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!
This year we have planted some of our starts early. We’re did this because we’re experimenting with growing conditions to see if we can get some early lettuce for one. That is one food plant that we don’t buy from the store.
It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in the sun, now that the sun is stronger at this time of year. Unfortunately, they sprouted faster than I had thought they would and got quite leggy. After several days in the full sun from 9 am to about 5 pm the lettuce plants have thickened up.
We have them on a table that we move from window to window to get the best view of the sun. Our plan was to set up artificial light, but so far we have not done that. The sun seems to be enough. We have east facing in the morning and south facing in the afternoon.
There are several plants that survived the winter, and a few that didn’t. We lost two rosemary plants, the thyme, a pepper and a parsley. I have one pepper left which has aphids, but none have reached maturity because of being squished by my thumb and forefinger and getting regular showers. That’s working very well.
If you compare the picture of the pepper below with the one in the featured image above, it’s clear that there has been quite a bit of change. It’s now blooming. I have hand pollinated it, and now there are small peppers forming. I also pinched a couple of blooms to reduce the number in order to lessen the stress on the plant. As you can see, the leaves are still fairly small.
This week I will be planting our peppers – sweet and hot – for our spring starts sale and to grow for ourselves and for sale. It definitely feels like spring here now.
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.
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.
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…
This is the second year that we are using our homemade dehydrator.
Last year we used it to dry garlic for garlic powder and it worked amazingly well. We will still use it for that purpose, but right now I am using it to dry my herbs.
How To Make A Dehydrator From Junk
To make a dehydrator, all you need is a container with shelves, some trays and some air flow. We had a big cardboard box in the shed. Ernie built an insert with scrap wood to hold two trays, then cut a hole in the top back of the box to promote air flow.
The table is an old coffee table that we had in storage, and the trays are screens from old windows that are long gone. All saved items. The only thing that is new is the heater/fan. We use it on the no heat setting to move the air. A regular fan could be used if that is what you have.
This dehydrator works very well. Obviously you have to turn the herbs or garlic occasionally to promote even drying but that’s no problem.
Yes, it looks weird and is not appropriate for some decor (lol), but who cares. It was free and more junk is not getting put into the landfill.
Don’t Throw You Dried Up Garlic!
The garlic we use with this is what we know will not last the whole winter because there were worms in them or they drying out.
Never throw out garlic by the way, unless it is mouldy. Even if you have a small amount you can slice it into small pieces, put it on a plate, and let it air dry, turning it regularly. When it is dry, chop it in a small grinder.
The herbs dry faster in the dehydrator than just being air dried, but we using both methods on all of our herbs.
Isn’t it much better to know where your garlic powder and dried herbs come from and how they were processed rather than buying them?
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 and the convenience of them. 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.
Something that I have always believed about a person’s life is that each one of us has to do what is right for us (even when I was not doing that in my own life). Sometimes this means we do something right away without planning and sometimes it means we wait a bit and concentrate on what we have.
It is a personal choice.
What I do know for sure is that if you have an overwhelming sense of restlessness about something and you keep hesitating on taking action, something will eventually occur that will make a change for you.
Homesteading was that for me and I know it is for many others as well.
Homesteading to me means that you have a certain mindset, one that includes but is not limited to frugality, traditional lifestyle techniques, growing your own food, concern for nature and the environment.
Every homesteader has a different way of living and doing things. Some beliefs about homesteading however, are inaccurate. One of these is that a person needs to be in a certain place to do this.
Homesteading is a state of mind.
If you feel that you want to homestead or live a different more sustainable lifestyle you don’t need to move anywhere.
Just start right where you are.
As I have said before, homesteading (as a state of mind) is how person sees the world and what she/he does in it – NOT what property you own. It is a way of living more simply and being more deliberate about what you do. Sure, you can have goals for your future homestead but that does not need to stop you from working with what you have.
There are so many things that you can do right where you are that would technically qualify as homesteading activities.
A: Plant a garden.
No, you do not need to have any space outdoors at all. Start with planting your food flavourings – basil, oregano,thyme, multiplier onions etc in a container on your window sill. Buy some seed and a small bag of soil and plant them.
B: Don’t throw everything away.
To grow a herb garden in your apartment, you don’t need to buy any fancy pots. Start by using plastic food tubs that no longer have food in them. I know you have those. Make smallish drainage holes on the bottom and find a reusable tray to put it on to catch the water.
C: Find multiple sources of income.
It is a really good idea to not have all your income come from one source. The reliance on one employer or one method of making money is what gets many people in trouble with regards to debt and making payments. The feeling of security from an employer can over ride sensible thinking.
An example of this is when I was working at the local nursing home. A woman who I worked with had applied for a position in the care home. She already had a job there but it was for fewer hours than the new position.
Since no one else applied, she figured she was a shoe-in for the position and she and her husband went and purchased a brand new truck on payments. The woman who was giving up her position changed her mind and kept it so the first woman didn’t get the position. She was very upset and blamed the other woman for her problem.
Relying on one source of income can be problematic when you spend more than you make or have payments that need a job to be paid.
D: Spend less.
This is a given for a homesteader. The point of homesteading (I feel) is to enjoy life more without spending on everything you see, to be more connected to nature and more conscious about what you are doing in day to day life. One of the things that we do here is buy only what we absolutely need. We rarely buy “wants” because we have trained ourselves to rethink a want before purchase.
For example, I have a large amount of yarn for knitting and crocheting. I don’t need anymore. Sure it’s tempting to purchase yarn for that really cool sweater. But I don’t need anymore sweaters. I have several. I am not trying to impress anyone with my new sweater, which is essentially what buying something you want is for.
E: Don’t be influenced by those who are not doing.
When someone says something negative about your new pastimes (pickling, soap-making, herb growing…), ignore them. You need to keep in mind what your goals are and don’t listen to anyone else.
Never take advice from someone who’s life is not your ideal life.
Your life is your own and what someone else says about it is irrelevant because the comment is not related to you at all. It comes from that person’s own psychology.
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.
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.