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Getting Serious About Protecting Our Planet

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.

Loving Nature

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. 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.
  13. 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!

 

The Results Are In – Homemade Vinegar!

Hi everyone!

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!!

What Is REAL Homesteading Anyway?

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

Now see, that ticks me off.

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.

cropped-oldhouse2.jpg

 

Homemade Iced Cream – Whole Foods At Their Best

I found a method of making iced cream on Facebook of all places. You make it with plastic bags, ice and a lot of arm strength. Now I am not one for using plastic much as you may know, but since we have so many in the “junk” storage from previous use, I thought why not reuse some for this project.

We have three ice cube trays and I made the ice myself that you need for this. We also have a vintage iced cream maker but decided to give both methods a try.

Make It

There are only four ingredients: 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of cream, 2 tblsp, sugar and a dash of vanilla. I doubled this for our second try and quadrupled it when we figured out what we were doing and use my own method as you will see below.

To make the iced cream you put the ingredients in a zip top bag. You then prepare another larger bag with lots of ice and salt and place the bagged ingredients inside the bag of ice  Shake it for ten minutes. Your hands will get cold. We used a tea towel wrapped around our hands to prevent this.

We tried doing this method twice. The first time I accidentally, poured the iced cream out of the plastic bag into a bowl along with some of the salty water from the bag of ice. Ernie ate it anyway.

The second time was better and better tasting. But it was still labour intensive.

The iced cream maker was a no go as the centre metal container was rusted inside.

My Method

At some point during this iced cream making day, I realized that I have been making an iced coffee recipe for years with the same ingredients as iced cream – except the coffee. I make the drink in a glass loaf pan and  turn it into an iced drink in the freezer. To keep the drink smooth and prevent crystalization, you need to keep stirring it. The main thing is to not let it freeze overnight. I figured out how to make this iced coffee recipe by trial and error.

Because the ingredients are basically the same, I decided to try to make regular iced cream this way as well.

I used the same glass loaf pan. You can use whatever you have, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Put all the ingredients in and mix with an electric mixer. (My mixer is vintage of course and is older than me.) Do this every half an hour to prevent the ice from forming large chunks and to make it freeze slowly. No shaking, no ice cream maker needed.

When it is the right consistency to eat, eat it. That’s it.

You can add any flavourings you want to this like chocolate, fruit, or whatever.

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.

garden1

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!

Junk Crafting – Painting Supplies

Anything that we do here in our little urban homestead we try to do as eco-friendly and as frugal as possible. I know it’s difficult to be truly “eco-freindly” but one has to give it a good go anyway.

So for my new hobby, as I have said in a previous post, I have started learning to paint in both watercolour and acrylic. This requires some supplies like brushes, paint and some other tools. Not exactly your most eco-friendly stuff.

One of the things that I can use junk as a substitute for is my painting palettes. Right now I am using two different pieces of junk. One is half of an egg carton lid, which an be used over and over for acrylic paint. The other is a old plastic makeup kit box, likely from the 1960s, that Ernie found in the back shack. I pulled the mirror our of it and use it for mixing watercolours.

trayeggcarton

The third thing that I am using as canvases is scrap pine panelling cut into small pieces as a sort of canvas. Using acrylic paint, I am making scenes of local landmarks and plan on using them as tree ornaments. Rather than buying canvases I am making my own and produce unique, local art that has appeal to the local tourist market.

painting2

We also use thin sections of tree branches – maple, birch, even poplar as painting canvases. These are taken from either dead fall trees or trimmed branches both from our own property so nothing is wasted or cut down unnecessarily.

painting1

As a final canvas idea, which I can’t take credit for because it was my cousin’s, are smooth stones. Here are some of my cousin’s (who’s name is Rocky of course 😎 – seriously it IS), creations. I have started doing this as well but I’m not as good as this yet.

painting3

So there you have it. Several ways to save money, reduce waste and be creative at the same time.

Salvaging Bread

On a recent camping trip, a loaf of pre-sliced homemade raisin bread that we brought along ended up being moved back and forth between locations in the vehicle. This happened because we had more food than space to store it in and the bread got kicked out of the cooler. When we started out it was a fresh loaf and when we arrived home with it uneaten, it was in mostly tiny pieces.

I was able to salvage about 3 pathetic slices for breakfast after we got home. My first thought was to toss it, but then I quickly realized it could be made into bread pudding. I have never made or even eaten bread pudding, but have heard many people rave about it. So I used the whole loaf and made some up.

Luckily my husband eats anything, because after tasting it, I decided I am not a fan. This is not to criticize anyone who loves it, for sure. It is just my opinion. What I do love about it is that the bread does not go to waste, which is likely what happens a lot to bread that has become stale in most households. One of our goals in life is to waste nothing and live frugally, and I believe this is where bread pudding originated – from people living frugally and not wanting to waste anything. If the bread had not had raisins in it, I would have likely given it to the dogs over several days mixed in with their regular meals.

The recipe for bread pudding is simple – bread, cream or condensed milk, hot water, butter, salt, vanilla and eggs. You mix the milk and hot water, and pour it over the bread in a bowl. Once it cools to luke warm (so the eggs don’t cook in the bowl), you pour the mixture of eggs, vanilla, melted butter and a bit of salt into it, mix it up and bake at 350 F for 1 hour.

breadpudding

If I didn’t remember the recipe and needed to make this I would just make it to taste using the above ingredients. You don’t even really need vanilla. We used real maple syrup as a topping but anything sweet could work. The recipe called for a runny brown sugar topping but since we don’t have brown sugar in the house, the maple syrup was more than acceptable.

With the syrup, it tasted to me sort of like soggy french toast. This stuff could definitely pass for a breakfast and could be gussied up with more raisins and maybe even walnuts and cinnamon. I think I might have cooked it in a pan that was too high though. It did puff up quite a bit and would have overflowed if the pan had been smaller, but after cooling it shrank considerably. The texture was the part that I found the most unappealing.

I don’t foresee making this again for a very long time, mostly because I hope we don’t destroy bread this way again. If we have any dried out bread that is not in so many crumbs and pieces, I will attempt to make croutons, which I prefer to the sweeter and softer bread pudding.

So to clarify, there is really no need to waste anything, especially food. We go out of our way to use up anything that we haven’t eaten soon enough in different ways, like this bread, and of course we compost everything else that is inedible for us or the dogs. Our dogs really appreciate any real food we can give them that is not spoiled.

UPDATE:

I have tried the pudding once again and doctored it up with walnuts and cream and I can now say that I like it.

pudding

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!

Soggy Beets? No Worries.

Today I am cooking beets. Every year we have a good crop of beets even though we don’t plant many. For some reason they grow and grow. This is the pic I posted in a blog post last fall. We store the beets and other root vegetables in our cellar which is essentially an area under the house that was dug out and filled (sort of ) with concrete in some places. In other places, there is just dirt. But it works.

bigbeest

Here’s what it looks like:

onionshungpotatoes

The partitions were put in many years ago by Ernie and his dad.

Anyway, as usual we left the beets until now and they got squishy. We put them in pails with newspaper which works not bad to keep the ones that are lower down from getting soft.

Our main use for beets is in beet soup or in Ukrainian (our ancestry) – Borshch (not borsht with a t, but BORSHCH).  We are able to grow all the ingredients (except olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar) for our borshch in our garden: beets, garlic, onions, dill, potatoes, beans, tomatoes and usually carrots but our carrots are finished now so we won’t buy any, unless we can find locally grown carrots in the store.

So the process of making borshch is simple. Fry onions and garlic in fat (I used olive oil but you can use whatever you want), then add water, beets (I grated them with a large-holed grater we bought at a yard sale), dill, green beans, tomatoes and if you want carrots. I also put some garlic tops that I had frozen two years ago.

So there you have it. A simple, nutritious soup to use up your beets even when they are getting soggy! A true homesteader food.

 

Use What You Have For Homesteading Style

Today my project is this alpaca/acrylic scarf that I have made in two days from yarn that I bought ages ago but didn’t use. Actually I did use a couple to make scarves, and they turned out to be super warm but not overly dressy.

I made a long wide scarf with large needles so that it could be wrapped and doubled up if necessary for more warmth, but still look dressy or as I like to call it “glam” haha. This scarf is SUPER warm due to the alpaca in the blend. I had four colours, not enough of any one colour to make a sweater so I thought this would substitute. This was just knitting both sides and I used no pattern.

glamscarf2