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I grew up on the prairie. Our house in central Illinois was literally the last house in town when I lived there, with a cornfield across the street. We walked through it, skated on it, rode through it on combines pulling tassels off every other row. Although my personal mythology maintains that I am from Philadelphia (where I actually only lived for 9 years as a child), in fact I’m a daughter of the corn. The other day some east coast transplant was “charmed” by my midwesternisms.

Blame it on the corn.

Corn is an amazing plant. For one thing, there is no wild corn. It is possibly the most domesticated organism on the planet. Archeologists have identified domesticated corn as old as the oldest identified human settlement in the Americas, but have never found its wild parent.

I first planted corn in my backyard garden 6 years ago for the  Growing Challenge, which is to plant something new every year. (This year it’s celery.) I made the classic corn newbie mistake–having grown up in corn country I naturally planted a row of corn. However, in a small backyard, you can’t plant corn in rows. It won’t pollinate properly.

Enter the Three Sisters, which is corn, beans and squash, planted together. It is a traditional First Nations companion planting technique (planting compatible plants together), using the attributes of each plant to strengthen all three. This is the grandmother of companion planting. Some plants go well together –carrots and onions love everybody; strawberries love borage; and of course the Three Sisters. Just google “companion planting” to find examples.

Some reasons to companion plant: nutrient enrichment, pest control, mechanical. (Um, mechanical?) Back to the Three Sisters: the beans are there because they restore nitrogen to the soil. But the corn and the squash also have “mechanical” purposes– the corn stalks act as bean trellises, and the squash acts as a mulch, keeping the weeds down.

Here’s the How To:

Corn

• Make a mound, about 12 to 15” across. Corn will send out “adventitious” roots, these are roots that crow from the stalk, sideways into the soil, strengthening the plant.
• Plant seeds or starts (corn starts shouldn’t be taller than about 5”) around the ring, about a hand span apart
• When you plant corn in a raised bed or other small area, it needs to be very dense to pollinate properly.
• Corn can be planted anytime from early May to early/mid June. Best are varieties that mature in 85 to 110 days.
• Corn is ripe when the silks are very dark and a little dried-out looking. You can tell corn has been properly pollinated because the silks will turn pale pink, and then gradually a deep mahogany.

Squash

• Plant seeds or starts directly into the center of the mound. I usually plant 3, and then thin them when the plants are about 3 weeks old, to get the strongest plant.
•It’s best to plant out squash after June 10, even seeds, because late May and early June is when the squash vine borer  (SVB)moths lay their eggs.
• In small gardens, you’ll want to train your squash. In large gardens you can let it go crazy.
• Squash will be the last thing to get ripe.
• You can use summer or winter squash. If you do a summer squash make sure it’s a vining one like Patypan, not a bush one like zucchini.

Beans

• Plant pole bean seeds directly when the corn is 8” to 10” high. If you plant your beans too early, it will get taller than the corn very quickly.
• Purple beans, with purple vines, are easier to see on the green corn stalks

Variations:

• If you have SVB then you shouldn’t plant squash for two years. Use bush beans as the third sister.

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Some friends and I were Facebook chatting about the lure of the Homestead.

Self-sufficiency. Pride. Good For The Children.

But then, there’s indoor plumping. Electricity that you don’t have to generate, or understand. Skors bars.

My daughter and I had this conversation as well–how hard it is to live the life that seems appealing when it’s contrary to the mainstream, or makes you stand out. You have to have either strength of character or a certain kind of obliviousness to buck the system.

It came up because she’s met someone she calls a “real hippie.” She says she always thought I was a hippie, but this woman walks the walk, apparently. I’m not quite sure what that means, but it probably has to do with really not tolerating the two Macs (Mac ‘n’ Cheese, and McDonalds) for the children, walking or biking everywhere, and wearing ugly shoes (I think I have the ugly shoes thing going, but I’m a late comer to the don’t-tolerate the junk food).

When I was in college, during one of my brief non-Bill (my husband of more than 30 years) periods, I dated one of those real hippies. Even at the time, I realized that I was making a choice between a truly alternative life and one that would be a little more mainstream.

I’m something of a chameleon, in that I tend to adapt to the prevailing opinions around me. Something to do with low self-esteem, probably, or a dislike of conflict. If I’d stayed with M I’d have been a hippie and a homesteader. With Bill, urban to the core, not so much, although I’ve dragged him a little bit over to that way of thinking. Still, the lure of the homestead, of the self-sufficient, know-how-to-do-stuff, back-to-your-roots lifestyle is extremely appealing. It sounds so simple, so real.

In reality, living off the land or making your living from the land (not at all the same thing) sounds hard. I know this from reading Emily’s trials with the sheep, and Sage’s awful trials with the drought. Of course, city life is hard as well; however comfortable one is in an urban environment, one does constantly watch over one’s shoulder for danger. There’s a lot of noise and trash and people you cannot get a way from.

The big reason that people move out of the mainstream is for the children, but you’re making trade offs there as well. Country kids can Do Stuff. Hammer a nail, milk a cow, wire a lamp. My kids? they can Handle Themselves. When you grow up looking over your shoulder you develop a kind of thick skin that I’ve never seen in more gently raised kids. But I really wish they could Do Stuff. I need someone to build me a new compost bin for my tiny urban homestead (ish).

Conclusion? Life is hard. Choices get made. The homesteader wonders if my grass is greener because I’m putting chemicals on it; I wonder if her grass is greener because of sheep droppings. Neither of us really, in our deepest hearts, wants to walk on whatever it is that is making the grass greener over there.

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Yes, i’m just 30 years old and a new grandma….

to a little baby chick! Although we moved away from our Austin homestead in June and had to sell or give away each of our 4 pet hens, we’re luckily still in contact with some of the lovely people who re-homed them, and even get happy updates from them on occasion. I’m so excited to share one recent piece of news: a birth announcement!

BB and her second egg, proud mamas us both

BB and her second egg, proud mamas us both

BB was our broodiest hen: a partridge colored Chanteclar hen (Chanteclars are an endangered breed from Canada). We lovingly called her our ‘football chicken’ because she was the smallest of our flock, but her size didn’t prevent her from being head hen, or as we also called her the “mob boss” (because Soot thought she was head hen, but was really just the “thug” of the group.) BB layed funny, tiny little eggs that often had grooves on them and was prone to broodiness (sitting on the eggs to try and hatch them). If you visited us, you might find a “chicken in the house” to try and encourage her to leave her nonexistent brood and get over the habit.

Broody BB catches some AC and Pocket wonders why there's a chicken in the house

I’d hoped to find her a new home with a Chanteclar rooster in order to procreate the breed, but was unable to find one. I did find an amazing chicken-oriented woman south of town with 5 acres and many happy chickens. BB settled in great right away, and now after about 9 months she’s hatched her very own egg.

Congrats, BB: it finally happened!

You can find more from Miranda at her blog, Pocket Pause.

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The term “Real Food” definitely applies to the vegetable garden, but here at Tanglewood Farm I’m using this year to try to find ways to grow and preserve more than just our own veggies and fruits. I know this month is our month of gardening posts, however at the core of it, we’re really blogging about growing food. This spring we are growing food in the garden as well as in the farmyard. We’re growing vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, and yes… even meat.

When eating any food, I find that the more involved in its existence and its presence on my plate, the better I eat and the more satisfied I am. I love to feel the dirt slowly giving way as I pull a beet for my salad, almost like the void beneath is sucking it down like a vacuum, or the sharp recoiling spring of the cane as I pluck an  almost-ripe red raspberry. These experiences are so starkly different from being handed a slapped-together cookie-cutter meal at the local such-and-such chain restaurant. Ick.

I love to sit down to a meal and to be able to identify the work that went into everything: the hauling of compost, the dibble of seeds, the spreading of mulch, the work of the rain and the sun itself… all the way to the act of cooking and baking the food in the kitchen. It’s the most satisfying feeling I can think of. It goes right to my core and radiates from within: Satisfaction. Complacency. Happiness.

To prepare for the season of growing, we have our seeds and our bareroot plants (100% heirloom/open pollinated this year). We also ordered heritage white-laced-red Cornish chicks (WLR because they’re prettier, Cornish because they’re meatier), as well as a couple straight-run layer chicks (heritage Buckeyes and Welsummers). Should any of the layer chicks be cockerels, they’ll be sent to freezer camp once they reach full weight. We want to have a small laying flock that can provide us with eggs, as well as the unfortunate bit of meat here and there.

We’re also growing/raising sheep this year. Unfortunately sheep are not as easy to raise as chickens are, and earlier this week tragedy struck when our youngest ewe, Gertrude, went into early labor and delivered a premature lamb, stillborn. It was very sad, but also humbling and grounding. Gertrude is alive and well, and when it came down to it, it was easy for me to see that her health is all that really matters to me. Should our remaining pregnant ewe, Ingrid, give birth to any rams, depending on conformation, they will likely be raised to mature market weight and then also sent to freezer camp. If they’re ewe lambs, I’ll do a little jig for joy and they’ll either be kept for future breeding or sold as fiber ladies. (I’m noticing a very intense polarizing trend in the preferred gender among various species in the farmyard.)

In the meantime, while either growing or raising our lamb(s), we are hoping to get a bit of milk from Ingrid. She’s not the world’s heaviest milking Icelandic, but she does have a well developed udder so I’ll be trying to take a little off the top once the lambs are established as healthy and strong. Icelandics make a wonderful triple purpose sheep, having lustrous and strong double coated wool, rich creamy milk, and excellent bone structure and meat quality. They’re one of a very few breeds that are triple purpose, so we’re glad to have them. The sheep milk, however, certainly won’t be enough for our milky adventures this year.

In addition to the sheep, I have purchased a share of a goat (named Gen) at a local goat dairy. I got to meet Gen today, as well as the rest of the goats out at Silver Moon, and it was a great experience for me. If you aren’t familiar with livestock “shares” they’re an interesting method of selling livestock. Basically it comes down to me getting to own Gen for a portion of the week. Whilst owning her, I have access to her for snuggles, kisses, photo ops and, yes, milk. I  met her primary owner, Renea, today and she was very pleasant and kindly showed me all around their farm, introducing me to their wonderful fiber rabbits, meat rabbits, quail, muscovies, chickens, and even their horses.

I can’t wait to make goat cheese and sheep cheese and yogurt… or omelettes, and egg salad, and mayonnaise… or smoked sausages, or lamb bacon, or …

You get the idea. This spring is about learning for us, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be involved in your food. It doesn’t mean going out and slaughtering animals yourself persay, (at least not unless you’re comfortable with it) but you could start by asking the waiter at a restaurant where your beef comes from, or if they’ve looked into local options to take the place of their imported meats…

You could ask around for a local farmers market for animal shares, be they dairy or meat, or just cuddles shares… Take control of what you’re eating, and learn to sit back and take a deep breath, a big bite, and enjoy.

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Warning: To all my vegetarian and vegan friends and otherwise sensitive viewers, this post is probably not for you. There are vivid photos of our experience “harvesting” a hog last November. Please know that I do respect you equally and hold you just as reverently as I do meat eaters!

mise en place

Completely inspired by authors like Pollan and Kingsolver, films like Food Inc., my limited studies and complete awe of the Cherokee and other Native Americans, and chefs and foodies like Bourdain and the restaurants that cook nose to tail, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at slaughtering our own hog last year. It took a little convincing to get my husband to agree with me.

He knew it would be a big job, me … not so much. I totally idealized the situation, dreaming of our own bacon and hams, sausages, and bean soups; thinking about how noble of an eater I was being and the lessons I was teaching my daughter. Once I started looking online at the process, though, I began to realize exactly what I’d gotten ourselves into. Me? Start small? Never.

We’re lucky that one of our close friends is the daughter of a pig farmer and so we had easy access to our goal. Her husband helped us with the entire ordeal by planning practically all of it, and giving us the workspace to do the job. For a little bit of money and two and half days work, we got half a hog for our little family. Now, that’s not enough to get us through the year the way we eat. Perhaps we could make an entire hog last a year, but that would require either dry curing or a larger freezer.

half

What we did get out of our half of a hog was impressive. We weren’t as brave as we thought and we didn’t get as much du cochon as I’d hoped. There was more waste than I imagined simply because we were exhausted and hadn’t planned well enough. And then there was the mistake we made early on thanks to my suggestion. Because we didn’t have a tub of hot water to remove the hair and clean the hog, I suggested to burn it off. Bad idea. Reeeeeally bad idea. It ruined the skin because the smell soaked into it, so we had no chicharrones. If the lard hadn’t accidentally burned in the next mishap, it would’ve tasted like burned hair as well. So, we learned a very important lesson. Boiling water is a good thing. We also learned that 10 bags of ice is the very minimum you need if winter weather does not cooperate. In the South, weather rarely cooperates.

Most of the information you can find on youtube or elsewhere on the internet. I’ll give you some suggestions here of things to keep in mind, and the things I actually recall from our experience.

Most handy equipment:

grinding

  • Chain
  • Ropes
  • Sawzall
  • Hack saw
  • Cleaver
  • Boning knives
  • Paring knife
  • Chefs knives (be sure all of your blades are freshly sharpened and honed)
  • Lots of old towels
  • At least one change of clothes
  • KitchenAid (Pro is preferential because of the motor and bowl sizes)
  • Meat grinder or attachment for KitchenAid
  • Food processor
  • Lots of large and medium mixing bowls
  • Kitchen scale
  • Freezer paper and tape
  • Containers/Lexans or Ziplocks to cure bacon and ham
  • At least three large coolers and an empty freezer
  • Terrines for pate
  • 4 5-gallon buckets for collecting blood, 2 for organs, and one for head. Keep all on ice.
  • Bleach and soap for cleaning
  • Scrub brush to wash exterior of hog
  • A smoker
  • Fruit, mesquite, oak, or hickory woods for smoking.
  • Sausage stuffer

Ingredients you’ll be interested in:

  • Pink salt or substitute for curing bacon
  • Proper size casings for sausages
  • Bread crumbs, crackers, or other binders
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Milk
  • Pepper
  • Two boxes of kosher salt
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Dijon mustard
  • Garlic
  • Mace
  • Paprika
  • Fennel seed
  • Chili powders
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Brandy or port
  • Good drinking wine
  • apples
  • onions

ribs and bacon

Now I’m not going to teach how to butcher a pig. That wasn’t my job, and one experience does not an expert make, but I will point out a few head scratchers we did or almost did encounter.

  1. Have all of your recipes planned for in advance. Thumb wrestling at the last-minute over whether or not to make maple syrup or brown sugar bacon allows the rest of your meat to warm up if it’s not in a cooler.
  2. How to remove the intestines and reproductive organs from the exterior of the body without cutting them. The last thing you want to do is to penetrate the intestines! Have a second person use a sharp knife to cut carefully around the anus and exterior reproductive organs.You may find inserting something to strengthen the walls makes it easier to cut around. I know, it sounds really wrong, but it helped a lot.
  3. Be prepared to trim a lot of fat. That was my special job. It actually would’ve been much easier to skin the hog first and remove the fat later, but the weather really didn’t account for all of the meat exposed to the warm air while we worked on butchering. Much of the fat will go into ground meat or sausages, the rest can make lard.
  4. Try to get your animal to urinate and defecate prior to the butchering process, especially if you plan on saving the blood, intestines, or bladder.
  5. Plan for a backup date if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
  6. Definitely have mise en place – or all of your equipment ready, including your ingredients. It doesn’t hurt to have someone designated as an errand runner “just in case” or to have extras of anything.
  7. Look through several different videos, websites, recipe books, and butchering books to get as much advice and as many ideas as possible.

So, just how much bacon did we bring home from a half hog?

  • Liver (for pate)smoking sausage
  • Bacon (about 10 pounds)
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Ham (back leg)
  • Picnic ham and shoulder (front leg)
  • 4 Trotters for soup
  • Ribs
  • Loin/tenderloins (about 8 pounds)
  • Tons of sausage: breakfast, garlic, Italian, and “bloodless” blood sausage (see above)

What we didn’t bring home:

  • The head
  • Caul fat
  • Half of the sausages, ribs, bacon, pate,
  • Lungs, et al (trash)
  • Stomach (trash)
  • Intestines (trash)
  • Reproductive organs (trash)
  • Skin (trash)
  • Lard (trash)
  • A few bones (trash)
  • I’m still kicking myself about the waste. We just weren’t prepared for the amount that we lost. Next time we’ll be in the know and ready for anything

snausages

Great resources for recipes and butchering:

Charcuterie

Au Pied de Cochon

The River Cottage Meat Book

Ad Hoc At Home

The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making

http://a-homesteading-neophyte.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-butcher-hog-part-1.html

http://www.eatmedaily.com/2009/10/offal-of-the-week-caul-fat/

http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/2008/05/head-to-toe-part-two-pigs-head.html

Last but not least, don’t forget a good helper.

Max

You can find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life where she blargs about life in rural Tennessee. She’s also been featured at Rhythm of the Home. Mostly she’s just a mom, a homeschooler, and keeper of critters.

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September collage
So many of us are working our way toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle. With that in mind we wanted to share some general guidelines of what to plan for on a monthly basis. Whether you’re a gardener, a beekeeper, a forager, or you keep animals, hopefully our monthly guides will help you plan ahead for the month. Depending on your exact climate you may find you need to adjust your schedule plus or minus two weeks or more.

 

September is the time of year that we begin to feel the crisp air of Autumn moving in. Evenings are chilly even though afternoons can be very warm. Autumn fruits are beginning to ripen and the thought of spiced cider seem to warm spirits. September is the time for clear skies, bonfires, and wrapping up Summer’s last duties. It’s a big month for tidying up the garden, so hold back those nesting instincts for another month and enjoy the clear, bright skies and cool air.

Indoors

  • Be sure your root cellar is ready to accept produce. If you’re using boxes with sand or sawdust make sure they’re clean, sanitized, dry, and critter-proof.
  • Be sure your deep freezer is cleaned out. Remove past date items and make room for Fall’s harvests.
  • Complete any chores that require you to keep your windows open. Painting, cleaning carpeting, cleaning ovens and so forth should be finished before it gets cold during the daytime.
  • Wash items that require long, outdoor drying times or those that can only be taken care of outside. Litter boxes, garbage pails, sanitary pails, area rugs, pillows, and so forth should be washed while the remaining warm air can help with drying.
  • Air out winter clothing, blanketing, and other items you may have kept in storage over the warm seasons.
  • Be sure your fireplaces are in working order before you need them. Check that wood stacks are staying dry and are easy to get to.
  • Check fire and carbon monoxide alarms before lighting up your furnace or fireplace for the first time.

Outdoors

  • Be sure your cold frames and greenhouses are airtight and ready to go for the cooler nights. Daytime temperatures can become very hot in these locations, so be sure to open and close windows as needed. Consider investing in a self-opening elbow for your windows. They can save many trips back and forth throughout this fickle weather.
  • Leaves will begin to fall soon. Make sure your compost bins or piles are ready to accept fresh materials.
  • Give one last inspection to your windows and doors in case you didn’t get to them last month. Be sure that they’re air tight and sealed before cold weather really sets in.
  • Change air filters on furnace.

Garden

  • Herbs can be cut and dried for saving. Remember to bring some in to create a window garden for a fresh Winter source of Summer’s flavors.
  • Seed saving and dead-heading can begin once again. Remember to allow some of your perennial seeds to self-sow by leaving only a few “dead heads” or by sprinkling some seed. Save some seed for finches (they adore Echinacea) and other seed lovers. Too many dead heads can lead to disease.
  • Don’t prune rose hips yet if you plan on saving them for jellies or medicinal purposes.
  • Bring in your more sensitive plants as the nights get cooler. Stevia, ginger, and other tropicals don’t like colder weather. Many other herbs can stay outside until the first frosts.
  • It’s a good time to take cuttings of woody plants and shrubs.
  • If you’re planning on dividing or planting bulbs for next year now is the time to do it! Also divide shrubby herbs like lemon balm, oregano, mints, sage, fennel, tansy, and marjoram.
  • Harvest frost-sensitive plants and Winter keepers before your first frosts. Put green tomatoes in paper bags to ripen slowly and use later. Potatoes, onions, and other keepers should be kept in a cool dark place.
  • Cut back dying foliage. Burn diseased foliage as soon as possible. Healthy plants can be put into compost as long as they are seed-free. As fun as it is to have a surprise potato plant sprout from the compost bin, you don’t want those plants (or weeds) to use up all that energy you’ve been saving for your garden!
  • Green manures for cool seasons can be sown.
  • Strawberry runners should be rooted and transplanted by the end of the month.
  • Shrubs and trees, fruiting or not, can be planted now that the cool weather is setting in. Fall is an excellent time for transplants since most trees are storing or spending energy in and on their root systems.
  • Speaking of fruiting trees and plants, remove mulch and prune those that need it.

Animals

  • Put in your orders for Winter supplies of food, straw, and hay.
  • Give a good cleaning to coops and barns to try to avoid housing mice and other small, unwanted critters.
  • September and October are good months for building. If you’re planning on adding to the animal family next year, consider any outdoor units that may need to be added.
  • Repair coops, lean-tos, stables, and other shelters before cold weather sets in. Keep your animals happy and warm at night.
  • Start considering mating sheep and goats for Spring kids and lambs. They’re both on about a 150 gestation cycle so a late month conception would lead to a late February birth.
  • With birth also comes death. Start planning for cold weather slaughters. Animals are best harvested when the weather is below 40 degrees. The cooler the better, especially if you’re inexperienced or have a lot of work to do. Research your product and begin gathering needed items. Mise en place. Have stock pots, seasonings, casings, sharpening stones, recipes, packaging, and tools all ready prior to harvesting.

Wildlife

  • Continue to feed your hummingbirds and other songbirds. Migrations will begin this month and you may have a few unusual visitors to your feeders.
  • Like us humans, wild critters are beginning to stock away for the colder seasons. Allow seed heads to remain on natives and refrain from too much tidying up of acorns and other nuts, seeds, and berries. Skunks, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other small animals need to fatten up to keep warm through the Winter.

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One of our first goals when we began this adventure was to produce our own milk and meat.  We had gardened for a while, but we didn’t really feel like we had taken a major step until we could also produce our own milk and meat.  Many folks I talk with list animals at the top of their homestead dreams.  Others who have been doing it for a while list animals at the top of their homesteading nightmares.  I think the reality is somewhere in the middle.  It can be dreamlike and fun when done correctly and quite a nightmare when it’s not.  Livestock is not like gardening.  It costs a lot more up front, and demands resources every day.  For many homesteaders the family herd is one of the biggest resource consumers in the homestead.  Animals take lots of time, money, and space.  The cycle of production is long, and there is no down time (they have to be fed and cared for 365 days a year.)

That said, they can be one of your greatest resources.  A flock of chickens can keep you in eggs for ever.  Managed correctly they do most of the work taking care of them selves.  They clean up flies, waste, and kitchen scraps with glee.  They turn unwanted waste products into valuable eggs and fertilizer.  But they must also be provided for.  In the summer, our chickens free range on the pasture.  They clean up the flies and spread the manure pats around.  People come from all over to get their eggs.  But I still have to feed them and house them.  I have to protect them from predators and disease.  On pasture they require about 45 minutes a day, every day.  In the winter we park them in the garden.  We have to feed them a lot more (about twice as much), and they give us fewer eggs. 

For milk we started with an Alpine dairy goat.  They are smaller than a cow (only around 130 lbs.)  They eat less, and they eat a wider variety of things.  Our goat gave us about 5 quarts of milk a day for about 10 months.  She also gave us 2 kids who could have been kept to increase our herd or eaten (They would produce around 70 lbs of very nice meat each.)  We manage our goats on a rotational grazing system.  That helps us get the most production out of our pasture while improving the pasture each year.  (I will do a post about grazing management soon.)  Our goat-herd quickly increased.  We wanted at least 2 milkers so we could stager when they were producing and have milk year-round.

While we were happy with the milk production we were getting from our goats we were not totally satisfied with the amount of meat they produced.  We like beef, and goat or lamb, while very tasty, fall a little short of the mark.  Our next animal was a cow.  That is a really big step.  Cows eat about 4 times as much as a goat.  They also need a lot more space.  When we needed to do something with the goats (like shots or worming) it was easy for two of us to pin the animal down and do what was needed.  Not so with a cow.  They require more substantial infrastructure.  We chose a Dexter cow.  They are a small dual purpose (producing both beefy calves and a substantial amount of milk) animal.  Ideally we would also have a bull, but the cost, infrastructure, and space needed to keep him was hard to justify.  Our cow gives us one calf a year.  At age two we butcher the calf which gives us about 400 lbs of meat.  It took 3 years before we harvested our first calf.  We raise them on grass, so they finish a bit slower than commercial beef.

All of this takes  an investment of time, money, and a lot of management to be productive.  We will provide some basic details for planning your livestock adventure in the next few Homesteading 101 posts.  If there are any questions you would like to see addressed about livestock please let us know so we can include answers in the upcoming posts.

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I cook our family’s food from scratch, every day, 365 day a year.  We don’t go out except on very rare special occasions.  I am too cheap and as a vegan to finicky to eat out most places…besides we live in the sticks!

As I covered in my last post about food storage.  Being prepared is also key to running a kitchen efficiently.  To know how you cook and organize your kitchen accordingly.  You do not need a big fancy kitchen to have one that runs will with few wasted steps.  In fact a huge kitchen can be a detriment to efficiency.

There are a few things that should be done before setting up or re-organizing your kitchen….

Get Rid of what you don’t use…

Be realistic.  Do you really need 3 waffle irons?  How about those 15 packets of gravy mix in the back of the spice cabinet?  While you are purging the unneeded look for the outdated, the broken beyond repair, and the things you hate.  For me it was getting rid of a frying pan that I absolutely hated.  I gave it to one of my older sons who are starting out and replaced it with one that worked much better for me.

If you have things that only get used during the holidays move them somewhere besides your kitchen…just remember where you put them.  Keep valuable kitchen real estate for the most used and useful items

Make sure everything in your kitchen is used frequently.

Seriously take a look at how you cook…

Are you a gourmet cook that needs lots of spices?  Do you like me spend vast amounts of time baking? Do you need lots of different pots and pans or will just a few simple ones suffice?  Are small kitchen appliances something that you depend on daily or is a really sharp knife and box grater fine for you?

When you know how you cook organize stations for these tasks…

I have 4 deliberate zones in my kitchen.  One for cooking, one for baking, another for clean up and the last for eating.  Each has the tools for that task within reach.

My Cooking zone…

In this is my pots and pans, utensils that I use for cooking such as stirring spoons, knives, spatulas, ladles, etc. My most used spices are kept near by with my more exotic kept higher in a cabinet.  I also keep my non-stick spray and cutting boards handy.

My Baking zone…

I have a 3 drawers beneath where I bake that I store everything I need for all my recipes for breads and other goodies.  All measuring cups, spoons, whisks are in the first drawer.  Chocolate chips and baking chocolate along with sugars are kept in the second drawer.  Third drawer has cookie cutters, muffin liners, and rolling pins.  All my baking spices are kept within reach of this zone. Next to these drawers is a cabinet with my wheat grinder and Bosch bread mixer. Mixing bowls are within reach also.

Clean up zone…

This includes the sink and the dishwasher and draining board.  I use the cabinet directly over the dish washer to store plates and cups that we use everyday.  This saves steps when unloading the dishwasher.  Towels and dishrags are kept in a drawer next to the sink.

Finally…eating

We keep dishes next to the area we eat along with napkins and the compost bucket.  I also keep a small spice basket there with salt and pepper, Tabasco and sugar

Countertops...

These are a blessing and a curse in my house.  I love having lots of counters but also hate the stuff they attract.  Mail, newspapers, paint buckets, coats, plants (ok, like that one) etc.  It is hard not to use such convenient horizontal surfaces as a dumping ground for everything.

I have made an effort to find places behind doors for most of my kitchen things like appliances…I have found that a cluttered counter seems to attract more clutter where as a clean sparse counter seems to stay neat longer.

Waste Disposal…

Keeping small recycling bins, as well as a bucket for compost in your kitchen makes the items that are actually put in the garbage to a minimum.  It also makes clean up more efficient.

Storage…

I don’t store a lot of food in the kitchen (I use my pantry for that) but what I do store I store properly.  Oils should be kept in a cabinet out of direct sunlight.  Spices should not be stored next to the stove as heat and moisture will affect their flavor.  Make sure foods are stored in areas that are appropriate to that food.

Store your most used items on the lowest most easily accessible shelves with the least used on the highest.

Working efficiently…

If you have decluttered and organized your kitchen you have taken a huge step to efficiency.  Now when you actually step into the kitchen to prepare something you can follow a few very simple suggestions to make it even more streamlined.

Make sure you have all the ingredients you need before beginning…I know this sounds like common sense but I can’t tell you how many times I have been 3/4 of the way through a recipe and found that I was missing an ingredient that I was sure I had.

Gather all your necessary  equipment…don’t waste while working by looking for the measuring spoon or the beaters for the mixer.

Clean up as you go…harder for some of us I will admit.  Have a sink full of soapy water ready even if you use a dishwasher.  As you get something dirty put it in the sink so the food won’t dry and cake on making it much harder to clean later.

Don’t let the dishes pile up on you…nothing is more discouraging than coming into your kitchen and seeing a mountain of dishes.  It does nothing to inspire you to be creative in your kitchen…in fact it might just send you out to eat, and that is not what we’re hoping for here!

Make sure your kitchen is clean before retiring for the night to the couch or going to bed...I know for me this is hard.  After dinner is done I am tired and in no mood for kitchen clean up.  But those mornings that I get up and the kitchen is clean it makes my day so much sunnier.  It also makes me inspired to come into and cook for the family…instead of running away!  So wipe the counters and load the dishwasher, put everything back in its place, you will thank yourself in the morning!

Make extra...if you are making lasagna it is just as easy to make an extra pan for the freezer since you have the mess out anyway.

Remember no kitchen set up is etched in stone…rearrange and tweak it till it works perfectly for you and the way you cook. Making the commitment to cook from scratch may seem overwhelming but  in a well organized kitchen, cooking and baking seems less of a chore and more of an adventure!

Oh and one more tip…

It saves time to have a computer in the kitchen to look up recipes or in this case write a post for NDiN…I actually made bread while writing this!

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and…a camel!


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Nothing is as essential to being self-sufficient as food production and storage of food.  Today I’m going to touch on some ideas for stocking the basic must have pantry.  My goal in my pantry stocking is to have enough of the staples put up so that in the case of emergency I am set at least for a few months…or if my older boys all descend at once I have plenty of food at least for a week or two!

When I designed our house 15 years ago our boys 4, 6, and 8 and I knew that in the teenage years I would need some major food storage capacity.  My pantry is good size but you don’t need a designated room for food storage.  For many garden vegetables a cool garage is great.  Spare bedrooms, hall closets, many different places can be use for food.

I think food storage is a matter of priorities.  I have heard from many people that they just don’t have the room for keeping extra food.  Yet their closets are overflowing with never worn clothing, or cabinets full of appliances they seldom if ever use.  I don’t have a problem with these things but I would not give up perfectly good storage to keep them when I could keep an extra bag of wheat in there.

When I started our pantry from scratch I took the time to keep a journal for a couple of months of what we ate.  I did not want to purchase a lot of things that I would seldom use.  I came up with a basic list of ‘must haves’ at all times from that journal and then fleshed the pantry out from there when I added new recipes and needed new ingredients.

Here is my list of staples. With this I know that now matter what happens I will have something for dinner or in case of prolonged power outage or outbreak of sickness I know we will not go hungry.

Home Canned

  • Canned tomatoes, sauce, and paste (soup base, base for most pasta sauce)
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Fruit Sauces, apricot, peach, and apple
  • Fruit Syrups (we eat a lot of pancakes and waffles)
  • Vegetable Stock

Bulk Grains (purchased in 25# and 50#)

  • Wheat (both white and red for fresh whole wheat flour)
  • Oat Groats (for grinding into flour)
  • Barley
  • Rolled Oats (cookies, oatmeal, crisps, bread)
  • Cracked Wheat (breads)
  • Spelt (flour for bread)
  • Quinoa (cereal and bread)
  • Rye
  • Corn (for cornmeal)
  • Brown Rice

Oils

  • Olive Oil (breads and cooking)
  • Canola Oil (breads)
  • Sesame Oil (Asian/Indian cooking)

Baking Supplies

  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Yeast
  • Salt
  • Molasses
  • Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Egg Replacer
  • Vanilla
  • Spices especially cinnamon

Dried Beans and Nuts

  • Lentils
  • Yellow and green split peas
  • Navy
  • Small white
  • Black
  • Garbanzo
  • Kidney
  • Walnuts (snacking, breads, trail mix)
  • Almonds (snacking, trail mix)
  • Cashews (cashew milk, trail mix)
  • Peanuts (trail mix)

Misc.

  • Raisins (granola, pie, cinnamon rolls, bread, trail mix)
  • Canned Pineapple (smoothies and pizza)
  • Coconut Milk (smoothies and chilled pumpkin soup)
  • Rice Milk
  • Wild Rice
  • Tea (mama needs her tea)
  • Honey (baking, granola, tea)
  • Popcorn
  • Nutritional yeast (vegan sauces, popcorn, toast)
  • Mustard (beans, salads, sandwiches)
  • Shredded coconut (breads and granola)
  • Dried cranberries (trail mix, granola, snacks)
  • Various dried whole wheat pastas
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Balsamic Vinegar (dressings and flavorings)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cornstarch (thickener)

Frozen

  • Peas, corn, green beans, pureed pumpkin and squash, spinach
  • Freezer jams
  • Ice Cream (husband’s indulgence)
  • Roasted Peppers (breads and pizza)

Water

  • Enough for each person to drink and cook with for 1 month (this takes some planning and some room)

This looks like a long list but for us these are the things, along with fresh vegetables and fruits, are what I have come to know are the basics for what I cook.  With the exception of my bulk grains most don’t take up much room even when purchased in larger than usual quantities.  I also try to store in glass as much as possible.  It is easy to clean and doesn’t leach chemicals over long storage periods…not that I’m sure that Tupperware does but just in case.

A few tips for  getting started stocking you pantry…

  • Buy in quantity when you find a good sale.
  • Look at the dates when possible and buy the freshest.
  • Don’t buy more than you can reasonably use before its past its prime.
  • Make sure you have a spot to properly store (example cool dry dark for grains)
  • Don’t over buy if that means kicking spouse out of bed to use it for storage!  Moderation in everything…
  • Rotate your pantry…put the items you just bought at the back of the shelf and use the oldest first.
  • Check things like flours and grains for moth or mice infestation…take care of promptly before they get into the rest.  Better yet  store in varmint proof containers.
  • Start slow…take the time to know what you really need and use.

Remember to just smile when your friends and family tease you about being Noah stocking up for the flood…cause you know who’s doorstep they’ll be standing on when the next disaster hits!

So do you have any tips on food storage…what’s in your pantry?

 

Come back Monday when we can talk about how to store in glass, where to find it…and how to paint on it!

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids…and a camel!

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Next week we will be starting a new series of posts to fill both an information need that has been expressed and our currently empty Friday writers slot.  The series will be called Homesteading 101.  We will try to explore some of the challenges people face when starting out on a homesteading adventure or when adding new skills to their lives.  That doesn’t mean that we think we have all the answers.  WE DON’T!  But, collectively, we have tried (and, at least in my case, messed up) a lot of different things.  Many of them haven’t worked, and we will try to share those things too.  We hope this becomes a great conversation, with readers and guest writers filling in the bits we have no experience with.  We also hope it becomes a resource for folks who are just starting out and for those of us looking for new ideas.

Some of the topics we will be discussing include

Food Storage

Canning

Home Heating

Rain Catchment Systems

Livestock Basics

We would love to hear what you would like to see in this series.

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