Thursday, February 11, 2016

Straw Bale Gardening - The Easy Way to Garden on raw land?

straw bale vegetable gardenExciting things are happening in my life.  One of them being moving to the homestead of my dreams this spring.  17 acres of forest and meadow to work with and turn into a homestead with a garden, orchard, and pastures. One of the things I want right away is a garden.  I haven't had one in over two years due to moving and miss growing my own food like other people miss going out to the movies, or getting their nails done.

step 5 resizedOne of the drawbacks (benefits?) of developing raw land for a garden is that you are starting from scratch.  You have weeds, rocks, and questionable soil to contend with.  Backbreaking labor tilling the soil (unless you have a tractor)  and getting it ready for planting.  I have allot of experience doing this as I would just get a garden going and then my ex husband would lose his job and we would be moving again!  I was always saying goodbye to my hard work and dreams of a big bountiful well established garden.

Not to say that I didn't get a harvest.  I luckily have a green thumb and have managed to do well even in the first year of any new garden by choosing my plants carefully.  But any avid gardener will tell you that the more years you have a garden going, the better it will get.

We will be strapped for time and labor this next gardening season because we will be building a cabin on the property.  Most of my time and energy will go into that.  So I started looking at less conventional ways to garden in the hopes of having something started for a small harvest.

straw bale garden trellisWhere we are going to be living presents several challenges.  We are going to be living in the mountains with a short season and cool nights, garden predators (aka deer) abound, the ground has never been developed and is full of large rocks.

After looking at many options (most too expensive)  we decided on using straw bale gardening.  I was sceptical when this gardening technique started up for one simple reason.  When straw bales, or any other organic matter composts or breaks down it lets off heat and carbon monoxide in large quantities.  This will actually kill your plants and seedlings.  But after reading about straw bale gardening I found out that you "condition" your bales before planting.  Which simply put means starting up the composting process a few weeks before planting.  Problem solved!

Everything about straw bale gardening looks ideal.  The bales can be planted with almost all vegetables, it creates a raised bed so less stooping and bending, it is naturally weed free, bales are cheap to even free and easy to move, you can easily create trellises and even cover your plants for early planting or protecting from frosts/predators.  And after the growing season the bales will be more than half broken down and can either be worked into the soil or left on top to keep weeds down.

Here are several links to starting a straw bale garden.  As well as how to condition your bales before planting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Free Kindle Book Deals of the Day! Homesteading, Gardening, Straw Bale Gardening, Foraging, Chicken Raising, Heirloom Seeds and More!

Well I'm back friends!  I've been gone for months due to my life being completely crazy.  Now that my life is getting back to normal I feel I can devote some time to my blog.  To start that off here are some great free books on my amazon affiliate.  Just click and you will be taken to the amazon page.  Just be sure to check the price as these are only free for a short time.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How to keep your chickens laying through winter

I love my chickens.  They are the most easy care and rewarding of all farm animals in my opinion.  But I am also a pragmatist.  My chickens are here to DO something, and that something is lay eggs.  These are not pets, they are food producers that I also find beautiful and entertaining. 

I provide them with a clean living environment, free ranging fun, food, and protection, and they provide me with eggs.  When they stop laying eggs my family eats them.  Some chicken owners may wince at this outlook but my family lives on a shoestring and we cant afford to feed animals that aren't giving something back.  Our dog provides protection, alerts us to strangers and danger, hunts, while also being a great companion, our goats provide milk and eat down weeds and pasture, our cats keep the mice down.  I strive to give each animal a happy life.  But to me it must also be a useful life.

As you can imagine I want to keep my hens laying throughout the winter.  This can be a problem as the temperature drops and there is less light. The old proverb "An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of Cure" is so true when it comes to raising animals.  Here are the challenges you must combat in the winter and how to counteract them.

Water  Unfrozen water is absolutely essential to egg production.  Even one day without water can throw off egg laying for days.

Solution: I like to use a automatic waterer like THIS ONE and check it every day in winter to make sure it hasn't froze up. It keeps the water clean, takes a long time to empty, and doesn't freeze up easy.

Shelter Most animals need shelter in winter and chickens are no exception.  In fact if you want eggs it's best to provide a shelter that is well sealed against the elements.  Not only will this keep your hens safe from colder temperatures and predators, but it will also give them a place to lay your eggs that you can find easily.

Solution:  Shelter doesn't have to be fancy for chickens to be happy.  If you don't already have a chicken coop a truck cap is enough in a pinch. You could also use straw bales with a sheet of plywood over it.  It simply needs to be draft free, keep out the rain and snow, and be fairly easy for you to get into to check for eggs.

Heat There will come a point if you live in the north, when it just gets too cold and your chickens will stop laying.  They may even get frost bite. Chickens need heat to produce eggs.  If they are too cold they will stop laying because most of the food they eat goes to heat production not egg production.

Sweeter Heater - Overhead Mount 11 x 40Solution:  Have a safe source of heat for your chickens.  There are many on the market now like THIS ONE but I still use a heat lamp right near their waterer.  Not only does it provide heat and light, but it also keeps the water from freezing. Also sealing any holes and drafts will help immensely.

Food  A few homesteaders believe in letting chickens forage for themselves while not providing food (I do not reccomend this). This may work ok in the summer when food is plentiful and if you have enough land, but if you want eggs in winter you will need to provide feed to your chickens.  Also it is pretty cruel to not feed your chickens in winter when there is so little to forage for.

Solution: Buying bags of layer pellet feed is the best option.  Also providing corn or scratch will help your chickens maintain condition through the cold with its nice high protein content.  The more energy your chickens expend on keeping warm the less eggs they will lay, as that energy is going to come from either their body or their food.

Breed Selection Some chickens are better suited to certain climates than others.  In fact there are some chicken breeds that will literally die if they go through a typical northern winter.  So breed selection is very important to your winter egg production.

Solution:  If you live where it gets cold and dark in winter then choose chickens that are known to lay well in winter.  My favorites are Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, and Araucanas as we live in a very cold winter area.  A good place to compare different breed of chicken is the Murray McMurray Hatchery website.  In their descriptions of the different breeds they specifically note which chickens are good at winter laying.

Light This in fact is the most important and least understood reason that chickens stop laying.  Chickens need a certain amount of daylight to keep laying.  When it falls off their bodies tell them to stop laying until springs extended sun hours arrive.

Solution:  Put a light in your chicken coop and leave it on.  You can shut if off at night if you want but we don't because it adds heat and the chickens do fine.  I use brooder lamps like THIS ONE. These can be picked up at any feed store or even Walmart for less than $30.00. You can choose from white or red bulbs. The bonus to red is that it helps to prevent chickens from picking at each other.

Litter  What you use for chicken litter will depend on your personal preferences.  I like pine wood shavings because they mix well with the manure and absorb and dry it while adding a nice scent.  Having a layer of dry litter is important to laying production because if your wet your cold.  Also chicken manure is high in ammonia and lets off the stuff in large amounts.  This can irritate your chickens lungs.  Your chickens will be spending much more time in their coop during cold weather so keeping their coop dry and their air clean will help with egg production.

Solution: Every week spread an inch or more of litter in your coop.  Adjust frequency and amount as needed.

Supplement's  Egg laying chickens use allot of nutrients to produce an egg a day.  Providing a balanced diet is easy if you use layer pellets. 

Solution:  Provide oyster shells for added calcium even if your using layer pellets.  Chickens will take what they need.  Also providing grit is also a good idea since dirt may be covered with snow and if your feeding corn or scratch they need the grit to grind the grains. I also feed my chickens scraps soaked in sour milk.  They love it and it adds calcium and protein.

the Vitamin Shoppe - Cod Liver Oil, 16 fl oz liquidCod Liver Oil  An essential supplement that I have found highly effective to keeping my chickens in lay is Cod Liver Oil.  The reason why is that not only does cod liver oil provide omega oils, it also is a great provider of Vitamin D.  Now the interesting thing about Vitamin D is that it is produced by sunshine.  Human bodies cannot produce it on its own.  This is why mothers a hundred years ago made there children take a spoonful of cod liver oil every day in the winter.  Are vitamin D levels an influence on egg production, cuing the chickens brain back into laying?  I don't know but it works every time I use it.

How to Use:  I simply buy a big bottle of the cheaper Cod Liver liquid LIKE THIS ONE.  Then I squirt a few tablespoons into the water of my chickens.  That way they get the same  dose approximately.  I figure a few tablespoons per day for a few days until egg production starts up again.  Then the same dose a few times a week.  Be sure to use this in conjunction with a light in your coop.

Green Stuff-  Chickens loves fresh green stuff like lettuces, grass, and weeds.  You can sprout your own greens at home super easy.  I love my Easy Sprouter and you can find it on by clicking HERE.  The Easy Sprouter is of course for human use, but providing such high nutrition greens to your chickens will not only help them lay, but also make their eggs taste better.  Or you can give them leftover salad that has wilted. Another option is to ask your local grocer for produce that they are going to throw out.  Your chickens will bless you for the treats.  Just avoid onions, garlic, cabbage, and any of the brassica vegetables as they can give a bad taste to your eggs.

I hope this helps other chicken raisers to keep their hens healthy and laying all winter.

This post contains affiliate links.  By clicking the link I may receive a small commission.  This in no way effects your price.  I was not compensated for the mention or recommendation of any products.  Plus you support this blog!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Real Truth No One Tells You About Being A Mother

I see allot of funny things about being a mommy online.  The "they never told you" kind of stuff.  But I want to share my experience on that topic.

What They Never Told You About Becoming A Mommy

That you will suddenly stop caring so much about "self" and find happiness in doing things for your children.  Instead of buying that new outfit, pair of shoes, or high tech device you will want to buy something for your child instead.  If you have no money you will wear your underwear until it falls apart so your child has shoes and clothes. You will go without nights out, treats and fun so your little ones can go swimming or have music lessons.

You will have sleepless nights of every two hour feedings, or when they are sick nursing and caring for them.  You will clean up ALL SORTS of fluids and only feel concern for the one who is not feeling well.

When your child is broken hearted your heart will break even more.  When your child is treated badly or bullied you will want to righteously punish the wrong doer.

You will endure years of pain, sadness, and depression so that your child will not feel that pain as well.

When you are exhausted or sick you will smile and hug that child who excitedly comes up to you with another question, request, or need.

This is the mother we all think of.  Motherhood at its best and most terrible.

But here's the thing no one tells you.  You WONT MIND DOING IT.  I mean it really.  You wont even think twice or bemoan how you sacrifice for your children.  You wont tell your children what a burden they are, or make them feel guilty for their needs. It will be something you just DO.  And you will look at that precious child sleeping peacefully in bed after an exhausting day, and thank God that He gave you them.

Is there something super human in this?  Something mystical or holy?  Yes I think there must be.  It is truly the mother of a child who teaches tenderness, love, and sacrifice.  Yes we all fail at times, we all have moments.  But this unfailing love renews, grows, and replenishes every day. At her very best a mother is an example of God's unfailing love for us all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fermenta Cap! Home Fermenting Made Simple, Easy, and Cheap!

fermenta sauceYears ago I got introduced to fermenting veggies BEFORE it became oh so trendy.  My Grandmother In Law sold me on the health benefits and ease with which you can ferment your own pickles and sauerkraut.  Not only that but they taste so much better than anything in the store!  I would have loved to invest in many of the crocks sold online but the price was way out of my range.  So instead I used a rather low tech way of fermenting.  However it was much more time consuming and messy than a nice crock would be.

Then I got introduced to a great product for home fermenting called Fermenta Cap by Firelight Heritage Farm!  OK so not only is their products easy to use, and effective.  But they are also AFFORDABLE!  If you are a beginner at home fermenting you don't have to put out a boat load of money to try it.  I love that.

Also Fermenta Caps Made In The USA, and was invented by the people who make it. Firelight Heritage Farm's is a home based business and not only did they create the process behind Fermenta Cap, but they make the silicone valves in an environmentally friendly way.  There are many copycats on the market that took this amazing product and are generally knocking them off so make sure to go with the original!

They sell everything you need to ferment your own food from valves and weights, to complete jar sets. Also they sell several sizes of jars, crocks, and lids so you can buy a size to fit your family. What a great and unique gift this would make for Christmas.  I make fermented sauerkraut all year long in small batches so even in the dead of winter you could be fermenting!  They also have a huge index of fermenting tips, directions, and ideas for the newbie and expert alike.

To get your very own Fermenta Cap you can click on the links in this post or there is a Fermenta Cap Advertisement in the right top-hand corner of my blog.  Click on that one and I get a small commision that in no way affects your price.  Happy Fermenting!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Going It Alone As A Homesteader, Mommy, And Prepper

I have hardly posted for a few months now and am sorry dear readers, but I have been going through my own personal hell.

Long excruciating story short.  My husband of 15 years has left and now wants a divorce leaving me with 4 children and a small homestead to take care of.  We just moved to a "fixer upper" and I of course assumed when we moved here that I would have his help.  No such luck I'm afraid.

Suddenly I'm looking at a totally different life.  And the question is can I do all the homesteading chores, plus raise four children, plus work?  I think it is possible because I love this life.  My children love this life.  And I believe it is giving them a wonderful childhood.

Separating from my husband has been so incredibly painful, not because of myself, but because of my children.  They love him so much and it is very hard to explain why we are divorcing.  Since the beginning of our marriage he has been emotionally and mentally abusive and manipulative.  Finally I came to the point  where I told him (two years ago) that he had to seek counseling or I would have to leave for my own mental well being.  He never went, even when I made the appointments for him.

So now it's over.  He has told me he knows he's abusive, that he can't change and he is just like his dad and grandpa.  I asked him if he would go to counseling and he said no, that it wouldn't help him (revision: now he says he just doesn't want to go). So that's it I guess.

How is life going now that I am separated?  I have always done most of the work around our place like yard maintenance and small repairs, animal care, as well as all the womanly chores. So this weekend I learned (thank God for Youtube) how to wire and install my dryer that was so kindly donated to me, fixed the goat fence, did repair work to the house.  And today I am sewing some curtains from fabric I got at the good will.  Mending clothing, applying for jobs, baking bread, and possibly putting up a  wall to shield the wood pile from snow if I have time!  Not to mention I already got the kids off to school, fed and watered the animals, did laundry, and vacuumed the house.

I find that I am happier without him here to put me down.  And the children are adjusting.  It is what it is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Heartwarming Autumn Meals and Treats!

I love baking and the smells of spices and cider.  Autumn is my favorite time of the year and this year I am looking forward to it more than ever.  This summer has seemed endless with it's blasted heat and smoke.  I thought I would share some recipes that look to good to pass up for this fall.

My favorite fall activities is decorating, baking, going for walks to admire the colors, hot cider next to a burning hearth and candle lit rooms.  Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting - Creme de la Crumb

Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Cake with Apple Cider Glaze

These Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chops are AMAZING!  Perfectly seasoned, juicy, delicious and ready in under 30 minutes!

50 Fall Breakfast Recipes

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Using Unripe Apples

One year  I made a mistake on when to harvest the apples.  I thought they were green apples and so harvest them only to find out that, no, they are most likely Galas.  So  I had two huge five gallon buckets filled with green unripe apples!  I couldn't even consider just throwing them out, what a waste!   But searching around my books I did not find one recipe for unripe apples.  Then I started researching it on the internet and found that you can use them for apple jelly.  In fact unripe apples contain much more pectin (which aids in jelling) than ripe apples so this would be a good use for them.  I processed them just as you would regular apples by first making juice from them and then getting on with the jelly process.

My only change was that although the recipe said to just cut them up core and all into the pot to make the juice I cut out the core for a few reasons.  You should know that apple seeds contain natural cyanide that can poison a person if, say, you ate like forty apples including cores in one sitting. So with that in mind I did the following.  First these apples are much smaller than store bought due to being under-ripe so you would have many more core to apple ratio than in a standard recipe upping possible cyanide, also the seeds themselves would be less mature and soft so much more likely to leach the cyanide into the boiling juice, third much of the cores were infested with worms so I just cut them out.  By the way never feed whole apples to rabbits!  They eat the seeds and die from cyanide poisoning!  We had this happen once!

Everything worked fine and now I have 10 pints of apple jelly.  It tastes like it should and I will use it on toast or to glaze ham, chicken, or pork chops.

This would be a very good way to use up green apples that fall to the ground before their time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Unintended Consequenses of Making Foods From Scratch

I first started my from scratch cooking life it was out of desperation.  We were broke and it was either make/grow it myself or go without!  Soon I was canning all our own jams, jelly's, fruits, pickles, and veggies. I would ask people with fruit trees if I could pick their unwanted fruits.

I planted a huge garden every year and I froze stuff or canned from the garden for the winter. I learned how to bake bread, make noodles, and pretty much provide all my own baked goods. Lucky for me I actually enjoy cooking!

However now that we are a little better off I have found unintended drawbacks from having raised my children on real home grown, home cooked, non processed foods.  Last year I was out of action in much of the fall due to surgery and couldn't cook or bake or can.

  As my children began to experience processed foods more we discovered they HATED store bought foods.  The cans of peaches and pears weren't like home canned.  The breads and treats didn't taste as good.  And on it went! I now HAVE to cook home made because my kids don't like the other stuff.  So beware!  If you get your family used to good home cooking their may be no going back!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Simple Way To Teach Your Children To Appreciate Each Other

Most siblings know they love each other but rarely express it as children.  I think children need to be taught to appreciate other people just as they need to be taught their ABC's and how to tie their shoes.  They need to learn gratitude for having people in their lives who love and care about them.  This is one way to get children to be less ME focused and more focused on others.

Every night at dinner we pick one person in the family and each of us tells them something we appreciate or love about them.  It has really helped our children be more loving to each other and realize that it is a precious gift to have a family.  It is also super simple and fun!  Every dinner time they ask who's turn it is to be complimented.  And don't forget parents too!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pickle Making and Home Fermentation Made Easy!

Canning day! I'm a history buff when it comes to how people actually lived and what they did to survive. When you look at the history of food preservation before canning jars came to be it was five things they did to prolong the foods life. This is not counting root cellaring.

"Of course I can!"Salting- which gave you good outcomes but made the meat very very salty. However since people back then ate very little meat the extra salt was probably appreciated.
Drying- no comment necessary

1950's housewife.....still using skill learned on the farm.....everyone was into canning food.Larding- things like mince pies or cooked meat was layered between melted fat and put in crocks in a very cold secure room. This was done in the late fall of course.

When we had so many chores, we didn't have time to worry about...all the crap we worry about now!Sugaring- preserve fruits in very high (like inedible) concentrations of sugar. The foods has to be soaked in water before eating. But this was only used infrequently because truly poor people had very little money to use sugar this way.

Fermented pickling- this was very common and used on meats, veggies and fruits.

Olde America Antiques | Quilt Blocks | National Parks | Bozeman Montana : Agriculture and Farming - Woman Canning 2I love fermenting my pickles and veggies. It doesn't require heat treating or self sealing lids. I have made both fermented pickles and regular pickles. I like fermented pickles for dills and mixed veggie pickles. They are always crisp tangy and have a zing that is almost like carbonation that other pickles don't. Also there is a lot of info out there pointing to lactos fermented pickles being very good for your health. I only do Bread and Butter cucumber pickles the standard way. The recipe I use for that is from my favorite book The Joy of Pickling.

Vintage canning graphic.  Mom canned a lot of the things we ate.Fermenting is also easy, much easier than making standard pickles. All you do is mix the brine, throw in the spices and veggies, cover with brine, and bam! Your done. The fermenting takes place in a moderately warm room or shelf. You check them ever so often to make sure the brine is covering the veggies and to make sure that the fermentation is doing it's thing. That's it! After two weeks you have really amazing food. Keep it in a cool place and they last up to a year like the fridge. Mine are gone way before that though! You can use used canning jar lids and quart jars for this. Or you can get old fashioned pickle crocks. You could also use non reactive tubs.

13 great posters on preserving food, when it was life or deathAnyone here who has put up lots of food for home use will know that the summer is frenetic in its pace. You are constantly planting, harvesting, canning, and preserving all the food to get you through to the next year from dawn till dusk. So anything that cuts down on processing time is a blessing, especially if you are using a wood cook stove to process jars in a hot kitchen .

Just to give you a clue on how much food you'll need to be canning for fall/winter/spring use I tell you mine. I have a family of 6. To get us through from fall to late spring I have to can:

Some Basics of Home Canning (recipes and how to use home canned items also)30 quarts applesauce
30 quarts cherries
30 quarts pears
30 quarts peaches
20 quarts assorted pickles
20 pints of assorted fruit pickles
15 pints each of strawberry, cherry, peach, and apricot jams at least
45 quarts marinara sauce
30 quarts tomatoes
30 pints of misc. condiments like apple chutney, salsa, and ketchup.

vintage housewifeI don't can green beans because it freaks me out with the low acid so I freeze tons and tons of them for dinners.

I also freeze a mix of summer squash/onion/eggplant for casseroles, soups, stir fry, and oven roasting in the winter.

There is so much more I do or want to do but these are just the main things I shoot for. We also root cellar a lot of winter squash, potatoes, apples, and onions. You can see how busy you'll be just doing preservation if you really had to grow all your own food. And I don't even reach that goal. I'm going to try doing sauerkraut this year too. It's supposed to be much better than the store stuff and you can ferment it in quart jars.

Two great books on easy fermenting foods are:

The Joy of Pickling- has a huge section on fermented pickles. The other sections are great too, I tried making pickled grapes last year with a recipe from this book and even my very picky extended family loved them at Thanksgiving. They were more like a condiment you would serve with meat. Like cranberry sauce.

Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables At Home- Klaus Kaufmann and Annelies Schoneck- This is where I first learned to make fermented pickles. It explains how Lactic acid fermentation works to preserve the food safely and a step by step look at the process which The Joy of Pickling does not. The Joy of Pickling has many more recipes for flavors of fermented pickles. They sell this book in health food stores.