This morning when I woke up, I had this blog post already written in my head. As I scanned it while thinking about it, I knew I had to get up and write it down immediately. This is a long post, but important and necessary. I also apologize to anyone who is a dedicated blog post reader and has heard this all before. I think I need to reiterate it to remind myself.
Ever since I was small, I loved nature. I don’t know why particularly, I just did. Growing up, I loved spending time in the country, around plants and animals and anything from the natural world. I took biology and ended up taking Agriculture in University.
Looking at career options, I was not pleased. A good paying job was most likely to be found in a province that I was not willing to live in (for several reasons), so I got sidetracked into a job that kept me in this location, but not really contributing to anything on the nature side of things. I had access to nature, but not a viable way to contribute to it’s health in the form of a career.
The main thing I didn’t want was a commute, which I had done previously for 2 years and which was draining and annoying and can take the life right out of you if done too long. Finally I was able to create a self-sustaining business right here where I lived.
So, now there was the time and energy for nature. I suspect this might have something to do with many people’s lack of interest or ability to contribute to the health of the planet – being tired and stressed from work. Change takes effort and when your effort is going into a job that is energy draining (as most are), you have little left after work for anything but the basics.
Anyway, this year we, Ernie and I, have decided to make a serious effort to live differently. We have been moving towards this for several years and refining our thinking and actions and have come up with many things that we feel will help move us and others towards living more kindly towards the planet. We are also now actively promoting this lifestyle to people (tactfully), hoping that they will make a few changes to their lifestyles to help out and make a difference. We do not lecture anyone, but simply mention things we and others can do in our daily conversations with people in our area.
The following are the things we ourselves are doing to feel that we are working towards the goal of protecting the health of our planet.
- Working towards growing all our own vegetables and fruits. We grow 80% of our veggies but only about 25% of our fruit. Producing our own fruit is more difficult but not impossible. We buy oranges, blueberries in season, cherries in season, and macintosh apples which we can’t grow here. We have our own apples, Saskatoons (Service berry), and raspberries. For veggies we buy cauliflower and radishes, both of which we can’t grow here successfully, and hothouse cucumbers from a different province and mushrooms grown locally. Everything else we grow ourselves and process for winter or do without.
- Reducing the amount we drive dramatically and walk as much as possible. This is easy to do especially in cities where you have public transit and can cycle most times of the year. In the country it is more difficult especially if you choose to live away from a larger centre where things need to be trucked in or you have to drive longer distances to get somewhere or buy something. As society moves towards more digital based commerce, it is likely that most things will be delivered which will save on individual car driving.
- Feed our pets as naturally and with as little waste as possible. Our dogs eat mostly raw meat, with some cooked foods such as sardines and tripe. Meat and eggs are obtained as much as possible from local ranchers/farmers. Sometimes we have to buy meat from the store, but if we do that, we save the plastic and styrofoam meat trays and reuse them for many things. There is almost no waste, where as if we fed dry dog food we would be throwing away big dog food bags, about three larges one a month. These are lined with aluminum and plastic for freshness and are not recyclable.
- Attempting to eliminate new purchases of plastic items and reduce the use of disposable plastics. This is a non-negotiable. I feel this is the most serious environmental issue that needs to be addressed currently. If we have some re-usable plastic, we won’t get rid of it just because we don’t want plastic around, but use it until it is not in good condition anymore. We don’t use shampoo anymore (water wash only) and very few store bought personal products so there is much less plastic waste. This is an area I’d like to reduce even more.
- We RE-USE EVERYTHING at least once. If it can’t be re-used, we will try not to buy it or find an alternative to it that is re-usable.
- Find new uses for most, if not all things that would normally be thrown out. This includes clothing, furniture, wood or any building material etc.
- Composting our waste. There is much that can be composted that people are not aware of, that would reduce the amount of garbage, maybe not useable for food plants, but compostable nevertheless. Cardboard is compostable by worms for instance.
- Support ethical and low-intensity animal farming for meat. We will never be vegan as veganism is not a diet but an ethical position that rejects using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other reasons, like having pets. Yes, if you have a pet you cannot be vegan by definition. I would resort to calling yourself a “strict plant-based eater” instead. I consider myself a plant-based” eater because my diet is based on plants, but I also eat meat and eggs and a very small amount of artisan cheese. I will also not give up my connection with other species on this planet especially dogs. I feel it is a natural way for humans to live, interacting with animals. That said, I do not agree with factory or large scale animal farming. People can eat less meat and we can raise and slaughter food animals better and more humanely. We can live in harmony with animals in our lives and in domesticity. If I can’t have animals in my life because of the beliefs of a few radical people, I don’t want to be here at all.
- We save things from the garbage. There are so many things being thrown out in dumps and landfills that shouldn’t or don’t need to be thrown out. Ernie and other people we know have salvaged many, many things from being burned at the dump, and we have found ways to reuse these things.
- When we buy food, we make a great effort to buy products that are produced in this country, and even better, from within our community. All our meat and eggs come from local farmers and ranchers. It is not more expensive when you eat less. We also eat wild meat, specifically deer, which is low in fat as all wild meats are. For those of you who are opposed to hunting but still eat meat, unless you only purchase meat from animals that are dispatched on the farm and under no stress from transporting, then the meat is not at the highest quality. Wild deer are not terrorized by hunting anymore than they would be if they were being hunted by wolves or coyotes, whereas transporting animals to a slaughterhouse is very stressful on the animals.
- We don’t follow fashion trends. If something is not “trendy” or current in style we don’t get rid of it. Fashion is not really important. That being said, for some people it is important, but it is a throw-away culture. Furniture, knick-knacks, clothing, etc can be kept, saved, reused. Humans do need re-adjustment on the way we think about consuming things. We choose to buy good quality, and yes, more expensive items that last longer and do not give these things an expiry date based on what the current fashion or trends are. If something is in bad shape we simply find other uses for it until it is no more. I like the idea of finding one’s own style without the influence of consumerism. There are some amazing products in the marketplace that are high quality and unique and thoughtfully made. This is what I look for when thinking about a purchase (which isn’t often).
- Houseplants. Or how about just plants in general. Need I say more? OK, I will. I’m obsessed with plants. It’s what I studied in university. I love them. Tree, shrubs, flowers, food plants, houseplants. They are useful (in all kinds of ways) and houseplants bring nature into the home. The more I have the better I feel mentally. Having a few or several in your home is beneficial for you and your surroundings, reminding us even in snowy and cold winters (if you have them) that the plant, and planet, needs assistance to live.
- Writing about what we’re doing. This is a great way to spread information and ideas to assist others in changing perceptions about how we live. Ernie and I don’t presume to know what you do or can do in your own area, but where we live, since the community is small, we can come in contact easily with others to communicate information. Writing and posting on the internet is the same thing. Easy and convenient, and it works. If you think about it, I’ll bet there are several things you could do where you live now to spread the word.
I’m sure there are more things that you and I can and will come up with to contribute in your way to this planet project, which MUST be done now. There is now more fooling around and we cannot go back. We must do this together.
I’m going to address each of the things above in much more detail in regular blog posts starting today (well yesterday, May 1st 😉). It won’t be a daily post, but it will be posted!
Now that I have said all this, I want to emphasize, that this post is NOT a criticism list, to make people feel crappy about how little they are doing. This is a SUGGESTION list, describing mostly what we do ourselves and what CAN be done, and how important I feel this is. We want to encourage you ( I know most of you who read this are already doing this stuff) and show how easy it is to do some of these things, give ideas and to impress upon people how important it is to do these things. That’s it. We’re not saying how great we are, or that you’re a bad person for not doing what we are. Instead, I’m simply giving information. If you feel defensive or angry at some of these suggestions, that is not my fault. It is something for you to examine within yourself, why you feel that way.
Then, once you have done that, take action and do something great for your city/town, province/state, community, and most importantly for yourself and your family!
Up until about seven or eight years ago, I felt that I needed to be externally acceptable to others, especially those in my age group. Probably most if not all of you have felt the same way at some point. For me, this came through in the form of wearing trendy clothes, having to keep my hair a certain way and wearing makeup. If I didn’t, I would feel stressed that I was not socially acceptable.
The whole trying to fit in thing started when I was in elementary school and continued on through high school. In university, I held back a bit more with the makeup, but still obsessed about hair and clothes. When I reached my over 40 years, I realized that the thing that was most important to me about fashion and style is that I need to be able to be relaxed at all times in my clothes. This means that I need my clothes and hair to be clean and comfortable and that’s pretty much it.
Personal style is not normally influenced by fashion but it can be. By today’s standards, you should be able to wear pretty much whatever you want, no matter what the trend is at the time. That’s what I do now when it comes to clothes. Hair and skin care for this homesteader has also had a transformation to the frugal and basic kind.
Almost a year ago, I decided I want to live in an even more eco-friendly or sustainable way. This means I want to use as few personal care products as possible and the ones I do use are basically things I can make myself.
I started a while back by committing to only buying products that are made in North America. I actually used this rule for buying things for the home to start and continued it over into the beauty product area as well.
My first discovery of frugal, eco friendly skin care was done by accident. I was trying to get to the point of having cold showers in the morning. I started by using a hot and then cold cloth on my face and neck to get used to the idea of shockingly cold water. This routine had the result of eliminating any pimples I had been getting on my chin and forehead. If I stopped the face cloth routine for more than a week, I would start getting pimples again. This was something I had not anticipated but was pleased about because it solved an issue that was somewhat annoying.
This became my skin care routine and I didn’t have to buy anything new. When I was in high school I went through the buying of skin care products because it seemed like the thing to do and some girls and women are certain they can’t get along without numerous products. I wonder whether putting all kinds of chemicals on one’s skin is not part of the problem.
Shortly after I started this routine, I decided to try the “no shampoo” thing again. I had attempted it a year and a half ago but quit when I saw that it was not working as fast as I had read it should.
This time around, I didn’t stop. The initial result were the same – my hair stayed oily for months and still has periods of being heavily greasy, but there are fewer of those times now than before. When I think about it now, it makes sense that some people will have trouble with this method, especially if you have spent decades washing your hair every day with shampoo. In my case it was well over 40 years of stripping the natural oils from my scalp. That can’t be good for you.
In order to make this work, you need to find the right combination of water temperature, brushing and combing that works for your hair. What was described on informational websites about hair did not work for me. I was not going to buy the recommended “boar” brush due to the fact the I could not find one that was made in North America. Instead I use a vintage wooden handled plastic bristled brush I found here in the house made in France.
The brush does need to be washed regularly as you can see in the picture above to remove the oil that is removed from your hair.
My hair has now started to slow down on the oil production and I have also become better at caring for it in its natural state. It is not shiny (fake) like it was when I removed the oil from it, but it is also not as greasy at the end of the day as when I was washing with shampoo daily. It was definitely over-producing oil then. Sometimes I felt I needed to wash it twice, morning and evening, to get rid of the oil.
Other benefits of this hair care method are that I don’t have to use conditioner now, I never get staticky hair anymore or knotted hair from the wind, AND my split ends are gone.
I do have to be a bit more creative at times about how I wear my hair because it is thicker and still shows a bit of oil in certain styles. But I never have bad hair days anymore which is amazing to me. It used to drive me nuts because my hair was so flyaway when shampooed that it would mostly just be impossible to keep in one place. Now it stays where I put it. Surprisingly, there is no odor in hair washed well with water, or at least with mine anyway. Oh, and my scalp is not itchy all the time either like it used to be when I used shampoo – another benefit.
So, my homestead “beauty” routine is as natural as I can make it. As for traditional beauty products, I can’t stand the smell of nail polish anymore so I don’t wear it and I still have a few dozen unfinished bottles of it. With regards to makeup, a few years ago I started getting watery eyes from anything I put on or any scent that was in foundations. This makes it easy not to wear any makeup at all.
No makeup, no perfume, no purchased hair or skin products. That is my homestead skin and hair care routine.
Last month I told you about how we are attempting to spend less money on food. The result of our February experiment was that we spent $280 for the month which ended up being $109 less than February last year (2017). It’s also consistent with the $10 a day spending experiment that I have been doing to see if it is possible to eat well for $10 per day for two people. It IS possible.
The main things that made this possible were the following:
Eating in season. We bought blueberries when they were in season in the summer at a great price and then froze them for use now. We also froze most of our own fruit, including currants, raspberries and apples.
Not buying convenience foods. This is an obvious one. Convenience foods may look cheaper to start with but they are used up faster because the quality is poor. You end up spending more because you have to repurchase more often.
Eating a bit less. There is nothing wrong with eating less. I found this quite liberating. We were eating better quality food, and therefore not needing to eat as much because there were no cravings.
Cooking everything for ourselves. This is a must. I have found that eating at restaurants is actually not that fun for me. It’s really for convenience. I prefer the food that we make for ourselves, for the taste, the control of the quality, and time spent together. I know where the food is coming from and what goes in it.
Having a garden. Naturally, growing your own food is going to save you a bundle. It is more work for sure, but the quality of the food, at least in our case, is superior to anything we’d buy from the store.
The Coming Months
We are continuing our spending freeze on food for the next two months at least to see if it can be kept up. We are definitely going to run out of potatoes this year but that should be about it and not sure if we’ll buy from the store when we do. We’d only buy if they are locally grown potatoes so we can’t predict if there will be many or any to buy in the spring.
Our source for meat is local, which provides us with grass fed beef, humanely slaughtered on farm, so we don’t need to buy meat at the store. This also saves us money. Even though we don’t eat much meat, I eat it for the energy it provides me. Not every one needs to do this but by the same token, not everyone can be healthy by eating only plants.
As an aside, but following the nutritional topic, our dogs eat a raw meat and whole food diet (no kibble or canned dog food). We are able to keep their meal costs to $100 per dog per month (more or less, as the dogs are different sizes and eat accordingly) which is extremely good.
So, all in all, our experiment is providing us with an interesting and useful pastime with a very good result so far.
Happy 2018 everyone! I know we’re well into the year but I guess it’s still on my mind a bit.
I know everyone has had a productive last year on some fronts, maybe not all, but that is part of the fun of homesteading – knowing that there are a lot of things to do and that you’ll have more to do when the current projects are done.
On our village homestead, we did actually accomplish some things that were left undone for a couple of years. Once these things were done, we had some time on our hands to relax and enjoy, well, relaxing.
Ernie built the greenhouse he had been wanting to build, I did potted plant experiments in the greenhouse, and we did a lot of upkeep on our properties that was needing to be done like cut down trees and fixing fencing.
The last two years before 2017 and early in that year were trying with the arrival of my brother who had major health issues and the loss of four of our dogs. My response to these things was to not really want to do anything much, so a lot of stuff that needed to be done was left.
We also got Ira our Kuvasz in 2016 and then JoJo the Aussie in July of 2017. These guys kept me distracted from negative stuff.
Ernie did a lot of construction, removing an old deck and renovating a porch. He also built and expanded deck on my aunt’s house which was desperately needed there.
Enough about 2017.
This year we actually made a list of goals for 2018.
This is strange to me because I have a habit of assuming that things will happen if they happen and not because I want them to. I’ve always thought that way. I know this is an unproductive, negative thinking habit and not accurate at all. That’s why we made the list – as an experiment to see what would happen if we thought positively and took action regarding getting things done.
Check out a video of the 2018 list below if you have time.
The catch is you actually do have to take action. Yes, it does work when you believe that you can do something. Taking action becomes so much easier then. I have never really taken this to heart until last year.
This applies to pretty much everything, including training dogs which is something I do everyday. Knowing what you want to train your dog to do, and actually doing the work are the two main obstacles to getting results. I think many people see how long it is taking and how long it will take and quit too soon. This is possibly partly a product of our fast-paced lifestyles.
Another thing I have found that works to help get things done in a big way is starting a project and doing it to completion, not stopping and starting up later. Dealing with the pressure of not being able to get up and distract myself with something else has helped in my understanding of why I often find it difficult to get things done (that).
So instead of getting up and doing something else as a reward for writing only one paragraph, I continue writing until something is done. I didn’t even know which way this article was heading until I started writing, and since I wasn’t able to stop, I figured something out.
The only real way I have found to know for sure if a new way of thinking or a habit will work for me is to do it for a while. I have had some amazing results with this tactic even though it’s only been a couple of months.
So we have been able to accomplish some things in the short amount of time that is this year here on our ON GRID homestead.
The only thing I HAVE to do right now though is let the dogs out to do their business.
These are the results of our vinegar experiment. It is useable and we have a lot of mother of vinegar as well.
I did some research and found that I needed to cover it in the fridge to store it, which I did. I also re-strained it because there was more “mother” in the vinegar. I then covered the mother with some of the vinegar and put it back in the fridge.
This was what was suggested by the info I found online.
If you look back at the pictures in my last post about vinegar, you can see there is a definite change in colour of the liquid. It has darkened quite a bit. Also, it seems that all of the vinegar is continually producing mother of vinegar if left long enough, which is OK from what I have learned.
I ended up with two cups of useable vinegar. Right now I am giving it to the dogs by the teaspoon with their meals, as it has benefits for them as well.
All in all the vinegar experiment was successful and I am looking forward to making a larger batch next year.
MAKE YOUR OWN STUFF!!
This fall I decided to try making vinegar.
This is part of my goal to be able to make more of what we eat from our own produce, and to teach people locally how to do this.
I know, I know, I just wrote a post about doing homesteading the way you want and not trying to do things just like a “real” homesteader. I still want to do that though. It’s not that I would necessarily rely on making our own vinegar all the time, but I think it’s important to be able to know how to do it.
That means we need to try to make it ourselves.
This fall we had an abundance of apples. I mean a LOT. So after we used up and froze as many as we could I decided it was a go on the vinegar.
I used chunks of apple, not fruit scraps, just because we had that many apples and we didn’t need to process any more whole ones. We cored and chopped enough to fill the jar we were going to use and put in a honey/water brine. I weighed down the apples with a regular drinking glass and a shooter glass inside that.
I tbubbled away for a little more than a week and started to smell like alcohol – the desired result of the first part of making vinegar.
I think I left it a little too long because the apples started to brown and some of the liquid evaporated from the jar. Below is the result of the this first part of the process. Here I am getting ready to filter the liquid through a linen cloth.
I thought it should be a bit clearer than it turned out, but it SMELLS right, so I’m going to keep going with it. This picture is the final liquid after the filtering.
I am storing it on a shelf in the corner of the kitchen out of the light in a glass casserole dish.
We’ll see what happens in a few months. Hopefully it won’t take too long. I’ll post an update when it is ready.
Happy Homesteading – however you do it!
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.
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.
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.
And 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…
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 as 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.
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, just like anything else worthwhile. 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 or two hours after the 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 with 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 anyway ;-).
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.