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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.

How We Source Our Food

One of the things (or should I say the main thing) that I am obsessed with here on our village homestead is buying as much food produced locally or producing as much food as we can ourselves (as some of you may be).

Where we live, it is very easy to get meat from farmers/ranchers. This is what we do for beef and chicken. We did have a pork source but the farmer stopped doing that. The meat was so much superior to what we have bought from the store in the past that I no longer eat pork.

If we can’t find a good product we just won’t buy it.

Eggs are fairly easy to get locally but in Canada the public sale of eggs by private individuals is prohibited so people give them away. We purchase honey from a couple who live three blocks away.

The basics are usually what give us trouble in finding. We need to buy flour from the store (even though we are surrounded by grain fields), and anything else needed to bake. Nuts obviously are not grown locally with the exception of wild hazelnuts if you can find them.

We actually grow our own beans (regular and broad beans) and peas and then dry them for  later use. But right now we need to buy other grains like barley, wild rice, lentils and buckwheat. I would love to be able to grow enough for ourselves. Maybe one day.

Dairy is one thing that we can’t get from nearby farmers. We have to buy it in the store. We buy cheese that is produced in our province from milk also produced in the province but milk for drinking (like in coffee or cereal) is not local. I no longer drink milk as is nor use it in cereal.

For fruit and vegetables we now only buy bananas, cauliflower (because we have not been able to grow any substantial amount in our own garden), locally grown mushrooms and the occasional sweet potato as long as it is grown as close by as possible.

In season once a year we buy cherries, blueberries and sometimes strawberries. We have our own local sources for the “Saskatoon” berry and cranberries otherwise known as the Serviceberry. We have more of our own apples and raspberries than we can handle.

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Ernie recently read an article about sweet potatoes and found out that the majority of what we get here comes from China. Unless it specifically says that it is from a closer place, I won’t buy them anymore.

We all know that it is crucial to be able to get as much food as you can on your own. Getting food locally is important for the experience of enjoying the food, knowing where it comes from, how to procure it and use it, and being thankful for it.

The disconnect between humans and their food is obviously affecting our health, most especially children. This also applies to those who no longer eat meat (not everyone but some).

The idea of food being “cruelty free” food is impossible.  Other animals and many many insects always die as a result of plant harvesting methods – even in organic agriculture.

And unless you are buying certified organic, most grains have been sprayed with herbicide in the fall to “burn” them so the farmer can harvest everything at the same time. Did you know that %75 of conventionally produced sunflower seeds are “dessicated” this way? See an article about that here

Another reason humans need to be aware of where their food comes from is so that they won’t worry about how to survive on the occasion that there is no food available for purchase.

I think I’m interested in trying the 100 mile diet, or here in Canada the “160 kilometre” diet, where you source all you food from places within that radius.

I know I don’t have to tell all of this to any of you who are homesteading. This is something that homesteaders already think about just by their nature.

Happy Food Procurement!

M is for Meaningful.

Since we got back from our “vacation” we have drastically reduced our spending. This is part of how I have always wanted to live anyway so it is not much of a problem.

I think I have explained in past blog posts that we prefer to spend money on things that are important to us and not just willy nilly on everything for a quick fix. This is very easy to do sometimes, and is mostly just a bad habit.

In case you haven’t already guessed, M also stands for money, in this post anyway.

One of those things we buy for a quick fix is eating restaurant meals. When we make a regular trip to the city for supplies in the past we have purchased a meal there. This was done completely for convenience since we would be there at the same time as we would normally have lunch or supper.

Just for fun, or to torture ourselves, I have calculated the amount of money we have spent over one year on fast food when we were away from home. I was able to do that because Ernie keeps a daily journal of what we do, eat, etc. and has done so for three years.

We averaged $80 a month.

Some places are more expensive than others but in general a meal for two people is pretty much $20 – $25 each time. If we had a take out meal at home (purchased in our village) that would be added on as well. I did not include convenience foods that were included in a grocery purchase simply because I did not have that info.

This amount and habit is unacceptable to me, so we stopped buying food in restaurants and any extra convenience food items. Now, some people WANT to buy meals out, and reap great benefits from that (this is different for everyone), which is fine. However, for us it is not that important to do on a regular basis. It has always been my belief that (unless you are independently wealthy) you can’t buy everything you see. You have to weight how much benefit you get for something over how much it “costs” you.

Actually, even if someone has lot of money to spend, it could be considered irresponsible to buy a bunch of things just for the sake of buying, convenience, or just because one can. Purchases that are well thought out (to me) are much more satisfying and useful. And less impactful on our earth.

I feel life is more about experiences than buying things, and I’m sure many of you reading this feel the same way as well. Sure, if you want to experience travelling to different countries you’ll need money, or to experience staying at a first class resort.

The way I like to look at it is these things are worthwhile if they are meaningful experiences. If they are, then great. But if they are just for relaxing and pleasure because you work too hard, or if they are for bragging about, then they are likely not meaningful experiences.

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So back to the original point of this post.

We stopped spending money on food in restaurants because it is more meaningful to us to eat our own food that we prepared at home.

There may be an occasion for buying a meal at a restaurant at some point, but for us the regular habit of it is gone. We will take the time to make food at home before we go anywhere, and then save the money for a more meaningful experience later on.

I admit it takes more planning and a bit of organization to get it done, not to mention the time. For me though, time spent making and growing our own food is one of the reasons I am a homesteader, so again it is not an issue.

Getting out of the habit of buying what you think of will immediately “solve your problem” is the most difficult part. It requires desire to change and live differently. It was something that we felt we had to do. Again, not everyone will feel this way about spending money on meals, but there may be something else. What is a meaningful experience for you that you spend money on?

Happy Homesteading.

 

How We Make Sauerkraut

We don’t make sauerkraut every year but this year we had to because of all the cabbages that decided to grow.

For this process we have a ceramic crock that Ernie’s mom used. It is a large high – sided pot really, that was made in Medicine Hat Alberta, Canada. Ernie’s parents were given this crock in 1967 by neighbours but we really don’t know how old it is.

For things like that I just call them “vintage”.

This year we used 18 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. We also used some of our own onions and of course, coarse salt.

Sauerkraut is so simple. And so tasty. And good for you. So we have decided to make more of an effort to use what we make. Often we forget that we have it, and it gets left over from year to year. This year though I think we have run out so our crock full will definitely get eaten.

Many of you already make this food but I will go over it again anyway because you can do it with almost any container, just on you counter.

Chop or coarsely grate (we grate) the cabbage into the container to about 2 inches or 5 centimetres. Add some onion and the appropriate amount of pickling salt. For us it was 2 tablespoons per layer of cabbage.

Then we filled the container about 3/4 full. As  he went along, Ernie would squish the cabbage in his hands to get the juices out.

Once done filling the crock a clean pail full of water was used to weigh down the cabbage to stay underneath the liquid. Ernie cut two pieces of pine board to fit on top of the cabbage inside the crock that the pail sits on.

Check out my video below to see all the steps.

In the past, Ernie’s mom used to use a board similar to what we use, only she weighed it down with a big rock that they had found here in the yard. I opted for the pail although I’m sure there are many things that could be used to do this job.

Ernie kept tasting the cabbage to check it for sourness over the next two weeks or so. Once it reached what he figured was ready, he squeezed the liquid out by hand and packaged it for freezing.

Not difficult to do at all, and so very good for you.

 

We Have Basil!

This year Ernie did the garden planting. I was working (at home) and didn’t have the extra time so he put in all the plants. He even picked up the seeds at the store and some transplants from the local greenhouse.

Needless to say I forgot what he bought and planted.

So when I started harvesting the oregano and rosemary, I was pleased to find out that we DID actually have basil, something I use more than any other herb. It was by accident too that I found out, as you can see in the short video I posted below.

It really was a surprise and I REALLY had forgotten. I don’t even remember where they were purchased or if I planted them and Ernie can’t remember either.

Our Drying Method Is Simple

The trays that I use to dry my herbs are silver trays that we bought for our wedding 11 years ago and used once. Now they are really getting put to use. I believe in using what you have as many of you know. I simply keep the leaves on the trays and “fluff” them daily. I don’t use any special air movers or a food dryer or anything like that.

The key to doing it this way is to keep moving the leaves around on the trays so that they get exposed to the air. This method does take longer than using dryers or screens but it costs nothing and is maintenance free.

The moral of this story is – Check your gardens. You may have something delicious growing that you missed – other than weeds (not that any homesteader would 🙂

Happy Homesteading!

Small Homesteads Can Be Big Producers

Since our homestead is in a village, we have a restricted amount of space that we homestead on. Obviously it is going to be smaller than most. We have in total about one and 1/4 acres.

Normally one would think that you can’t do much on a small property and I used to believe that too. We have found though, that anything you want can be grown or produced even on a small homestead.  It is similar to what the amazing things you can do with a can of paint for redecorating or how you can live in a tiny house, which we know that many people do.

Below are the things I have come up with that work for us the best when trying produce food on a small homestead.

We make use of all the space we have. This one is clearly the most important and actually includes most  of the ones below. This space includes everything. Cupboard space, yard space, garden space, and any storage space. I guess we could always do better but for the most part, we get creative about storing things.

We don’t buy something if we can make it or do without. Buying things takes storage space. We don’t have storage space. It really is the same as living in a tiny house. You just don’t have room for the extra stuff.

An example of things like this are machines of all kinds. We bought a new riding lawnmower out of necessity and definitely had to have a place to park it indoors. The only shed that it will fit in is off the ground about a foot, so Ernie had to make a ramp – out of scrap wood of course – to drive it into the shed. So now the shed is mostly taken up with this lawn mower and to put up another shed will take space away from the garden so there is basically no more room for any new machinery. Luckily we don’t need a tractor, yet. Anyway I think you get the idea. We have no room for boats, cars, or fun toys etc. We do without those.

We only plant what we know we will eat. This way food will not go to waste and the space won’t be taken up by something we don’t need and put to good use growing what we do need.raspberries

We grow some of our vegetables upwards.  Cucumbers and peas are planted on vertical fencing or lines to have them grow upwards. We also are fussy about pinching the tomatoes – taking the sprouts out of the branches so that the plants grow more upwards and don’t sprawl all over the place. This all saves space in the garden.

We make changes if something doesn’t work out the way we thought it would. If we do have something on the homestead that we thought we would like or might be useful but it turned out not being needed or not working out, we change it as soon as possible.

For example, we bought a gooseberry bush several years ago and put it in the back yard. Unfortunately, the dogs were also in the back yard often and would run into it regularly. Luckily no one was injured as they have thick coats. They would also EAT the berries before we had a chance to pick them. So we moved the bush to a totally different location and now it is growing well and producing so that we can use the berries.

So, producing big on a small homestead is mostly about creative use of space. If we had livestock, we would still be able to house them and feed them with what we have now. We would just keep it to the scale that is appropriate for the size of the property.  I have said it before that homesteaders are pros at adapting to new environments. I also believe we are pros are being creative with what we have.

Happy Homesteading!

 

The Garden So Far

I know it is probably a boring post to make but I am showing off our garden this year. We were’t sure if there would be much of one, since we weren’t going to be planting as much, but it looks like the garden is doing what gardens do – GROW.

Firstly the cucumbers we plant are a heirloom variety, although we don’t have a name for them since they came over at the beginning of the 20th century with the settlers from Ukraine. Ernie used field fencing and salvaged metal poles from the dump this year for them to climb on.

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Then the corn and onions look pretty good too. We’ve had quite a bit a rain this year and everything is so green. Corn is not usually this large at this time of year here simply because of the lack of heat. But hopefully we will have an amazing crop.

 

Umm, well you know about horseradish. This is one of those plants that is not used very often but grows like crazy just to make a point. Beautiful though. And shading some volunteer garlic that doesn’t seem to care.

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And finally the whole garden which looks amazing because of Ernie’s obsession with weeding. Thanks goodness!

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There you have it!

A Homestead/Historical Breakfast

For us, history is very much a part of why we homestead. We have a strong tie to the land where we live and to the history of our ancestors who lived and worked here before us. We still do many of the things that they did during daily life. Making certain foods is obviously going to be one of these things.

In my last blog post I talked about eating whole or real foods.

Just as an aside, I was not trying to show anyone how great we are for doing this and I feel that maybe some people may have taken offence to what I wrote. This is how WE do things and how we WANT to live  I was not criticizing anyone’s food choices, merely stating mine. If you feel that you don’t agree with me that we are able to eat only whole foods, then you may need to evaluate why you might think that or even care. We simply are doing it.

With that out of the way, we are still eating 99% whole foods. There are only a few things that have multiple ingredients or additives on the labels for the things we buy from the store.

Kutia (pronounced koo-ti-ya) is a traditional Ukrainian dish that is normally served at Christmas. Both Ernie’s and my families served this for Christmas eve supper and then again for breakfast the next morning.

The ingredients are:

Cooked wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey

Cook the wheat, add ground up poppy seeds and warm honey water – honey melted in hot water. Mix together. Eat.

That’s it. This is a meal made out of three whole foods that is nutritious and extremely tasty. Our source of honey is a local farmer (a one minute drive or a five minute walk). Our source for poppy seeds is our garden. Our source for wheat is Saskatchewan Red Spring Wheat from the local store.

When we made Kutia this time I found that some of the poppy seeds had not been dried properly before storage last fall and were mouldy. Ernie went to the store and bought some (still a whole food) and we made half with store bought poppy seeds and half with what was left of our own that was not mouldy. They tasted pretty much the same in the end.

This dish is a true homesteader’s food because it was made and eaten by our ancestors in this area after they immigrated to Canada. The tradition has been passed down and is a delicious one. Poppies were a flower that were seen in many gardens in this area. The flowers seeded themselves each year and provided a beautiful backdrop for the vegetable gardens. Obviously wheat was also grown in the area and is highly nutritious.

This dish is eaten on Ukrainian Christmas eve because it has no animal products in it. The tradition is that no animal products are eaten then in reverence to the animals at the birth. This is not to say that Ukrainians are vegan or even vegetarian. It is just a tradition.

If you want to watch us make this food see the video below.

Happy Homesteading!

REAL Food On The Homestead

This year we have started making an effort to buy only “whole” foods. This means that there is no ingredient list for the food or there are no additives on the ingredient list.

I probably don’t have to explain this to most of you, but I will. For example, a banana has one ingredient – banana. A bag of oatmeal is usually one ingredient – oatmeal. When I buy cheese, I make sure there are only 3 or 4 ingredients on the list, and no flavours or colours added. I just won’t eat it if there is. I have stopped buying most cheddar cheeses because they are usually coloured orange which is unnatural.

This way of eating is, I believe, important to food safety, health and control of our own ability to procure food for ourselves. With every purchase we make at a food store, we are making a kind of vote. We are telling large companies and stores what we will and will not accept about our food.

Some of the food we are buying now are things that we cannot grow at this time of year for ourselves nor can we put it away for the winter from our harvest. For example, we had very little spinach last year, likely due to the harsh winter we had. Our spinach is volunteer, so most of the seeds didn’t germinate. What did come up we froze and had very little for fresh eating. So we are buying some spinach for fresh eating this winter. Not ideal, but necessary for us to feel we are eating healthy.

If you want to see what we bought and why check out the video below.

 

So our focus on food this year is to keep buying whole foods and to buy as local as possible. Once we have been doing this for a while, it will become habit and we won’t be tempted to buy “treats” or sugar filled garbage food.