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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 doing 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 weigh 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.
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?
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.
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 Kuvasz. 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.
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 traveling 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At this time of year to save some money, we buy fruit, which is sometimes on sale, wash and freeze it for the winter. We do this instead of buying frozen from the grocery store in the winter. By doing this we know exactly where the fruit is grown and how it was processed (by us).
We do this with blueberries, Saskatoon berries (otherwise known as serviceberries) and sometimes strawberries if we can get them locally. To freeze them we use plastic honey containers as you can see in the photos. We feel this packaging method is acceptable since the berries do not contact too much of the plastic. Not as much as the honey that originally comes in them anyway.
This is what we are currently doing on the homestead right now as boring as it may seem.
We usually buy about two dozen packages of blueberries and about the same in strawberries. The Saskatoons have to be picked, which we do locally. And then we stuff ourselves with fresh berries for a few days! That’s it!