Posted in Homestead

Baby Steps; How to Begin Homesteading

It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.

J.R.R. Tolkien

We moved into an apartment four years ago between homesteads. It was a beautiful, top floor, one bedroom with views of the mountains and a fireplace with a light switch. Lush carpet, a large bathtub, and walking trails everywhere. We had just come off the worst year of our life and we seriously considered giving up homesteading and farming and just living like this. Not a bad life. We’d peruse the stalls of the farmer’s market (our first year not being a vendor in a long time), then after bringing our bounty home, we would dip into the swimming pool. But something was missing. We could both feel it. I rented three large garden plots at the community garden. I canned peaches from the farmer’s markets. I looked out across the sea of cement and knew what we were missing. Doug knew it too. Once you begin to homestead, it entwines itself into the fibers of your being, it cushions your heart, drives your decisions, and makes you feel at home. There are no U-turns. Once a homesteader, always a homesteader.

As we drove through the parking lot of the beautiful apartments, we could not help but notice the overflowing dumpsters and sea of trash. The lack of recycling. No place to compost. No food gardens. Non-stop electric use.

There are many reasons people choose to homestead. One of them is a desire to walk softer on the land. To leave less footprint. To attempt, however feebly, to lesson our damage to the earth. Another reason folks turn to homesteading is to feel something real. Homesteading life is real life. It is doing things with your own hands, creating, growing, watching Mother Nature work, feeling truly alive. Another big reason is that people want to work less. Homesteading can be expensive. It depends on how much you need, what you want to do, and how cheaply you can come across instruments for your farm. But the more you do yourself, the less you rely on others. If your grocery store is in your root cellar, you don’t need to give so much money to all the middle men from farmer to store. If you grow your own food, you really save money. If you sew your own clothes, or shop second hand, you save money. If you buy bulk, hand make meals, use wood to heat your house, or find entertainment at home (nothing like a glass of homemade wine and a lawn chair to watch chicken antics), you can save money. A penny saved is a penny earned. The less you spend, the less hours you put into an office job. The less hours at an office job, the more time in real life. On the homestead. There is great joy in homesteading. Maybe that is why more and more young people are seeking this lifestyle. I read a blog recently where a young housewife was wondering how to begin homesteading. So much to learn, so much to do. Baby steps, y’all. One thing at a time!

When something breaks, begin replacing it with a non-electric counterpart. Or sell the electric version and purchase the hand cranked model.

Here are some non-electric alternatives that are great on a homestead:

  • Hand cranked coffee grinder
  • French press or percolator
  • Kettle
  • Tea strainer
  • Hand cranked food processor
  • Cast iron Dutch oven
  • Cast iron pans
  • Wooden spoons
  • Good mixing bowls
  • Canning jars
  • Clothes line
  • Hand washer and clothes plunger
  • Wood stove
  • Grandfather or cuckoo clock
  • Oil lamps
  • Candles
  • Water bath and Pressure canners
  • Grain grinder

Pretty soon the power will go out and you won’t even know it!

Electric items that really help get the root cellar filled and dinner on the table:

  • Vitamix
  • Excalibur dehydrator
  • Pressure cooker
  • Crockpot

Basic homesteading skills to learn:

  • Gardening
  • Canning
  • Preserving the harvest
  • Sewing
  • Fiber arts
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Herbalism
  • Animal care (a new term I learned is, veganic homesteading. We aren’t using animals for food on our homestead, but we do have a menagerie of pets!)
  • A skill that can bring in some income.
My friend shared this funny photo with me from the internet. Hilarious!

Good homesteading habits:

  • Do you need that? Only purchase what you need.
  • Try to purchase things second hand first.
  • Borrow reading materials and movies from the library.
  • A deck of cards and a couple of board games are a lot of fun!
  • When making your grocery list, look at the items and see what you can learn to make. Ketchup? Granola bars? Cereal? Crackers? Bread?
  • The only gardening tools one really needs is a good hoe, rake, pitch fork, shovel, and hand trowel.

Just start:

  • Start a farm in pots in the south window, or the balcony, or a community garden, or in the front yard.
  • Start a compost pile under the sink with worms, or with pallets in the garden.
  • Check out library books (or read my blog!) and learn how to start a garden, harvest, prepare, cook, can, dehydrate, freeze produce. How to sew, crochet, play musical instruments, make candles, soap, herbal medicines, and cleaning products.
  • Let go of vanity. You look fine. You don’t need makeup, fancy clothes, or high heels. Old clothes, a good apron, and galoshes will do.

My go-to books (and my own books!):

Growing 101 Herbs that Heal by Tammi Hartung

The Homesteader’s Pharmacy and The Herbalist Will See You Now by (yours truly) Katie Lynn Sanders (http://authorkatiesanders.com)

Little House Living by Merissa A. Alink

Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 again by moi, Katie Lynn Sanders

Preserving the Fruits of the Earth by Stanley and Elizabeth Schuler

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own by Bob Flowerdew

Plus myriads of great cookbooks and homesteading memoirs. The best thing to do is to start somewhere, anywhere, and the more you do yourself, or without electricity, or simply, the more it becomes second nature.

I’d rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.

George Washington
Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

The Homegrown, Healthy Life (So You Want to Be a Homesteader #16)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, somewhere during women’s liberation we got led astray.  The frozen dinner folks were ready to pounce.  “Yes, women, go get a job!  We’ll take care of dinner.”  Every convenience began to show up, pushing women into the work force in droves.  Children left raising themselves and food being neatly packaged in factories in other countries.  Oh, and we still get to do all the housework!

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I am thankful for the ability to vote and that my daughters can be lawyers if they so choose, but I will take my original jobs back, thank you very much.  My father-in-law wondered when I am getting a job.  Let me tell y’all about my job and earnings.

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When you gaze down fluorescent lighted grocery shelves with the sounds of bad music and customers in the background, do you ever wonder where the food came from?  Or ever wondered what would happen in an emergency and you couldn’t come shop these aluminum and box lined shelves?  Have you read the ingredients?  Lord, have mercy.  A good 50% of all those foods are poison.  Not to mention grown who knows where, handled by who knows who, sprayed with who knows what.  I am my own food preserver.  I can, I dry, I fill my own grocery store shelves with nutritious, delicious foods.

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I am the farmer.  I grow all of our produce for half of the year, increasing yields each season.  I grow our own chickens (a new venture, granted).  We gather our own eggs.  To fill in, I use other housewives’ farm goods; beef, pork, milk, and organic vegetables to preserve.  It takes a village of us.

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I am the cheese monger.  I make our own variety of cheese, along with yogurt and ice cream, and butter.

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I am the baker.  In my bakery I make coffee cakes, and fresh bread for sandwiches.

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I am my family’s own doctor.  I make my own medicines.  I am the veterinarian around here.

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I am the tailor.  I am the accountant.  I am a hell of a gourmet chef.  I am the winemaker.

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I make body products and cleaning products and support my husband in his job.

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I buy organic flour and coffee, sugar and nuts.  Things of that nature.  I save a ton of money by growing, bartering, supporting local farms, and doing it myself.  Just think of all the things I don’t buy!  I don’t really have time to get a job, you see.  I am busy working and giving my family a homegrown, healthy life.

 

 

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

Preserving Food- Dehydrating

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Remember last year I had a lovely young woman live with us during the summer?  Annie helped me out immensely and we have missed her since she has moved.  She and her long time boyfriend (my daughter, Emily’s fiance’s brother) are expecting their second little one in a few months, a baby girl named Alice.  They are moving to California after Emily and Reed’s wedding.  She came to visit me yesterday, which was such a treat.  We talked about how easy the gardening will be there and how nice for them to be near her family.  We recalled how she moved in a week from now a year ago and how she had just missed the mulberries.  We grabbed quart jars to head out and harvest but the weather had another idea, as the clouds opened and poured down heavy, nourishing rain.  We came inside and started the cheese instead.  I will be out there right after I finish this post getting those delicious mulberries!  Today I am making juice to can.

One of the main things to remember about being a homesteader is that you have to act quickly.  You have to be ready to drop everything and harvest all those berries, or eat all the lettuce before it bolts, or get a windfall preserved before it all goes bad.  There are many ways to preserve produce, including canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

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I highly recommend you get an Excalibur dehydrator.  They are top of the line, work forever, consistent work horses on the farm.  When we lost everything four years ago, I sold mine for $50.  Oy, the lament!  I must get a new one soon.

I have tried air drying.  Old fashioned, effective.  The ants love it when I air dry produce.  I placed peach halves dipped in lemon juice and water (so they don’t brown) onto screens laid across an indoor clothes drying rack and placed it outside.  The ants just scampered themselves right up the legs.  I sprinkled cinnamon on the apples after dipping them in the lemon juice/water mixture.  Ants love cinnamon.

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Last year I lined cookie sheets with tomato halves and put them in the oven at the lowest setting.  They turned real crispy but not all the way dehydrated.  I put them all in olive oil in the fridge for sun dried tomatoes, but they are not the same consistency as when I used a proper dehydrator.

There are plenty of trays in a dehydrator and an amazing motor in the Excalibur.  It allows you to choose the temperature you desire.  In one of our old homesteads, I didn’t have a lot of counter space so the dehydrator sat out on the front porch humming for weeks at a time churning out tomatoes, apples, peaches, dried onions, and anything else I could think of!

You can dehydrate any vegetable and simply throw by the handful into soups or grind into seasonings.  Tomatoes and mushrooms can be rehydrated in a cup of hot water.  Dehydrated foods take up less space and are convenient.  My husband loves dried fruit.  I can never get it to the consistency of the store (because they use a preservatives) so mine are more chewy and act more like bubble gum.  Delicious to chew on until you can swallow it.  You can leave fruits still moist, just pop in the refrigerator or freezer.  Any moisture will make them mold.  You an also make jerky.

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Variety is the key to a successful homestead.  Lots of different fruits and vegetables and different ways to preserve them keep winter suppers interesting, delicious, and oh so nutritious!  While you are canning, blanching and freezing, and harvesting, the dehydrator just hums in the background doing its part on the homestead.

 

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

Preserving Food- Freezing

Freezing food is a practical and easy way to save the abundance of produce that flows into the kitchen and from farmer’s markets all season.  Freezing has its cons, for sure.  All one has to consider is the great possibility of power outage or malfunctioning freezer to remember a time that you opened the door of one to find melted, smelly food languishing in the musty interior.  Freezing is not my main form of preserving, but I still utilize in many ways because I find it very helpful on a homestead.

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There are some vegetables and fruits that are better frozen.  Eggplant and peas, for example, become mushy when canned.  Green peppers and chilies are easy to scoop out into a pot for soups.  Greens can be successfully frozen in plastic bags without becoming soggy.  And of course meat can be canned but it is easier to separate and freeze in individual bags for suppers.

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My granddaughter is here for a few days enjoying the farm.  We had fifteen chicks arrive chirping in the mail yesterday and she made sure to snuggle each one.  She also helped me harvest mulberries.  Berries are delicious as is, straight off the tree still warm, or in cereal, ice cream, or made into jam, or wine, or pie.  I will make all of those things and may still have some to preserve for winter.  It is lovely to pull out mulberries in December, or rhubarb or raspberries for that matter!  Freeze them on cookie sheets first, then pour into bags.  They will stay separate and easy to measure out.

I have a confession; I don’t typically blanch the vegetables before freezing.  I haven’t seen the point as of yet.  We eat them fairly quickly through the winter and they haven’t been bad at all.

I did blanch the peas once and it was easy enough.  Throw vegetables into boiling water for a few minutes then transfer to a bowl of ice water.  Lay out on cookie sheets, freeze, then pour into bags.

At the end of the summer, I like to have Doug throw peppers, chilies, and eggplant onto the grill.  Then I slice them into cubes and freeze on a cookie sheet.  Then pour into individual bags for pizza fixings all winter.

Here is the trick for fresh greens all winter.  Cut greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, and stuff into freezer bags.  Push out air and seal.  Then put in freezer.  When it is frozen, quickly crush the contents through the bag with your hand.  Don’t let it start to thaw.  You can easily pour out frozen, crisp greens into your soups and sautes all winter.

Cheese, milk, and eggs can be frozen, but it changes their consistency quite a bit.  I don’t freeze broth because I will never remember to take it out in time and big containers take up too much room.

Pile the remaining tomatoes after you are tired of canning into freezer bags and pull them out as needed and put them into the crock pot with soup, or bake on top of rice, or cook down for sauce and use an immersion blender to blend.

Shred zucchini and drain.  Then stuff  1 cup of zucchini into muffin tins and freeze.  Pop them out and into bags when solid.  These make great zucchini fritters, additions to soup, or zucchini bread during the winter and spring.

I am a bit adverse to even the slightest hint of freezer burn so I don’t let anything stay around for more than a year.  I start working my way through the freezer in the spring and any burned vegetables left go to the chickens.  I think one of those food sealers would be a good investment.

You can freeze juice concentrates, and nuts and seeds from your gardens, or fruit, and vegetables, scraps to make broth, meat, and bread.  That makes the freezer (and extra freezer) a good addition to a homestead.  Should the freezer break or be out of power for an extended time, you can rely on your root cellar and pantry.  But for many things, like fresh greens, peas, and chicken, (and mulberries) a freezer is great!

Homestead Anywhere and How to Preserve Rhubarb

Shelling, Preserving, Freezing Peas (an all day venture, bring friends)

Freezing Produce (it’s not too late to preserve!)

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

How to Be a Homesteader- Canning

The smell of wet soil fills the morning air as the droplets of rain drip from leaves of trees.  The mulberries are formed and will be ready to eat warm off the tree in a few weeks.  The peas have flowers that will turn into pods and the potato plants have the prettiest flowers of all.  It is lovely snipping leaves of arugula and romaine.  The baby ice berg leaves are crisp and delicious.  Snips of herbs bring life to salads and soups.

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There are more than three dozen tomato plants set out from seed in the gardens.  Eggplant and lots of red chilies.  We eat fabulously in late spring, summer, and fall, but what about the rest of year?  Today we will talk about canning!

Walking downstairs into our “grocery store” is beyond satisfying.  Rows of garnet, green, and golden jars of captured summer line shelves.  I can a few hundred jars of produce a year.  When the kids were home, I canned three times that!

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You will need a water bath canner and a pressure canner.  Acidic foods, like tomatoes and fruit, only need to be canned in the simple boiling water canner.  Foods like green beans, broth, and corn need the pressure canner.  Never fear!  The pressure canners of today are not your grandmother’s canner (the cause of many a bean explosion across the ceiling).  The new ones do not explode.  Everything is super easy to use once you get the hang of it.

You will need a canning book.  Bell puts out one regularly and there are lots of unique canning books available in book stores and online.  I still love my old, old ones.  I had a annoying housewife tell me that I would poison myself with it, but I haven’t had any issues, and if it was good enough for the old folks, it’s good enough for me.

You will need canning accessories.  They make life amazing!  I used to use wooden spoons haphazardly to try and pull jars from the boiling water cause I like to do things the hard way.  A funnel, proper jar lifting tongs, and a cool magnetic wand to pick up lids out of boiling water are all included in the box for cheap.

You don’t need to boil the jars.  They can come hot out of a dishwasher or simply line them in the sink and pour boiling water over and in them.  The idea is to make sure they are clean and hot so the hot liquids and boiling water in the canner doesn’t shock the bottom off the jar.  You can reuse jars.  Just get a box of new lids.  I have noted that the third time I use the jars for canning is usually the time one of the bottoms breaks off.

Try to bring in help.  I rarely have help but when I do get a few people together with a stack of corn and a bottle of wine, it all goes super fast and is a lot of fun.  Many hands make light work was definitely quoted by a homesteader.

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The loveliest part of the whole process is hearing that glorious pop-pop-pop of lids sealing their contents as they sit on a towel after you remove them from the pot.  Lining them up on shelves is also fun.  Stepping back and watching your own grocery store fill is really great.  And not going out in a snow storm because you preserved all of your own (or a nearby farm’s) produce for winter is really nice.  It is time to bring back this incredibly important art.

I have zillions of recipes on this blog for canning.  I think I have covered everything from pinto beans to beets to corn to broth, tomatoes…  Just type in the search “canning ____” and see what pulls up.  Happy canning!

 

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

What the Freezer Holds

Remember when I wrote What the Root Cellar Holds and I used a picture off the internet of beautiful jeweled jars of product meticulously lined up in rows because my root cellar is dark and dusty?  Well, I am going to pull a picture off of the internet of a freezer too.  This time of year, it ain’t looking so good!  The freezer has its pros and cons for preserving food but I think it is worth the effort.

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I like to can.  I spend a full day once a week all summer and fall, and perhaps more this year, in the hundred plus degree kitchen (we are making an outdoor kitchen this year) just to make sure that all winter we have some pretty great vegetable dishes that taste fresh out of the garden…even during snow storms.  But some things don’t can so well.

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Eggplant for instance.  Imagine that sucker canned.  Soaked in water.  Gag.  Okay, now imagine it sliced thinly, pulled from the freezer, dredged in fresh egg and cornmeal with lots of spices and baked until crisp.  Drool.  So, no canning eggplant.  Freezing is the only way to go.  Simply slice up the eggplant, place pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze.  Then transfer frozen slices into a freezer bag labeled.  We are out, sadly.  I will freeze more this year.

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The freezer is overflowing with tomatoes.  I brought tons home with very good intentions of canning yet another dozen or more jars (we are currently out of canned diced tomatoes.  Quite tragic.) and ran out of time.  So into bags they went and were placed in the freezer with more intentions to can them…sometime.  They are great though.  Pop three of them into a crockpot with half a chopped onion, six cloves of garlic, two cups of pinto beans, six cups of water or broth and some taco seasoning.  Put that baby on high for six hours and enjoy the world’s easiest and mouthwatering dinner.  They simply dissolve into a gorgeous broth.

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Mushrooms get frozen around here because mushrooms canned are a tad slimy for our liking.  They go from freezer to batter to fried in no time or added to pasta sauce or stew.  Out of those too.

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Peppers are particularly fun because all you have to do is cut them in half into little boats, take out the seeds ,and line them up on a cookie sheet, freeze, and layer into a freezer bag.  Enjoy stuffed peppers all winter long.  Once you cook them, they collapse a little and absorb the juices from the filling.  Since my family doesn’t care for stuffed peppers, they are saved for get-togethers.  I still have a ton.

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One year, I grilled slices of eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and onions.  I chopped them up and placed into sandwich bags.  They came out of the freezer as ready-made pizza toppings.  We went through them pretty quickly.  Last year, out of time, I took all the vegetables off of the grill and placed them all into bags.  I did not cut them up.  They are still in the freezer waiting to become some fabulous dish.  But alas, I will probably never defrost them and cut them up.  Prepping in the summer may seem to be a pain when one is already short on time, but so worth it when it comes to leisurely eating all winter!

Frozen zucchini slices are still sitting in the freezer.  Soggy zucchini doesn’t appeal to me.  I probably should wait until they are fresh again.  Anything that turns soggy, like greens, upon defrosting doesn’t make it into the freezer.

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Corn can be shucked and four ears can be placed in a gallon freezer bag.  Simply take out, throw into boiling water for five minutes, butter and salt and enjoy summertime eating in January.

Lastly, any leftover soups or beans are placed in the freezer for later use.  Sometimes we don’t get to that big pot of soup (I am still having trouble figuring out how much to cook) in the next week and it morphs into something entirely different in the back of the fridge.  The chickens love when that happens.  But, if I place it in a freezer bag, mark what it is, and put  in the freezer, I can pop it out, place it in the stock pot, bag and all, and by the time I am ready to make dinner, I just pour it out and heat it up.  Homestead fast food.

What I did though was place bags of screwed up food in there.  I made beans, way too many beans, and put way too much pepper in them.  No one ate them.  I couldn’t bring myself to waste them so I froze them thinking I could “fix” them on the next meal.  Every time I see them in there I turn up my nose.  The chickies are about to have a feast coming up soon.  I need to clean out the freezer.

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The main con is the electricity use.  I have an energy saving model but it doesn’t do me any good when the electricity goes out.  I opened the door to a swimming mess of juices a few weeks ago.  Denial is my friend so I just closed the door and walked away.  I will probably have to tend to that this week!  I don’t eat meat so I don’t worry about half defrosted green pepper halves harming me.  It just irritates me that my ice cream melted.

The freezer can be your friend.  One more homesteading helper to preserve that delicious harvest, whether it be out of your garden or from a local farm’s.  Not having to grocery shop for vegetables mid-winter and the pride of having fed yourself and your family is a pretty great thing!

By the way, I do not blanche any of the above items.  They all keep just fine and if I had to take the time to blanche them, they wouldn’t ever make it to the freezer!  Happy Preserving!