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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

Raising Pigs for Free: How to Scavenge Food For Your Pigs!

Bacon. Ham. Pork chops. Sausages. Pastry. Lard. So many great products from one animal.

My husband and I have been raising our own animals for meat, dairy, eggs and honey for the last few years. Up until last fall, the only meat we had produced ourselves was chicken. And farm-raised, free-range chicken is unbeatable. But you can’t make bacon out of chicken, and while we aren’t huge pork eaters, we do appreciate good quality pork on occasion. The problem was, I couldn’t find organic pork locally, and if I could, we would be paying a horrific price for it.

We are huge supporters of local, pasture-raised meat. We are also huge fans of certified organic products to avoid GMOs. We soon discovered that it was going to be impossible to find these products locally, and so if we were going to eat it, we would have to produce it ourselves. Bring on the pigs.

As usual, we jumped in. Sink or swim… we have learned to swim. And with pigs we learned fast.

We had a secure location for them, a nice, small barn, and… three bags of organic feed. We picked up 2 Yorkshire female piglets, age 6 weeks. They were just starting to get past the cute stage… a good thing. And they loved to eat. And eat. And eat. At $24 a bag for organic hog feed, we learned pretty quickly that we would have to come up with a better solution for food. At the rate we were going, our pigs would cost their weight in gold!

Pigs can do really well on pasture. They root up everything, eat weeds, roots, shoots, greens… everything. If you have an area you want cleared, as long as it is properly fenced, they will clear it for you and you won’t have to buy much food for them. If you DON’T have a secure field for them, you will have to provide a lot of food. LOTS of food. We live on just under 2 acres, and much of it is heavily treed. We really are only using about an acre, if that. Fencing is very expensive and our property is challenging to fence. So we knew that, at least this time, our pigs would be relying on twice-daily feedings of good, quality food.

In my opinion, hog feed isn’t awesome. In our area, the hog feed that is available, even the organic feed, is chock full of corn (pig junk food), and soy (cheap protein). Unless it is certified organic, both ingredients are likely to be GMO products. (Unless you are raising them on your own corn). Corn isn’t great for pigs… especially exclusively. It makes for a lot of fat, and not so much meat. Hog feed also generally contains vitamins and minerals, which may or may not be sourced naturally or GMO-free. And it is dry. I honestly can’t think of any mammal that would enjoy eating dry food its entire life. Or any mammal who would benefit from it. We don’t even feed our dog dry dog food. (She gets raw, frozen dog food).

Everyone knows pigs will eat anything. We needed to come up with something that was healthy, easy to source, and cheap. And everyone knows that it is who you know, not what you know. We raised our pigs on stale certified organic bread, and all the vegetable trimmings they could eat, provided from a local produce store. We also produced the best tasting ham, bacon, pork chops, and roasts you can ever imagine.

Sourcing free food:
Bakeries
Most bakeries have extra, stale bread that they need to get rid of. I found several local bakeries that gave away their stale bread. And stale?? Not really… more like, not sellable. 2 day old stuff won’t sell if there is fresh stuff. Phone around, talk to the local bakeries, and see if you can find one who will give you stale bread. And if you want organic, you might get as lucky as we did. We found a bakery that produces certified organic sourdough bread, and that would give us their extra. BIG TIME SCORE!

Produce Stores
Here is where you might have some issues. Don’t go to the big box stores, unless you know someone who can pull some strings for you. Go to the smaller, independently owned ones, and ask the owner or manager. We have connections with a small grocery store with a large produce section, and they gave us bags and bags of vegetable trimmings and fruit that was no longer sellable. Those pigs got everything from kale and chard to strawberries, watermelon and pumpkins! Their favorite, believe it or not, was kale. They didn’t like whole potatoes, eggplant, peppers, or citrus peels.

Milk Products
Pigs loooooove dairy. If you are so lucky as to have a cheese-making business nearby, ask them for their leftover whey. Pigs drink up whey like I would (like to) drink chocolate, and they benefit from the protein in it. Again, whey is a by-product and companies like to give it away rather than pay to dispose of it.

Bedding
Another tip… pigs need clean bedding. They are messy eaters, and they tend to get their bedding full of potato peelings and banana peels. If you don’t get wood chips delivered by the ton (and we don’t have storage for that kind of thing), then you know that wood chips by the bag are expensive. Head out to your local high school. Chances are they have a wood chipper and all their wood ends go through the chipper. I get bags and bags of wood chips for FREE from a local high school. Occasionally I drop off a dozen eggs for the teacher who lets me in, but that trade is worth it! The schools in our area have to bag it up and put it in the trash otherwise, which costs more to dispose of, so they are usually very willing to give it away.

We brought our pigs in to be processed almost a month ago now. We had the butcher package up the ground pork, roasts and chops, and the rest they gave us back fresh, uncured, unsmoked, to do ourselves. We spent the better part of 2 weeks curing 4 hams and 35 lb of bacon, then smoking it all on the BBQ. It wasn’t hard, although it was time consuming. But WORTH IT! Oh man was it worth it!

The flavour, the texture, the richness, made it worth it. Knowing that we raised our own pigs for our own meat in a humane, healthy environment, was worth it. Even the hard work made us feel good. We knew every mouthful of food that went into those pigs. We knew exactly how they were raised. We were happy to say that up until the very last moment, where they were killed humanely and efficiently by a local butcher, they were in our hands and well taken care of. Hard work pays off! In the end, we sold most of one pig, and kept the rest for ourselves. The cost of the butchering and packaging was paid off by the meat we sold. The benefit of having a local butcher do the processing was that the meat was inspected and so was legal to sell. And everyone wanted some! I think if we had raised 10 pigs we would have had no trouble selling the meat.

Thank you pigs. Indeed, it was your life for ours; we are very grateful.

 

 

 

 

My Journey Towards Learning Homesteading Life Skills: Carding Wool

Wool. Carding. Spinning. Weaving. These words are all a part of our heritage from many years ago, that lasted for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The common people knew how to make their own fibre from what they had available, and most areas had wool available, from a variety of sources. Today, in first world countries, many people wouldn’t know the difference between spinning and weaving, and most certainly wouldn’t know how to turn a sheep into a sweater or a rug. We have lost the need to know this. We are the “rich”; we have people who do this for us. And we don’t use wool much anymore either. Synthetic fibres and overseas factory production have taken over the homestead spinning wheel and the loom. Production time and cost is so much improved that we have all but lost the need and the know-how to produce fibre in our own house. Only those with extra money can afford to purchase locally-spun or woven products. Unless you do it yourself.

I have always been interested in creating things. I am a potter; I make my own dishes. I know how to crochet, knit and sew. And over the last few years I have developed a real drive within me to go further, and to learn the skills the average woman would have known 100 years ago. My husband has been listening to me, and he found me a beautiful, second hand spinning wheel for Christmas this year. I am now the proud new owner of an Ashford Classic! And I don’t know how to spin :). Thankfully YouTube has it all.

Before you can spin, however, you need carded wool. Wool that has been sheered off a sheep (or other fibre animal), has been washed to remove the natural oils (or not, depending on what you desire), tagged (picked through to remove undesirable bits), dyed (if desired, and not necessarily in this order) and carded (brushed, so that all the wool goes in the same direction and can be spun). You can buy wool already prepared, or you can get a fleece from a sheep, and do it all yourself. Naturally, I wanted to do it myself. (Naturally, because I always seem to choose to do things the hardest way!)

My friend Jenn gave me a fleece from one of her Romney sheep. It is a medium grey, and was ready to be washed. My friend Monika told me how to wash the fleece. Friends are awesome! For more information on washing your wool check out this video.

You can hand card the wool or you can use a drum carder. Hand carding take a lot longer than a drum carder. My friend Monika had a drum carder so I invited a few friends over with wool and/or an extra set of hands, and we carded wool! I now have a huge stack of carded wool, ready to be dyed (if I want) or spun, or felted. For more information on carding wool check out this helpful video.

The next step is going to be dying the wool. I have found a local supply store that carries a beginner set of a variety of all natural dyes. I am purchasing this, and will be set to dye the wool. The fun has only begun!

There is so much to learn, and so little time. Between raising my children, preparing meals, taking care of my farm animals, keeping the house in some sense of order, and learning new skills, life is busy! I’d love to hear from other people who are also interested in learning a sustainable skill. What are you interested in? How are you learning? What has been the biggest help in your journey? The most challenging obstacle?

Check back in a week or two for my next Life Skill lesson learned: Dyeing Wool.

How To Make Yogurt in Mason Jars and a Quilt.

Yogurt is, quite simply, super easy to make. As in, you’ll be shaking your head wondering why you haven’t tried it before. There are lots of reasons to make your own: it is economical, healthy, plastic-free, additive/preservative-free, and a good way to use up extra milk before it goes bad. And you don’t need to buy a yogurt maker to do it. Here is how to make it in mason jars and a quilt. Enjoy!!  This is one of life’s simple pleasures.

How To Make Yogurt in Mason Jars and a Quilt.
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast, snack, condiment
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Simple instructions for a delicious yogurt made with ingredients and utensils you have at home.
Ingredients
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 quart 18% cream (or milk)
  • 2 tbsp. plain yogurt with live culture (this is your starter)
Instructions
  1. In a large pot heat milk/cream to 110F. Remove from heat.
  2. Whisk in yogurt.
  3. Pour into quart jars and put on lids and rings.
  4. Place jars in a box or cooler completely surrounded and covered by a quilt.
  5. Store in warm location (room temperature)
  6. Leave for 10-12 hours then refrigerate jars.
  7. Serve.
Notes
If you want a thick, Greek-style yogurt, there are 3 ways to do it choose one: 1. Use half milk, half 18% table cream. If you don't want it that high in fat choose one of the next two options. 2. Add 2 tbsp. milk powder when you add the yogurt to thicken it. The final product will be thicker. 3. Strain it through cheese cloth after it is made to remove some of the whey which will make it thicker.

This post has been linked to Frugally Sustainable’s Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #93.

Plastic Wrap Alternative: DIY Beeswax Cotton Wraps

I was first introduced to beeswax-coated cotton wraps when someone gave me one made locally They quickly became an important part of our food storage regime. They are beautiful, functional, reusable, economical and eco-friendly.  And, as I soon discovered, not difficult to make.

I have been trying to cut back our kitchen plastic usage for years.  I don’t trust plastic especially when it is holding food, and it is simply NOT sustainable.  I replaced all my plastic storage containers and zip lock bags with glass or stainless steel ones.  Other than the cost, those weren’t too difficult to switch over to.  The item that I had a greater challenge replacing was plastic wrap.  The convenience is difficult to replace.  These beeswax wraps, however, have single handedly eliminated plastic wrap from my kitchen.  They are great for wrapping cheese, covering dishes, or folding into snack bags.  They can even be sewn into small snack bags to be used at school or work if desired.

Plastic wrap (I used Saran wrap) is a wasteful, single-use, petroleum product that I am convinced is not an acceptable part of natural living.  When used to store or heat food, plastic leaches toxins into our food that we then consume.  Many studies have now proven that BPA, a chemical that is in many plastics, causes a number of unacceptable health issues in those who consume food products in contact with it.  All plastics contain chemicals, and some are not well-studied to prove their safety. Plastic wrap is no exception.  Beeswax cotton wraps provide a safe and effective alternative.

We have beeswax available all the time since we keep honey bees.  Beeswax is 100% natural, non-toxic, and relatively inexpensive.  I use it in my body product recipes such as hand lotions, body butters, deodorant and balms.  It is water-repellent and has natural antibacterial properties.  When applied to cotton, it renders the cotton “unbreathable” which helps maintain the proper moisture content when storing food.  These qualities make it a great candidate for a plastic wrap alternative.

When choosing your fabric, use 100% cotton (organic is preferable).  The ideal thickness is a sheeting cotton.  (Think, your bed sheets or pillow case).  You can reuse old sheets or pillow cases, or you can choose beautiful fabrics for fun.

If you would rather purchase these wraps made in North America by a sustainable company and priced reasonably, click here.

Materials

  • beeswax, grated (or pellets).  I use about 0.5 oz. of beeswax per wrap
  • 100% cotton fabric, cut to appropriate size (12×12 in. or 8×8 in. works for us)
  • old cookie sheet (that will be used for this purpose only, forever after)
  • paintbrush (that will be used for this purpose only, forever after)
  • chop stick for stirring the wax as it melts
  • cheese grater (used exclusively for beeswax)
  • a make-shift clothesline and clothes pins
  • oven

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 185F.  (Higher will burn the wax.  I know from experience…)
  2. Place pre cut fabric on cookie sheet.
  3. Sprinkle evenly and lightly with grated beeswax.  You don’t need a lot!
  4. Place in preheated oven.  Watch carefully!  This should take 5 minutes or less.
  5. As soon as the beeswax is just melted, remove from oven.
  6. Spread wax evenly with paintbrush to cover over any spots that are not yet coated.
  7. Hang on makeshift clothes line with clothes pegs, to dry.  Once cooled, you can use it!

Notes

  • If your wax starts to harden before you have evenly spread it, simply reheat it in the oven and try again.
  • This recipe uses less than 1 oz. of beeswax per sheet.
  • If you have a lot of wax left on the cookie sheet, place another piece of fabric on empty cookie sheet and it will absorb the extra wax.
  • All of the supplies except the beeswax can be purchased cheaply at thrift stores and can be used again for other DIY projects involving beeswax.  Purchase the beeswax through Mountain Rose Herbs, a trusted company carrying all sorts of ingredients for body products.
  • Wash in cool water with a mild soap.  I use liquid castile soap.
  • Each wrap will last several months or more depending on usage.

This post has been linked to Frugally Sustainable’s Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #54, Fresh Eggs Daily: Farm Girl Blog Hop #10, Homestead Revivial’s Barn Hop # 89, 116th Wildcrafting Wednesday and Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday November 20th.