What Is REAL Homesteading Anyway?

Today Ernie was told that some local people who live off grid are doing “real” homesteading.

Now see, that pisses me off (can you guess what movie that line is from ;-).

If we’re talking about REAL homesteading, my great-grandparents were “REAL” homesteaders.

They came to this country (Canada) with NOTHING, got crappy land and built a life from NOTHING.

That is”REAL” homesteading.

What people do today is also homesteading but you can do it however you darn well please. Homesteading today is using some (or all if you wish) of the traditional ways of our ancestors when they came to this part of the world, incorporated with new ways of living such as solar energy, newly developed seeds and plants and perhaps working at a really good job.

There is no one way to do it.

There are no such things as “real homesteaders” anymore. Homesteaders are people who decide that they are homesteaders. It can be in mind or in physical reality. It doesn’t matter.

I just wanted to clarify that.

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Harvest Is (Well) Over

Last night we had a killing frost. Not that there was much on the garden. Just Brussels Sprouts, Rhubarb, some beans drying, and Horseradish of course.

Inside the house, however, is a different story. Mostly with regards to the tomatoes. In fact it seems that everyone in our area had a bumper tomato crop and we can’t give the things away.

So we’re canning juice, freezing ketchup and plain tomatoes and making soup. We were able to reduce the bags of frozen tomatoes from last year to zero, but we still have over 30 jars of canned tomatoes from last year in the cellar.

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Update:

We decided to stop processing the tomatoes because we have enough. This is the total of what we put away:

29 canning quart jars of juice

11 large freezer bags of whole tomatoes

10 reused peanut butter jars of marinara sauce

18 pb jars or ketchup

and we have some romas still in the fridge for fresh eating.

and again this is added to the 29 canned jars already in the cellar.

Nuts, I know.

Next year we will not be planting tomatoes. Well, OK we’ll plant a few for fresh fruit but that’s it.

We did have some left and Ernie took them to his sister who doled them out at the Drop-In and to immediate family that needed some. That went over quite well and none were wasted.

About The Garlic

I planted the garlic by myself this year. Ernie was busy with other things so I did all the planting, which is fine.

We bought new garlic seed this year from professional garlic growers. Marino, Gaia’s Joy and Northern Quebec are the names. This garlic is prairie adapted to our area.

We also purchase new seed from the organic vegetable farmer we originally bought from years ago and found out that he buys seed every year from a different province. This means it is not prairie adapted and would likely explain why we are having trouble with it.

We will therefore be reducing the plantings of this variety – I can’t remember what he said the name of it was – in favour of smaller types of garlic produced locally.

Altogether I planted 250 cloves in three different locations. Below is a picture of the new garlic bed. The chairs and pail are to help prevent the dogs from running through it.

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Peppers Were Successful

We had a pretty good crop of peppers considering we didn’t plant as many as two years ago. There were enough to put away quite a few containers in the freezer. Peppers are on par here with garlic with regards to importance. We have decided to up the pepper production next year.

We now have a good method of starting, transplanting and increasing speed of production for our area. Pepper tents are a must here and work wonders.

peppersAnd of course cabbage, herbs, beans, peas were all good this year as well. We left most of our beans to dry and will do that next year as well. Neither of us care much for processed beans, so we will only be eating fresh.

We had trouble with corn since it was so dry and grass bound so they were stunted. But they gave a little produce anyway.

And the potatoes. Well, lets say we’ll be buying in the spring. This year was so dry that we got half of what we had last year. We need to plant in a different location next year as well and make a few soil amendments that I will discuss at a later date.

So that’s it for the garden. Now on to other homestead things like cooking and eating, crafts and art and small town life. And maybe a bit of travelling. And writing…

Happy homesteading!

DIY Garlic and Herb Dehydrator

This is the second year that we are using our homemade dehydrator.

Last year we used it to dry garlic for garlic powder and it worked amazingly well. We will still use it for that purpose, but right now I am using it to dry my herbs.

To make a dehydrator all you need is a container with shelves, some trays and some air flow. We had a big cardboard box in the shed. Ernie built an insert with scrap wood to hold two trays, then cut a hole in the top back of the box to promote air flow.

The table is an old coffee table that we had in storage, and the trays are screens from old windows that are long gone. All saved items. The only thing that is new is the heater/fan. We use it on the no heat setting to move the air. A regular fan could be used if that is what you have.

This dehydrator works very well. Obviously you have to turn the herbs or garlic occasionally to promote even drying but that’s no problem.

Yes, it looks weird and is not appropriate for some decor (lol), but who cares. It was free and more junk is not getting put into the landfill.

The garlic we use with this is what we know will not last the whole winter because there were worms in them or they drying out.

Never throw out garlic by the way, unless it is mouldy. Even if you have a small amount you can slice it into small pieces, put it on a plate, and let it air dry, turning it regularly. When it is dry, chop it in a small grinder or use a mortar and pestle.

The herbs dry faster in this than just being air dried, but we using both methods on all of our herbs.

Isn’t it much better to know where your garlic powder and dried herbs come from and how they were processed rather than buying them?

We think so.

Happy Homesteading!

 

Eating Well On Little Money Part 2

Over a year ago, I did an experiment of sorts in my kitchen. Using the local Co-op weekly sales flyer, I chose food items up to $10 per day to see if a family of two could feed itself well on that amount.

The problem I have found is that eating”well” is a subjective term. Some people think that eating well means eating at restaurants or buying as much convenience food that they want. OR it could mean a certain quality or price of food.

All this is just avoiding learning how to eat well for less. It can be done.

To remind ourselves from the last post: The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:

Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.

From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments such as ketchup or left over from previous purchases of food you could use those to spruce things up.

At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project.

The point is use what is available.

The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.

Day 2: Carrots, Banana, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00

With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelievably good.

So now you have pasta and soup with some fruit.

We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However, the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower. Eating this canned food is NOT what I would call eating well.

I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well.

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The key to eating this way is to learn how to cook. It’s as simple as that, or as difficult.

Cooking for oneself takes time and effort.  Our society has moved away from that. The focus is on ready made, packaged foods. You get addicted to these. They are part of the disconnect between how people work and how people live. They are easy and simple – and not nourishing.

I am not saying this to point the finger of blame at anyone or of how people live, just a statement of fact. My goal is to educate people to see that it is not as difficult as they might believe and to encourage a bit more food security into their lives – learning how to prepare their own food. That is the whole point of this blog.

Many people go to jobs daily that suck the life out of them. They are then exhausted and don’t have the energy to prepare good food for themselves. There is a different way.

This happened to Ernie during his working life in the big city. Work was from 7 am to 3 pm. Luckily his commute was only about 20 mins each way, but at the end of the work day he would go home and sleep for an hour before eating a meal. When he changed his life from working at this job, his food selections changed as well.

Working at something you don’t feel good about or are not connected depletes your energy just like eating crappy food. I know I’ve done both.

If you feel defensive when reading this post you may not be secure in your food or other choices. Please don’t post a negative comment. The intention is not to try and insult you (I am not that much in control of your thinking ;-).

There are people who need help and it is to those people that this post is directed. Thanks you.

I will continue this experiment as planned and post the results here shortly – with a few modifications. Day 3 and 4 will be posted on soon.

Garlic – Our Most Important Garden Plant

Two years ago, we had an almost complete garlic crop failure. At the time, we had been selling some and building up the seed so we could have even more to sell. This also happened to many other people including local garlic growers and organic vegetable farmers, although they were not almost wiped out as we were.

All that disappeared in one winter. The cause: very little snow cover.

Not only did the garlic suffer but most of the plants that usually seed themselves also did not come back. We usually had volunteer spinach – a lot of it – and it all died out. Even the dill and cilantro was reduced in numbers.

But the most severe effect was on the garlic.

This year we have a nice patch growing but there will be little if any for sale. Last year we did have some that we made garlic powder from in our homemade dehydrator. That can go a long way but you always need fresh garlic. What extra we will have is already sold to the first people who asked in the spring this year.

If they miss out, it will be first come first serve.

Most of this year’s crop will go to seed for next year.

 

I was also able to find some of the small garlic “seeds” among the cloves which I planted in a herb bed. They’re doing amazing and should give us some second year bulbs. There are about 20 or so plants. I had TWO second year garlic bulb which I put in another herb bed and both came up.

This is the first time I have followed our garden plants this closely, so I should be able to keep track a bit better what we have.

The most important thing when planting garlic for yourself (which I encourage EVERYONE to do) is buy good seed and plant in the fall. Many people have called us over the years to ask why their garlic didn’t amount to anything. There are two reasons.

ONE: They are buying garlic from the grocery store to use for seed.

Garlic from the store may be treated with something to prevent germination. If it is not, it is still not appropriate to plant because it is not acclimatized to where you are planting.

TWO: They’re planting the seed in the spring.

This does not give the garlic enough time to come up and produce really good heads. They need that early start, especially in continental climates that have cold winters.

So aside from all the garlic troubles of the past, the garlic that we have is doing well and we are on the way to our goal of restocking our seed garlic and having enough to sell.

We were able to harvest and sell some of the garlic scapes from these plants, which were very nice, and I put the rest of them away for ourselves for the winter. I use them in soups, stews and sauces, omelettes. Just about anything really.

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This August we will purchase new seed of a variety that is known to the seller. When I purchased the seed for what we have now, I neglected to ask what the name was, so it is just large purple garlic.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have absolutely NO garlic at all for a year. I don’t and won’t buy from the store unless I know it it local, so hopefully this problem won’t happen again.

Garlic is our most important garden plant.

 

The Greenhouse Is Done – But You Don’t Really Need One

Our greenhouse is finished. Well, except for painting the trim. The plants that have been in there so far this summer are growing somewhat faster than those outside, but I feel this is likely due to transplant shock of those that were put out.

As I have said before this greenhouse was built with mostly scrap/recycled/savaged materials with the exception of a few pieces of wood and the roof plastic. Even the vinyl siding was salvaged from the dump.

It is functional, not bad looking and seems to be working well.

As for the plants that are growing inside, they are also doing quite well. We have tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in there as well as outside on the patio.

This is all really an experiment for me. I wanted to try to grow vegetables in pots, in and outside of the greenhouse, to see if and how easily it could be done here in our climate.

What I have found is that it is easy to grow your own food in pots on balconies or outside on your patio. The easiest things I have found to grow are herbs, onions, obviously tomatoes, peppers, kale… well everything really.

I even have corn growing in two pots just to see if it would work. And yes it works.

corn

Recently, several people have complained to me about the increased prices at the grocery store, particularly vegetables. Of the people who complained to me, some lived in the city and some lived in rural areas.

I can understand that there will be certain places in urban areas in which it will be difficult to have any kind of outdoor space for plants. But everyone has an indoor place for one plant.

So there is really no excuse not to do this except that you are completely set against doing it.

Why should I grow my own food? Isn’t it time consuming?

My answer to this is, no. But it IS a lifestyle. My opinion ( if it matters) is that everyone should learn how to grow SOMETHING of their own, even if it is just flowers or houseplants. I believe tending to garden, even a small one, is an important part of being human. But you don’t have to start out growing everything at once. And of course if you don’t want to that is your choice. Just don’t complain to me about the price of food.

When you learn how to grow even the most simple and small amounts of food for yourself, you are connecting to nature, you can control where some of your food comes from and you learn something new every time you plant something. This last point is the most important one of the three in my mind.

What to grow

Growing your own herbs is the best way I have found to start growing food. You can grow all of the oregano, basil, coriander, parsley and dill you need for a whole year in pots in a small space. Parsley can grow inside all winter in a sunny window, and early in the year you can start coriander (cilantro), dill and even small onions in pots to pinch for fresh flavour in your cooking.

Multiplier onions can provide green onions before they mature AND just the greens if you want. If you leave them to mature, the bulbs can be saved and planted at another time. There is really no way to make a mistake in planting them.

Other really useful plants to plant in pots are tomatoes and peppers. They take a little more attention, especially pruning for the tomatoes but nothing that can’t be handled.

Tomatoes never have to go bad because if you grow too many because you can freeze them whole and use them anytime during the non-growing season.

Anyway, I’m not getting rid of my greenhouse just because I don’t need it. I love it and will use it to start the large amount of veggies we need each year.

But it is time for people to take matters into their own hands and start growing some of their own food if only just to eat something amazing.

Just start.

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Multiplier onion growing in a reused plastic “pot”.

Saving Oregano

We have two oregano beds that survived the winter. This plant is interesting because it is obviously not native to this region, yet is survives our ridiculously difficult winters. There is always some die-back and some sections of the beds don’t come back, but they always spread.

Both of our oregano beds have a north facing exposure so this is even more interesting to me. Because this herb is so useful, it is a good idea for everyone to plant a little and dry some for use in the off season.

This year I am planting more because of our venture into market gardening. The old beds needed refreshing so I harvested as much as I could very early. The stems were very short but I pinched them down to the ground.

The second bed has even more to be harvested which has yet to be done. All of this will be dried for our own use. The first batch I dried on an old cookie sheet but the second harvest will be dried in our homemade dehydrator.

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The remaining beds will be removed, some good sections will be replanted in different locations, and the dead sections composted. The roots on these plants are VERY tough and difficult for me to even get a shovel into. This must be why they are so good at surviving the winters here.

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This oregano bed has a lot of grass in it. Another reason to remove it.

I use oregano in many different things that we eat like the obvious – pizza, tomato sauce, salsa, salad, etc. but I also put some in my dog’s food – dried of fresh – from time to time.

Some people believe that giving greens to dogs is a not species appropriate but I don’t think that at all.  In small amounts this and other culinary herbs are a benefit to dogs. I have been using them for years with no issues. Dogs that are not used to things like this should be started on them slowly using COMMON SENSE.

So I harvested quite a bit of early oregano for drying and now that is something I don’t have to think about for the rest of the summer. We have as much as we need for ourselves so I can concentrate on selling the rest.

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We’re Building A Greenhouse

Our main focus on the village homestead is to reduce consumption of stuff we don’t need. That doesn’t include what we eat though.

We are actually increasing the amount of vegetables, including herbs that we grow ourselves. This means we need more containers for planting, growing medium and trays to put the containers in. We also need more space.

This year we decided it was time to have a greenhouse to support these plants. Since finally starting a business dealing with herbs and garlic, I felt it was now unavoidable to build one.

Ernie drew up a couple of plans and looked in a few books and we designed a greenhouse based on where it will be situated and the materials we had. We wanted to use as much of what we already had as possible.

Using What We Have

Over the years, Ernie has saved old windows that were replaced on the house, all kinds of wood, pieces of siding, nails and screws, and many other things that might come in handy for building. The only things that we were missing for this project were the concrete for the footing (which we didn’t really need), the roofing, which will be purchased fibreglass panels and some miscellaneous pieces of wood like some studs and a piece of plywood.

The door is even the old front door from the house. Nothing goes to waste.

We chose a slanted roof because it would be more efficient for collecting water. The tall side is north facing and has the door but no windows. There will be enough light from the other three sides. Rain water will be collected on the one side or go into the raspberries in the ground around the greenhouse. Water will not collect on the north side where we will be entering.

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My plan is to grow certain plants in the greenhouse all summer. These will be the tomatoes that I want to save seeds from in particular (heirloom), and some herbs that need the heat.

Since the building is not completed yet, I will be posting again on the progress and then on how I am filling it up with plants. Ernie figures it should be done over the weekend.

Vintage Knitting Book Is Gold

Today’s vintage item is my knitting book printed in 1947. This book was my mother-in-law’s and was here when I moved in. Likely she bought it at a yard sale or auction, along with a bunch of other things, but we really don’t know where it came from.

Either way, it is well used.

From a knitting standpoint this book is gold, but that is not the only reason I love it.

It is full of great information not only about knitting but about life at the time it was written. At the time of publication, women were getting back to being housewives, many after having worked while the war was on.

Some of the text in the book is quite dated with regards to how women were seen at that time in society. I do not feel bad about that, as I feel things have changed considerably, although maybe not completely.

My mother-in-law did not have her husband away during that time, and continued on in her role as a homemaker. She had just had her third child (out of 8) and did some knitting, mostly so that the children had clothes.

I wish I knew more about how she obtained this book, if she used it much and why she kept it. Unfortunately, access to that information is gone.

I use the book a lot. It stays in my current knitting project bag and I refer to it regularly. Even some of the patterns that do not seem practical are fascinating, like the knitted skirt. I can see how it would be to adapt this to a more modern look and usage.

I’m glad no one threw this book away. Things like this are sometimes at risk of being tossed just because they seem old and not relevant anymore, which couldn’t be more further from the truth.

There is always something contained within old or vintage things that is worth learning.

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How To Start Homesteading

Something that I have always believed about a person’s life is that each one of us has to do what is right for us (even when I was not doing that in my own life). Sometimes this means we do something right away without planning and sometimes it means we wait a bit and concentrate on what we have.

It is a personal choice.

What I do know for sure is that if you have an overwhelming sense of restlessness about something and you keep hesitating on taking action, something will eventually occur that will make a change for you.

Homesteading was that for me and I know it is for many others as well.

Homesteading to me means that you have a certain mindset, one that includes but is not limited to frugality, traditional lifestyle techniques, growing your own food, concern for nature and the environment.

Every homesteader has a different way of living and doing things. Some beliefs about homesteading however, are inaccurate. One of these is that a person needs to be in a certain place to do this.

Homesteading is a state of mind.

If you feel that you want to homestead or live a different more sustainable lifestyle you don’t need to move anywhere.

Just start right where you are.

As I have said before, homesteading (as a state of mind) is how person sees the world and what she/he does in it – NOT what property you own. It is a way of living more simply and being more deliberate about what you do. Sure, you can have goals for your future homestead but that does not need to stop you from working with what you have.

There are so many things that you can do right where you are that would technically qualify as homesteading activities.

A: Plant a garden.

No, you do not need to have any space outdoors at all. Start with planting your food flavourings – basil, oregano,thyme, multiplier onions etc in a container on your window sill. Buy some seed and a small bag of soil and plant them.

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B: Don’t throw everything away.

To grow a herb garden in your apartment, you don’t need to buy any fancy pots. Start by using plastic food tubs that no longer have food in them. I know you have those. Make smallish drainage holes on the bottom and find a reusable tray to put it on to catch the water.

C: Find multiple sources of income.

It is a really good idea to not have all your income come from one source. The reliance on one employer or one method of making money is what gets many people in trouble with regards to debt and making payments. The feeling of security from an employer can over ride sensible thinking.

An example of this is when I was working at the local nursing home. A woman who I worked with had applied for a position in the care home. She already had a job there but it was for fewer hours than the new position.

Since no one else applied, she figured she was a shoe-in for the position and she and her husband went and purchased a brand new truck on payments. The woman who was giving up her position changed her mind and kept it so the first woman didn’t get the position. She was very upset and blamed the other woman for her problem.

Relying on one source of income can be problematic when you spend more than you make or have payments that need a job to be paid.

D: Spend less.

This is a given for a homesteader. The point of homesteading (I feel) is to enjoy life more without spending on everything you see, to be more connected to nature and more conscious about what you are doing in day to day life. One of the things that we do here is buy only what we absolutely need. We rarely buy “wants” because we have trained ourselves to rethink a want before purchase.

For example, I have a large amount of yarn for knitting and crocheting. I don’t need anymore. Sure it’s tempting to purchase yarn for that really cool sweater. But I don’t need anymore sweaters. I have several. I am not trying to impress anyone with my new sweater, which is essentially what buying something you want is for.

E:  Don’t be influenced by those who are not doing.

When someone says something negative about your new pastimes (pickling, soap-making, herb growing…), ignore them. You need to keep in mind what your goals are and don’t listen to anyone else.

Never take advice from someone who’s life is not your ideal life.

Your life is your own and what someone else says about it is irrelevant because the comment is not related to you at all. It comes from that person’s own psychology.

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I remember one time my aunt had a older couple visiting. At the time I had really started to get into dogs and dog training. As we were standing around talking the man started picking on me about cleaning up after the dogs (poop-scooping).

He had spent his whole life shovelling livestock crap and he couldn’t understand how anyone would want to pick up any from any animal. He just couldn’t get over how I could do this.

This is not important information. This is purely emotional, based on how much he hated shovelling manure and that he spent his whole life at it. Therefore, to him, no one else should ever do that again.

In order to validate his own dislike of something, he tried to disempower me with negative questioning and ridicule and make himself feel better.

This is not information that would help me accomplish my goals.

I didn’t reply with any fabulous comment to clarify why I pick up dog poop, but his words did serve to make me feel bad – that maybe I was doing something wrong by liking dogs.

My response to him now would be something like “everyone is different” or “not everyone has a problem with poop”, or if I really wanted to be sarcastic perhaps “does that include dirty diapers?”.

Anyway, you get my point. Don’t listen to ANYONE who is talking negative about what you are doing. You are on your own path and must follow that.

So, the most important thing is not what you do to start homesteading. It is that you START and not worry about other people’s opinions of you or what you are doing.

If it is what you really want to do you will do it and if you don’t you will find out soon enough.