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

 

 

 

 

 

You Know You Are A Modern Homesteader When… 17 Tell-tale signs that happened to me!


You know you are a homesteader when... titled watermarked
A person doesn’t decide one day to turn into a modern homesteader.  And it doesn’t necessarily occur as soon as you bring home your first chickens. It generally happens slowly, over a period of time. And then one day when you least expect it, the realization suddenly hits you. And it is often either pointed out by someone else or discovered through a slightly embarrassing moment. And then you know, without a doubt. YOU have become a modern homesteader.

The following statements, in no particular order, are instances when I knew, with absolute certainty, that I had changed. I was no longer a suburban housewife. I was a homesteader. And I am telling you the truth: these all happened to me.

You know you are a Modern Homesteader when…

  1. You spend more on canning jars than you do on clothes.
  2. “Picking up chicks” takes on a whole new meaning.
  3. You are proud of your farmer’s tan because it means you actually WORKED to get it.
  4. Your child teaches you that you don’t need to spend money on a mud mask.
  5. You don’t need your wallet to run out to get some _________ (milk, eggs, vegetables etc.)
  6. You reach into your pocket and pull out a duck egg instead of coins.
  7. You understand the real meaning of “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”.
  8. You find hay in your bra.
  9. You’d rather spend winter evenings reading seed catalogues than going out anywhere.
  10. Pallets are included in your list of building supplies.
  11. Your selfies involve farm animals and/or vegetables.
  12. A “mud room” really means a room with mud in it. LOTS of mud.
  13. Your 3 year old knows how babies are made and where they come from.
  14. You pay for things with eggs, jam or honey instead of money.
  15. You store your vinegar and baking soda in the bathroom and your toothpaste and lotion in the fridge.
  16. When a date night with your husband means getting hay or trimming hooves.
  17. You actually cry over spilled milk.

Can you relate?  What signs proved to you that you were a modern homesteader?

You Know You Are A Homesteader WHen... Collage photos

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.

 

 

 

Eartheasy Vermicomposting Giveaway: Learn How To Compost with Worms!

Have you got worms yet?  This is an easy way to get an amazing, rich compost for your garden!  Check out this giveaway and take a moment to enter!  I have had a worm bin of my own for months now and the kids and I enjoy feeding them and watching them in action.  I have even given away a batch for a friend to start her own colony!

 -My Healthy Green Family

Welcome to the Eartheasy Vermicomposting giveaway!

eartheasy vermicomposting giveaway amended

This Vermicomposting giveaway is sponsored by Eartheasy, your online store for sustainable living. One lucky winner will receive:

Vermicomposting is a great way to turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient rich fertilizer. The Worm Factory 360 is the ultimate worm bin for vermicomposting and tucks easily into a corner of your back porch or even the kitchen! Read more about how the Worm Factory 360 works here.

Store your kitchen scraps in the handy stainless steel compost keeper and feed them to your composting worms each week. The worms start composting the scraps immediately and in a few short months you will have enough worm castings to harvest and fertilize your garden. You’ll no longer have to buy bags of compost at the store or worry about your standard compost bin freezing outside in the winter. Vermicomposting is the easiest way to make compost at home and this giveaway is the perfect way to get started!

This giveaway is open to residents of the United States. You must be 18 years or older to enter. This giveaway will end on December 19th at midnight. When the giveaway ends, the randomly chosen winner will be contacted by email and have 24 hours to respond. If the person does not respond in the given time, another winner will be chosen. Good luck!

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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

 

A DIY Christmas: Over 100 Great Gift Ideas!

DIY Christmas This year I have teamed up with some awesome homesteading bloggers to produce over 100 DIY gift ideas for Christmas, or any other gift-giving time! There is nothing more personal and thoughtful than a homemade gift.  People appreciate the time and effort that went into the gift a lot more than a gift that was purchased quickly at the mall.  Or at least they should.  And the good news is that you don’t have to spend many hours making something useful and beautiful.  Check out these great gift ideas you can make for your loved ones this Christmas!  The first ten are mine, and following that are links to my friends’ lists to combine for over 100 gift ideas.  Enjoy! waxed cotton collage with watermarked and labelled 1.  This simple but useful alternative to plastic wrap makes a very special gift.  The wax coating allows the fabric to “cling” nicely to whatever you are covering and it can be washed and reused many times.  I used beeswax but you can also use a vegetable wax. Whipped body butter watermarked2.  So delicious looking you might just want to eat it!  This simple whipped body butter makes a decadent gift that nourishes dry winter skin.   unpaper towels collage 3.  While I still use rags to wipe up my messes, these non-disposable towels might help someone turn the “green” corner and ditch the paper towels!  They add style to the counter and are a lot more absorbent than paper.  Made from upcycled towels and fabric, these towels aren’t hard to make if you have a bit of sewing experience.   goat's milk soap with banner4.  Handcrafted soap makes a very functional and beautiful gift.  These all natural bars are simple to make and make use of the healing qualities found in goat milk to create a soothing, gentle bar.  If you haven’t jumped onto the soapmaking bandwagon yet… now is the time!!! Give yourself at least 3 weeks for your soap to harden before you give it away.   DIY Solid Perfume 5.  Solid perfume makes a delightful gift and you can choose your own fragrance!  Very quick and easy to make.   DIY Anti-Aging Facial Moisturizer6.  High quality anti-aging moisturizers are super expensive to buy.  Make this one for a fraction of the cost and treat someone to an amazing product!  With super antioxidant ingredients like sea buckthorn and green tea.   Lip Balm Collage 7.  Lip balms make great stocking stuffers, and once you realize how easy they are to make you’ll never buy another one again!  This recipe has three different flavors to choose from.   Sustainably Sourced Chocolates Recipes 8.  Everyone likes chocolates… don’t they?  These amazing, melt-in-your-mouth homemade chocolates are easy to make, sustainably-sourced and taste oh soooooo good!   DIY Sweater Pillow tutorial watermarked9.  A DIY sweater pillow makes a fun gift and you can upcycle an old sweater at the same time!  With minimal sewing skills you can create a funky, cozy  and unique pillow. Taper Candle watermarked titled 10. Make your own taper candles.  Homemade candles are beautiful and simple to make.  The elegance of taper candles paired with the naturally fragrant beeswax is a winning combination.

Enjoy browsing through the following links for many more great gift ideas!

Evergrowing Farm’s DIY Holiday Gifts

Homestead Honey’s Last Minute Handmade Christmas Gifts

Learning and Yearning’s Have Yourself a Homemade Christmas

Joybilee Farm’s DIY Christmas Gifts

Montana Homesteader’s Homemade Christmas Gifts

Livin’ Lovin’ Farmin’s 12 Days of Homemade Christmas Gifts

Urban Overalls’ Chocolate Scented Lip Balm

Imagine Acres’ The Super Scarf Knitting Pattern

Homestead Honey’s 100+ Handmade Holiday Gift Ideas

Attainable Sustainable’s Greener Gift Giving For The Holidays

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.