Archive for July, 2009

Judy’s Question: “I would like to know if you have any ideas or pointers on how a single mother could get a start on getting a homestead. Right now I’m a full time student and have a least three more years left till I will be done with school. Any help or ideas would be a great help.”

Robbyn’s Answer:  Are you speaking of purchasing land?  We’re still in the process ourselves, and it’s been slow.  We scour ads and areas for bargains, plain and simple, and make researching this an ongoing process (helps keep the stress down to keep it relaxed).  We’re “country folk” at heart in most ways, so finding a rural property makes sense.  But we’ll bloom where we’re planted, as they say, till that door opens up.  We’ve had a lot of near misses in land purchase, and they’ve felt like sucker-punches at the time, but in retrospect we’re glad we didn’t force any of them or gone into debt.

For us, our Homestead is our forward vision of our ideal life (which for us means becoming as self-sufficient as possible), and it is also our life Now.  Homestead has had to begin right where we are, with its limitations, and now we see this as an unending process which, for us, may include getting a bigger and less-city-ordinance d property (as in allowing animals), but is overall a lifestyle shift in every area.  We’re students of that change, and the learning will never end (we’ve learned to laugh at the moments we totally flop as simply being an opportunity to find a better way to do it next time…and o to laugh and not take ourselves too seriously!)  😉

To anyone, Jack and I would say build/acquire/ create your homestead (whatever that vision entails in your plan) without getting into debt, and if you have debts in the meantime, pay them off.  I know it’s easier said than done, but this society seems to be credit-driven and it’s so easy to think “just this time” when it comes to short-term purchases, etc. In terms of choosing land, research your possibilities and don’t do an impulse buy.  Know any restrictions (codes, etc) and if it will actually meet your needs.  Are there adjacent properties that regularly and heavily use chemicals? is it accessible, how’s the land zoned, does it have water, etc etc.  And always go and see your land before making any decisions.  Even a topical map doesn’t always show that huge sinkhole, the landfill next door, flooding, etc.  Researching prospective properties at the county building can be vital.  No matter the laws, always be “Buyer Beware.”  Make sure you CAN build on it, or use it for animals, if that’s your plan…and if it comes with water rights.  We had some unwelcome surprises here in Florida of every sort that can ONLY be discovered by going to the county building and researching it there…even online property tax site maps and county maps are NOT always accurate and can unintentionally misleading.

It helps not to spend too much time getting frustrated with your limitations, and give yourself credit for the things you’re doing and learning that may not yet be expressed in terms of dozens of fresh eggs, milk, or garden produce.  As a student, you’re doing a job, and “homestead” encompasses all the skills you need within your vision of your ideal life.   I never think limitations fully eliminate us from the desires of our heart that are in our best interests… we just have to innovate.  I was a single mom for several years and was tied to many things by shared parenting agreement, job location, and finances. 

Both Jack’s and my advice is to get the word out and start now, in ways that are manageable, doing and learning towards your vision (that process won’t end, by the way…it’s the fun part!)  It will be characterized by change and not be static.  No matter if you decide to purchase your own place, relocate, stay where you are, rent/lease, live with parents, etc., finding people of like interest will fuel your momentum, help open doors, and keep you encouraged.  Including your children in the process and engaging their own creativity and ideas can also be fun and interesting. ..I think it’s vital.  Children’s roles are often underestimated, but they are integral to the big picture.  Sharing with them and incorporating their innate curiosity, talents, and ideas and concerns will make this a family journey that’s so rich! 

If you don’t currently live where you can have a garden, or goats, or whatever is in your current ideal of what you want from homesteading that you don’t have right now, you can focus on making some homemade foods from scratch, maybe canning, growing things in pots or sharing garden space with someone whose garden could use some extra pairs of hands. 

I have a friend who currently is a single mom living in a rental house and has her own chickens (less than ten), makes compost and has a worm bin, etc in a very tiny backyard.  She knows a man who does yard work, and asked him for any unsprayed grass clippings which she uses as bedding for the chickens and in the compost.  He, in turn, cares for many properties (his clients’) whose absentee landlords (and no renters) are  only too glad for their backyard fruit and nut trees to stay picked rather than all fall to the ground.  He doesn’t do that as part of his job, but he got her permission to go there and pick fruit…and she does by the sackful!  There is such an abundance of unsprayed and neglected trees bearing fruit in those yards that she has extra and donates them all to the food bank.  And her time spent picking, pruning, and cleaning around the trees qualify to fulfill master gardener volunteer hours.  (Her five year old helps with everything, thinking it’s fun!) And the fallen fruit?  She cleans it up from the ground by raking it into trash bags and takes it home for the chickens.  So far this year she’s had all she and her child…and chickens…can eat of figs, apricots, oranges (citrus don’t go to the chickens), grapefruit, lemons, peaches, limes and so on.  And all because she got to know the neighborhood yard guy…who by the way benefits from her fresh eggs and things she makes from some of the fruit. 

When the word gets out and you share your dreams with others, unexpected doors open up!  If you’re able to have land, you’ll have to find what suits your situation (proximity to work, suitability, affordability, etc).  Three years goes by quickly, and in other ways can be a long time.  It’ll be exciting seeing how things progress in the meantime.  Never underestimate the skills you’re learning as you’re economizing and innovating now within your limitations.  They are all contributing to your homestead invaluably!

Alan’s Answer: For me “homesteading” is a philosophy. It doesn’t take vast tracts of land or obscure skills. It takes a commitment to be responsible for the production of the things one need to meet the basics (food, water, energy, shelter, health.) You can to this anywhere. I’m not saying you can produce everything anywhere, but you can take responsibility for it. You can find things that meet those basic needs that are produced in a sane way in your local area…etc. I am always philosophy driven. Decide what you want as your life. Write your vision/governing philosophy. Build a plan to achieve it. Test everything to make sure it moves you toward your vision.

I like the book AT HOME WITH HOLISTIC MANAGEMENT by Ann Adams as a guide for this process. I’d also recomend a good Permaculture course and a whole (very long list of books). To start with perhaps you should find a local CSA and become a member. Do your work share and learn the gardening skills they can teach you. Learn how to cook, eat, and enjoy what is locally and seasonally available. Stay involved in conversations like this one. Blog about your experiances as a single mom student trying to homestead in the burbs or where ever you live. It will connect you to a larger community of people having the same or similar adventures. Share what you know and what your learn.  Baby Steps.  Good Luck!

Kristeva’s Answer: I don’t have any direct answers about where you could get funding for such a purchase, but I would start by reading Joel Salatin’s “You Can Farm”.  He’s got many great suggestions and brainstorming how to make money from farming; some of them start before you even have a farm! He gives examples of people who started raising chickens in their garage and selling them to co-workers. As he points out, there are many possibilities for you even though you don’t yet own a homestead. Another big thing Salatin stresses
and I agree with is to start ‘practicing’ farming before you actually get the farm. For example, you could start buying fruit in season and in bulk and teach yourself the arts of canning, dehydrating, and other general food preservation techniques. Grow some of your own food in a small patch of ground if you have it and/or find access to it through neighbours or
community plots. Again, you can use this time to learn a lot about growing food, preserving it, and/or begin to sell it thereby starting a business that can move with you when you do get your land. In general, make connections and get known as someone who is a ‘homesteader’ at heart and in practice, and that will get the ball rolling and begin to open doors to
your future! Good luck!

Cassandra’s Answer: Start right now! Begin to experiment with simplifying your life. Teach yourself what you need to feel content with your life and what you can live without. Know, as closely as possible, what you are looking for. But be flexible.  Homesteading is a way of doing things much more than it is a place. Even in the tiniest apartment, you can grow edibles, make soap, mend clothes, avoid harsh chemicals, and conserve energy. You can start doing all those things no matter where you are.

Homesteading means doing a lot of things for yourself, rather than depending on someone else to do them for you. Start with one small change at a time and work your way onto bigger changes. I’m sure you have considered that, as a single parent, you may have to work outside the home. Being in college, you seem to be planning for that. Never forget that, along with your “day job,” raising children, fruits & vegetables, and animals will be another full time job plus some!  Try to be realistic about what you are capable of doing on your own. I think many of us would do well to take that advice (and don’t.) I bet most of us have asked ourselves what we thought we were doing when we decided we were going to do this for ourselves. I do, at least several times a month.

If you already have these things settled in your mind and are just looking for your location, I can only suggest that you start saving now. This will be easier to do if you start to simplify your life. Write down, very specifically, what you want your homestead location to be like and start looking for it. Don’t be surprised if the perfect place almost seems to find you.


Stuart’s Answer:  I’m with everyone that said “homesteading is about your whole life, a way of mind first before it’s about acquiring land, etc.” or some such.  For getting starting in farming and smallholding, have a look at the Land Stewardship Project website, specifically for their “Farm Beginnings” course.  Their podcasts are great too.

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refashioning, recycling, making do with what you’ve got…they all mean the same thing: taking something old and making something new from it.

at the beginning of this month, i talked about homeschooling during the summertime. in that post i mentioned field bags that were made from old pants. this month, i’ve worked on making some for my kids: my oldest daughter got one out of light turquoise corduroy, my oldest son, one out of some old camoflauge pants and my youngest daughter, a salmony pink corduroy.

about the time i was making them, one of my favorite purses was falling apart. it was a simple purse, a rectangle with a zipper on top and a side pocket zipper. both zippers broke, the fabric came unstitched on one side and the cotton string strap broke. it was time to retire the purse.

i’ve had the purse for at least 10-15 years and so i was sad to see it go. i started taking it apart to save the neat fabrics, hoping to use it in another project down the road. that’s when i had an ‘aha!’ moment. i could take some mossy green corduroy pants, use the fabric for pockets or patches and viola! a new purse with the old feel to it. yay! unfortunately, i wasn’t insightful enough at the time to take pictures of the process but i have patched a few in here that will hopefully give a better visual of what i did.DSCN4934

i started by cutting off the bottom of one of the corduroy pants legs. there was some embroidery stitching around the bottom that would add a decorative element to the purse. originally, i just ripped the seams from the bottom, turned it inside out and sewed a hem but the leg was not straight so i ended up ripping out a side and sewing it in a straight line as well. while it was opened up, i laid the bigger piece of old purse fabric on the right side of the seam and pinned it to there. i decided it would become a flat outer pocket, one i could stash receipts and shopping lists in to keep the rest of the purse clutter free.DSCN4932

i straight stitched and then zig zag stitched (oh how i wish i had a serger!) three sides of the fabric onto the outside. on the opposite side, this time on the inside, i pinned the smaller piece of old purse fabric to create a pocket on the inside. i straight stitched it on. the thread blends into the corduroy well and you can’t see the stitches on the outside.DSCN4937

then, i turned the whole thing inside out and sewed up the side and bottom, zig zagging to reinforce it.

next up, the handle. i took the length of the leg and cut 2 5″ strips from it, as long as the length would allow. then, i sewed one end of each together to make a doubly long strip. i ironed down the excess fabric and then sewed up one side and turned the piece right side out. i decided to zig zag the entire strap on both edges to accent the zig zag stitches on the front panel pocket. then, i pinned each end inside the purse and sewed around the edges creating a box.DSCN4936

done! i am thrilled with this new purse of mine. this was a fun project that took me about an hour or so to complete, maybe a little longer because i was making it up as i went along but if/when i do it again, it will go a lot faster!DSCN4939

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cuppa gynura

Isn’t winter supposed to be the time to get the flu??   (Inquiring Robbyns want to know…)

I’ve had it now for three weeks, and counting.  I don’t make a graceful invalid.  This I know.  I’ve also been trying not to miss any work, either, so that’s made things interesting around here.

Jack’s very busy with work, though he’s helped me so thoughtfully in so many ways. (many!)  But I don’t have any recent batches of homemade soup left in the freezer, and I don’t feel good enough to undertake the soupmaking process from frozen turkey to the finished product.  We do so much with the turkey, we use everything but the gobble, but feeling like I have a concrete block for a head makes me stare at the freezer contents a long moment, pour some hot tea, and refrain from filling the fridge with what may remain in there wayyyy too long between eatings and end up as so much Refrigerator Roadkill…if you know what I mean.

(I’m aware I just perpetrated a whopper of a run-on sentence.)

Summer is just in the middle of what was to be my gardening glory…sunburns, harvests, weedpulling, nurturing the many little new things and keeping the old ones watered and surviving.  I guess assessing things now at Week Three has brought on this State of the Garden address.  Oh, I’m getting better slowly, but the final stages of my ague have rendered my right ear what I imagine it would feel like to have Tiger Woods lodge a championship golfball at close swinging range squarely into my ear canal, full force. 

My amazing golfball ear and I, a bit sullenly,  are looking out the window at what was only recently my garden.  It’s almost night, and my sun-faded hoe is still propped against the same bit of wall and leaf-littered tile on the back lanai.  Behind it, a thick  impervious wall of green (that used to be My Garden) darkens until the coming of night is fully ripe and all the edges blur into deep umbers.  Another day has passed, and I am more distanced from the object of my dreams, patience, and expectations.  We’ve been absent too long from each other, and Jack’s and my collection of carefully nurtured plants have either beaten a hasty retreat or gone riotously feral.

(Where has Jack been?  Working like a champ, and me not able to take up the slack)

This jungle of celullose, filament, and fiber has conspired to bury all my unnaturally-straight lines and methods of containment beneath a verdant lava flow of rampant Bermuda grass and other weeds I can’t yet identify but am sure probably contain cures for all modern plagues and for Tiger Woods-impacted ears like mine.

(My ability for run-on sentences, however, seems to remain unimpaired…)

Evidence of my former attempts at civilized order of vegetable, vine, herb and flower awaits discovery.  When I’m fever-free I will have to quickly begin the re-excavation of my Backyard Krakatoa.  In the meantime, the object of my affection (the garden) seems to be enjoying itself a little too much…like a good joke shared between friends except one of them laughs a little too long and a little too hard.

Yes, garden, get your yucks now.  The hoe and I will have a big reunion soon…and if you get too jiggy, Jack just might endeavor to call you A Cover Crop, mow you under and start from scratch again!

I’ll get better, regroup, and get out there for another suspense-riddled episode of Survivor, as I see what plants made it and which didn’t.

In the meantime, I’m preoccupied being a bad patient. I’ve been sleeping about as much as groaning… a lot. 

We do a lot of prevention when it comes to health around here.  I’d give us high marks for improvement compared to not so long ago.  Still, this is a reminder that the unexpected needs to be figured into our real plans, and contingencies put in place as much as possible for the most vital elements of our homestead…now and in the future.  This not only applies to health and sickness, but to aging, injuries, job changes, transportation changes…so many areas.  Right now, we have a little more leeway in experimentation and letting some things slide…as in the garden just now.  But ultimately, we’ll be exponentially far more invested in depending on that very garden for most of the food we eat, and it’ll be crucial.

Into the conversation go all these things.

I’m interested in knowing how experienced farmers/homesteaders deal with illness and injury, things such as those that are unexpected, and still keep the place running smoothly…or at all.  I’d love to hear advice from anyone who’s been in that position!

In the meantime, I’ll deal with the remains of this flu and tend to the golf ball.  Never been my favorite sport, anyway.  😉

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From city mouse to country mouse

I do not have a background in farming or agriculture. I was raised in Vancouver and until I was in my thirties, I had only been once to a farm–when I was 5 years old. That trip was very influential, and I immediately liked the idea of living on a farm. The biggest impression I recall was seeing the ‘Big Red Barn’ all nicely stacked with hay–it was a 5 year old’s dream to play in the barn with the other kids and feral cats.

When I moved to New Zealand, I was in heaven. I never did own a ‘real’ farm there; you don’t have to. There are plenty of opportunities to live vicariously, and so I did. I volunteered on a few farms and soaked up as much as I could. I did eventually buy some land there and together with my husband, we built a house on three acres outside Palmerston North in the Pohangina Valley. Well, not exactly in the valley but up on a hill overlooking the valley. It was there that I got my first chickens and, later, ducks. Our neighbour, Toni-the-Greek, donated a ‘chicken starter kit’, read three hens and a rooster. The chickens did the rest of the work and happily replicated themselves.

The following year, Toni-the-Greek gave us a Muscovy duck ‘starter kit’ which was less successful than the chickens, and I learned what the term ‘like a sitting duck’ meant. Until that point, we were excited about the duck who had gone broody and was sitting on a nice batch of eggs. I don’t remember how far along into the incubation process she was, but one morning when I went out to check on her all that was left, of what had been until that point an idyllic scene, were her feet. We never did successfully hatch baby ducks there. We sold the property and the buyers wrote the chickens and ducks in to the agreement to purchase!

After this experience, I knew I never wanted to live without my own patch of dirt and flock of chickens.

The big move to Bella Coola:

I moved to Bella Coola, on the west coast of BC 6 years ago (2003), and bought a 4.1 acre property there 3 years ago. It had 2 acres of lawn which took more than three hours on a ride on mower to mow; it was, a friend said, a “two beer lawn.” I wanted to establish a food garden.

Why? I had a longstanding dream to be sovereign in my food. I wanted to either grow, raise, hunt or fish for everything I needed. I was also aware of the hypocrisy of being a meat eater: this, I thought Michael Pollan would conclude, is The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Agrobusiness, with its terrible food and animal treatment practices, was not for me.

My first addition was chickens. I had raised them in New Zealand and knew that there were easy: they provide a good source of protein and (a not insignificant consideration) they provide good entertainment. Thanks to a friend’s incubator, we soon had 22.

Suddenly we needed fencing. I returned from the store with fencing materials and a goat. Soon we had 5 goats. Ducks were donated for our pond, and almost instantly we had a farm. Animal accommodations were the next job, followed by fruit trees: apricot, pear, quince, plum, 2 apples, crabapple, peach, 5 cherry trees, 2 gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, more blueberries, a strawberry patch, huckleberry, saskatoonberry, 4 kiwi fruit.

Once I had my 'Big Red Barn' I felt more like a 'real' farmer!

Once I had my 'Big Red Barn' I felt more like a 'real' farmer!

YEAR ONE (2005)

Having moved in in April, it was all go. With our roto-tiller we turned lawn into garden, around 2000 square feet. We fenced it 6 feet high with old fishing net to leap deer out, and divided it into 3 sections so that the chickens could turn over one area while I planted another. Our property had some well established fruit trees, including 2 cherries, 2 kinds of pears and 2 kinds of apples. A peach tree died in the 2007 winter. It also had 2 high bush cranberries, 3 blueberries, a red grape and a green grape.

We also built my very own big red barn.

YEAR TWO (2006)

More converting of lawn into veggie garden, including a potato patch. We threw in horse manure form down the road, household compost, leaves, hay, and cardboard on top. We enjoyed our own harvest, especially of cauliflower, cabbage (the biggest and best tasting I’d ever experienced), broccoli, zucchini, and blueberries. We made a new berry patch, laid down sawdust paths and made our vege beds permanent: we now had about 3500 square feet under cultivation.

We got 6 broad-breasted turkey chicks from Rochester Hatchery and thoroughly enjoyed raising them; they were polite and curious, and tasted great at Thanksgiving. (My husband brought one out to me via Westjet!) We didn’t have the time to winter them over (the valley requires snow shoveling the paths almost daily), and the ducks were moved into the turkey house.

Veggie garden facing south.

Veggie garden facing south.


In the summer of that year, frustrated at being laid off and wageless, I moved to Regina to a part time job and the prospect of up-skilling. On March 24, 2008 I woke up, looked at my closet for what to wear and thought: “I don’t want to do this any more. My sister enjoys dressing up; I want to be in my gumboots and overalls in my garden. If I continue with my PhD I’ll end up with a good career where I have to dress properly every day!” I was 2 provinces from everything I loved: my garden, my husband, my animals. My life was there. At last I was ready to accept my husband’s offer to support me through his teaching job; this was my chance to indulge myself in the farm. I would attempt food sovereignty—and maybe write a book about it, too. I was apprehensive about this decision, because I didn’t grow up on a family farm and had always thought that this accident of heredity precluded me from being a farmer. But if I could get a PhD, surely that same diligence would help me become a farmer, especially with the resources available to me through neighbour farmers in the valley and the now voluminous resources of the Internet.

YEAR FOUR (2008)

Capital expansions:

This year, we built a new turkey barn, complete with a nursery room to raise hatchlings. On the left hand side will be the home to the 99 chickens as I get the ‘herd’ built up to that number. On the right hand side at the back is the brooder room where I am presently raising 25 turkeys. It is all lined, insulated and cosy warm for the babies and full grown animals.

The new chicken coop complete with feed room and nursery room.

The new chicken coop complete with feed room and nursery room.

We also built a greenhouse. I’m hopeful we’ll actually get some tomatoes and basil this year! We just don’t have the heat units for the tomatoes to be successfully raised outside, and it is simply too wet in general for basil. Of course, a greenhouse will also extend our growing season for greens during the fall.

Year five (2009)

Animal expansions:

I have never managed to be completely self-sufficient in chicken or turkey. In light of the project (and developing way of life), I plan to raise more chickens and turkeys this year than in previous years. I have ordered 50 new day old cornish cross chickens, and have 30 turkeys in the new brooder barn (waiting for the cornish crosses to get butchered so they can move into the real coop!).

This year has been the year of the goat! At the end of hunting season last fall, I looked at the goats and thought, “You’re just small deer. I could shoot you and eat you.” So I borrowed a buck and got two of the three gals pregnant. Together, those two gals doubled my herd! I had five goats (two wethers and three does) and now have five gorgeous kids on the ground.

It was also the year to get rid of the ducks which I did earlier in the year for the following reasons: They are unreliable layers of eggs, not very good mothers, and too cute to kill. Not that the other creatures aren’t also cute, but the ducks take the cake in that department.

I have just ordered a milking machine for the goats and will be venturing into the wide world of goat dairying! This has been my dream since starting on the whole project. I’ve wanted to milk my own goats but needed to wait until I was confident enough to do them in and eat their kids. I’m still not sure I’ll be able to do it; but I’ve got a few more months and another hunting season to muster up the courage again.

What makes a ‘real’ farmer?

It has been a long time for me to get accustomed to the idea that I am farming. I have not considered myself a ‘real’ farmer. For a long time I have wondered what it would take for me to consider myself a ‘real’ farmer. Until recently, I have not really been able to articulate that. I think it will be when I get farm status and actually make the animals pay for themselves. To that end, I have just sent off my application for farm status! I think that getting the status and then the ‘farmer card’ will help me think of myself as a ‘real’ farmer.

I would love to hear from others the answer to this question. What makes a ‘real’ farmer?

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My family loves heavily seasoned food which I think I have mentioned here on more than one occasion. For some reason we just have always enjoyed all the flavors in our foods to be strong and “knock it to you”. No matter what we make…soups, stews, casseroles, breads, chutneys, jams etc…we usually cook with lots of mingled and strong flavors. Because of this, and because I prefer organic produce, I grow quite a bit of our own seasonings each year. This way I can be assured that not only are the seasonings I use organic but they are as fresh as they can be.

Now before you think I have some amazing herb garden out there besides our veggies, fruit and livestock (time, what time??), I will mention that there are seasonings that I don’t really mess with. Like celery seed. I use that in such small quantities during pickling that it just doesn’t seem to be worth trying to mess with celery (not my favorite plant anyway) to get that 1/16 th of a cup of seed at the most that will go through my kitchen. However there are some spices/herbs that we use so much of it IS worth growing. Some of those are dill, basil, cayenne, jalepeno, garlic, lemon grass, mints, thyme, oregano, tarragon….Obviously each persons eating habits and climate will dictate what they grow and store herb wise.

Once you have herbs in your garden or yard there are a number of ways to preserve them. Generally I use all of the preservation techniques for them, some more than others though. I can them in various forms to eat as a condiments like onion jams and relishes or recipes like Italian seasoned tomato sauces. I freeze some like basil and pesto so that I will have “fresh” to use—besides I have yet to find pressure canning procedures for pesto and/or a basil paste type recipe. Some I store in a cool location like onions or garlic, though as I mentioned these also go into canned condiments. Lastly I dry. Of all the forms I listed, drying is my favorite because it doesn’t require very much effort and as long as it is stored properly it will last until the next season. Generally I have a very good climate for drying things which makes it even more convenient —-and free.

You can of course dry most anything. Truthfully I can’t think of one single spice/herb that I have used that can’t be dried. Onions, garlic, basils, mints, thymes etc….all can be dried and saved for use in the winter when their not available fresh. Or in the case of onions and garlic which are more easily kept in their fresh form than say basil… they can be shaken into a soup or stew without the hassle of cutting them up. We use capacious amounts of garlic salt in our not canned salsas and pico de gallos. I have to admit though…I haven’t made it to the point of getting enough garlic or onions dried to be self sufficient in that. Those “herbs” are more aromatic (and understatement right?) during drying and must be done outside and in large quantities to make it worth while. Excellent when done though—very fresh tasting as all home grown food products are.

As many spices as there are there are almost as many ways to dry: racks and screens with light cloths to keep off bugs, solar “enhanced” units, hanging in bundles, electric units with fans and ovens with pilot lights. In some places even aga ranges and wood stoves help speed the process. All work fine, have pros and cons, and depend on what you have on hand and how low or high tech you want to get. I have used most all of the methods above (no aga for me though) but generally settle on screens in my truck, faced away from the sun, with the windows cracked slightly or my electric dryer when it is very humid or rainy and I have started drying something that can’t seem to finish because of bad weather. I consider my truck to be one form of solar “enhanced” drying—though I would love to have a real solar dryer with a solar powered fan. I do prefer my truck over my backup method because the downside of my electric dryer is that it uses electricity and is small compared to my screens. On the other hand the screens are a bit annoying because they twist and can sometimes sag a bit but hey…they work and it is free energy to dry with. As I said each has its place and pros and cons.

Basically in the spring when I get started I choose a block of my garden for each herb I will grow. Each block is sized for the amount I hope to get. I know that some people will plant herbs within other plants to protect from pests but I find it difficult to harvest later in the summer when time is tight. Using basil as an example, if I had it planted near my tomatoes I would have to pick through and make sure no tomato leaves got caught up in the product. In the block though I can come in and shear off as much as I want without worry of other plants being caught up — persistent weeding is encouraged to do this type of harvesting 🙂 It is always easy to tell where I have harvested because portions of the bed will be just inches tall while other portions will be quite tall.

I then pick out any bad leaves I might have inadvertently harvested and just lay all of it out on a screen and dry it. After it is fully dried I strip it over a bowl or container. Stripping the leaves off the stems after drying is a huge time saver. I know stems can bog down the drying process on occasion but over all I don’t have a problem and find de-stemming after the fact easier, and way less tedious, than doing it before drying. I also de stem my peppers after drying since they just snap off—all except jalapeños which seem to get stuck on after drying and  need to be cut off at the start.

If you decide to dry something like garlic or onions you will have to slice them first to facilitate drying…after that you can treat them basically the same as any other dried herb. And don’t bother trying those in your “improvised solar dryer” like your vehicle. Unless of course you want to smell like alliums when you get to your destination.

I store each of my herbs in a larger jar or container until I collect enough to grind. After I get enough to bother grinding (usually a full jar) I use a small coffee grinder to pulverize my dried herbs…you can see the picture of it below. It’s a Hamilton Beach with a mini food processor type blade on it. It was a cheap investment originally and since I use it ONLY for my herbs it has lasted a while. No nuts or seeds go in it….no salad dressing oils and vinegars….and absolutely NO coffee. Nothing that will leave a permanent oil/scent/smell that could transfer to my herbs. I usually hand wash it but do soak it or put it in the dishwasher after hot peppers—just in case.

After pulverizing in my grinder the powder goes into my “pretty” storage jars and extras go into canning jars to store in a cool, dry, dark space to keep as much of their freshness as possible. Since they reduce so much after grinding, your initial pre grind jar will be much much larger than your “after” jar. You can see that in the picture too. The reduced jar recently was about as full of leaves as the other jar in the picture. However don’t let that fool you—a little bit of home dried and ground herbs goes much much farther than store bought. They are just so much fresher that they can’t be compared to store bought and more of the oils are still in there waiting to excite your taste buds. Mmm…

When I first began doing this I started only with the herbs we use the most…then I added more. The reason I could add more is that as I became more practiced, and refined my technique, it no longer took me much time at all. I know to people who don’t do this it sounds very time consuming…but it’s not. It is a bit of a space consumer during drying, especially if you need or want a full quart jar or more of something like basil, but over time you will find, like I did, that it is quicker and easier than it originally seemed. Beyond that the flavors are so superior, and you may find yourself growing, drying and grinding the majority of seasonings used by your family. Talk about quality control!

P.S…that is the electric dryer behind the jars and the grinder. I like it…but I think it is drying less well this year. I have owned it about 4 years I think. So it’s o.k…but as I said not my favorite.


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A Scavenger Kit

2en I’m out running errands, I’m always keeping an eye out for things I can scavenge.  Whether I’m looking for wild berries or pieces of wood or pipe for a project around home, I try to keep aware of my surroundings.  I’ve found many things this way including trellis material, wood scraps for building projects, flower pots galore, and much more.

I’ve learned that its best to be prepared for those times when items appear by keeping a “scavenger kit” in my car at all times.  The kit contains:

  • Leather & cloth gloves: Good for picking up sharp and/or dirty items (think scrap wood) when you need to stay clean and don’t want to get splinters.
  • Plastic Bags: Great for bits of wild berries or other edibles.
  • Measuring Tape: To make sure those pieces of scrap wood are the right size.
  • Rags: How else would you dust off that dirty mirror to make sure its worth hauling home?
  • Bucket: Great for storing the entire “kit” and for containing your scavenged treasures.
  • A few tools: Screwdrivers, pliers, and a hammer come in handy.

Once you have your kit packed, keep it in your trunk for quick and easy access.  Now start keeping your eyes open, looking for bits of color in the trees and bushes for wild fruits (don’t pick within 50 feet of a roadway).  Look for discarded items on the sides of the road, drive slowly past houses on trash day, take a look inside and around the dumpster when throwing away your trash – sooner or later you’ll find some things you an use.

Don’t allow your scavenger kit be an excuse to pick up clutter, but rather use it as a frugal resource for the do-it-yourselfer.  Happy hunting!

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I May Not Have…

We live on 10 acres.  Our land has so much potential…if Martha lived here everything would be different!

I do not have a proper English double border…although there is room for one.

I do not have a rose garden…although the elk would love it!

I do not have a cottage garden surrounded by white pickets along my front walk…although I would adore that!

I do not have a pound with lillies and koi…although I do have a water trough.

No cutting garden, no white garden, no secret garden…

There are many grand and wonderful things that I could have,  but because of time, energy…and money, I don’t.

But what I do have I love…


I have sunflowers turning their heads to the sky…



I have sweet juicy berries ready to harvest…



I have pumpkins starting to color up…


potato blossom

And potatoes blooming like crazy…


bean blossom

As are the beans…



No lace covered bistro table… but there is lace…



There are cosmos…


eggplant bloom

And eggplant blooming.


No I do not have a front garden surrounded by an antique iron fence…

iron beans

But I do have a little piece of fence that beans are scrambling up..


No…Martha Stewart would indeed do it differently.

But for me, my little vegetable garden is…

A Very Good Thing!

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medicine chestthe family medicine chest is an ongoing series on the fourth thursday of each month.

all sorts of beauty products can be made at home for a fraction of the cost. shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hot oil packs, facial packs, body packs, body scrubs, body salts, creams, bath bombs, toner and more. last month, i gave a recipe for a simple soda bath. there are lots of easy recipes that combine only one or two ingredients. in fact, popular face masks include simply mashing avocados or cooking oatmeal and applying them to your face. or even simpler, smear honey on your face, let it sit for 15 minutes then wash off with warm water while gently massaging your face with your fingertips.

bath salts can be as simple as mixing equal parts of baking soda and sea salt with a few drops of essential oil of choice. massage oils and hot oil packs for hair are made the same way any infused oil would be made.

lotions can be one of the more complicated products to make. it’s similar to making mayonnaise, combining ingredients together that don’t normally mix well. in the case of lotion, it is water and oil. a great recipe to try is rosemary gladstar’s “rosemary’s perfect cream”. a copy of the recipe can be found online at recipenet. this recipe is made in the blender but a stick blender could be used as well.

there are dozens of books available on the topic of bath and beauty using herbs. some of my favorites include:

earth mother herbal by shatoiya de la tour

earthly bodies and heavenly hair: natural and healthy personal care for every body by dina falconi

the bath and body book: creating a personal oasis with natural fragrances, scented lotions and decorative effects by stephanie donaldson

the herbal body book: a natural approach to healthier hair, skin and nails by stephanie tourles

i highly recommend requesting books through your library loan system to look through and try out before purchasing. make sure the recipes are easy to follow and the ingredient lists aren’t too extravagant. try making a few of the recipes to see if you like how they are made and how well the end results are.

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An Introduction

Hey, y’all, from southwest Mississippi. I am Cassandra of The Thinker’s Rock blog and I’m thrilled to be a part of the NDIN team.

 I live with my husband, JF and five year old son in an old ranch-style house on a couple of acres in a very rural part of the state. Back in January, I quit my job as a property manager/secretary. My being at home is something we’d been working toward for a while.

 I spend the vast majority of my time answering questions posed to me by my little son. When I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of chickens, rabbits, our home and the garden (not necessarily in that order.)

 My goal is to produce as much of our food as possible in our own yard. Each year, I turn a little bit more of the lawn to food production. I also try to reduce the amount of consumables we use. JF & I both are trying to learn skills we can use to reduce our dependence on others, such as doing home repairs and preserving our own food.

 I have many more ideas and much more enthusiasm than I have experience. So most of the time, I am just trying out things to see how they work. Sometimes, I get lucky. If I seem like a mad scientist going about testing out one theory after another, it’s because I am like that!

 I’m excited to be sharing my ideas and experiences with you. I am always hopeful that someone will read something I have written and be inspired to try it, or try something new, for themselves. Trying is how we learn!

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Goat Milk Fudge

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the wheels coming our our wagon – having to retool our enterprise mix to try to keep our farm moving toward sustainability and independence without destroying the family.  Goat milk fudge is one of the products we tried, and it has really taken off.  Tansy’s recent post about having too  much milk prompted me to post about making fudge.  It is a good use for extra milk, it sells well if you are selling things at market, and it makes a great gift item.


Fudge is basically sugar, milk, and butter with some kind of flavoring added.  You cook the mixture to the soft ball stage ( about 234 deg F).  Cool it to about 110 deg. F and stir until thick.  It is deceptively simple.  The art of fudge making is in the flavor choices and the cooling/stirring.  The best fudge has tiny sugar crystals when it is set.  The smaller the better.  Stirring at just the right time in the cooling process is what produces these crystals.  Too early or too late and you get a grainy/sandy feeling fudge rather than the smooth creamy candy you wanted.

Our basic chocolate fudge recipe is

3 C sugar

1 1/2 C goat milk

1/2 C butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 C baking cocoa

Mix the sugar and cocoa in a large pan.  Add Milk.  Bring to a boil.  Boil gently until mixture reaches the soft ball stage.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla and butter.  Cool and beat until thick.  Pour into buttered 8 x 8 pan.  Cool and cut.


Right now we are trying to create a few more flavors to sell at the market.  We are selling chocolate, chili chocolate, peanut butter, butter pecan, and lemon chocolate.  We are having a contest to try to develop some new flavors.  Come share your dream fudge flavors with us.  You could win a prize.

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