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You Don’t Need A Greenhouse To Grow Your Own Food

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.

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.

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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”.

How To Start Homesteading (Without A “Homestead”)

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. And actually, it’s imperative that you start with what you have from a “manifesting your homestead” sort of perspective.

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 (or save seed from the fruits and vegetables you buy from the store and plant those. You will need to get organic or open pollinated types of plants to do this really well).

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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. Styrofoam meat trays work really well for this. Just make sure you scrub them well with soap and 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 money 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, your expressed desire to move to your own land…), ignore them. You need to keep in mind what your goals are and don’t listen to anyone else. Unless the person giving their opinion has been in the EXACT same pair of shoes your are in, they have no right to say anything.

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.

 

Traditional Christmas Tree Alternative

This year we decided not to use our homemade Christmas tree . It’s pretty tall and a little difficult to fit in the house, especially now with the new puppy around. I don’t want to take any chances with him near it. It could go flying.

Instead, we are using a Ficus plant that I got when I was taking my Horticulture degree in university. This was one of the first things I got when I started living on my own and was a purchased from the Horticulture club on campus.

Use What You Have

Using a houseplant for a seasonal tree is very simple. The only concern is to us appropriate decorations. Obviously the branches on the Ficus are fairly sturdy but in order to avoid damaging anything you will have to minimize the number and weight of the adornments.

Also, if your plant does not have a nice pot to sit in, you may have to decorate that.

I didn’t do anything to the plant pot because there is a large surface area of soil and I need access to that for watering. The pot is just a left over one from a nursery plant that we had purchased and the tray underneath is an old aluminum pizza baking pan.

I know it doesn’t look great, and I may try to fix it up yet, but mostly I just look at the beautiful branches and lights.

It’s best to make sure that if you use electric lights, that you keep them away from the soil when you water.

Earlier this year I trimmed the tree’s branches away from the base and repotted it in a larger pot. The branches are now quite a ways up from the base which gives it a jaunty look.

If you have a larger plant in your house, why not try to decorate it for the season. You never know, it might grow on you.

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Why We Don’t Buy “Seasonal” LED Lights

I have an issue with the LED lights that are used at this (Christmas) and other times of year.

We have a box full of strings of LED lights that don’t work. Some of them have been around here for several years but the majority of them didn’t work almost from the very start. This is highly annoying.

And extremely wasteful.

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The lights in the box do not work and have to be thrown out.

I have decided that this wastefulness will no longer continue here at our house.

We put up all of the lights that work in an acceptable display. However, half of the lights we used were NOT LED lights but the old incandescent lights. THESE WORK.

The plan is to keep using the lights – no matter what kind we have –  until they are all gone or don’t work. We won’t be replacing them.

This is part of our contribution to the earth of reducing consumption. Yes, I know we are using power to light these up, but we are not going to throw the good ones away just because of that. We have them and we will use them.

Then we won’t buy anymore.

I feel that throwing away the lights that don’t work is MORE wasteful than the power we use to light them.

Two days ago, someone told me a woman who lives here in the village told her she watched as a couple across the street put up their lights on their house. She related that every time a string of lights didn’t work – INTO THE GARBAGE THEY WENT. EIGHT TIMES.

There was no attempt to fix them, they just got chucked.

I did some research and found many articles on how to fix these lights but they did not mention that almost every set has a different end and DOES NOT FIT into the socket. We have tried and failed every time. And we are talking about Ernie failing to fix something which just doesn’t happen.

This is wasteful and if I may say kind of, almost, unethical to make a product that can’t be fixed and gets thrown away when it doesn’t work. And then on top of that saying that they are more earth-friendly.

NONSENSE.

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Ira the Kuvasz playing in the light of the Christmas lights display in the back yard.

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!

Make Your Own Ketchup

The Village Homesteader

We make our own ketchup. It was is easy to do I will never buy any again. The taste is excellent especially with homegrown fried potatoes.

Ingredients for homemade ketchup:

Tomatoes – grow your own

Vinegar – make your own

Onions or onion powder – grow or make your own

Sweetener – we use honey sourced locally

Salt – buy or make your own

Optional: A dash of cloves – I use it because I have some already but I wouldn’t go out and buy any especially for this. Ketchup can be made without it. Be careful how much you use though – it is very potent.

The Method

Cook the tomatoes well and press them through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins if you haven’t already removed them.

Into the tomatoes add sweetener – lots. Ketchup is very sweet so taste test often as you add this.

Add the…

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How I Use My Time On The Homestead

Our homestead is unconventional but is one nonetheless.  It is one because we are homesteaders by vocation. We do the most we can for the environment, self-sufficiency and frugality.

To do and be all these things, it is important to have a daily routine that gets stuff done but is flexible to things that might come up. And things always come up.

Sometimes you just don’t feel like doing something. There is nothing really wrong with that. Feelings are facts, I always say. The only thing that absolutely needs to get done are those things that involve taking care of animals or if the garden is very weedy. The rest of the time I follow a schedule that removes the need to make too many decisions about what I need to do.

Morning:

I work from home, so in the morning I have to get my work done before I do anything else. This means I get up early (well early for me, just 7 a.m.) to work on the computer. I do that for an hour and a half. The quiet is what I need and the dogs and Ernie are still sleeping. There is minimal traffic noise. So at least I can get a good amount of work done first thing.

At 8:30 a.m. I feed the dog and myself. The new puppy is learning the routine now and doesn’t fuss in the mornings after breakfast. I work again from 9:00 – 10:00. From 10:00 – 10:30 the puppy gets a playtime and the other dogs a stretch, so that I can start working again from 10:30 – Noon.

Afternoon:

Since we don’t have any livestock other than dogs (yet), I spend the afternoon working with them. I train and video that and then edit and upload videos to YouTube. I may also at this time video something for Homesteading 101 as well.

When I start making supper around 4 p.m., things are a little more chaotic but still get done, because I am not thinking about all the other work I have to get done – it’s already done because I stuck to the schedule. This is where I can feel the benefit fully of getting work done in the morning. I haven’t had most of the day to think about what I haven’t done. When you have many things to do that are just regular routine things and are fairly unimportant (not talking about taking care of animals here), it is easy to let those things take over your time.

Evening:

This is the time I spend with Ernie and the dogs. If we feel like working on something and are not too tired, we do. If not we don’t.

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It took a while to get this schedule figured out, even though it’s pretty simple. I have made numerous schedules in the past, and have never been able to follow them. With this one, I seem to be able to make it work.

Maybe it’s because of the simplicity of it. I have no choices at certain times of the day. Removing other options of what to do reduces decision fatigue which I have found to be a real problem in the past. Because it seemed like there were so many things to do (even though they were unimportant), I became frozen – not knowing what to do first.

If I take care of the the thing that is most important to me first thing in the morning so that it gets done, I don’t have to worry about finding time later.  If I don’t do it first thing, it won’t get done.

So that is mainly how I manage my time on the homestead. Things that need to get done may change, but I will always remember to get the most important things done early.

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.

 

What I Learned By Going On Vacation

Since harvest is almost done around here I thought I would start discussing another project – something other than cooking the food that we grow.

I have a renewed motivation regarding what I want to contribute to the world. I’m sure many, if not all of you have a similar thought, that you want to live congruently with your beliefs and contribute your best.

Recently, we took a long trip. We were gone for 10 days and drove about 5000 km or 3100 miles to visit a friend in Ontario, Canada. The total cost for the trip was really no more than what most people would spend on a yearly vacation, but what I found was that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would based on how much we spent. Considering we camped every night and cooked most of our food, the price tag was too much.

It was was great learning experience.

I learned that I don’t like rushing vacations. Our biggest mistake was to allow other people to rush our vacation. I had planned this getaway weeks in advance and two days before we left, a client called (one that I can’t say no to) and wanted to book his dog in for part of the time that we would be gone.

That worked out fine however because we had to come back before that since our sitter for Tommy, our dog who can’t travel, was going away two days before the boarder was to arrive. So either way we had to rush the trip.

I learned that I have to learn or accomplish something while on vacation.

I don’t really like being idle or just travelling for the heck or it. Many people can and need to do this but as of now I don’t. This trip was actually a working vacation because the friend we visited is a breeder of Hungarian Kuvaszok. We really went out there to pick up a pup. Yes, it is a long way and she could have flew him out to us, but the amount that we learned by doing the trip was more important than not going.ira1

The puppy we picked up is part of a goal or contribution I want to make to our lifestyle and the environment. Many of you already have livestock guardian dogs. These dogs are important to keeping wild animals, livestock and livelihoods safe. I believe they help us all to work together with nature not against it.

On another note, since neither Ernie nor I had been that far into Ontario, we felt it was worth it in the experience. We learned that large amounts of traffic and lots of people are something we want to minimize in our lives.

I learned that I don’t really need to go travelling that far to enjoy myself.

The amount of driving we did was horrendous. Much of the time it was what I could call not enjoyable. But because we were there and had to continue, I tried to enjoy everything. When you do that, time goes slowly and you can take in everything. You remember more. You aren’t just trying to get to the next destination faster to get it over with so that you can unwind on the weekend.

Most people I know go on vacation to get away from a life that is boring and uneventful, to break up the monotony, or to rest their overworked minds. Time goes by quickly because there are no memories worth remembering. When you make your life full of different things and novel experiences, you make memories and time slows down. You enjoy everything more instead of just working to get through another week.

That said, I now realize that I can enjoy things that happen locally more because they are what I CHOOSE to do, not what I dread to do. This is so important. If I dread something, I know to make an effort to stop doing it. For me it becomes completely unproductive to continue.

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The more things you do that you want to be doing, the easier it will be. Most of the things that we do are done because of habit or fear. To slow your time and increase your enjoyment of things simply do more of the things that excite you in larger blocks of time.

So, if we need to drive to a destination, we will make sure that we stay there for several days or even a week to enjoy the local atmosphere. After all that is really what a vacation is about anyway.

Anyway, that’s what I learned and what I got out of the trip. From a homesteading perspective it was good because I found that for me a simpler vacation is better. I think that is how I was always trying to live in the first place.

Make Homemade Iced Cream

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.