laying hens or fencing for goats.  Plan that orchard now before you even think about your garden, or chickens, goats or rabbits.

 

 

Madelaine planting onions

3.  Learn to value your food. 

Homesteading teaches you how to grow and raise food, where food comes from, how hard it actually is to work for your food, and what sacrifice is involved in gathering and processing your food.

 

 

Canning Shelves watermarked 2014

4.  Learn to be more self-sufficient. 

Ever wondered what would happen if for some reason you couldn’t access a grocery store for a while?  You wouldn’t even flinch if you had food stored away, a garden to eat from, and fresh eggs and milk at your fingertips.

 

 

Wool and wheel

5.  Step out of your comfort zone and gain real-life skills. 

Our bodies and brains are meant to be worked, and homesteading is a constant treasure trove of new learning experiences, both physical and mental.  You know all those things you never thought you would do?  Do them!  Learn how to process chickens.  Help birth a difficult goat labour. Build a chicken coop from scratch out of reclaimed wood. Plant your garlic in the icy cold rain of late fall.  Open up a beehive and meet a colony of 30000 honeybees.  Stepping out of your comfort zone allows you to conquer fear and uncertainty leaving you empowered and rich.

Now that you have some good reasons to get started, check out the following resources to help you get the ball rolling!

A day in the life of a homesteader group series

A Day In The Life Of A Homesteader

A Homesteader's Thank You watermarked

A Homesteader’s Thank You.  Do You Say It Right? 

You know you are a homesteader when... titled watermarked
You Know You Are A Modern Homsteader When… 17 Telltale Signs

Homesteading with Nigerian Dwarf Goats
A Goat Is Born: Homesteading With Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Homesteading-for-Sustainability
Homesteading For Sustainability from Homespun Seasonal Living

So You Want To Be A Homesteader! Part 1 from Timber Creek Farm

Adding Animals to the homesteadAdding Animals to the Homestead from Timber Creek Farm

Inspiring Homesteads from The 104 Homestead

finding your ideal homestead land

Finding Your Ideal Homestead Land from Homestead Honey

 

 

 

 

Grow Your Own Popcorn!  The little things in life make the difference.

Grow Your Own PopcornLast night we enjoyed a very special treat.  We shared a bowl of popcorn.  But it wasn’t just any old popcorn and we didn’t eat it with a casual disregard as most people eat popcorn.  We savored each piece and smiled.  This popcorn was extra special and extra sweet because we grew it ourselves!

I bought a pack of pink popcorn seeds a few years ago from West Coast Seeds.  I didn’t plant them immediately because I was worried about cross pollination with the other corn.  Last year, though, I had a spot in my garden needing seeds, so I popped them in the ground.  The patch was only about 4×8 ft, and my rows were relatively close together, but I planted the entire pack and left them alone to see what would happen.  The seeds sprouted and developed like any corn, and grew to about 5 or 6 ft tall.  They were smaller than a normal corn plant, and thinner.

popcorn pink watermarkedThe package said that the corn is mature when the kernels are pink and then they should be allowed to dry on the stalk. The squirrels started to get into them so I picked them and let them dry in the house.  I was worried that they hadn’t fully developed because the cobs were small, and they weren’t uniformly pink throughout.  I left them alone for months… almost scared to try them to see if they would pop.

Last week my daughter pulled all the kernels off the cob and we put them in the air popper.  They popped!  And it was the best bowl of popcorn we have ever had.

Can you harvest and plant the seeds?
If you have other corn that flowered at the same time, or if your neighbours did within a fairly large radius, then likely your corn will be cross pollinated with another variety and it might not grow true popcorn.

What if my kernels don’t pop?
Always test a small amount first to see if they will pop.  If they don’t, soak them in water for a few days, dry them off and try them again.  They might not have quite enough moisture in them.

Do they taste the same as regular popcorn?  
No.  They are better ;)  I actually thought they were slightly sweeter.  In my opinion it was the best tasting popcorn ever, but my taste buds could be biased because I grew them!  They were delicious, and the popped kernel, along with the dried kernel, the cob and the plant itself, are a bit smaller than normal.

Was the percentage of corn that didn’t pop similar to store-bought popcorn?
I would say there were a bit more kernels left at the bottom of the popper afterwards than a good quality store-bought popcorn, but MOST popped and it was hugely successful.  My inexperience and the fact that I harvested them a bit early could have influenced that too.

How many cobs do you need to get a whole bowl full of popcorn?
This is a tricky question since I didn’t count the cobs that I used.  I would say we used about 4-5 cobs of corn to get a medium sized bowl of popcorn.

Are the popped kernels pink?
No they aren’t.  Just the unpopped kernels. :)

A couple quick tips on growing corn:
Corn likes to be grown in fertile soil so plant in soil that has been boosted with manure or compost, watch for pests especially when the plant is small (cut worms, slugs etc) and keep it nicely watered through the drier months.  Don’t plant until your soil is warm (in my location in Canada corn shouldn’t be planted until about May).  Corn needs to be planted in at least a 4×4 grid (4 rows across by 4 rows deep) to allow for proper wind pollination.

Where to buy seeds:
In Canada:
West Coast Seeds
Saltspring Seed Company

In the United States:
Victory Seeds
Rare Seeds

 

If you have a bit of space to grow some extra seeds, give popcorn a try!  I guarantee that you will love the taste and you will savor each bite.  And remember, its the little things in life that make the difference.  

A Homesteader’s Thank You.  Do You Say It Right?

A Homesteader's Thank You watermarkedHomesteading is all about learning, sharing and teaching.  Without mentors, learning the old skills would be a lot more challenging.  Thankfully there are people out there who have learned, and who are faithfully teaching others.  I have reached out to many different people to learn how to milk goats, can food, spin wool, make soap and build shelters.  I have called my mom or dad countless times to discuss pruning fruit trees, bread-baking tips, and tapping maple trees.  I have had intimate conversations with elderly ladies, discussing tips on freezing food and harvesting honey.  I have sent numerous text messages to farming friends for advice while birthing goats.  And made many trips to a friend’s house to learn how to skin a goat for meat, process chickens or felt wool.  The information is there, if you search hard enough, and it is worthwhile to learn.

But do you say thank you?  And how do you say thank you?  I have spent years now, teaching my skills that I have learned, to others, for free. I get so excited when I learn a new skill that I want to share it with others as soon as I can.  Everyone says thank you.  Some even bring me thank you “gifts”.  And others reciprocate.  I have to admit two things: First,  it feels good to feel appreciated.  And second, I haven’t always given back.  But now that I am doing a lot of the teaching, I realize how I should have thanked people, and I hope that I won’t let that occasion slip from my fingers again!

3 Ways That A Homesteader Can Say Thank You: 

Show appreciation by giving something you have made.  
Words DON’T always cut it.  If someone spent a few hours teaching you how to make soap, don’t just say thank you.  Give them a jar of jam!  A packet of garden seeds!  A rooted cutting of a fruit tree!  It doesn’t have to be big but it makes a world of a difference.

Give back by teaching them something.
I started a facebook group for local people interested in learning basic life skills.  A few of the people often host get togethers where people go and learn a skill.  Or they offer their house as a location and someone else teaches a skill.  When you are always the one hosting you figure out very quickly that it takes a lot of time and energy to prepare, including cleaning up the house, in order to share with others.  If others are also doing this, it is much more rewarding.

Give back by helping them out.
So you just spent the day learning how to spin wool.  Someone sat with you and patiently taught you.  Give back by teaching them how to make cheese. Help them process their chickens.  Help them shovel manure.  Help them build a chicken coop.

Go forth and multiply! 
When I teach a new skill for free, I always finish up my talk with “now, everyone, you have two pieces of homework to do.  Number one, go home and do what I just taught you to do so you don’t forget how to do it.  Number two, share it with others, as I have shared it with you!”  Obviously, some skills can’t be repeated immediately, but some can, and if you value the skill you just learned, you should do it again on your own so that you remember how to do it. Nothing is more satisfying to me than knowing that I taught other people a new skill,  that they went out and did it themselves, and  that they will be teaching others, as someone once taught me.

Homesteading is a community and it takes a continuous sharing of hands to keep everyone feeling like they are valuable and not being taken advantage of.

I invited a group of people over to walk the “maple tap trail” with me.  I spent a lot of time teaching them what I had learned, from locating the trees to tapping the trees, storing the sap and making the syrup. One family brought me a jar of homemade chicken stock.  Another lady brought me a packet of flower seeds that the bees would love.  THAT, my friends, is an example of a homesteader thanking another, in homesteading language.

Does it have to be every time?  No!  But it has to be often enough that people feel that the skill that they taught you was valuable to you, and worth their time and effort.

Please share how you thank your homesteading friends, or how a gift has made you feel like a valuable member of your homesteading community!

 

 

Maple Sugaring: Tapping Bigleaf Maples on the Pacific Northwest.

Maple Sugaring Watermarked2
I have known where maple syrup comes from since I was a child reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder book “Little House in the Big Woods” where Pa taps the trees and comes home with gallons of maple sap.  The simple, true story set in Wisconsin in the late 1800s, describes in great detail how maple sap becomes maple syrup and maple sugar  The little girls’ memories of the event and the taste of maple candy is invigorating even today, when I read those same stories to my children.  I live on the west coast though, and we can’t grow sugar maples here so the story remains just that, a story.  Or not?

Little House in the big woods

I read last year that people on the west coast were tapping broad leaf maple trees.  Not only were they collecting sap, but they were having maple syrup festivals, local high-end restaurants were buying it, and the few local farms tapping and selling the syrup can’t keep up with the demand. Hipsters on 100 mile diets from the city, craving syrup that, typically until now was not a product produced within a 100 mile radius, are buying local maple syrup for $20 a cup.  That’s $80 a litre!

I started talking to others about trying to tap my own bigleaf maple trees.  I was quickly shut down by many people.  It isn’t worth the effort. It requires being rendered down 80:1 rather than the typical sugar maple which is 50:1.  But as is typical for me, “isn’t worth the effort” isn’t really in my vocabulary.  Isn’t worth the effort typically means: it is a lot cheaper and easier to go out and buy it.  Truth.  However, homesteading isn’t done because it is worth the effort (financially).  I homestead for the experience.  Maple sugaring is no different.  And the effort put into it is worth it in such a big way that those people can’t even imagine it.  It’s the bigger picture.  It is beyond physical effort.  It is satisfaction, pleasure, sustainability, all rolled into one big picture.  Homesteading.  Do you get it?  Well I do.

I bought some spiles (or taps) online.  The first four were made of stainless steel, and their arrival sparked that good old homesteading thrill that makes this lifestyle worth living.  They have that wholesome, raw appearance that other homesteading devices have like wooden buckets, spinning wheels and axes.  But it was raining so hard my thoughts were on building an ark instead of tapping trees.maple spiles

A few days later the weather warmed to record highs.  The sun shone and this was the day to tap the trees.  I re-read my directions,  and went out with my glass bottles, spiles, a drill and tubing under my arm.  I was trailed by 3 intensely interested young children, a dog and a few chickens.  You know what they say about learning: when the teacher is excited about the subject the pupils will learn.

One drilling produced sap.  It was literally dripping out of the tree.  It tasted mildly sweet, much like coconut water.  Once the spile was in place and the tubing attached to the spile and the glass jug, collection officially began.  The warm weather caused a beautiful sap flow, and the jars were full in a few hours.  I was ecstatic.  The dripping did slow down that night, and while still dripping continually, the weather cooled a bit resulting in less sap than the first few hours.  The pleasure was all mine.

maple tapping bucket tree watermarked

Over the following weeks my “maple tap trail” became a bit of an event.  Others were interested in coming to see these trees being tapped, and I opened it up to visitors.  My daughters’ kindergarten and grade 2 classes both came over to have a look.  And I was given the opportunity to prove, once again, to my neighbour that, at least in his eyes, I am stark raving mad.  Some days were so busy that I wasn’t able to walk my maple tap trail until after dark, bucket in hand, and headlamp strapped to my head.  One of the best producing trees is on the border of my inlaw’s property and their neighbour, seeing a light in the forest, shone a bright light out towards me.

“Whose out there?”

“Oh, just me, your crazy neighbour.  I am tapping the maple trees.”

Dead silence, followed by disbelieving chuckling.  Then he called his wife and chuckled some more.

Yes, once again, there was absolutely nothing I could say to the dear neighbour to prove that I wasn’t crazy.  I grinned helplessly and hoped he thought I was my mother-in-law, not me….

Follow my blog for the next chapter of Maple Sugaring: Syrup! coming soon.

Health benefits of maple sap and syrup:

  • Maple syrup is high in minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc.
  • Maple sap or water can boost energy without spiking your blood sugar level.
  • Maple sap or water,  similar in taste to coconut water, it is very mildly sweet and a refreshing
  • First Nations people used to drink maple sap at the end of every winter to help rejuvenate the body and regain vitamins and minerals that were lost due to an unvaried winter diet of dehydrated food.

How to tap maple trees:

  • Buy or make spiles.
  • Drill a 2.5 inch hole into the tree, slightly smaller in diameter than the spile.
  • Tap the spile into the hole.
  • Attach a food grade hose to the spile.
  • Put the hose in a container.
  • Check frequently to empty your container.

When to start and stop tapping:

You can start tapping bigleaf maple trees on the south coast of BC, Washington and Oregon any time during the winter, before the buds start developing.  Once the buds develop the taste will become more bitter and you should stop collecting.
It isn’t recommended that you tap your tree more than 1 month long for the health of the tree.

How to store the sap:

Pouring the sap through fine strainer into a large pot that sits on our wood stove all the time, proved the best way to deal with the sap.  It slowly reduced and I continued to add sap to it throughout the sap run.  You can store sap in the freezer until you render it down, but 80 L of sap is a lot to store in the freezer…..  especially when all your freezers are already full of food.

You aren’t limited to just tapping maple trees.  Other trees you can tap:
Birch
Black Walnut
Box Elder
Alder

I have started a facebook group specifically targeting those who tap Bigleaf Maples or who are interested in tapping them.  If you are interested, please request to join!  Click here.

Maple Tapping facebook collage

For more information on tapping specifically Bigleaf Maples click here.

Enjoy these great articles on tapping trees:

Tapping Trees for Syrup by Homespun Seasonal Living

Home-Sugaring Preparation by Homespun Seasonal Living

No Maple Trees?  No Problem.  How To Make Birch Syrup by Joybilee Farms

Making Syrup in the City by Imaginacres

Making Syrup in your Own Back Yard by Homestead Honey

How to Make Maple Syrup by Commonsense Homesteading

The Great Bigleaf Maple Syruping Experiment of 2013 (I thought I was reading my own journal when I read this blog post.  2 peas in a pod, right down to the Laura and Mary series!)

And to round it all off, a delicious looking buttermilk pancake recipe!  Just add your own syrup!
Buttermilk Pancakes by Reformation Acres

 

 

 

 

 

How To Plant Garlic Using an Electric Drill. Easy, quick and fun!

Garlic planting with drill2 title and watermarked

I like power tools.  I don’t have my own but my husband has lots, and when I do get my hands on them, I get that glazed over look in my eyes and rev the engine.  There is something about holding an electric drill up on your shoulder and squeezing the trigger.  I feel POWERFUL!  I feel STRONG!  I feel like we can do this, sistas!  Maybe if I had had the ingenuity to take shop class in high school instead of home ec I would have less of the glazed look and more skill to show for it.  That said, I have discovered a new use for the electric drill.

In 2013 I bought some lovely big, local garlic bulbs to plant.  They were horrifyingly expensive, but I figured that I could collect half the harvest and save seeds for next year.  I planted them in December (our soil doesn’t freeze much where we live) and the following summer I had a bountiful crop of beautiful, delicious garlic.  I ended up with 60+ heads of garlic.  I saved the best half for seed garlic, and we used the other half.

This time when I planted my garlic I had 30 heads, which resulted in 142 cloves of garlic.  That’s a lot of digging, especially in winter, in our cold, clay soil.  My friend Bruce shared his solution!  It is so simple it floored me.  A drill!!  A cordless drill with a large bit on the end.  I could tell you in words how well it worked, but instead I took a video.  Its only a few seconds long: check it out!!

Tips for planting garlic:

  • Garlic prefer well-drained, loamy soil although they will grow in other types of soil.
  • Garlic like to be fertilized.  Before you plant them add some compost or manure to the garden.
  • Don’t plant in an area where they will sit in water at any time during the winter.
  • Plant garlic 4-8 inches apart and about 3 inches deep, pointy end up.
  • You can mulch your garlic to prevent weed growth, with a thick layer of staw, hay, leaves or grass clippings over the winter.  Make sure to thin it to about 2  inches deep in the spring to ensure the garlic will come through the mulch.
  • Don’t forget the scapes!  Hard neck garlic will produce long garlic scapes that should be removed to prevent the garlic from getting woody.  Chop and use as you would garlic or onions, in stir fries, omelets or ???  Delicious!
  • Garlic needs a cold period of time in the winter so make sure you get your garlic in 3 weeks before the ground freezes for the winter.  To prepare your garlic for planting let them sit in a cool area (7-10C) for 3 weeks before planting.

For more tips and information on growing, harvesting and collecting seed garlic, click here.

 

The Green Gardener Soap Recipe with Hemp Oil, Mint and Green Tea.

Green Gardener soap watermarked and titledI am an avid gardener and I spend hours wrist-deep and bare-foot in sun, clay, and manure.  While the last three ingredients result in beautiful vegetables, they take a toll on your skin.  Dirt sucks the moisture out of your skin.  Sunshine and wind further dry and age your skin.  A good soap is a valuable commodity in a homesteader’s wash basin.

The Green Gardener bar is one of my absolute favorites.  It makes a beautiful hard, pale green soap with a fantastic lather.  Using nourishing ingredients such as moisturizing hemp oil, anti-oxidizing green tea and soothing, refreshing mint extract, this soap is great for dry gardeners’ hands.  I added clay to 1/4 of the batch at trace to make a lighter layer on top, but this is totally optional.  This one is a must for any gardener on your list!

Shopping List:

Lye
Sustainably Sourced Palm Oil
Coconut Oil
Hemp Oil
Olive Oil Pomace
Vitamin E
Green Tea
Peppermint Essential Oil
Kaolin Clay

This recipe is written for people who have made soap before.  If you are looking for a basic soap tutorial with pictures click here.

The Green Gardener Soap Recipe.
Author: 
Recipe type: Soap Making
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Green Gardener's Soap makes a beautiful, hard bar of soap combining the nourishing properties of hemp oil with the rejuvenating and anti-aging properties of green tea.
Ingredients
  • 32 ozs. Palm Oil (Sustainably Sourced)
  • 27 ozs. Coconut Oil 76
  • 16 ozs. Hemp Oil
  • 15 ozs. Olive Oil Pomace
  • 10 drops of Vitamin E Oil
  • 13 ozs. Lye (Sodium Hydroxide)
  • 30 ozs. Green Tea (yes, make up a batch of strong tea)
  • 4 ozs. Peppermint essential oil or oils of your choice.
  • 1-2 tsps. of Kaolin Clay (Optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine the oils in a large pot and melt until almost totally melted. Turn off heat.
  2. Combine the lye with the green tea.
  3. Take the temperature of both and add the lye mixture to the oil mixture when the temperatures are the same. As long as the temperatures of both are within 5 degrees F of each other, and are between 90F and 120F, you can combine them.
  4. Blend with an electric hand mixer (stick blender) until the soap reaches trace.
  5. Working quickly to avoid cooling, separate ¼ of the mixture into a different bowl
  6. Pour the rest into your prepared mold.
  7. Quickly mix the clay with the ¼ batch. Then pour on top of the soap that is already in the mold.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and then wrap the batch well with a towel.
  9. Store in a warm place (70 F) for 24 hours.
  10. Remove soap from mold and cut into pieces.
  11. Place soap pieces on edge on a towel where they aren't touching each other (kind of like dominoes) so they can harden and finish the soap making process. Leave for 3-4 weeks before using.

 

 

 

Living On What We Have: A Month of No Groceries

Living On What We Have
Planting.  Weeding.  Watering.  Harvesting.  Canning.  Dehydrating.  Freezing.  When October finally arrived this year and things gradually started to slow down I would stop periodically and gaze lovingly at my full pantry shelves over-flowing with over 700 jars of stored food, the freezers full of our own meat, fruit and vegetables, and jars of dehydrated fruit.  Then I went to the grocery store and came home with more food.  When my husband’s aunt heard the number of jars of food I had canned and told me that was 2 jars of food a day we needed to eat, for 365 days, not including the food in the freezers or the dehydrated food, I finally realized what we needed to do… we needed to stop buying food.  With buckets of beans in the freezer and pounds of carrots still underground why was I coming home with vegetables?  Surely we could stop buying food and eat what we had. Canning shelves 2014d watermarked

I have a tendency to hoard the food I worked so hard for, but realistically it all needs to be eaten before we harvest it again next summer.  A plan began to take shape in my head.  I had  read a blog post about a couple who stopped buying groceries for a year.  They had their exceptions: they bought from local farmers and markets, or traded and bartered.  This is a neat idea, and helps support the local farmers, but in November in Canada there isn’t much to buy from local farmers, and besides, we really already have it all.  We have fresh eggs and milk, and so much food preserved we would last a long time if we could never buy food again.  If they could go a year, surely we could go a month!

And so we began.

My goal was to make sure that my pantry was full of baking necessities, and I bought extra local cheese and butter, freezing the butter.  Other than that, I did not buy anything extra.  We didn’t buy any packaged or prepared food.  We had a case of our own apples in the fridge, and I dehydrated some bananas and apples.  Our garden still had carrots, lettuce, chard, kale, broccoli and radishes.

Within the first week all fresh store-bought produce was gone.  We were relying on the garden, cool-storage and freezer for vegetables.

Starting in the second week we had below freezing temperatures for ten days.  This finished off much of the garden, and the escaped pigs finished off the rest.

By the third week I discovered we were running low on chocolate chips.  Horrors!  :)  We did without.  Pretty much everything else was still well stocked.  Even the canning shelves didn’t look like there was much taken out of them.  The only thing I craved was greens… a nice big salad!  This kick-started an indoor greens garden project.  A few days later I had sprouts growing in jars and in dirt, and the lettuce and mustard green had sprouted.  No one needs greens that come from Mexico in the winter.  We can grow our own.lettuce 1 weekwatermarked

By the fourth week our fridge contained pretty much just jars.  Jars of milk, jars of homemade yogurt, a jar of homemade mayo, relish and sauces, jams, canned fruit etc. The kids grabbed dehydrated fruit for snacks instead of fresh fruit from the fridge.  The frozen blueberries became more important, and the dehydrated apples, pears and bananas were brought out.  We were missing things like avocados, oranges, bananas, tomatoes and greens.  All of those things, though, are either not local or are not grown here this time of year.  We used a lot of frozen peas, corn and beans, the last of the carrots out of the garden, and squash or pumpkin became a feature. Still though, there was no sense of need or depletion of our stores.


eggs and milk watermarked

LESSONS LEARNED

Our month without groceries has taught us some valuable lessons.

It’s greener.

  • No grocery shopping means no plastic bags.  You can’t even get upset with yourself for forgetting the cloth bags.  The opportunity is simply not there.  You are getting greener.
  • No grocery shopping means almost no recycling.  We didn’t stock up on packaged food so there was no packages to recycle or throw out. After all our hard work preserving food all summer, we really CAN preserve enough to THRIVE, not just make it through, the winter.
  • Much smaller carbon footprint. If you aren’t driving to the store you aren’t burning fossil fuels to get there.  And neither are you buying food that came from somewhere far away, that has, itself, a significant carbon footprint.

You save money.

  • To start with you can’t impulse shop.  If you aren’t there to see it, you won’t be buying it.  The end.
  • You aren’t affected by advertising.  2 for 1 apple juice! Too bad I am not going to the grocery store to buy it!
  • You aren’t buying any prepared food which is a lot more expensive than buying the raw ingredients with which to make it.  You use what you have which uses things up and keeps you from buying unnecessary food.

Value your food

  • You learn pretty quickly the value of treats.  Food that we didn’t have, such as fresh out of season produce or tropical fruits, can be truly enjoyed and valued when eaten as a treat rather than every day. My seven year old daughter came home with an uneaten mandarin orange in her lunch box. When I questioned her about it she told me that a boy had brought a box of mandarins to school to share with the class.  Everyone had one.  She took hers home because she remembered that we couldn’t have oranges this month and she wanted us all to share it.  For supper that night, along with our meal we had a little slice of orange cut up neatly by my daughter and placed on each plate.  She had learned how to value a treat, and how to share it with others when she could have eaten it all on her own without us even knowing she had it.  <3
  • You learn to value the resources you have in your freezer, on your shelves, or in your garden.

Reap the health benefits

After eating homemade food for a month when you DO have processed food you are a bit overcome by the intensity of the salt, the sugar and the flavor.  Your body has adjusted to how you are cooking and it no longer tastes bland; it is just what food tastes like.  But when you are hit with the over-salted, over-sugared, over-fatted processed food, your body rebels by feeling sick.  I ate a candy and within a few minutes developed a headache and felt sick to my stomach. It is amazing how quickly our bodies become used to and even addicted to flavoring, salt, sugar and fat.  After “cleansing” our bodies of it, we realize exactly what we are doing to our health by eating processed food in the first place.

Habit changes

  • “Any habit can be broken in 30 days” I read once.  Well, I don’t know how accurate this is, but I certainly know that our lifestyle has been altered significantly after completing this challenge, and I know that it won’t swing back to how it was.  Every single day for thirty days I have had to come up with 3 meals a day and lots of snack ideas with only what was in the house.  This makes for simple eating, and crafty thinking.  Who needs a granola bar for a snack when you could have sliced apples and cheese?  We will be looking deeper into the cupboards now rather than running off to the store.
  • During this challenge I taught my seven year old daughter how to read recipe books and follow recipes.  Now, when she is looking for a snack that isn’t already there, she pulls out a recipe book and makes it from the ingredients we have on hand.
  • With our craving for fresh greens I took on projects I had never done before, like sprouting beans and growing lettuce indoors.  This challenge has helped us look for alternatives rather than just automatically buying something.

How Long Could We Go?
Before the invention of the grocery store people just DID put up enough food for the winter.  It was a matter of life or death.  Today, we don’t have to although we could.  Is it doable?  Well, that depends on how far you take it.  We did buy supplies so that we could bake and continue to eat pretty much the same as we ever did.  That’s just storage though.  We didn’t grow the wheat or oats. Without those supplies we would be living a far different life, and adapting to a different diet. Our quality of life might decrease much further though, and I wasn’t prepared to force my family into something that wasn’t a group decision.  Judging from the one month of no grocery shopping, we would definitely have enough meat, potatoes, flour and canned food to last us the year.  We would not have enough fresh fruit or dehydrated fruit just from our own supplies.

What can we improve on for next year?
In order to go more than a month without fresh fruit we would have to dehydrate more. The kids love fresh fruit and I don’t see why we need to make them do without for extended periods of time unless we have to.  We still have a lot of frozen vegetables but I think we would need to add more next year if we were to get through a winter comfortably.

Will we do the challenge again?
I am sure we will!  In fact, after just one month my canning pantry hardly looks like it has been touched yet.  The freezers are still loaded and the food must be eaten.   And in keeping with Christmas this year, eggnog can be made from eggs and milk produced on our farm, and the ham in the freezer sounds particularly tasty for Christmas.  Christmas treats can be made with whole ingredients with not much difficulty, and with a large stash of pumpkins, frozen apple slices and lard, the pies won’t be lacking! Maybe by Christmas the lettuce will be ready to harvest :).

Ready for the challenge yourself?  
Ever wonder how long you could go without buying food?  Ever wonder how prepared you would really be to spend a winter without groceries?  You could try it even just for a week to get some kind of an idea of what it would be like!  We now know we could go through the winter with the food we have, although we would miss the fresh fruit.  With a little ingenuity though, it is definitely doable, and has made me feel just a little more sustainable in this crazy world of ours.

Eva's cookies watermarked

 

The Simple Art of Making Taper Candles


Taper Candle watermarked titledOn the road to sustainability I recently learned a new skill: making taper candles.  We have been beekeepers for 3 years now, and aside from amazing honey, our bees supply us with extra beeswax.  I use the wax in a number of homemade body products, but I have been planning on making candles with the wax for a long time.  Melt and pour candles such as votives and pillars are nice, but taper candles have elegance, require a bit more effort, and give off better light.  As with a lot of homesteading skills, candle-making is surprisingly easy.  You don’t require a lot of tools or equipment, or even much skill.  And the end result is perfection.

First, before you do anything, watch this beautiful video.  I am enchanted with the simplicity of the process and the use of bees buzzing as background noise rather than more talk.  In fact, you really don’t need any more instruction on how to make them than this video.

 

Materials:

  • Wicking.  Candle supply stores have it, and so do craft stores such as Michaels.  The size of your wicking is important; you don’t want too thick of a wick for a taper candle or the wick won’t burn fast enough to keep up with the wax.  Too thin of a wicking will mean the candle will drown itself.  My friend at Joybilee Farm showed me how to wrap wicking around a ruler to see how wide it was.  The ideal width for a taper candle is about 10-13 wraps per inch, with the wraps not being twisted but lying flat and close together.  Most candle supply stores will have a guideline too.  12 ply flat braided wicking is a good one.
  •  Wax.  When making dipped candles you need quite a lot of wax since you need a pot of hot wax to dip your wick in.  Joybilee Farm recommends 3 lb of wax to make 44 – 6 inch tapered candles, and 26 feet of wicking.  Buy beeswax here.
  • A tall narrow metal container to melt your wax in.  I used an old olive oil container from soap making.
  • An old pot to boil water in, in order to melt the wax.
  • Nuts to attach to either end of your wicking to keep the wicking straight for dipping. (as in, nuts and bolts and screws…)
  • A tall bucket of cold water to dip the candles in to cool them quickly, between dipping.
  • Scissors to cut the nuts off after the candles are finished.
  • A rack or safe place to hang the candles to cool and harden.

Directions:

  1. Melt your wax.
  2. Cut a piece of wicking 16 inches long.
  3. Tie nuts onto both ends of the wicking.
  4. Dip in the wax to the depth you would like your candles to be. 
  5. Dip into cold water to cool.
  6. Repeat dips into wax then dips into water until your candle is the right length .
  7. Remove the nuts with scissors.  Dip the ends of the candles once more to seal the bottom.
  8. Hang candles on a rack to harden.
  9. Take nuts out of the wax while the wax is still soft.
  10. Repeat!

Candlemaking collage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes: 

If you want all your candles to be the same length you will have to add wax as you go since you will be using it up each dip.

You can use different types of wax too.  I don’t use paraffin wax because it isn’t sustainable or clean burning.  If you want a cheaper, or a vegan option, you can use soy wax (although it will be made from GMO soy unless it specifically states that it isn’t).

I made birthday candles too, with a very thin wick and only a few dips!

You can store the hardened wax in the metal container if you like, or while the wax is still hot pour it into molds to harden and store the wax. Aternatively you can pour it into candle molds and make votives, tea lights, or pillar candles!  Make sure you have the proper wicks for that.

For more candle tutorials check out:

Joybilee Farm: Making Hand Dipped Beeswax Chanukah Candles.

Livin Lovin Farmin: Scented Candles In Mason Jars.

Homestead Honey:  Making Beeswax Candles.

 

Why I am Not Vegetarian: A Homesteader’s Perspective.

Lets start with this.  If I couldn’t raise my own meat or source it locally and sustainably I would be vegetarian.

Why I am Not Vegetarian

I have been attacked many a time by readers who say I can’t claim to be “green” when I eat meat.  Hold it right there.  Since when does the definition of being green have anything to do with eating meat?  I found a good definition of green:

What is the definition of green livingGreen living is a lifestyle which seeks to bring into balance the conservation and preservation of the Earth’s natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity with human culture and communities.
-sustainablebabysteps.com

Does it say anywhere in there that green means not eating meat?  It does not.  That said, I don’t actually like the term “green” anymore… it doesn’t seem deep enough, or meaningful enough.  Anyone can recycle their garbage and use safer cleaning products and be considered “green”.  And really, is that actually very green?  Or is that just our everyday responsibility in today’s world?  Lets go deeper, and get far beyond green-washed consumerism.   I prefer the term “sustainable living”.  And I also like Wikipedia’s definition of it.

Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual‘s or society‘s use of the Earth‘s natural resources and personal resources.[1] Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportationenergy consumption, and diet.[2] Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s natural ecology and cycles.

That’s a loaded definition and one worth working towards.  It also, incidentally, does not say anything about being vegetarian.

As many of you already know, and the rest of you now know, my aim is to grow food to supply my family with most of the food we need for a year. ON MY PROPERTY here in Canada.  Not from California or Mexico or Peru.  Right here, were I can see what is going into it, how it is handled, and how it is prepared or preserved.  I fall short of that year after year, but come closer every year.  The last year we have had more than enough meat to eat, produced right here on my property.  We raised meat birds and pigs, which filled our freezer. This year as well as raising meat, my canning cupboard has been filled with local, unsprayed produce and my own food.  My two freezers and extra fridge are stuffed full of meat, fruit and vegetables produced on my property.  Full to the point of considering buying another freezer.

Canning Shelves 2014b watermarked
If sustainable living is partly defined as reducing your carbon footprint by altering your diet to include mostly food produced on your own property, then I think we are pretty well covered.  Most grocery stores in my area are filled with fruit and vegetables brought in from California or further.  The carbon footprint to bring that food to Canada is huge.  My carbon footprint is tiny in comparison.

Kidney beans in a jar watermarked

Actually, my big discovery as to WHY I could never be a strict vegetarian (ie. vegan) occurred this fall.  I discovered that I can’t reasonably grow enough protein on my own property to supply my family of 5 without raising meat.   I grew kidney beans from my own seeds from last year.  I expected to grow enough to have a year’s supply.  I planted them in a section of my garden that was about 6 feet by 8 feet.  The plants grew and produced.  I allowed them to dry out on the bushes and I collected them to dry further in the house.  Then I shelled them and put them in a jar.  My total of beans for the year, from that size of space, was a 1 L jar full of kidney beans (as seen pictured above).  Now, I am not sure how many meals that would provide for my family but it isn’t very many.  Of course, I could have grown a larger field of beans.  In fact I could have grown an acre of beans and finally had enough to supply my family with enough protein to feed them.  If they didn’t understandably kill me first after feeding them only beans for the year.   I don’t actually own enough land to grow an acre of beans, but you get my point.

 


Joel Salatin quote
Now I see nothing wrong with living on beans.  Or lentils, or quinoa, or nuts, or any of a variety of these protein-high products, especially if they were grown in your garden or locally.  But in comparison, the amount of land I would need to grow enough protein to supply my family, when compared to raising meat is incomparable.  In fact I don’t truly believe I would be able to grow and harvest enough vegetables and grains on my 1.9 acres of land, most of which is forested, to provide my family with a balanced diet.  In Canada we have a smaller growing season, a cooler climate, and we are limited to how much protein we can grow.  I don’t even know where I could supply myself locally with enough non-animal protein for the year, from other farmers.  Lentils and quinoa, dried beans and nuts are just not grown here very much, because they require space, commercial harvesting techniques and equipment, and longer, hotter growing seasons to be even remotely efficient.

Pig

I can, however, provide meat for my family which in turn provides protein.  Lots of it.  So a zero mile diet, complete with lots of fruit and vegetables, and some meat, is doable.  And we are doing it.  Our chickens are free ranged and fed GMO-free feed.  Our pigs are fed exclusively on scavenged and organic bread, whey and vegetables.  Our goats provide us milk.  Our bees provide us honey.  Our garden provides us with lots of vegetables and fruit.  We source Canadian organic wheat berries to grind for bread.  We eat well, our animals are happy, and we know where our food comes from.  Right here in our back yard.

I live in Ontario, Canada and during the winter the only local vegan foods left to eat are frozen berries, carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips, turnips, yams and other root vegetables. Sustaining on those foods all winter would be impossible.  So you start importing coconut oil, gojis, cacao, maca, avocados, green salads, etc.  I realized that driving half a mile down the road to buy some eggs is a better option ecologically than buying all these expensive imported “superfoods.”  And when you do the research, the pastured, local egg has more nutrition than any of the superfoods I was paying 10 or 20X more for.  So after awhile I felt pretty counterproductive and hypocritical in my vegan stance.  -from Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Kaleigh Mason, an 8 year vegan. 

There are lots of different arguments on both sides of the coin.  And there are lots of different reasons for eating the way we do.  And I respect (almost) everyone’s decision.  I have found studies that show the world can live entirely on a vegan diet.  I have found studies that show that we can’t.  I have found articles calling vegetarians hypocrites for eating plants because they are alive too.  I have found articles condemning meat eaters because they are taking a life.  I certainly can’t solve the world’s hunger issues, neither can I solve climate change or any other environmental issue.  But I can make a difference by sourcing my food sustainably, and teaching others how to do so themselves.  And before you tear a strip off me for not being green, I challenge you to take a good long look at your own food sources.

It’s not that vegans are right and vegetarians are wrong, or vegetarians are right and omnivores are wrong, or omnivores are right and carnivores are wrong – it’s about where we each choose to draw our line. Better still, to return to the arrogant view that ‘man’ thinks he is at the top of a food chain, Keith concluded “I’m not going to draw a line. I’m going to draw a circle.” We are part of the circle of life, just as any other animal is. They and we need to live and die to give back to the land, so that birth and death can continue. – The Vegetarian Myth

If you are not eating meat because you don’t think animals should be killed, that is your choice.  If you don’t eat meat because you don’t like how commercial meat is produced, and can’t raise it yourself, I applaud you.  If you choose to eat meat and source it sustainably, fantastic.  If you eat meat produced commercially in large factories where animals suffer horribly, may you learn something.  If you eat meat but don’t think you could ever kill an animal for meat, let me teach you.  Just PLEASE don’t be that person who just told me today that she feels sorry for the chickens, thinks she should be vegetarian, and then goes home and cooks up a commercially produced chicken that she didn’t have to see when it was alive.  That is too hypocritical for me.

So back to the beans.  I will continue to grow them and use them as an alternate source of protein but they will go hand in hand with the meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruit I grow to provide my family with an adequate supply of healthy, low carbon footprint food.

More reading:

Interview With An Ex-Vegan

The Vegan Myth

Fertile Soil Needs Animal Agriculture: Joel Salatin on Integrated Farming.

 

 

 

A Homesteader’s Canning Shelves: Preserving Summer’s Bounty.

Canning Shelves 1 watermarled and titled 2014My canning shelves are as important to me as a biker’s Harley. Or a shopaholic’s purse collection. So it is with a lot of pride and a little anxiety that I share them with you today. I have spent countless hours collecting, preparing and canning local or home-grown food to preserve for the winter months when I have nothing left available to me in the grocery stores except conventional produce from countries so far away from me I will likely never see them. As you all know I prefer to grow my own food whenever possible, and since our growing season on the coast of BC Canada is relatively short, I need to preserve it. All summer long I have been harvesting and canning, freezing or dehydrating my own or locally sourced food. This provides us with a source of local, whole food when local is no longer available. I know where the food originated, I know how it was handled, and what went into it. I know that I am providing quality food for my family in the winter. And it feels good.

canning shelves 2014c watermarked

This summer was a particularly busy one. My husband, a commercial fisherman, was gone for most of the 3 summer months. It was my responsibility to take care of the kids, the farm, and the food-growing and -processing. With over 100 chickens to be processed, and the care of 40 plus layer chickens, 10 goats including milking and kidding, 3 pigs and 10 ducks, my time was tight. The large garden produced well and required many hours of labor. The daily activities of our family included, for the most part, feeding, cleaning, weeding, cooking and preserving. Thankfully we live on a piece of property where my children are safe to play because we didn’t have much time to stray from home this summer…

Canning Shelves Close up 4 watermarked

During a few days that my husband had available at home he built a new set of canning shelves for me. They needed to be strong, they needed to be big, and they needed to be earthquake-proof. Just in case. He used 3/4 inch plywood for the shelves. They are 2 feet deep (a sheet of plywood cut length-wise) which holds 6 quart-sized canning jars deep. Each shelf has an oak strip across the base of it that creates a lip so that no jars will slide off the shelves. The shelves go directly to the floor so that the weight will be borne by the floor not the wall. Canning jars are HEAVY!! I can easily climb these shelves without them giving a bit. My choice was to have the shelves staggered a bit for visual appeal which is what we did. My husband grumbled a bit because he knew that they would sag a bit, not being supported one beneath the other but only he really notices that. We filled in the nail holes and finished the shelves with tung oil, from a tung tree. As you enter the house you are confronted with a massive wall of canning jars, and food preservation tools. Most newcomers take one look and their jaws drop. It is quite a satisfactory feeling! Not unlike the feeling a biker gets when someone admires his Harley, or a shopper whose purse is praised. :) And not unlike the shopper, it is tempting to keep filling and collecting jars…..

So while some people show off unique pieces of art, I show off my canning. After all, many hours of dedication went into the creation of this work of art! And no, my canning is not for sale!

 

Canning shelves 2014d watermarked