Thursday, September 22, 2011

LIttle Cabin Update

I have such respect for those moms of the past who had no choice but to harvest and put up all of their family's food, no matter what obstacles were in their way (like a baby trying to walk and getting into EVERYTHING).  Learning to produce some of our family's food and cooking from scratch and preserving much of it from farmer's markets while we have a baby in the house has been a real eye opener.  We managed to accomplish a lot, but I am so thankful that we do not have to depend on what we were able to put away, because, while it was better than nothing, it was woefully inadequate for our family's needs.  We froze or dehydrated many gallons of berries and figs, several gallons of squash and many quarts of other veggies.  We also canned lots of salsa, tomato juice, figs and a few jars of various pickled veggies. 

We have reached the one year mark on our hen's egg production and our girls are still laying well.  We had a few weeks this summer when we were getting fewer eggs because we had a broody hen who was hoarding the eggs and sitting on any she saw, including all newly laid eggs.  We handled the situation by sending her to live with my Dad's hens.  She is doing very well there and has not tried to sit on eggs since her move.  Our new hens are beginning to lay.  We are finding pullet eggs in the laying box.  So fun :)  Our plans for chickens next spring include raising a meat flock and maybe trying our hand a turkeys as well.

Our peas are almost done producing as are the tomatoes.  We put in lettuce a few weeks ago and that is growing well.  I am behind on planting the spinach, kale and beets.  I need to do that today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vocabulary Spelling City

I've been given a premium membership to for a candid, personal, online review. helps students study word lists using 25 different learning activities such as Crossword Puzzle, HangMan, and Handwriting Worksheets. Parents can create their own spelling lists, find published lists already available on the site, or use any of dozens of free teaching resources such as sound-alike words, and contractions. Be sure to come back in three weeks to read about my experience.

There might be more free memberships available for bloggers. If you're interested, find out how you can review

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time4Learning Review

Last month, our family was invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid curriculum review. Time4Learning can be used as an online homeschooling program or afterschool tutorial. We chose to use it for one month as a supplement to our homeschooling program. I am pleased to be able to offer this review of Time4Learning.

I'm not sure why, but until this opportunity, I had never considered using an online homeschool program. I suppose maybe I was a little biased against using the computer for teaching, thinking that my children would not learn as well if there was not a live teacher planning and implementing the lessons. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my children (both boys) have absolutely loved Time4Learning and have learned and retained so much.

I have always had a challenge with getting my children to dig in and work on phonics, grammar and math, the basic building blocks of learning. They knew enough to get by, but really didn't like any of the programs or methods we had used for learning these things. For them, school should be about science, history, art and creative writing. This last month has been such a blessing because my children have actually looked forward to practicing reading, math and grammar on Time4Learning.

Time4Learning teaches using interactive flash based animation. A concept is explained, examples are shown and then the child is given the opportunity to try out some examples. Following the lesson, the child is usually given a game to play which is designed to reinforce the lesson. The lessons are well designed and my children enjoyed them very much. My children also really enjoyed the games that go along with the lesson. In fact, as I watched them working on their lessons, I too found myself drawn into the games. They are well thought out and fun while still being challenging enough to satisfy my desire for my children to learn. At the end of each learning module, there is a quiz to test learning. The results of these quizzes are available to the parents, as are the times and lengths of the child's log in and the lessons covered.

This last month, we used the Language Arts, Language Arts Extension and Math modules. We did not use Science or Social Studies modules during this free trial period as we already use both science and history programs that we love. We are going to continue using Time4Learning in our homeschool now that our free trial is over and I would like to try these two modules at some point. Though we did not use them, I did look them over and I think that the science module in particular could bring up some interesting topics for my children. In addition to the online lessons, Time4Learning also includes a supply list for science activities. We did not try any of these during our month, but I intend to try some in the coming months. When we do I would like to try to post something about them.

Having never used an online curriculum before, I was not sure what to expect in terms of technical issues. When we log on to Time4Learning, a new window pops up. We then have to click on a link in that window and it takes us to that child's lessons. The pop up windows were a bit confusing at first, especially to my children, but after a few days, they got used to it and figured things out, though there was some frustration before we figured things out. We used two different computers, one for each child, and found that on one of our computers, Time4Learning worked great on Mozilla browser, but on the other, we had problems with Mozilla and but it works better on Explorer. On thing we love about Time4Learning is that as a lessons and games are completed, the program keeps track of where the child is in the work. Some of the lesson modules are long, with several parts. I love that Time4Learning keeps track of where my children are in their work so that if they stop or are interrupted, it is easy for them to find their place again.

Time4Learning has offers parent reports so that you can track your students' work, tech support so that you can get help with computer issues and a parent's forum to connect with other parents. Also available is something called the playground which is a fun games area of the website. Parents can set required lesson time (this month, I had the children do a minimum of 30 minutes in lessons) and after that time is completed, the children can then play games on the playground for a specified period of time, also at the parents' discretion (I set this time at 20 minutes). Some of these games are arcade type games, but others are learning games and my children have deemed them all fun.

As I mentioned previously, we have decided to continue using Time4Learning in our homeschool. We had a baby in January. Having part of our schooling planned and taught by someone else has been a blessing and this has freed my time up to work on even more amazing science, art and history lessons. When I told my children that I had decided to continue with Time4Learning both boys were thrilled. Thank you, Time4Learning, for this opportunity to try and review your site.

If you are a Time4Learning member and would like to add anything, please feel free to comment. If you are interested in Time4Learning and have a question, please include it in the comments. I will do my best to answer all questions.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid curriculum review. Time4Learning can be used as an online homeschooling program or afterschool tutorial. Be sure to come back and read about my experience.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Truely Blessed

Fig preserves. In the back you can see salsa and tomato juice.

This summer has been a blur of visitors and food preservation. How blessed we are to have such wonderful friends and family to visit. With the exception of a few days, we've had visitors all summer. Boy does that ever help to chase away our homesickness. Our home feels so full (in a good way). In addition to being able to visit with and cook for, we've also been able to bring lots of our family and friends to our farmers market and introduce them to the idea of local food. So exciting.

We have also been blessed many times by our neighbors who have shared with us the abundance from their gardens. We've been blessed with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash (by the truckload, it seems :), blueberries (literally by the gallon) and this week figs (25 pounds yesterday, plus another 15 pounds last week that we made into preserves to share with our extended family). We have been preserving this blessing as quickly as we can. Most days find the dehydrator going all day. We have veggies for soup, lots of tomatoes, figs, peppers both hot and sweet, potatoes and blueberries all dehydrated and ready to be used in the off season (mmmmm . . . dried blueberries in oatmeal - I can almost taste it now).

We've also frozen lots of fruits (peaches, blueberries, a few strawberries and some figs) and veggies (squash, zucchini, corn and even pesto). The fruit we will use in smoothies, pancakes and pies. The veggies will be used mostly as side dishes.

And it seems that at least a few times a week, we've been firing up the water bath canner to preserve something in canning jars. So far its been mostly the same thing over and over, but I'm grateful because it is stuff we eat a lot of and will need many jars of in the off seasons. We've made peach syrup, salsa - lots and lots of salsa, garden tomato juice (like V-8) and fig preserves. Once we take care of all of these figs we were given, I'm hoping to put up some more salsa and some tomato sauce/ puree. Then we are going to get to work on making some pickles. We've also been offered some pears (they are not yet ready to harvest) and hope to make pear sauce out of what we don't eat fresh. It is comforting to know that we have some locally grown and home preserved foods set aside for the time when there is less fresh produce available at the market or from the garden.

And speaking of gardens, my little garden is growing nicely. We have been able to harvest several cucumbers and yellow pear tomatoes and the peas are growing quite nicely. I think they will begin flowering soon. It has been fun having our garden survive to harvest :)

The chickens are still laying well, even in the heat. We are still getting an average of about 9 eggs each day. It has been such a blessing to have eggs to share with those who share their garden produce with us and to send home with our guests.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Making Salsa

On Thursday of last week, we picked up 25 lbs of tomatoes from a farmer at the market and used some to make salsa.

We made two batches, 11 pints in all. The rest of the tomatoes are going to become juice. Canning season has begun :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Garden/ Chicken Update June 2011

I can hardly believe it! My very small garden is still alive and is producing veggies!! I know that I am inviting disaster by writing those words, but I can't help it - I'm that excited!! We have tomatoes and cucumbers on the vine and purple hull peas are growing well. The lone strawberry plant that survived the winter is trying valiantly to produce berries. About a month ago, the neighborhood dogs tore out our potato plants (they are why I am cautiously optimistic about the garden). The plants had been growing for about 6 weeks. I assumed that there were no potatoes, but when I dug more compost into the bed, we found a few pounds of new potatoes. Pretty exciting to me :) The fruit trees are doing well. We have an orange and a lemon tree, both which have fruit growing on them. The fig trees have no figs on them this year. Thankfully, we have a another source of figs for this year's preserves.

The chickens are doing really well. We have only one rooster and we've lost a few hens to the dogs, so we have 11 laying hens and 6 new chickens (they are about 3 months old). We get approximately 9 eggs per day, which is plenty for us to use and allows us some to share with our neighbors, friends and family. The new chickens should begin laying around the time the laying flock molts, which is great because then we should be able to keep getting eggs.

Harvested so far this month:
Eggs: 234
Cucumbers: 1
Potatoes: 2 lbs

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Farmer's Market 6-18 & 6-23 - Playing Catch Up

This summer is a blur of visitors and we are enjoying it so much. I think we have visitors scheduled every week but one through the start of school in August. What fun! We are managing to get most of our "groceries" from the farmers market and we are also getting a lot of food put up which makes me happy. I love that our fall and winter meals will include some local foods that we are getting from farmers right now.

Last week we were given lots of squash and we dehydrated a good bit of it along with carrots, peppers, and tomatoes from the market to keep as a soup mix. We plan to add it to a crock pot full of our chicken stock in the winter and enjoy local veggie soup. We also dehydrated lots of tomatoes for snacking (we eat them like chips - yum!!) and for pizzas later, and we made blueberry "raisins". We are over run with peaches and squash this week, so I'm thinking peach leather and more dehydrated squash.

Last week from the market, we got, clockwise from top left: Personal watermelons, a big watermelon (one of the BEST I've ever tasted), blueberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peaches, squash, cucumbers (with reddish brown skins), another cantaloupe, basil, zucchini, carrots and not pictured, milk. We enjoyed lots of it fresh and dehydrated or froze some.

On Thursday, a neighbor came over and brought us the lovely veggies pictured above. The tomatoes and peppers became salsa and the squash is in the dehydrator right now. The cucumbers are being enjoyed with meals.

We've been up to a lot at the little cabin. I'll try to post more soon :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Farmer's Market and Menu Plan

For the last year or so, I have been going to the farmer's market without my older children. It was a nice chance to have some quiet time, plus they had lost interest in a lot of the process of shopping for food and preferred to hang out at home and have some "Dad time". With watermelon coming in to season and me having to shop with the baby, it was either one of them come with me or we have no watermelon . . . so my oldest came with me and, as it turned out, enjoyed himself :)

Most of the above photo contains our farmer's market purchases, though the dairy and seafood (!!!) is not pictured (milk and mozzarella, fresh water prawns and catfish) and the items in the front right corner come from our wonderful neighbor's garden. From top left, clockwise: Cucumber, blackberries, basil (in the baggie), tomatoes, round zucchini, individual sized watermelon, green bell peppers, onions, blueberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, more onions, garlic and potatoes (in the bowl), squash, cucumbers, banana peppers (all three from our neighbor), and peaches. We also bought another fig tree. When we couple these items with the chicken and beef we have in our freezer from past farmer's markets and a few other items with have stored up, there are many meal options. Here is what I've come up with so far (local items are in bold):

Roasted Veggie Omelet - (eggs from our hens, butter, onions, squash, zucchini) with tomato and cucumber salad.

Pesto Chicken Sandwich on homemade foccacia bread - (basil, olive oil, walnuts, Parmesan cheese; chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella) with cantaloupe

Roasted Chicken, squash/ zucchini pasta (cooked pasta, sauted onions and zucchini or squash, butter, basil, Parmesan cheese), peaches

Stuffed Zucchini (ground beef, onions, butter, squash, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, cheese), blueberries

Burgers, browned potatoes, caramelized onions, watermelon

Spaghetti with meat sauce, bread sticks, steamed broccoli (we can't go without broccoli, even if it is not in season or local - oldest ds loves it), cantaloupe

Stuffed Green Peppers (onions, peppers, some of the prawns, rice, butter, some sort of thickener - probably corn starch - for a binder, cheese), peaches

We are also planning to use some of our peaches and blueberries for smoothies. In addition, we have family coming in today and they are bringing tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini from the garden. We will make salsa for snacking (not enough to can) with some of it (using our peppers and onions and some store bought cilantro). I also envision blueberry smoothies in our future.

It is so exciting to be in the early days of summer with so much available to us from local growers. At the market over the weekend, we were told that plums and figs will soon be available. We love these both for eating fresh and also for preserving. Can't wait!! In addition, we have made arrangements to buy "canner" tomatoes from a farmer so that we can put up salsa, spaghetti sauce and tomato puree. We also have blueberries and blackberries in the freezer that are destined to become syrup this week. I used to put up jam, but we don't really eat much jam here. Syrup, I think, will work better (we've already used up all the peach syrup I made a few weeks ago - we use it on pancakes and waffles, plus we use it in yogurt).

What's on your menu this week?

I am submitting this to Menu Plan Monday at Organizing Junkie.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Farmers Market: May 21, 2011

Have I mentioned that I LOVE our farmers market? This was our haul for the week. Clockwise from top left: Milk (seven others not pictured), canataloupe, cornmeal (yes, its local!!), peaches approx. 10 lbs.), sweet onions, yukon gold and red potatoes, butter (wrapped in paper at the bottom), purple broccoli, purple onions, more red potatoes, squash, carrots, English cucumbers, blackberries, black and green olive hummus. Not pictured: several whole chickens.

When I got home from the market, we had eggs (from our hens) cooked in butter with potatoes and onions, blackberries and peaches.

Tonight, we are going to have leftover chicken from last weeks market with broccoli and caramelized onions and squash.

I LOVE the farmers market!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Chicks

It seems that all chicken raisers are destined to have some loss. Since we got our first chicks last April, we have lost 5 hens, including one we lost this week. Because I am sure we will lose more before next spring, I thought it prudent to add a few to the flock. We were able to get six 6 week olds from the farm store today. They will begin laying sometime in late September, right around the time our current layers begin molting. Hopefully that will mean we continue to get some eggs this fall and winter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Food Choices and Chronic Disease

There are so many reasons that our family seeks to eat "against the grain" so to speak (non processed, locally raised, pastured and hormone free meat, etc). Supporting local farmers, food security, wanting better living conditions for food animals, concern over GMOs and all the antibiotics and hormones, are all important reasons to seek out better food, as is superior taste and nutrient profile. However, one very compelling reason to seek out better food is the link between an industrial food diet and chronic disease.

I think I've mentioned before that my Mom has Alzheimer's disease. When we were confronted with the undeniable reality that something was not right with Mom, we sought out help from a neurologist. The medication given by this doctor has helped to slow down the progression of her disease, and for this we are very grateful. But as time has gone by, we've begun to really be struck by the fact that we were simply treating symptoms and not addressing the underlying causes of her disease. Since no one really knows what causes someone to get Alzheimer's disease, addressing the causes becomes a guessing game.

We decided to have Mom see (in addition to her neurologist) another doctor, who treats not only symptoms but also the whole person. This doctor ran many extensive (but not expensive) tests and discovered that Mom has many deficiencies, both vitamin and mineral, as well as the fact that her digestive system was not working properly. In addition to an intestinal yeast infection, Mom was not producing enough stomach acid to properly digest her food and was lacking intestinal flora which are necessary for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. She had been slowly losing weight for the last 6 years. That information from this doctor has helped explain the weight loss.

This doctor has Mom on some supplements and is treating her digestive issues with diet. They are ridding her of the yeast infection by cutting out sugar and bread (for now) and by adding probiotics, both in supplement form and through daily servings of unsweetened yogurt. The great thing is that she can do all of this while still taking the medication from her neurologist. One does not cancel out the other. She has been on the new diet/ supplements for a little over a month, and though we are not seeing a cognitive improvement, we are definitely seeing a digestive improvement. She saw her doctor last week and for the first time in 6 years, has not lost weight between appointments!!

We can't help but wonder if there is not some connection between Mom's lifelong processed food diet and her disease (she avoids vegetables as much as possible and loves processed carbs - She is happiest eating a packaged orange cranberry muffin and truly has always believed it to be health food). There seems to be evidence that Alzheimer's is at least in part associated with a lack of nutrition in the brain. In some circles it is called diabetes of the brain because these doctors believe the brain of Alzheimer's patients is actually starving much like the cells of a diabetic. We don't have delusions that Mom will somehow be cured by a better diet and supplements, but we do know that she will feel better with proper nutrition. And we also know that by us avoiding industrial food (even if that is not the cause of Mom's condition - though I believe it is) and seeking nutrient dense real food, we can stack the deck in our favor and hopefully avoid this horrible disease for us and for our children.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: May 16, 2011

I love posting our menu plan on my blog because for some reason, it helps me stay on track. I have not posted our menu in months, mostly because of pregnancy then a new baby. I had a few minutes today and decided to put up our menu for this week. I hope I can start doing this more regularly.

As a family, we seek out hormone and antibiotic free, pasture raised or wild caught meat, eggs and dairy. We also attempt to avoid processed food and make our own from local sources. All local items will be in bold.

Breakfast (will repeat):

*Yogurt (homemade, from local milk) with fruit (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or peaches) or maple syrup
*Smoothies (yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, banana, orange juice)
*Eggs and grits (local butter)
*French Toast (homemade bread, milk and eggs from our hens) topped with yogurt and preserves

Lunch (will repeat):

Egg Salad Sandwiches, carrots and cucumbers
Chicken Salad Sandwiches, cole slaw,
Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwiches, applesauce


*Crockpot Black Eyed Pea Soup (homemade chicken stock from pastured chicken), Homemade pickles or dilly beans (which ever my Mom wants - they are visiting)

*Hamburger Steak with caramelized onions and pan fried potatoes, side salad (local cucumbers)

*Pan Fried Fish (**hopefully** - the boys are planning to supply the main dish for dinner one night this week from our pond), caramelized onions and yellow squash, sweet potatoes

* Broccoli and Cheese Soup (broccoli from local farmer, chicken stock, homemade from pastured local chicken), sandwich or salad on the side

* Easy Broccoli & Beef, rice, smoothie

*Pizza with add your own toppings (will try to use up leftovers)

*Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, cole slaw or cooked cabbage (depends on what we feel like having)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Locally Sourced Meats

We are so blessed to have farmers near us that raise pastured poultry, grass fed beef and grass fed lamb. We also have a source for local shrimp, but not one for fish. Well, not until a few weeks ago. That's when we decided to see if we did, as promised, have stocked pond on our property.

We DO!! The boys caught several fish including bass and brim.
("I caught you a delicious bass." Points if you can identify that movie quote.)

My parents were visiting at the time, so N and my Dad cleaned them and we cooked them for dinner. Absolutely delicious!

My boys like fish, but I have never seen them eat so enthusiastically. We don't want to over fish the pond, so we are going to keep our fishing down to once a month or so. Since it has been a month, we are going to try again to catch dinner this week. Wish us luck :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Farmers Market: May 14, 2011

The market is offering better variety as the weeks go by. Today, I came home with everything in the picture as well as chicken, beef and milk. Clockwise from the left, we got bulb onions, peaches, purple broccoli, English cucumbers, red and Yukon gold potatoes and yellow squash.

Today everything we ate was local. In fact, the only thing consumed in our house that was not local was our coffee, and I soon hope to start getting it at the market as well, as we have a local coffee roaster at the market now. We had only two meals today, brunch and dinner. For brunch we had eggs from our hens cooked in butter from the market. On the side we had caramelized onions and yellow squash, also cooked in butter from the market. For dinner, we had hamburger patties with more caramelized onions (we could eat them with a spoon 3 times a day - we LOVE them!!), pan fried potatoes and peaches for dessert. Lately, we are finding it easier to have at least one meal per day and portions of the rest of our meals sourced from local growers or producers.

I am hoping that next week I can start buying from the market in quantities large enough to begin preserving. I want to start with peaches and yellow squash, prepping both for the freezer. Last year we had 12 quarts of yellow squash in the freezer and 6 quarts of peaches. We could easily double the amount of both, as we use the peaches in smoothies and the squash in soup and also to caramelize. I have already started dehydrating potatoes and have a quart jar filled with them. I plan to try dehydrating some onions at the end of the week if we have any left.

Are you preserving anything in your kitchen?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Farmer's Market Finds This Week

Oh how I love our farmers market!! We are blessed with so many wonderful farmers, many of whom grow or raise "no spray" and "no hormones/ antibiotics". This week at the market, I literally could have used a shopping cart. I doubt I will need anything at the grocery store this week, except maybe one or two fresh fruit items, and only if we get desperate.

If you remember, last season we were getting in season veggies and fruit from the market as well as pastured heritage chicken, grass fed beef and lamb, goat milk and cheese (mmmm . . . feta!!) and on occasion seafood (mostly shrimp). This season, there are more wonderful farmers at our market including another poultry farmer and a dairy!! Yes, we can now get cow's milk, cheese, butter, cream and even cheesecake at our market!! I am so excited!!

This week we came home from the market with veggies, like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, and a beautiful purple broccoli. My kids pronounced the broccoli the best they have ever tasted, and that is saying a lot since they are broccoli lovers. We also came home with part of our spring beef order, some pastured chicken, milk, cream and butter. I was a little too late in arriving to get strawberries, potatoes and garlic, as the growers had already sold out of these items. Maybe next week :)

This is a picture of the reson I only manage to blog once a month.

And this . . . is baby feet :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


So, we've been a bit disappointed with the hens' output of eggs these last few months. Some of it, we knew was due to the shorter days, however, as the days grew longer, their output did not really increase. We were stumped. Why were 12 hens only laying 4 eggs per day on average?

I'll tell you why. Those girls were hoarding their eggs, lol!! They had been laying a few each day in the laying boxes and the rest were being laid on the ground, and then covered with hay. When we discovered their hoard, they had amassed 90 eggs!! Since no one was sitting on the eggs, they were not growing chicks, unfortunately. Now that we know their secret, we can prevent them from doing it again. We are now getting between 10 and 11 eggs per day; enough for our needs, to share with neighbors and even for a customer :)

Our flock has changed some in the last few months. We have lost 4 hens to the neighborhood dogs (including one to our dog) and we are getting rid of some of our roosters (2 down, one to go). That will leave us with 12 hens and a rooster. For now, that will work out fine for our needs.

More updates coming soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars - Our Favorite Recipe

One of my husband's favorite snacks for work are granola bars. They are portable, easy to snack on and calorie and nutrient dense. The kiddos love them, too. But with three guys in the house that love snacking, granola bars can get to be an expensive luxury if store bought. I've searched for years for a recipe that works for us, and finally, a few weeks ago, found one at the blog An Oregon Cottage. It is tasty, but not too sweet, and the bars stay together when cut (the biggest problem we've had with homemade granola bars). They can also be made with mostly local ingredients, which is important to us. The only problem I have with these bars is that my family eats them even faster than store bought bars. We are making some today, and I plan to put half in the freezer right away so that I can hopefully use them for hubby's lunches this week. I'll try to take some pics.

Check out the recipe at An Oregon Cottage.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homestead Baby Steps

I consider food preservation to be part of my homesteading adventure, so the banana chips currently in the dehydrator count as a baby step, at least in my mind ;) In addition, I was able to get some seed potatoes into the ground today, fourteen in all. The sprouted beans were ready today, so I fed them to the chickens who loved them. Success!! Outside of those three things, I did not accomplish much today. It was a day of itty bitty baby steps, and I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Homesteading Baby Steps - Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

As the titles of this post suggests, I have a lot of excuses for why I didn't accomplish much or post much for the last several days. First, the big boys spent all day Saturday and Saturday night with friends, so hubby and I and baby Evan spent the time just enjoying each other and our home. It was like a mini vacation and though unproductive, really recharged me. Sunday, after Mass, we picked up the boys and came home to greet my parents who were here for a visit. They stayed until yesterday, and when they left, offered my big boys the chance to go back with them, which they did. I knew my big boys were a huge help, but honestly, I am shocked at how much I depend on them every day to get things done. Wow!! Thankfully, they are coming back soon. :)

Still, with all these excuses, we still did manage to accomplish a few things from my list and many things not from my list .

1. We got some compost started again. Using a wooden frame we had here, we added some grass clippings (we planted rye on the property this winter), crushed leaves and rotting hay from the chicken run (which includes lots of chicken droppings) plus some of last year's compost. We wet it well and now it just needs to be turned and watered regularly. Temperatures here have been in the 70-80 every day, so we should have usable compost in a few weeks.

2. Chicken coop makeover baby steps have begun. We need to be able to access the eggs and food/ water containers from outside the coop/ run as well as need to repair the netting on top of the run. The first step to making the eggs accessible from outside the coop is to "renovate" the laying boxes. Baby steps we've accomplished in this renovation include removing one set of boxes and removing the back from it. I have hinges and a locking closure that I just need to add to the back to make a door before we can put the "legs" on it and then put it back into the run. I think I will be able to do this even without the big boys here to help with baby Evan, since I can work on it while he is in his sling (I hope, anyway).

3. I've begun collecting containers for indoor growing of micro greens. I plan to start some seeds today or tomorrow. We have also started some sprouts, including some bean sprouts for the chickens. This experiment is part of our investigation into a more natural and sustainable diet for the hens. We will also plant some squash this season just for the chickens, since they love it so much

4. We will be planting some of our garden on my parent's farm this year. They have agreed to water, harvest and store it in their freezer between our visits in exchange for us preserving it and sharing with them. We will also grow a lot of field peas, freezing some for people (us and my folks) and drying some for their hens and some for ours. I am excited about our arrangement!!

The lettuce we planted last week is up. If the nice weather continues, we should have true leaves soon. We have one part of our property, near the house, that gets good sunlight year round. It is getting some parsley and basil plants plus onion sets this afternoon.

Not on my list of things to do, but accomplished none the less, has been a lot of cooking for the freezer, and experimenting with homemade versions of snacks my family enjoys. We have lasagna, meatballs, meatloaf, burger patties, chicken stock, diced chicken, pancakes and cookies in the freezer ready to heat and eat. We also started making yogurt and granola again. Yum!! If time permits, I hope to post some recipes soon. We have also done a lot of decluttering, which feels great. I just love the way getting rid of stuff makes you feel so light :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Homestead Baby Steps

I started a list yesterday of things we need to do around the cabin to help it become more of a homestead. To help me remain accountable, I will post updates, hopefully daily or every few days, as we accomplish things on our list.

I have accomplished one thing on yesterday's list. I began planting cool weather seeds again. I just planted a 4X4 foot bed of lettuce and today will plant one with spinach seeds. I will take picture if/ when things start growing. Also, I have come up with a relatively inexpensive plan for the compost bins. Only time will tell if this actually works, but I am hopeful. In addition, since the hens are laying better again, we have begun sharing our eggs with our neighbors again. I am so excited to be able to to this again, as our neighbors are so wonderful and have been so generous in sharing their time and their garden surplus with us in the past.

But, as I complete things on the list, I find that there are many things to add to the list. I'm afraid that it will soon be much longer :) It will be important for me to focus on the baby steps if I am going to keep from becoming so overwhelmed that I just give up.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Sense of Urgency

Four years ago, when I began seeking to explore local food supplies and self sufficiency, one of my goals was to acquire land and begin growing/ raising our own food in a more deliberate way. Country living had always been on my heart, but at that point it began to be more about sustenance and less about scenery. Last year, we saw that dream begin to become reality when we moved to our little cabin in the woods. We love our little cabin, and in many ways it is meeting our food growing/ raising needs, but in other ways, it is falling very short.

Our cabin is a hunter's paradise. Too bad, we are just beginning hunters - experience would surely help us to have more success. It is also a nice place to raise some livestock. Our chickens are doing well and I could see adding a few more things such as ducks and fish (we have a pond) and maybe goats (lots of scrub), but anything requiring pasture, such as cattle, sheep and turkeys, is probably out.

The other problem we have with growing our own is lack of sunlight. We are literally IN the woods, so we get no sunlight from mid March to mid October. Fall/ Winter crops grow fine here, and once we have better fencing, I think we will have success in those seasons, but unless we can find a way to increase our sunlight, spring/ summer crops will fail here.

I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency in becoming more self sufficient. The world seems to be changing very quickly and it has me nervous. It could just be post pregnancy hormones or something, but I am becoming increasingly concerned about being able to feed my family. Food and gas prices seem to be rising daily and I am beginning to see empty shelves in the grocery store. We had been, as a family, transitioning away from the grocery store for a few years and over to farmer's markets and raising our own, that is, until last year when I became pregnant and spent those months so sick and so exhausted. Now that our little man is here, it is time to get serious about building our homestead. Here is a list of the things we are going to be working on in the coming weeks.

1. Repair/ renovate the chicken coop and run. The cold, rain and ice were really hard on the chickens' home. Much of the safety netting is torn and needs to be replaced. We also want to add a pitched roof to the run so that when we cover it next winter, rain does not pool in the tarp and tear the netting. First on the agenda with the coop, after replacing the torn netting, is to make the laying boxes accessible from the outside. The roosters are becoming increasingly aggressive with my husband and the boys and I think it would be safer as well as simpler to be able to get to the eggs from outside the chicken run. This would also be safer for the chickens, since there is a chance of them getting out every time we open the door. In fact, last week, two of them got out and we were not able to catch them or coax them back into the run, and the neighborhood dogs got them both.

2. Build a stronger fence around the garden. I am afraid we will need cattle fencing around the garden in order to keep the dogs out. For some reason, the neighborhood dogs enjoy digging up some of my plants and sitting on and crushing the rest of them. A stronger fence may keep them out.

3. Plant some fruiting trees and bushes. We have a small area on our property near the road that gets sunlight. We will be planting some fruit trees and berry bushes along the tree line in the coming weeks.

4. Repair the compost bins. The dogs destroyed the compost bins and scattered the compost all over the woods. I think we will have to make the bins out of wood and hope they survive the canine assault.

5. Remove some of the smaller trees on the property. Many of the shade producing trees are huge and much to big for us to remove ourselves. Since tree removal is expensive, we will only be removing the two that are near the house and that I feel are in danger of falling in the next few years. I do feel confident in removing the smaller trees, though. In fact, the boys and I removed many of them last year and cut them up for firewood. We plan to continue doing that this year.

6. Investigate indoor growing. We grew micro-greens indoors last year with some success. I would like to do that again. We also have everything we would need to grow sprout, except the seeds. I need to find a source for seeds. Anyone have a suggestion?

7. Get something into the ground outside. I plan to get some seeds into the ground, even before the new fencing is up. Lettuce and snow peas, as well as carrots and spinach are on my list right now. I hope we will see these last till harvest.

How about you? Are you feeling a sense of urgency about things lately? What are you doing around your home in terms of growing or raising food? Have you made any changes to your shopping habits?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feels Like Spring - Little Cabin Update

This past week we experienced many days of warm sun on our faces. What a joy after an unusually cold, snowy, wet winter. After such a dry summer (not a drop of rain for 9 weeks), we certainly welcomed the rain, but its continued presence for 3 months insured that we spent the winter caked in either mud or icy mud. Last week, it thawed, then dried up. Grass is beginning to grow around the little cabin, as are boys, both big and small.

The winter adaptations we made to the chicken coop worked well to keep the chickens warm. In fact, they seemed unaffected by the cold, even when it was in the 20's for days, even weeks at a time. The problem we had was that we simply draped tarps over a flat "roof" which did not shed rain, but instead allowed it to pool, causing our netting over the top of the coop to break. We will have to repair that before we can remove the tarp completely, in order to keep our flock safe. We are planning some modifications to the coop/ run in the coming weeks, including adding a pitched roof and outside access to the egg boxes, and their food/ water.

Our fall/ winter garden was destroyed by the neighborhood dogs (including our own, who love to "run with the pack"), as was our compost box. We are currently investigating some stronger option for fencing for the garden and stronger materials we might use to remake the compost. I am trying not to let these setbacks discourage me too much, though it does sometimes seem like between our animals, the neighbors animals and too much shade, I am destined to fail at gardening. You see, even with strong fencing, we still would not have a lot of success with a summer garden because of the trees that surround our house and cover almost every inch of our property. I am currently investigating options.

Things are slowly returning to normal since the baby arrived. My big boys are such a tremendous help, as is my wonderful husband. I have recovered well from the c-section, and feel great. The baby has a laid back personality and is pretty easy going, which helps, as well. We took a week off from school when he was born, then had a modified (just the basics) schedule for 4 weeks, plus co-op. Last week, we jumped back in full force and I think everyone was glad to get back to normal ( we all missed history and science). This week, I am trying to add menu planning and more cooking, as well as some additional work outside, on the property. I am also hoping to blog more, as I find that keeps me accountable. Even if no one else reads it, I still feel like if I commit here, I have to follow through.

And now, I'll wrap up with a picture of our littlest cutie. This is his default "serious" expression. He is extremely curious and spends most of his waking time looking around, taking in all of the sights and sounds of our little cabin.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

He's Here

Our littlest munchkin made his arrival last week. Meet Evan Thomas:

He was 7 lbs, 10 oz and 20 inches long. He is a nice mix of his older brothers in both looks and personality and we are all positively smitten. I think it will be a while before I am back to posting regularly, but I will try to pop in and update every so often.