My Homestead Kitchen and Root Cellar

 

20170927_161036This is always a happily busy time of you year in my homestead kitchen.  There are lots of things being canned, lots of frozen items, lots of dried items, lots of staples.  Colorful eggs decorate the counter.

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We could walk to the grocery store.  Everything I need is already canned and frozen there.  We went from five plus people to just two of us here, why so much food?  Potential weather disasters, power outages, sh*t hits the fan, just in case, lots of reasons, but my grocery bill was only $36 this week, and that’s pretty great.

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I also love to cook.  I am rarely happy with restaurant meals or packaged foods.  I like my own sauces.  I love creating my own pickles, red chile sauce, sauerkraut, but also having lots of really fresh vegetables canned swiftly in glass containers.  No preservatives.  No Monsanto.

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We are busy folks.  It is nice to come home and have everything at the ready to make an amazing meal.  I enjoy the methodical time putting up the food and the pride I feel looking at my humble root cellar.  215 canned items.  I still have a bit more to do.  I will just leave the pressure canner upstairs this year.  That way I can quickly can more broth, beans, or soups as I go.  There is no real “end of the season”, homemaking pleasures continue through the year.

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If you had walked through my warm homestead kitchen this last week you would have smelled the cinnamon apples being canned, watched the apple cider vinegar and kombucha brewing.  Thick halves of pumpkins baking to be put up, their seeds washed and drying on the counter to plant next year.  A wheel of farmhouse cheddar was being waxed.  Sauerkraut fermenting.  Frozen meat from friends’ ranches.  Lots of beans and whole grains and spices.  Just need more flour, sugar, and coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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There is still much more in the garden.  I was pleased to unearth a sweet potato, something I haven’t been able to grow in higher climates.  More tomatoes, winter beans, burdock, carrots, beets, kale, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radishes, potatoes all await our autumn meals.

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Donning a cute apron and working quietly in one’s own homestead kitchen brings a peace I cannot even describe.  Food security, health, and peace of mind permeates the air along with the smells of chilies and pumpkins.  This is the life for me.

What Is A Homestead and Why Is It So Important To Be Self Reliant?

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“What is a homestead?” my friend asked.  The question threw me off guard, cause, geez, everyone knows what a homestead is.  It’s uh….you know…a place where…I decided to consult the dictionary.

homestead

[hohm-sted, -stid] /ˈhoʊm stɛd, -stɪd/   
noun
1.

a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale for debt.
2.

any dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home.
3.

a tract of land acquired under the Homestead Act.
4.

a house in an urban area acquired under a homesteading program.
verb (used with object)
5.

to acquire or settle on (land) as a homestead:

Pioneers homesteaded the valley.
verb (used without object)
6.

to acquire or settle on a homestead:

They homesteaded many years ago.
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And that, my friends, did not help me either because, frankly, I don’t own anything.  I do not get to keep this land no matter how much I work it (unless I come into a vast amount of money!) and the second definition pretty well means any house in the suburbs is a homestead!  So, what really is a homestead?  What is homesteading?
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The best way to answer this is to look at the general consensus.  I have many friends who are what we would consider homesteaders.  A homestead is a place where one tries to become more self sufficient.  I wonder why that it is not in the dictionary.  Still rather vague.  Can an apartment with a balcony of vegetables be considered a homestead?  Can a house in the city with a few chickens and a garden be considered a homestead?  Certainly a place in the country with a large garden, goats, chickens, sheep, and cows is considered a homestead, right?  I suppose everyone would answer this question differently.  So, here is homesteading to me.
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A homestead is a respite, a home with land to be able to succeed at becoming more self-sufficient.  This place can be rented or bought.  This place provides a basis for producing what one needs to live.  So, homesteading is the verb here where one works to become less reliant on modern society and more secure in their own home as opposed to spending more time working outside the home and relying on utility providers, grocery stores, et cetera for their needs.  It is possible that this could take a lifetime.  But it is worth the effort.
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I often hear the argument that it is impossible to be self-sufficient.  I suppose that depends on your definition.  Would you consider the Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” self-sufficient?  I bet you would.  They did go to the general store at times to pick up flour, and cornmeal, sugar, and a bit of candy plus some fabric.  The question would be, if the store was not available, would they be alright?  The answer would be yes.  They would be alright, at least for a time.  Would you consider the Amish self-reliant?  I bet you would say yes.  The home I visited of an Amish family last year was very simple.  They had food stored in a makeshift root cellar (like mine), shelves of beautifully colored jars of produce (like mine), enough wood to get through winter (like us), and propane to light their house, run their stove, refrigerator, and sewing machine.  That is what threw me off!  We use propane to help offset the heat and to run the refrigerator.  It is very expensive and is getting quite nerve-rackingly low.  Are we self reliant?  Not yet, in my book.
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Why is it important?  I mean, really, what is the big deal?  A lot of folks are not really ready to give up their luxuries.  Our bathroom was 35 degrees this morning.  This is not for the faint of heart.  My bottom is still cold.  But, it’s important to me to become self reliant for two reasons.
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One: working for other people is too uncertain.  We make our own business, our own crafts, our own classes, and yes we have to have faith that folks will buy or sign up, but we control our destiny and our mornings.  The more we have to be away from the house working for someone else, the less we can do here, so the less self reliant we are.  We must make our living off of our homestead.  Our living is a lot different than what it was ten years ago.  To us a living was over $55,000 with a mortgage, car payments, utilities, food prices, gas prices, and all the other things we “needed”.  Now our living is around $24,000 if we want to be comfortable with wood, homegrown food, fish, necessary items for our business, gas, rent, and animal feed.  That is the first thing folks that want to homestead must realize.  Be prepared to live on less.  There is much to be done at the house.  Canning, home business, chopping wood, year round growing of plants, animal care,  But there is nothing sweeter than not worrying about where your next meal will come from and never sitting in a cubicle again.
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The second reason it is so important to me to become self reliant is because I need to be able to take care of us and our children if necessary in an emergency.  This could be a wide spread power outage or blizzard, or I often have dreams that there will be a war here.  As much as that scares the heck out of me, I would rather have a house full of necessities and not be wondering how I would get to the grocery store or if we were going to freeze to death.  I do not know if folks realize the folly in relying on large companies for your necessities.  If it all came down to the wire, they don’t give a hoot about your family and it would be quite wise to have a way to access water, heat, food, clothing, and protection.
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Each year we do a homestead checklist and see what we need to do to become more self reliant.  Realize that I do not think that solar panels and their non-decomposing batteries, or wind power with its bird and bat killing capabilities are the answer.  Living with less reliance on oil and gas is our goal.
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  • We have a wood cooktop/propane oven.  A homesteader’s dream?  Yes.  But, I do not want to rely on propane and the small wood compartment does not do much to heat this house.  44 degrees in the living room is just a bit too freaking cold for me.  Our stove can be cooked on, heat a small portion of the house, could heat water if necessary, and is great, however, this year we will secure (somehow) a real wood cook stove that will sit in the living room that I can bake and cook on plus heat the rest of the house.

 

  • Since we stopped eating meat I was able to clear out an entire freezer.  The remaining refrigerator/freezer holds milk, fish, cheese, condiments, and vegetables.  Can one can fish?  Can I can all the vegetables/fruits next year?  How would we keep the milk cold?  Particularly when milking starts again.  I need an ice house.  The back bedroom would seriously serve as a fridge right now though!  We really need that other wood stove.

 

  • We have several wells on the property.  We have a tiny bit of water saved in canning jars, but is there a way to access the wells without electricity?  We are also incorporating a water harvest system this year.

 

  • I have a hand washing unit for laundry and a great clothes line plus a huge drying rack for inside if the electricity went out.  (We haven’t used in a dryer in seven years.) We could live without the television and internet if he had too.

 

  • I grew about a third of the items we preserved this year.  I would like to grow sixty percent this year and plant several fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.  I would also like to try my hand at growing mushrooms.  I will incorporate container gardening, cold frames, and our garden plot to grow everything we love to eat.  I would like to get a green house as well.  That would really boost our production.

 

  • I am kicking myself, y’all, for selling my spinning wheel!  I would like to get sheep and work on spinning again.  I would like to learn to knit this year and make us some fabulous sweaters and socks.  There is so much discarded fabric out there. I have tons myself.  I would like to increase my sewing skills so that I can make more of our clothes.

 

  • We would like to make the fences more secure this year so that we can let the animals graze on the ten acres.  That would cut down on how much hay they need.

 

  • I need to find a way to advertise and promote my classes so that we can pay for things like gas and car insurance, grains, animal feed, things like that.

 

  • We will start cutting our own wood and collecting wood this year instead of paying so much to have cords delivered.

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Well, I am sure there is more, but that is a good start and each year we get closer and closer to being self reliant.  Maybe that is the answer.  Maybe self-sufficient and self-reliant are two different things.  Either way, there is a great feeling of accomplishment and inner peace while performing simple tasks and caring for those you love on your own homestead.

Wishing you a prosperous and peaceful homestead this coming year!

Prairie at Dawn (and you can rest in January!)

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I stepped outside before the sun’s colorful hands glided over the edge of the prairie.  The lighting was surreal and looked as if I lived in a Renaissance pastel that might hang in the museum.  A painted landscape so beautiful my mind could hardly fathom.  The owls called to each other from tree to tree and the city lights in the distance shone against the silhouette of the mountain.

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Our year starts in spring when the baby goats are born and we start our early planting.  Spring is filled with preparing beds, planting at the right times, bottle feeding goat kids, cooing over baby chicks, and praying for warm weather.  We are also madly getting ready for farmer’s markets.  Preparing, bottling, labeling, farmer’s market checklist; tent, tables, chairs, displays, application fees, products made…ready, set, go!

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And we catapult into summer where for the next four months family and friends have troubles getting a hold of us.  Those close to us understand.  We live a whirlwind of sunrises, farm animals, farmer’s markets, farming, herbal business, preserving, holding classes, getting ready for winter.  Always getting ready for winter.

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Sporting my new fashion look.

September seems like it will be slower as some markets draw to a close and we see our pantry filling up but for the next three months we will still be actively preparing, just as the ants and bees do, to settle in for winter.  Always wondering if we have enough stored.  Enough food…enough water…enough wood.

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Moving was a wonderful thing since it marked the end of our years of pining for a homestead.  It is exactly what we prayed for.  Low enough rent and no utilities that we can afford to be healers.  The landlords share the property which is not something we would have ever considered before until we started being intrigued by the idea of cohabitating homesteads where we started to think that we should not share property with friends.  Too complicated.  But, the idea is sound.  The owners here are quiet and leave us to ourselves but we are all here if the other needs us.  Best of both worlds.  We are near my favorite city.  In twenty five minutes I am at a library, coffee shop, or restaurant if I want to be.  Then back to the confines of the vast prairie, large stars, and serene silence.  I am humbled to be here.  But moving was exhausting and we find ourselves longing for rest.  But there is something about Autumn that makes me want to keep working.  An innate desire to get things done and prepared.  The longer I homestead the closer to nature and natural seasons and intuition I get.

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Our friend, Jim, was one of my students; he is a Vietnam Vet, commander for a veteran’s organization, lover of plants and herbs, a survivalist, loyal friend, and in the tree business.  He gave me a great deal on three cords of wood.  Even though it is a lot of money for us, a winter without utilities will even things out.  He dropped off the cords one by one while Doug and I spent the afternoon stacking wood.  Doug kept stopping to pull up his jeans.  Forget a gym membership.  We work hard, our muscles are defined, we eat healthy, homemade food, and though we’ll be a little soft by the end of winter, we’ll be right back in the swing of things for the remainder of the year.  Homesteading looks good on folks.

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We have a pantry full, two freezers full, now a total of four cords of wood, and we are getting closer.  Time is ticking because we are still doing farmer’s markets through the end of the month and craft shows through the middle of December.  In between we get ready for our winter rest.  We are drying off the goat; we have plenty of cheese made and milk frozen.  We are getting ready to breed Isabelle again.  Today the gutters will be cleaned, homestead area mowed, garden worked on, chimney cleaned, and orders filled, even though we are under the weather.  The seasons don’t stop for sick days.  Soon we will only have craft shows on the weekends and the holidays to look forward to.  Then for three months we will rest and grow restless and be ever ready for the seasons to start over.  We are thankful to live this lifestyle.  This is truly the good life.

A Peek at the Typical Week of a Farmsteader

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Some folks envy us.  Some folks think we are crazy.  Some of our relatives wonder if we work.  Some people come from all over to learn what we do.  If you ever wondered what life on a farmstead looks like, particularly for an entrepreneur, here is a small peek into a typical week.  If you are interested in farmsteading, we will teach you everything you need to know to make small steps towards basic self sufficiency and regaining your freedom by making your own schedule.  Just check out the Homesteading School link on the menu.  We also have a Certified Herbalist and Master’s Herbalist program to help you learn everything you need to know to care for yourself, your family, and the animals that will share your farmstead.

Monday: Farm day

Up just before 7:00.  Doug goes outside to tend to the animals.  It could be a heavenly sixty five degrees or a miserable twenty below, it makes no difference.  Isabelle must be milked!   I make coffee and when Doug comes in after milking the goat I strain the warm milk from the bucket and prepare him a cup of coffee with fresh goat’s milk and a bit of sugar while he feeds and lets out the chickens and ducks.  We then spend some time writing, reading, paying bills, relaxing, and planning the day.

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After breakfast we begin our work.  Farm day is also canning day.  Any harvesting that needs to be done is completed in the morning before the plants go limp from the heat.  If I needed a boost in produce I would have bought a box of tomatoes or something from my friends at Miller Farms Sunday at the market.  We have to be diligent with canning.  Our winter food source is our root cellar/basement and freezer.  Yesterday a flat of tomatoes became six quarts of ruby colored pasta sauce.  We have been out of sauce since March to my utmost dismay and I will be canning a lot more this year.  We will double the eighteen jars we put up last year.

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A large pot of chicken broth was also in the works.  I saved in a freezer bag all chicken bones and odds and ends of carrots, onions, and celery over the past month and threw them all in the pot covered with water.  I added large handfuls of herbs and a bit of salt and pepper and let it simmer for an hour and a half.  This was pressure canned to make easy quarts of ready made broth.  This is a chore we do all year.

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Large bowls of green beans have been coming out of our garden and as quickly as we can process them, there are a bunch more ready.  It has been such a gift to be able to eat and preserve produce from my own gardens.

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Farm day includes any and all planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting, bee hive checking, fence fixing, coop and goat pen cleaning, lawn mowing,  and transplanting.

We fall in bed exhausted.

Tuesday: Class and Cooking Day

Anyone who wanted to learn to can would come on Monday to help.  Folks that want to learn specific skills like soap making out of fresh goat’s milk, candle making in containers with handles so that you can use it as guiding light at night, cheese making with delicious goat’s milk and fresh herbs, etc. come on Tuesday.  Each week I teach something new and also stock up for our own family.

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Tuesday is when I bake bread for the week and make a batch of hard cheese to start aging to enjoy in the winter.  I also plan the menus for the week and start preparing what I am packing (breakfast and lunch) to take to the markets.

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Doug works on miscellaneous things pertaining to business.  Paperwork, filling orders, errands, and anything else I give him in the form of a to-do list is on Doug’s agenda.  Every other Tuesday evening he shoots pool and I quilt in the evening or we might opt to take a walk or watch a funny show.

We fall in bed exhausted.

Wednesday: Apothecary Day

This is the day we get all of our product filled for the farmer’s markets that week.  We make lotion, fill bottles, combine teas, and get the car packed for Thursday’s market.  People seek me out all week for help and call at all hours of the day.  We work with them immediately but the farmer’s markets not only help us bring in more income, but also helps us meet infinitely more folks than we would from our farm.  We are able to help many more people and interest people in classes.

I also teach a Master’s class in herbalism on Wednesdays.

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Wednesday is also the day that I make extracts.  I harvest herbs that are ready to be cut and place them in jars.  All of my new recipes are made with fresh herbs straight from the gardens and prepared on the spot where they will brew until this fall.

Thursday: Market Day

Doug milks early and we head off to Colorado Springs (a 45 minute drive) at 6:30.  We set up our tent, our tables, our wares, and talk, help, and promote until 3:00.  We then break down and reload the car and sleepily drive home, arriving back at the farm at 4:30.  A quick dinner is all I can come up and the rest of the day is slower.

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We watch our granddaughter, Maryjane, the light of our life, four days a week while her mother is at work.  We are the only grandparents that do not have a nine to five job and dad is still in school so we get the great opportunity of playing with our baby most days.  Even though she wears us out, she adds a light and an energy to this place that I never take for granted.  She is a great gift to us.

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In the evenings, every single day, at around 7:00, Doug heads back in to milk Isabelle.  Twice a day, no matter the weather or our plans, Isabelle must be milked.  It is nice to have a set schedule.  It also saves us money.  Every time we make plans to gallivant about, we remember that we need to be home at seven!

Friday: House Day and Prepare for Markets

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Friday we deep clean our house.  All laundry should be done by this day.  We fill product that we sold the day before in preparation for the markets and get the meals packed for the next few days.  We even may have the opportunity to go out to eat with friends or just sit under the elm tree with a book.

Saturday: Market Day and Class

We head to the local farmer’s market on Saturdays.  It is close to home and ends early so it is obviously my favorite one!  We see lots of folks that used to visit our store and friends from around town come by to say hello.

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Our herbalist classes are on Saturdays.  People drive from all over to take my course and learn how to turn weeds into medicine that can heal up broken ankles or get rid of a nasty infection.  The classes are always eclectic, filled with interesting and fascinating students.  The coming semester promises to be full and two of the students came all the way from New York.  Ethan and Stephanie drove an RV here to Colorado to stay and work with me on everything from homesteading, to farming, to being my apprentices in herbalism.  They are a tremendous help and lovely company.

In the winter and spring we trade off dinner at our house, Kat and Rod’s, or Rodney and Pat’s.  We call it family dinner even though Doug and I are not related but rather adopted into their family.  We miss them in the summer!  We do not see much of our families either and try to find times to call.  Summers here on a farmstead are very busy!  In the winter we are less busy.  We just keep up with all the housework and cooking, the filling orders and classes.  But we stay fairly close to home in order to take care of our animals.

Sunday: Big Market Day

This is our biggest market day and we pack more medicines and products in the car to cover what we sold Saturday.  We get up at 4:45 to milk and head out by 5:30 to secure our spot at the market.  The markets are non-stop talking on hot pavement and really wear us out but they are imperative to our survival as herbalists and homesteaders.

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We run our errands in town after the market on our way home.  The library or health food store might be visits we need to make.  We then go home and relax before dinner needs to be made and the animals cared for.

We again fall in bed exhausted.  There is no need for sleep medicine in this house.

Making Our Own Schedule

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We make our own schedule.  It is freeing and satisfying.  We work very, very hard but we also have the option to say, “You know what?  The floors aren’t getting swept today.  Let’s go hiking.”  Yesterday was one such day.  While Doug and Ethan ran errands in Denver, Stephanie, Emily, Maryjane and I took a beautiful hike.  I still got the canning done (finishing early this morning).  Last night Ethan and Stephanie came in from their RV and we all enjoyed dinner in front of a recorded “Last Comic Standing”.  Wine and laughter poured freely and we ended the night later than usual under the stars admiring the Milky Way and shooting stars.

This is why we farmstead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freezing Goat’s Milk

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This has been the year of experimentation.  Our practice farm, we have been calling it.  We have taken on a “let’s see what happens?” attitude.  We were told a few times that this idea wouldn’t work.

Since we don’t have a milking goat (yet), we needed to try to preserve the milk.  We bought two gallons a week of delicious, frothy goat’s milk from our friend.  We drank a gallon a week in the form of chocolate milk; a vice that could not be resolved until a few weeks ago.  (Remember, we were vegan for years until recently.  We are making up for lost time.)  The other gallon we froze.

First we froze them by the half gallon in freezer bags and stacked them in the freezer.  Then I ran out of room for the freezer bags and resorted to freezing them in canning jars and storing them in the freezer door.  Make sure to leave a two inch head space so that the milk can freeze and don’t secure the lid until it has.  After the freezer was filled to capacity with everything I wanted in there, we stopped preserving the milk.  Just as Jill sold her goats.

Earlier in the season we had a sneak peek at what the milk would be like.  A half gallon froze solid in the back of the refrigerator.  When it defrosted, I poured myself a cup and choked down the little coagulated cream pieces that turned more into plastic than butter.  Uh oh, I thought.

But when it was time to pull the milk from the freezer, I simply popped a canning jar of frozen milk into the fridge and let it defrost.  Or, I start defrosting the freezer bags in water and when they are half defrosted (but still icy) I transfer them to a canning jar to store in the fridge.  I shake it well and pour it into Doug’s coffee.  We can use it to make cheese, in recipes, in hot drinks, ’tis fine.  Straight….well I need a milking goat.  And chocolate milk will have to be a seasonal treat!

Fall Homestead

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This is what I woke up to.  A wonderland of white.  At two o’clock this morning when Bumble had to go out for his nightly “keep coyotes away from the chicken coop” run, it was a thick, glorious fog.  The plants all brushed with feathery, cool snow this morning puts a smile on my face.  I love seasons.

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The forecast calls for near seventy degrees by Sunday, so it is a fleeting joy (which is good; still have lots to do around here and I will have had enough of snow and cold by April!).  Fall brings its own fun to-do list for farms.  The pumpkins are ready to harvest.  This is a small portion of our harvest!

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I am waiting patiently (we’re talking six months here, folks) for the Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower to get done so I can eat them already.  Perhaps I should start them indoors next spring.

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The annuals will need to be pulled up (we’ll leave the sunflowers for the birds) and placed in the compost pile.  The finished compost will be spread on the empty beds.

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Potatoes, radishes, and more greens can be harvested.  We already took a few heads of sunflowers for our own stash.  Everything else is pretty well done.  Just need to can some more beans and potatoes.

We’ll need to mow the lawn one last time.  With vegetables growing everywhere throughout the lawn, the grass has grown about two feet tall.  It has been gracious of the town not to mention anything because a lawn mower wasn’t going to fit in the pumpkin patch!

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My favorite activity will occur this month.  Planting bulbs.  Seas of daffodils will be folded into the ground as an alarm clock for spring.  A long row of corn will become a long row of garlic (I won’t lose it this time, I swear!).  Beds covered in straw will replace the flourishing plants.  Snow will gently fall and give the land, and the farmers a little rest.

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We’ll be watching football with Maryjane if you need us! (Go Broncos!)

Conquering the Root Cellar

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314…..Items preserved so far this year.  Still have much to do!  I am expecting the best but preparing for the worst and if winter is a little lean, then by golly, we will have food!

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Today, however, I have to go clean out the root cellar before I can fit anything else in there.  (Now, mind you, it’s not a real root cellar.  It’s one of those dark, creepy basements in a hundred year old house.  It keeps precisely ten degrees cooler than upstairs.  If I ever get a homestead with a real root cellar, I will flip out and do the happy dance.)  Today, I am expecting to encounter piles of deflated squash that were so pretty that I had to store them to eat later but alas, we didn’t.  A five gallon bucket of beets.  Oy, what is it with me and beets?  I preserve and store a ton of them but don’t even like them that much!  I have some missing carrots in sand somewhere down there too.  Who knows what preserves I have from last year because I just started stacking the new stuff with the old stuff.  I have peas on that shelf and green beans over there.  And more green beans up there and lots of “syrup” from two years ago (I have now mastered jam…).  Today, we conquer and organize.

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I made a spread sheet this year with the help of my computer savvy hubby.  Tomatoes-40, Hot peppers- 4, Beets- 8 (what the heck?), Peas- 18….

I also listed how many I still need to can, freeze, or cellar.  And a column for next year of how many are left.  We ran out of tomatoes in February.  Eek.  We ran out of peppers in April.  Not good.  If I ever see another jar of canned zucchini…yuck.  I’ll be better prepared next year to know what to preserve.

In the meantime, I will procrastinate just a tad longer and have another cup of coffee.  The deflated squash will wait for me.