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Archive for August, 2009

a welcome resident in our garden

a welcome resident in our garden

A slang term sometimes used by the English to refer to their neighbours the other side of the Channel is “Frogs”. They, in like fashion, sometimes refer to the English as “Les Rosbifs” (the roast beefs). Clearly, we’re referring to each other by what we think we spend a lot of our time eating.

roast beef and Yorkshire pud

roast beef and Yorkshire pud

The French think that our national dish is Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding (which it certainly used to be) but now, as a wonderful example of multiculturalism, it is apparently
chicken tikka masala, an Indian dish adapted to suit English tastes. The English are similarly misunderstanding the French, who do not dine on frogs’ legs and snails each evening. Their own national dish is “steak frites” (steak and chips) although, in typically French fashion, they’d probably disagree with that, each region fiercely defending the rights of its own speciality to be more distinctly French than anybody else’s. And if some claim it to be cassoulet (many do) then one can respond by suggesting that it is of Arab origin: as French as chicken tikka masala is English!

In fact, frogs are becoming endangered and it’s all to do with them being taken from the wild to end up as food; would you believe that it’s been calculated that nearly a billion frogs a year are consumed worldwide, with the French gnawing away at 4000 tonnes of them.

cuisses de grenouilles (frog's legs)

cuisses de grenouilles (frog's legs)

But they’re no longer frogs from France—where frog hunting has been banned since 1980—but rather imported frozen from Indonesia. And don’t be reassured that the frogs are farmed: for a variety of reasons, this isn’t possible on an industrial scale and most frogs that end up on the dinner plate come from the wild. And this isn’t their only problem. Apparently, “amphibians are the most threatened animal group … it is thought that their two-stage lifecycle, aquatic and terrestrial, makes them twice as vulnerable to environmental and climate change, and their permeable skins may be more susceptible to toxins than other animals.” *

With all this talk of food, yet with cuisses de grenouilles definitely off the menu, I offer up the earthy beetroot (a taste I never liked as a kid) starring in a delicious dip. Gabrielle’s current favourite cookbook is Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, a present last Christmas. It’s given us many new ideas, variations on old favourites and has rehabilitated (as least as far as I’m concerned) the beetroot. In this recipe, which she calls “Pantzarosalata”, you boil a large beetroot for half and hour, then peel and dice it, putting it into a blender, along with 4 tablespoons of chopped walnuts, 30g of stale white breadcrumbs, a garlic clove, 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 of red wine vinegar and half a teaspoon of salt … and whiz to a smooth purée. The colour is shocking and the taste sublime!

beetroot and walnut dip

beetroot and walnut dip


(* Frog info taken from “Who Ate All the Frogs” by Jon Henley, in The Guardian 2 7th August 2009, available in slightly different form here.)

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i’m up to my eyeballs right now with zucchinis and cucumbers on top of everything else. i was lamenting to a good friend about this recently and she suggested drying them. what?! you can do that?! a big DUH! moment for me. of course they can be dried! just like everything else i dry.

and it gets better. for the zucchinis, she suggested seasoning them. she had read about the idea on another blog and spoke of seasoning salt and cinnamon and sugar blends. well, i just had to try this for myself!

so, i set to work and began slicing. the cukes dried fairly quickly and are alright dried. i’m not a fan of cucumbers to begin with so i’m a poor judge on the taste. i think ground up and sprinkled in yogurt, they will make a yummy dip for winter time.

for the zucchini, i settled on using one of my meat seasonings by szeged. i chose the rib rub because it was sweet and spicy. the dried zucchini chips were quite delicious! for the next round, i’m going to attempt sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on them for a dessert chip. perhaps whip up a batch of cream cheese dip to go with them by adding a bit of honey and chopped up peppermint or lemon balm to some softened cream cheese. a snack sure to please even the pickiest in my family!

as for dehydrating, it doesn’t get much easier. slice the zucchini in 1/4″ rounds, sprinkle liberally with your seasoning of choice and place on dehydrator trays. about 24 hours later, they are dry and ready to be stored. be sure to put them in an airtight container immediately or they will start absorbing moisture and soften which will lead to molding.

i’m thinking this is going to make a terrific homemade gift for the holidays this year. a quart jar nicely labeled and perhaps a recipe for a nicely paired dip. another tasty way to share my fruits of labor.

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baby malanga

Jack and I had parallel ephiphanies recently.  We both discovered what we want to be when we grow up.

This is no small thing, because we’re both people who would love to have several lifetimes to explore the myriads of opportunities out there in this big world.  We’ve each wanted to “be” so many things.

I never quite understood little children who decided before they were a two-digit age what they wanted to “be,” or maybe I was disillusioned early.  From my earliest memory, I knew I wanted to ride horses, and so until the age of ten or so I knew with absolute certainty I would become a horseracing jockey.  It was my parents who broke the news to me that as a pre-teen I already exceeded the ideal height and weight requirements for that profession.  Ah, life and its nasty little limitations…

I’ve had so many interests over the years that when I hit college age my biggest dilemma was deciding on any one specific direction.  Honestly, I’m glad God’s been in charge of the bigger picture, because left to my own devices I’d still be chasing a hundred pursuits at a time and mastering none.

It was just this past week, in conversation with someone I’ve never met before, that the question of career came up (as it often does when meeting someone for the first time).  She asked me what I would be if I could “be” anything I wanted (as far as careers go), and after thinking for a minute, I had one of those lightbulb moments.  Truly, it really surprised me, because I’ve always wanted to have finished college and have some degree behind my name, and so on.  I’m used to feeling insecure when asked that question, because how do you sum up a lifetime of so many different experiences if they don’t really come with titles as easy to roll off the tongue as A Chosen Career or degree are.

My lightbulb moment is that what we’re doing right now IS my ultimate choice, and all of the many factors that combine to fuel this effort Jack and I blanket-refer-to as Homesteading are simply part of that goal.  Strangely enough (and delightfully!), Jack had a dream that very night along the same lines.  In his dream, he was contemplating what he most wanted to do with his life, and what training he’d need for the new field of his choosing.  And as he was going over and over all those things, in his dream he realized that anything he wants to do ultimately is a skill he wants to add to the Homesteading effort rather than some other direction…and that it frankly doesnt matter what job he has, if it fuels our goals and enables us in our homesteading.

We both came to the realization that what we want to “be” when we grow up is exactly what we’re doing right now…a group effort united with a common goal of creating our homestead.  It is something big enough to incorporate all our present skills and require us to keep learning more…and is what we really want to “be.”  When we grow up.  (don’t hold your breath on that last part, ha!)

This might seem so unremarkable to others, but the fact we both had the same realization at the same time, separately, came as a pleasant surprise to  us.  None of this is independent of what we are convinced is God’s role in overseeing our situation…we pray every day for His guidance in the big matters and small, and to speak of any of this without mentioning that would be inaccurate.  It’s just such a refreshing thing to have it dawn on us that ALL the things we love to do AND the other things we don’t especially love but that are necessary are all wrapped up together in a bigger picture that IS “what we want to do when we grow up”   and we’re already doing it!  We categorize it as homesteading.  And it’s big enough to encompass anything else that gets added to the list.

Except maybe cutting Jack’s hair.  He asks me to cut it quite often, but it’s a risky proposition.  I’m getting better with the hair trimming kit, but he still comes out looking only slightly better than my sister’s Betsy Wetsy doll from days past.  I had tried giving it an experimental Dorothy Hamill cut (without my sister’s permission, oops), but never could get the sides quite even, and ended up “trimming” it right down to the plastic scalp.  I’m still…um…learning the ropes of hair cutting in the present-day, you could say.

Which fact further attests to my husband’s good nature, and also might explain his extensive ball cap collection  😉

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The Value of a Garden

I love the depth of summer when everything in the garden is coming on.  The food is so fresh and so tasty.  It’s fun to cook and share.  The work is mostly done, and it is nice to enjoy some of the rewards.  Sometimes, as I’m trying to get all the prep done, control the weeds, and buy the seeds,  I wonder if it is really economically worth it.  Food’s pretty cheap at the store right now, and even cheaper at the Farmer’s Market.  So yesterday when I came across Daphne’s post about her weeks harvest with details about the cost and the value, I though I should do the same, just to see if gardeningis worth it.  I haven’t kept track of every pound harvested, but here is what’s come out our 20 x 20 vegetable bed in our potager in the past 13 weeks.

Salad greens – salad for 4 every day plus gifts to family and friends   (about 2 lbs/week @ $10.00/lb)

Cooking greens – spinach, chard, kale, etc. – 3 times a week  (about 1.5 lbs /week @ $6.00/lb)

Cucumbers – 5 lbs eaten fresh and 10 quarts of pickles (fresh at $1.50/lb and pickles @ $4.50/quart)

Beans – 10 lbs eaten fresh and 12 quarts of plain beans and 7 pints of Dilly Beans (fresh @ $1.00/lb and canned at $1.50/quart)

Tomatoes – 10 lbs (so far) used fresh and made into salsa (14 pints and more to come) (Salsa @ $3.50/ pint)

also an uncounted quantity of zucchini (12 loaves of bread in the freezer), scallions, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc.

Savings from the garden so far

Salad greens                              $260.00

Cooking greens                        $117.00

Fresh Cucs                                 $7.50

Pickles                                         $45.00

Fresh Beans                               $10.00

Canned Beans                           $23.00

Salsa                                             $45.00

Total                                            $511.75    (plus all the stuff I didn’t count, like the herbs, flowers, etc)

We spent about $80.00 on seeds and plants, and spend about 5 hours a week on gardening, harvesting and canning.  Right now gardening only pays $6.64 an hour.  Guess I could make more money flipping burgers, but I wouldn’t eat nearly as well, and my soul would rot.

 

Overall gardening appears to be worth it economically, and it certainly is worth it for other reasons.

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A kid and her cow

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Yesterday evening we picked up this little gal to add to our farm. Cute in a funny kind of way isn’t she.

If you don’t know about goats she is a boer goat—aka a Meat goat.  We looked for a dairy kid…we owned a couple of Toggenburgs years ago and loved them, however we just couldn’t find one in our price range. Since we weren’t sure we would ever dairy the goat we didn’t want to spend $300 or so on it. Too much money right now with the economy the way it is and with the decision not yet made to even possibly bother milking a goat. We would NOT be keeping a buck…which is why the descision is even more difficult than just “do we want to or not”.

I also  know she doesn’t look very meaty…and no we aren’t going to eat her. She is however doing the “standoff” at o.k corral for mom’s milk versus the hay/grass/calf manna we have offered which is why she looks so scrawny. She had a nice little milk/grass belly yesterday when we picked her up.  Unfortunately not only did we pick her up yesterday evening but she was also unceremoniously weaned at the same time. Poor gal….who by the way is now named Moppet because of her mop like ears.

The reason for Moppet’s addition to our farm is for a two fold reason.  One is that we will soon be weaning our Jersey calf who will have absolutely no one to hang out with during the course of her weaning. Not fun at all for a social animal like a cow, goat, sheep etc since weaning can go on longer than just a few weeks (remember we milk the calfs mother so we can’t expect or assume that after a few weeks her mom won’t let her start nursing again). Also, we need a weeder. Badly! Since selling off our flock of sheep we are becoming over run in our pastures with common weeds that cows do not eat but sheep and goats do. One is POISON IVY—to which I am highly allergic (I am also allergic to mangoes which have the same compound in their skins as poison ivy).  I know all the tricks to do when coming in contact with poison ivy to reduce or eliminate my reaction—but if the animals bring it to me without me knowing then I am in trouble. And it does happen. So…goat to the rescue for both situations.

Unfortunately Moppet isn’t too kean on her calf (who we call usually call Little Miss or just Miss) but she is warming up to her already. Moppet is still doing the foot stomping that sheep and goats do to signal danger when it comes to  Momma cow though—not warming up at all. It’s a size thing I believe :-). In return, Momma Cow is not to sure about Moppet either. In the end it will all work out though. It just takes time. In a week things will be settling down and in two weeks Miss and Moppet  will be friends. Animals take time getting to know one another but usually settle into some sort of companionship after a honeymood period (haha I misspelled that but maybe honeymooD is the right word). We have rarely had livestock that just could not get along (though it does happen). Luckily Moppet does enjoy us. She is very pettable and entertaining even at this point of ownership—a plus for goats over sheep if that is what you desire in livestock. More than likely she will be your normal obnoxiously curious and “in your pocket” goat by the time she is a year old.

The worse thing about getting Moppet though? That she was not yet weaned.  As I type this I can hear her loudly calling for her mom. By this evening I am sure it will be a bit better and by tomorrow evening all over with. Weaning is a very sad thing to me and I just hate to hear them call so desolately. However…she will have a good home here and in addition she will be well fed with good pasture, good weeds and good hay and loved by her new owners and hopefully by her calf too.

I hope everyone is having a great end of the summer and I will see you here next Monday 🙂

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The Basics

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen this time of year.  I’m freezing, dehydrating, and canning to stock my pantry for winter in addition to preparing all of our daily meals. It’s time consuming but well worth the effort.  I’ve never been a big believer in the idea that you have to have the latest and greatest gadgets for your kitchen chores, I do however believe you should own a few high quality tools to help maximize time and effort.

There’s a lot to be said for hand tools, like a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a vegetable peeler.  Properly cared for and sharpened they make your prep work quick and easy.  If you’re a beginner, practice really does make perfect in using these tools.  I personally prefer a box grater to a food processor in that its much easier to clean and takes up a small amount of room in my cabinets.  A few funnels of various sizes makes quick work of canning and bottling.  Though not completely necessary, I’ve found that they keep the mess to a minimum.   

Beyond basic tools is basic maintenance.  Keeping a knife sharpened will save you much time and effort.  Keeping your equipment clean and oiled as appropriate will save you time and money in the long run.  Making sure your gauges read accurate is not only a convenience but in the case of pressure canning of life-saving importance.  Check your oven & freezer temperatures with a thermometer that is not part of the machine, oven temperature gauges are notoriously incorrect, having an accurate temperature will save you from burnt cookies or cakes with raw centers.  A properly tested pressure gauge can be the difference between botulism laden jars of chicken broth and healthy food from your pantry.

A little time and money spent on good tools and maintenance know will save you time, money and energy over many years to come.

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I have a friend, she has a lovely garden with blooming flower borders, lacy trees for shade, a darling garden house, a huge play-set for her grandchildren, and this…

perm3

A vegetable garden that has taken many of her gardening issues and solved them…permanently!

You see as a teenager she broke her neck, she has had serious neck issues ever since.  This precludes her from being able to bend over to tend her garden.  These raised beds have solved that for her.

perm2

She also has many deer that call her neighborhood home.  These hoops are affixed permanently to the sides of each bed with bird netting over the top to keep the deer from nibbling on her produce.  They are also used in the early spring and late fall for frost protection.

I am wanting to do something like this to my raised beds.

She has even gone to the extreme of pouring concrete around the beds to keep down the mess which our rainy Washington weather is known to make.  She also has noted that the concrete helps make for a micro climate the warms sooner and retains heat. 

perm1

Here is her celery crop all tucked in nicely to their bed, covered and protected.

I am tired of trying to solve the same problems year after year, I really want to make smart decisions that will solve these issues once and for all.  So over the last bit of summer and into the fall I am going to try to implement some solutions that will make gardening easier not just for now but for the long haul.  I will keep you updated on this…

Now here is my question for you, as well as myself

What are you doing in your garden to permanently solve some of your garden challenges?

 

 

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Update to original post – I went back to my method of partially cooking my chunky applesauce on the stove top, and then canning it.  Perfection!

To each 5 quart saucepan of cut up apples, I added 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and cinnamon, nutmeg & vanillla to taste.  I cooked the apples on medium heat just until the mixture started to bubble.  I removed the pans from the heat and stirred the pot!!  Just to incorporate the uncooked apples with the cooked pieces.  I covered the pans while I finished preparing my jars and lids.

I processed these in my pressure canner for 10 minutes at 5 pounds pressure.  I process almost everything in my pressure cooker, I use less water, and it takes less time. 

The dark jar is some of the apple butter that was made from the peels and cores.

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100_1684If someone asked me what apple would be best for a homesteader just starting out, I would have to say, Yellow Transparent.  I know it won’t win any prizes for keeping until May, or holding up firmly in pie.  But, it is disease resistant, sets fruit at a young age, bears every year, is the first apple to ripen, and is very tart which makes it a good cooking and eating apple.  All those attributes make it a very good selection for someone interested in self-reliance.

However, it is often discarded as a mushy, old time apple.  Sure, if you wait until it is dead ripe to pick it – but I would think any fruit or vegetable past its prime would be tasteless too.  The key is harvesting when the apples are still light green, just beginning to get a yellow tinge.

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I harvested all the apples on the Yellow Transparent in our yard/orchard this week.  Depending on your location, Yellow Transparent may ripen in July for you, for us it is early August.  This apple is very fragrant and brings the deer in – and they relish apples after carrots and beans, so I make sure I remove the temptation.

I usually start out with grand ideas when I start to preserve something – most of the time it works out, and sometimes not.  This time is in between, and here is how the experiment went.

And before you start shaking your head or getting worried about people who mix canning and experimentation.  Just know this, jams and jellies are a gateway drug – once you get hooked there is no turning back 😉

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First I was going to make my moms chunky applesauce, because I really can’t stand the pablum-like, food mill style applesauce.  I do make some with the food mill if we have small apples that are a pain to peel, but most of that ends up in applesauce cake or something of that nature.

A dream meal for me is mashed potatoes, gravy, pork roast and chunky applesauce!  So with pork roast on my mind I began peeling these nice large apples.

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Next they went into their salt water bath to prevent them from darkening while I worked my way through the first box.

Mild salt solution:  1½ teaspoon salt per quart of cold water.

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Then I cored and quartered the apples, putting them back in the salt water bath as I worked.  At this point my mind began wandering, and I kept thinking about a canned apple pie filling recipe I had somewhere… .  In the recipe, the apples are sliced and mixed with a huge amount of sugar and left overnight to release their juice.  I had tried this before, and we could not stomach the sweetness, even though the recipe calls for the addition of lemon juice.  To me it seemed a waste to take a tart apple and add too much sugar, and then add lemon juice to try to recreate what was there in the first place.  So the ‘ol brain started creaking, and lurched into gear – maybe I could use less sugar, but still let the apples sit overnight and then can the results.  I still wanted chunky applesauce, but I was trying to get out of cooking it and then canning it.  I just wanted to can it in the jars, since these are not the firmest of apples I was hoping this would work.

Let me say here, experimenting with canning fruits is safe.  Fruits are high acid, and will just spoil or ferment, and it will be apparent, so there isn’t the danger factor of vegetables, tomatoes, and meat products.  Do not experiment with recipes for those types of foodstuffs.  Please.

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My next step was to cut the apples in chunks, and add my other ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl of diced apples:  (I used a 3½ quart)

2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 T vanilla
Stir all ingredients together, cover and let sit overnight to allow the apples to release their juice.

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Here is where things started to go awry.  The next morning, (ominous music in background) pack sterilized jars with apples.  Heat the apple juice and pour over fruit.

When I can I always have a smaller jar on hand, because I never just end up with an exact amount.  So for this batch, I had 5 quarts of diced apples and 1 pint.  Because I was going to can these in my pressure canner, I left about a 2″ headspace to allow for expansion.  I called a canning partner in crime, and we discussed the pros and cons of my messing with the recipe and when I got off the phone and looked at those jars, I decided to unpack the pint and put a just a little more in each quart.  Mistake – I knew it might be, but sometimes, well all the time, I have to learn the hard way.  Once that canner is closed, there is no turning back, the next time I would see my “apple whatever” would be when the pressure was down, and I could experience the moment of truth.

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A watch gauge never drops fast enough.

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Mea Culpa!  See the applesauce blurping down the side of the jar?  That means I did overfill the jars, and when the cool contents expanded during the canning/cooking process, the pressure forced the contents out of the jar.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because I want you to know that it is OK to experiment a little after you have a few seasons of canning under your belt.  And that even veteran canners make mistakes, and are still alive to laugh about it.

Next box, I am going back to my moms method and I will cook it first and then can it, and when I do that I will let you know how it turns out.  Meanwhile, I will mark these 5 jars with a notation to use first, since I will need to watch their seals because of the liquid being forced from the jars.

Since I am supposed to post at another blog today, I have wrote about what I did to glean almost every last drop of usefulness from these homegrown apples there.

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For those of you expecting Kristine today, she’s having some computer virus issues but should be back with us next Thursday.

I’m going to try and fill her shoes with a quick but oh so wonderful way to put up those green beans that are hopefully filling your harvest baskets these days.

Dilly Beans

(this makes approximately 4 pint jars, but can easily be doubled or tripled)

  • 2 lbs Fresh Green Snap, Washed with stem ends removed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 heads of dill (4 teaspoons of dill seed is ok, too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 1/2 Cups White Vinegar
  • 2 1/2 Cups Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Canning Salt

Bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil.

In hot and sterile jars, put: 1 clove of garlic, 1 dill head (or 1 tsp of dill seed), and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Fill the jar with beans, allowing 1/2 inch head space.  Pour the vinegar solution over the beans leaving your 1/2″ head space.   Fasten jars with lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Remove from canner and allow to cool before removing rings for storage.  Keep any unsealed jars in the fridge.

Allow to sit for a few weeks before devouring.

Jars of these dilly beans make great gifts too, so make a double batch for your gift giving needs.

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Today I weep.  Part of the income Wes and I were planning on this year was income from the garden.   We have a lovely wrap around porch and have been selling produce since the beginning of July every Friday afternoon.  The rain we have had this summer has made produce yields far less than we expected but we had pinned very high hopes on the more than 100 heirloom tomato plants that we had raised from seed.

I weep today because we are ripping all of those lovely tomato plants out of the ground.  They are filled with green fruit, money on the vine in addition to food in my pantry.  They have blight.  It started in our potatoes and moved to the tomatoes, overnight it seemed.  It is virulent and there is no cure unless you prefer chemicals with your tomatoes and we do not.

If we had been full time farmers with no other forms of income this would have been more than a crying fest it would have been a disaster.  Fortunately we have more than one income stream.  A few years ago when I was working a full time job at one activity it occurred to me that if that job dried up (and it did) how would we survive?  It was at that time that I determined that having more than one form of activity that generated money would be a fine and wonderful idea.

We still have produce from the garden that can be sold off the front porch.  None of it has the high dollar value of the tomatoes but every zucchini we sell or pound of onions is a few dollars we didn’t have yesterday.  I bake bread every week and have several weekly clients as well as folks who drop by to purchase my baked goods.  In the winter I use the time that was spent on the gardens and accept goods from folks on a contract basis to sell online through Ebay.  I also sell excess goods of my own on Ebay as well as occasional garage sale finds.  I have a fiber business that has a store front on Etsy.  Once in a great while if I’m feeling pinched I’ll actually take a sewing commission to make pillows for someone’s home.  Wes helps me with all of the above in various ways, generally shipping and receiving and heavy lifting but we work together at many different forms of jobs around this homestead.

In the future I hope to have chickens and sell eggs, goats and sell cheese and bees to sell honey.  I also am hoping to be able to sell information like how I put food by with a great dehyrator and Wes is planning on doing gardening classes.

In these days of absolutely no job security I think having more than one income generating activity is a smart thing to do.  At the present time I’m splitting my attention about 75% to online money generation and 25% to local money generation.  Over time I hope to balance that out.

This is what works for us, how about you?

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