Archive for the ‘Readers’ Questions’ Category

Reader’s Question: I do not use any paper products regularly except toilet paper (which I am working up the initiative to quit). For years though I have purchased one roll of paper towel to keep only for draining fried foods on. It of course lasts and lasts. However…I am ready to kick the habit. What alternatives do others use if at all? I have tried a “special” piece of fabric used only for that but it eventually becomes difficult to clean even with soaking. So…thoughts? ?

Cassandra’s Answer: I gave up paper towels a while back. I use newspaper or paper grocery bags (increasingly hard to come by) for draining fried foods. Some people say they are worried about the ink discoloring the food, but I have never had that happen. That first layer of grease seems to produce a film that keeps the ink away from the food.  The other thing I do is use a wire mesh strainer. I got a set of them at the dollar store with various sizes. One of them is quite big. Almost as big as a large mixing bowl. I sit the strainer on a bowl (there are two tabs on the strainer that make it rest on the side of a bowl.) Then, put fried foods in the stainer. I do this especially with bacon, or something where I want to save the drippings. But it works just as well for anything.

Alan’s Answer: We use mesh baskets and cooling racks. It’s more cleaning than the paper towels, but actually drains better and costs a lot less. With small fried things you can scoop them out with the mesh basket and set them aside to drain. Easy and low mess. Paper towels creep back into our world when company comes. Some people have a really hard time with cloth rags.

Kathie’s Answer: I use a towel and the best one I’ve found is a “terrible towel” its one of those towels that Steeler fans wave at games.  While I’m sure this is some kind of sacrilege to Steeler fans, its the perfect thickness and doesn’t seem to get so greasy that I can’t get it clean.  I do train to let things drain really well using a wire mesh scooper to remove things from oil.

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Reader’s Question: What advice do you have for folks wanting to get started in saving their own seeds?

Kathie’s Answer: I think its easy to start seed saving with beans and peas.  Let those pods dry on the vine, remove the dried seeds from the pods and put the seeds into a paper or cloth envelope.  If the seeds aren’t completely dry, let them dry on a towl in a single layer for a few days.  The great thing about starting with beans and peas isn’t that they don’t generally cross-pollinate.  I don’t have a large garden and I live with a mile of several other home gardens which means I can’t save seeds that cross-pollinate all that often, sadly.

Monica’s Answer: I don’t really have any great advice for seed saving other than these few things that have helped me along the way: 1. Look on line or in books for specific seed storage. Some seeds can be in envelopes and some need a bit more special or specific storage conditions. Some even need little “dehumidifiers” . (you can get those from your medicine bottles) 2. Find some way to keep all your seeds together. A box, a container etc. That way you know where they are next year when you need them. Goodness knows I have stumbled I seeds in drawers AND boxes AND containers.. .all in the same growing season. Decide on a place for your seed storage spot and stick with it. (This helps whether you save or buy seeds) 3. Mark all your seed packages!! At times I have marked mine with something like “calendula”- 2005. A year or so later when I was ready to use them again I had no memory of where I got them originally or what type they were. I now keep a log of where I purchase seeds from and then I can just mark the seed package or piece of paper inserted into the storage jar with something like these examples: Green Beans: Emerite Filet 75 seeds. 2009 – Cowpeas: Ozark Razorback 350 seeds 2009 – Cowpeas: Burkina Faso 75 seeds 2009 If I need to replace them for some reason I can go back to my log book/page and see who I originally purchased them from because I know exactly what kind and variety they are. I can also make comments about each variety in my log book and not have to try and cram it on the seed package. The way I do it above also allows me to order them alphabetically —the flat packages anyway. That way when I want to see what type of tomatoes I have I don’t have to search through a big stack of seed packages. I just look under tomatoes and all my packages are there with their names on them.  4. I also learned that savings seeds was much easier than I thought and it gave me a feeling of being very self sufficient. I have to admit though…those darn glossy pictured seed catalogs just SCREAM at me to buy more more more 😀

Kim’s Answer: Here are a few quick tips from a novice seedsaver.  Start with the easy ones like squash.  Use the seeds from your very best produce.  Remember to mark and date all your seeds very clearly. Store in a cool dark place where they won’t get moisture into them…I use my garage.  Involve your kids if you have any, they find the whole process fascinating!

Alan’s Answer: I’m not a seed saver for the most part. It is too much work. I want to be but never quite get there. I have saved squash seeds in the past, usually as a first attempt to become a seed saver. The results have been mixed. Some of the seeds have produced really great squash.  Others, crossing with cucumbers or some other member of the family (like cantaloupe or watermelon) have produced interesting but less than edible results.  I think seed saving is really an important skill. Picking which seeds to save is key. Good research is the first step

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Meghan’s Question: I’d like to here about different homesteaders approaches to root cellars orfresh preservation.  In ground or above ground?  Under the house with a way in from the house or a ways away from the house?  How did you “build” it? Dig it by hand? Backhoe? What did you do for a roof?  How do you store your foods in there?  And, in general any tips learned in the process of such a thing would be appreciated.

Tara’s Answer: We have a typical suburban home, a mild climate and no cellars or basements due to caliche in the ground. We haven’t have much need for a root cellar yet but my husband uses various spaces in the house for his fermenting homebrew, such as an unheated room or closet. Since we keep our house very cool in the winter those spaces make ideal “cellars” as well, as do attics if it’s not too cold.  There is a great book I’d recommend, Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel. The book offers lots of different ways to setup a root cellar from indoor to outdoor solutions.

Nita’s Answer: Depending on your climate, many root crops can be stored in the row where they grew. We are able to store beets, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, radish, rutabagas, and turnips in the ground in the ground. This are just the vegetables we like to eat over winter and there are many more that can be stored depending on personal eating habits and likes. We receive high rainfall, so in ground storage of potatoes are out for us, but just to the west of us, in the rain shadow, CSA farmers are able to store potatoes in the ground for weekly harvest throughout winter. To protect from freezing, I hill with soil and we harvest weekly throughout the winter.  For us, there doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all storage method. Our potatoes are stored in a straw bale root cellar in the barn, and keep until May with the insulating qualities of the straw bales. Our winter squash is stored in our unheated upper floor of our house, and our onions and garlic are stored in our actual cellar with our canning. And on our porch are the apples in boxes. If a hard freeze threatens we put the apples in the basement.  The biggest job throughout the winter is to monitor for spoilage, and in the garden for rodent damage. But we share our rootcrops with the milk cow and dogs so a chew here or there is not a problem.   Another thing to consider to round out your winter fare with garden produce is to grow hardy greens too. Certain varieties of the cole family are very hardy. We eat kale and cabbage all winter, and it takes a beating as is still great. It saves so much time and energy to not try to harvest everything during the summer and put it away by canning or freezing. This doesn’t work for every climate, but it worth a try – if the coles make it through the winter, you will have fresh rapini early in the spring as the plants began to flower. Much easier than that trying to start the early garden with tender new plants.  Also remember,  not all crops can be stored together in a root cellar, some need high humidity, and cool temps, others like winter squash need cool 50’ish temps and dry conditions. Some give off gases that will hasten the ripening and spoilage of others, and probably the biggest criteria is growing certain varieties that are known for their storage qualities. I still have a winter squash from last year. I not hungry enough to eat it, but at this stage I am just keeping it to see how far I can push it 🙂  I hope this gives you some ideas – best of luck!

Cassandra’s Answer: Basements are not very popular in Mississippi due to soil conditions and the water table. In addition to that, even during the winter, our temperatures only intermittently get below the 70’s. So there is very little opportunity for storing anything outside of a climate-controlled structure. As a result, all of my food storage is consolidated with my regular living and storage space. That means I cram things into odd nooks and corners wherever I can find the space!  I have no good place for storing fresh food. I bought a wooden vegetable bin, of the “taters & onions” variety. Anything I put in there invariably rots within a short time. It is just too hot, even in the house. I did have good luck keeping sweet potatoes in there for up to a couple of months. Everything else, even the taters and onions, has to go in the refrigerator.  I have adapted to the lack of cool storage by canning, freezing, and dehydrating everything. At the moment, I am having a proliferation of butternut squash which would be an ideal candidate for root cellar storage.  Lacking that, though, they are piling up on my kitchen counters waiting to be preserved in some other way.

Kathie’s Answer:  Cellar’s arent’ popular in my area for a number of reasons, high ground water being the biggest.  When we were house hunting last year, there was one very old house we looked at with a great basement with a separate larder, I was so stuck on that house, but the foundation was in such bad shape we just couldn’t buy it.  Oh well, we did find a great house but one without any kind of root cellar.  I do my best to can and freeze what I can.  I try to keep some fresh items in an unheated guest bedroom, but that gets weird when we have guests.  There are some great ideas in the book Stocking Up that I hope to put into practice one of these days.

Have a question for our writers?  Please feel free to email it too: mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com and we’ll get to it on a Friday soon!

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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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Emily’s Question: I’d like to hear different folks’ approaches to clean drinking water. Filters? Hand pumps? Windmills? Rely on city water? Distillation? how are you pumping it, if applicable?

Nita’s Answer: We use a hydraulic ram to pump spring water at our farm. A hydraulic ram uses water power for pumping and no electricity is required. Simple, old technology and still works great in today’s modern world.

Our ram pumps water from one of our springs to a holding tank and then the water is gravity flow to the house. We don’t have pressure, but that problem is solved by using a bigger delivery pipe for the discharge.

Rams differ, but the brand we use is able to lift the water 10 feet for every foot of head from the spring to the ram. In our area the springs are in deep V shaped canyons and the flat, arable land is on the ridge tops, making a ram an ideal set-up for our geographic area.

Our spring that we use for drinking/stock water is located 1/4 mile away and we need to lift the water 125 vertical feet over that 1/4 mile stretch. The ram continously runs into a large holding tank and there are two delivery pipes, one drains from the bottom of the tank for household use, and a stand pipe (for the overflow)runs to a stock tank in the barnyard. We pay attention to the overflow, and if it has quit, it means we have been using a large volume of water at the house (laundry, showers, etc.) or the ram has quit for some reason. Needless, to say I am hardwired to listen for that trickle of water in the water trough! No one wants to stroll down to the spring if they don’t need to 😉 The overflow/stock tank system makes us accountable for the water we use, if we watered the stock from the bottom of the tank, we potentially could use up all our stored water and never have an inkling that the ram had stopped until the tank was empty.

Using a ram allows us to have water at all times without electricity, the only drawback is during low water times, we have to really meter the water out. Normally we need 6″ of rain to recharge the spring fully in late fall or early winter.

Rams also would work well for irrigation with an open water source like a creek, providing there is a sufficient drop in elevation in the stream to provide the lift you need.

Many people here, have went to wells, but the aquifer is dropping which is probably not going to change. And when the power goes out, which is quite frequently, they are without water, when most have springs nearby.

Not workable in all situations but if you have a similar stream or spring, a hydraulic ram is worth thinking about.

Here is a link to an older blog post with a short video of our ram in action.

Kathie’s Answer: For the last 10 years, I’ve lived with underground wells pumped with electric pumps.  When the electricity goes out we don’t have water – we’re working on making that solar/wind powered.  We have the water tested once a year to be on the safe side.  We have hard water, but we’ve gotten used to that.  I know everyone can’t have a well or a spring depending on location.  I’ve heard great things about the Berkeley Water Filters and if I ever don’t live on a well, that’s what I’d be buying.

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Reader’s Question: I often wonder how many people who have big gardens and daily responsibilities with animals such as dairy cattle, chickens, and other livestock, ever arrange to travel elsewhere even for a day or two…?  Many of the responsibilities of self-sufficient lifestyles are so beyond the norm for folks who are not used to them…milking a cow, collecting chicken eggs, feeding the animals, not leaving the fence unlatched… I can think of a million things.  We’ve often wondered how folks already doing these things have practically dealt with this challenge when needing to travel for a night…or a week…away from the homestead.

Kristine’s Answer: In the past, we have had friends come and house sit while we went away. while the animals got fed and watered, goats milked and eggs gathered, the garden usually suffered (usually weeds were out of hand and impossible to control for the rest of the season) so we stopped doing that.  The past few years, we haven’t had the money to get away on a vacation but we did go away on a few trips to pick up sheep, etc and relied on our wwoofers to hold down the fort for us while we were gone with much better results.  Wwoof stands for world wide opportunities on organic farms and is, as the name implies an international organization.  Wwoofers have not only been lifesavers in this situation but also as much needed help in general to assist in all the summer activities. We have met some great people and shared our farmette life first hand with them while they kept me from drowning in all the work.

Nita’s Answer: Don’t travel!! Just kidding. I can’t really answer this in the way you want, because we don’t like to travel. Even when we weren’t “tied” down with such labor intensive farming practices, we rarely went anywhere. But when we did/do want to go somewhere it is usually to a day seminar or something of that sort. So only one goes. It’s more cost effective and then the person who leaves isn’t worrying about what is or isn’t happening at home.  I share milk, so after a certain point in the lactation I can turn the cow and calf in together and not worry about problems arising with the milking. Our cattle can be placed in larger paddocks and the grazing schedule can be sacrificed, etc. We don’t irrigate much of the garden so that isn’t a problem. I think really people who want to travel away from their farmsteads should plan flexibility into their routines. For instance, if I want to let my dairy cow’s calf be my relief milker, then I have to let that calf nurse, not feed it from a bottle, or in my garden I need to plant accordingly so it doesn’t need water, or plan my water system for some automatic watering for the cattle, etc.  I think for me this isn’t a problem, since I was raised on the farm, but our biggest irritation in regards to this “dilemma” is our acquaintances who project their travel expectations on us. Constantly we are being bombarded by people who tell us we are missing out. We should go camping, etc. They just can’t understand our feelings about our sanctuary. We like it and we like to stay here.

Kathie’s Answer:  I don’t keep animals beyond cats but in the summer between gardening and preserving there’s not time for travel and I don’t often even try to make the time.  I worked for a construction outfit once and they had a rule about vacations – there were none granted May through October, period.  Every employee was granted one three day weekend during those months (beyond the standard holidays) and that was it.  I maintain that as a personal rule, otherwise I get too overwhelmed.  We don’t travel much anyway beyond visiting family for a weekend during the holidays, like Nita, we simply like to be home. 

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Jody’s Question: I’m having a problem with getting over my squeemishness of food preservation.  I read a bit in the post about preserved lemons that really hit home with me:  the ‘modern scaredycat-ness’ bit.  As I move more and more into canning and such, I find that I really don’t know anything about storage times as I have been relying on canned food from store shelves.  I’ve actually found myself standing in front of my basement pantry, staring at my canned tomato sauces as if I’m waiting for them to sprout horns and go
‘mwahahaha!’  There is a lot of conflicting information, too.  You should boil canned jelly for 5min (according to Ball), but no one I know does.  You need to pitch everything canned after a year, but no one I know goes by this, either.  One of my coworkers keeps her eggs on the counter, not the refridgerator.  We recently bought our first jug of raw milk, and I realized that I have no idea how long it might be good for.  I’m just really thrown by all this.  Any thoughts or suggestions?

(Note: We got a little long-winded here but the information is hopefully something everyone will enjoy.)

Alan’s Answer: Great question.  We can a lot at my house. Mostly we use the Ball book or the info that came with the canner as a guide on times, pressures, and canning
methods. High acid stuff in a water bath, everything else gets pressure canned. We have never had any problems. We have had the odd jar that didn’t seal properly and things went bad, but the cause was almost always a flaw in the rim of the bottle or not wiping things down well enough before capping. We don’t keep things much longer than a year, but that is because we plan things that way. We know about how much we use of the things we can and don’t put up much more than that. If there is a bit left when the next canning session rolls
around it gets placed at the front of the shelf so it gets used first. With most things we do small batch canning. Tomatoes, for example, we will pick and save enough to can a batch of sauce or stewed tomatoes and then to one batch. That way it gets done in a short time, no one gets burned out, and we use the harvest as it comes in. Most things we grow our selves can be done this way. The three day marathon canning sessions I grew up with put up a lot of food, but things got pretty sloppy as the days wore on, and it stopped being fun. We are pretty obsessive about keeping things clean. Clean hands, hair nets (beard net for me), clean counters, sterile bottles, etc. We label and date the things we can or freeze (we freeze a lot
of stuff too). That way we know how old it is and what it is. We have never boiled jelly. If the bottles are sterile, the jelly making process should kill of everything else. We used to put wax on the top when I was a kid, but lately we have just put a lid on while things were still hot. That seems to seal it pretty well. It never stays around long enough to go bad anyway.  We keep our eggs on the counter most of the time (except in the summer when it gets too hot in our house). The eggs we sell get refrigerated after they are cleaned, but that is mostly for convenience rather than safety. I’m not sure I would do the same with eggs I bought from the store. I know my chickens are healthy, eating good food, etc. I know how old the eggs are, how they were cleaned, if the shells are cracked, etc. I’m comfortable with keeping our eggs this way and we haven’t had any problems. Some of our egg customers do the same. I
wouldn’t do this with eggs from the store. I don’t know their history, handling practices, health, etc. Same with milk. Raw milk is great, we drink it all the time, but you need to know the source.  Living in PA it is legal for dairies to sell raw milk. I’m sure there is an inspection process, so it should be as safe (probably safer) than the pasteurized milk. When I was selling raw milk in Texas the inspector would only let us hold it for 4 days. They figured people would use it in 7 to 10 days and that kept it in the 2 week safety window. At home I’ve held milk longer for cheese making and other things. I haven’t had any problems, but I always encourage people to use it in a week or less. If you don’t use a lot of milk, buy a smaller bottle and get it more often.  I’d encourage you to try some canning. It’s fun. Start with small batches of things you will use. No point in a pantry full of something you wont eat. Once you get used to the process and start enjoying the quality of home canned food then expand to include other things you grow, or can get locally. We do lots of sauces, soups, and partial meals to speed dinner prep time. It’s not much effort to can a two month’s supply of soups and sauces, and they sure beat anything you can find at the store.

Nita’s Answer: Jody, that is so funny, I am actually sqeamish about food from the store!  I agree there is a lot of conflicting information, especially on the internet. I think the most basic thing to focus on is learning what are low acid foods, and which are not. All foods can spoil, but fruits, and products made from them will look or smell spoiled. The low acid vegetables and meats and foods made from them could contain botulism (but not likely if safe home preservation practices are used) and might not be so obviously spoiled, that is why the cooking before tasting is recommended.  As for shelf life, if your canned food is stored away from light and kept at a cool, stable temperature, it would be perfectly safe to eat for many years. I am not advocating canning 10 years worth of tomato sauce, though, just saying it would be safe to eat. Over time some nutritional value would be lost though.  Freezers are a different story, best for more short term storage of food. Quality goes downhill fast in the freezer for vegetables and fruits, and a little slower for meats and fats.  As for dairy and eggs, I don’t wash or refrigerate my eggs, and during the summer I keep them in our cool basement. Our raw milk easily keeps two weeks. Raw milk from healthy dairy animals should easily keep that long, and that is for drinking, after that time the milk will sour, or clabber and just becomes a delightful cooking ingredient, adding flavor and nutrition to baked goods etc. I grew up on sour cream cake, and it tastes nothing like sour cream cake from a bakery. Homogenized milk from the store will not sour, it will spoil and not be a useable product. One thing to worry about though may be soft cheese made from raw milk, it will have a shorter shelf life and should made in small amounts and consumed. Hard aged cheeses from raw milk are safe though because they are more acidic.  Hope this helps a little bit – it sounds like you are on your way. You just need to quit listening to those sinister canning jars on your shelf! 🙂

Kathie’s Answer: The other writer’s did such a great job that I don’t have much to add, beyond make sure you have up-to-date books in your library for reference and follow their procedures and you’ll be as enthusiastic as the rest of us about home preservation.  I love the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and recommend it all the canning classes I teach, in case you need a suggestion. 

Monica’s Answer: Your question I believe will probably resonate with many readers—so as usual I have to say “great question!”.  First…let me start off with the fact that I think there are a number of issues that cause us to be so scared of our food. One of the most common is that big business has worked very very hard over the years, preying on our lack of  knowledge of how our food gets to us and other misinformation that people “acquire”, to get consumers to buy their products and not produce their own—or eat grandmas.  However, some people believe that our fetish for pasteurization can lead to complacency. Why? Because some producers of foods or products that will go on to be pasteurized are less careful about cleanliness because they feel they do not have to worry.  Some people (and rightly so I believe) feel more afraid of eating processed deli meats than of raw milk purchased from a diligent farmer.  Whatever the reason— many of us have become wary of our food.  Even those of us that produce our own food find ourselves falling into these odd traps on occasion—as mentioned in my article about the lemons.  So..here is my reply to your questions.  First…always remember that cleanliness and proper storage will do loads for keeping molds, bacterias and fungus out of your food supply.  I do not mean cleanliness in “boil everything” but common sense cleanliness of washing our produce when we bring it in and before canning it to remove any soil born pathogens, cleaning our equipment well and washing our hands. Plain ole’ soap and water does wonders.  Milk and dairy products: Raw milk IF produced in a clean manner is nothing to fear. That does not mean that the milk has to come from a white washed and cement floored barn either. Nor does the goat or sheep stand have to be made of metal—it can be wood—or that the farmer should never milk his cow over a hay floor. However…everything that touches the milk should be scrupulously clean.  All teats on the cow are cleaned really well before milking (no manure or mud chunks hanging off the cow during milking thank you very much—which I have seen in both home and commercial dairies). Goats and sheep should be trimmed so their hair/fleece does not dangle into the milk and udders washed if needed. Pails should always be cleaned and beyond that regularly sterilized with boiling water or steaming or an acid washed. Milk storage containers should be sterilized at least every few times of use—and washed very well in between.  Why do all this? Is it because raw milk is more likely to carry germs? Not any more so than pasteurized milk—though “they” would like you to believe that it does. However….as with all things we are going to eat… we should be clean during preparation of our food products.  When do you know it’s bad though:   Well, if you keep it long enough…it will sometimes taste funny or look odd.  Funny is relative since it can taste funny if the cow/goat/sheep eats something odd.  But “funny” as in garlic chives is different than kind of funny from it culturing.  Raw milk does not go bad in the same way as pasteurized milk does (which actually tastes really ICKY and is why most people say “spoiled” when speaking of it).  Raw milk actually has bacteria eating the natural sugars in the milk and slowly turns the milk into a more acidic environment—basically the start of cheese or yogurt or other cultured foods.  Just as drinking pasteurized milk gone out of date will not kill you—neither will raw. (Using common sense of course –if it has mold or something like that floating in it you won’t want to drink it) Some people even still bake with their “bad” RAW milk —it’s fine to use it like that.  Do remember also that many products now made with pasteurized milk were traditionally products that were left out for a day or two on the counter to form on their own: Clabbered milk (http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/clabberedmilk) Piima, Kefir, starters for cheeses etc.  Only in this day and age are many of these products pasteurized before making instead of allowing natural airborne microbes to help out. Lastly I have kept and used store bought buttermilk for months past when it was meant to be used. As long as it does not have mold on it or smell rotten—it is fine to bake with (the only way I use it).  Canned foods.  Believe it or not home canned foods are no different than commercial canned. Except they taste better. Some common sense things are use clean jars (some people always boil them first —I just make sure their really clean and well rinsed in hot water) and clean utensils, then processed for the correct amount of time.  Of course vitamin/mineral content could fade a bit over time which is one of the best reasons to eat them by the next season for any product. If you find that you have say …too many jars of pickled figs…the clue is to can less of them the next year and maybe do more dried figs instead.  Meats generally last longer than say..green beans…but everyone seems to agree that 2 years is a good limit for canned produce—store bought or home made. Though tuna is for sure still at least 5 years later and many older people will tell you stories of eating jars/cans of items 4, 5 or more years old.  One more thing. Of course we all know not to eat from badly rusted cans or blackened jar nor do we eat “bubbly”, stinky, or slimy food items if we find that when they are opened. However…when it comes to botulism it is either there or not. Hopefully not —which is generally the case when following clean canning methods and proper treatment of food along with proper canning procedures and times—all which sound much more complicated than they are. Botulism will not all of a sudden show up in your canned item because the 12 month bell tolled. If it’s there—it was already there on day 2.  Truthfully—and I have known lots of canners—I have never yet met one that got sick from eating canned food. However…they follow the common sense of “if it looks bad, throw it out” philosophy.  Other than that if you are canning low acid foods—use a pressure canner so you don’t have to worry or wonder. And when doing higher acid foods like pickles just make sure you have a vinegar with that is labeled at 5% acid or has been tested to be at least 5% acid. Jams/jellies well…I always boil mine to thicken anyway.  Besides, I am old enough to remember when jellies and jams were capped with hot wax. I remember the occasional jar coming to the table —peeling off the wax (which I loved to do) —and finding mold. Always..my mother or grandmother scraped off the mold and we proceeded to eat it. Now…could we have gotten sick? Maybe. But we were healthy and we didn’t.  Just an example and by no means encouraging anyone to scrape mold and eat the jelly 😀   Beyond that…you can search on the subject of food storage and stocking up. Grains/flours/beans along with many other food items last years and years. Most of the survival types sites and the LDS church sites can help you determine how long most commonly used pantry items last in storage. Here is a very good link for extensive food storage information: http://www.abysmal.com/LDS/Preparedness/  The first link on this page is for a LDS Preparedness Manual download. The manual has TONS of good food storage, how to store, how long to store and what to store information.  Eggs…well we often do eggs as your co worker. Especially in the winter I will store them on the counter to save room in the fridge.  On a hot summer day when it’s 85 and I don’t have the a/c on—I’m less inclined to do that though I have heard in some countries they will last in those types temp for 6 weeks at least. Eggs are good for at least a month past when you buy them in the store and are supposedly already 2 to 4 weeks old before getting there anyway.  They will definitely last longer if collected fresh by you or a friend since you won’t waste those weeks getting them delivered.  Since we don’t eat many eggs we sometimes have them in the fridge for a long time. We sell the freshest and keep the oldest for ourselves. When it’s been a while (way over a month) since I used them and I have forgotten how long they have been in there, I crack in a separate bowl just to look at it. If by chance an egg is bad—which has never happened to me—-it would give itself away by the smell or looks. Again—nutrition wise it’s better to use sooner rather than later but….. a rotten egg gives itself away and you won’t ever forget it.  I have only ever found those in the nests that are abandoned after the baby chicks hatch. Everyone in our family hates cleaning the old nests because the stench is so very very bad—and the eggs like hot little grenades waiting to pop.  I know all this can’t completely help you decide if something is bad but maybe you will feel more comfortable trying a new technique of food storage in the future knowing that many of us “risk our necks” daily eating all that non governmental approved and non pasteurized food items 😀


Have a question for our writers?  Please e-mail your question to mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com and we’ll cover it soon.


We entered this in the Fight Back Friday Carnival.

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sunflower closeup2

Last year on my personal blog, I decided to put forth some questions I had, in order to see what sorts of responses I’d get from what we loosely term the homesteading community of bloggers. 

There is a wealth of wisdom to be had of the firsthand sort. In much of the future planning Jack and I are doing, though we know our efforts will be honed and personalized, we also recognize that we’d like to avoid pitfalls, learn from folks with more experience than we have, and not try to re-invent the wheel.

At the time, I was very curious about the ins and outs of how homesteaders chose to raise their chickens.  I had noticed on others’ blogs how differently each person did things, while noting some things many had in common.  I wanted to know so many things…what was the favorite type of housing? breed?  were they being raised for eggs, or meat, or both?  And so on and so on.   And so I posted a list of what I termed Homesteading Chicken Questions.

The questions were thrown out there for anyone to comment on, in part or in whole.  I was unprepared for the number of excellent responses, and was fascinated by the wide difference of choices, preferences, and advice gained. 

I’ve meant to propose other homesteading-related questions here at the NotDabbling site, and in thinking about that some more, I’d love to know if any of you have particular topics you’d love to see collective comments on?

The past “homesteading chicken questions” responses I mentioned added up to quite a lengthy comments section back then.  For our purposes here, I’d like to direct them to an email address and post the answers the following week in a post here all its own.

There’s really no limitation to the feedback, if you’d like to participate.  You don’t have to be an expert, and don’t have to answer all the questions.  If you’d like to include your name or “handle” and your blog address, I’ll include it when I post the feedback/answers the following week.  And by the term “homesteader,” I interpret that broadly and inclusively, of course.

Here are the two questions I’ll kick this off with  — one for future reference, and one to be posted next week:

Question #1 — (Go ahead and post your answers to this one in comments, below, if you’d like)

What topic, and specific questions related to it, would you love to see other “homesteaders” share their opinions, preferences, and experiences about?

Question #2 — (Please email any input to this question to my email address, and I’ll collate them.  My email is  robbynonline@yahoo.com)  Here’s what I’d love your input on for next week:

Whether you are a seasoned expert or a beginner, what was your original vision/plan for your homestead (home, garden, animals, profession), and as it unfolded, what is it now?

  • Is there a bit of key advice you’d offer to someone just starting out…things to do, things to avoid, what you’d have done differently?
  • What would you never do again?
  • If you garden, what ended up being your most reliable crops over time?
  • If you keep animals, which ones did you start with, and which ones do you have now and why?
  • What are your continuing goals and some things you’d still like to add to the plan, or do you like it As Is?
  • Do you have to rely on an off-property job for income, or do you rely on income made from your homestead efforts?

Maybe that’s enough of a list for now, but if you think of anything else you’d like to add, feel free!

I, like so many others, love this homesteading community of bloggers, and love seeing what does and doesn’t work for different ones of us.  Some differences will be hinged to geographic location, others to personal preferences, financial situations, and so many other factors.  I know Jack’s and my personal plan has worked out differently than we’d expected, and that we’ve fine-tuned several areas we initially would have invested more in, but are glad now we didn’t.

Getting back to the subject of the online homesteading community, don’t forget we have a great Yahoogroup  going…check it out to commisserate with a lot of kindred spirits and get feedback on just about any related topic!

Also, if you have a homesteading subject near and dear to your heart, or something along those lines you think others would love to know or learn, feel free to drop me a line at the above email address to discuss contributing a prospective post here.  We welcome guest writers, and love the momentum of collaboration.

I look forward to your input!

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Mornien’s Question: Do you have any suggestions for more traditional shampoos that can still be used with softened hard water? I use Pantene as that’s what my parents buy, but even with conditioner it still dries my hair out really bad. When I was at home for school, I sort of just avoided washing my hair with anything but baking soda, but my mom didn’t like that much. Do you guys have any thoughts of traditional shampoos that might be helpful? (I have extremely curly, coarse hair.)

Kathie’s Answer:I used to use Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap but when I hit 30 my body chemistry changed and I felt like it made my hair oily – if you have dry hair perhaps it’ll be more useful for you.  Many of our writers had a hard time with this question, perhaps our readers can chime in and help as well…

Kristine’s Answer: I’m afraid i won’t be of much help…I use the ‘no poo’ method on my hair, using only baking soda and vinegar. I’ve done this for several years now, for the kids, I just use my hand made soap or plain water.

Nita’s Answer: I just use my homemade Castille soap bars with a vinegar rinse. A bar of homemade soap lasts forever making it quite economical.

Kristeva’s Answer: Seconds, the old ‘Castile Shampoo’ suggestion.

Robbyn’s Answer: I can’t be much help on this one…I use a basic store-bought shampoo but just dilute it down a lot since most of them are pretty concentrated.  I only wash the roots of my hair daily since my hair is long, and rinse all my hair thoroughly.  I use a very small amount of conditioner, also store-bought and diluted, for the ends of my hair, every few days or so to prevent tangling.  I’m open to finding a better alternative to this, but don’t want to guinea pig my hair to death since it damages easily.  It’s been in its best condition since I stopped drying it with a hair dryer, using hair spray, coloring it, or pulling it too tightly into ponytails.

Monica’s Answer: Very good question!! And hopefully some of our other readers can chime in. I know and understand your problem…though I won’t be much help. My mother and father in law lived for many many years in a town that super softened their water. I never could decide if it tasted more like salt or…. I’m not sure what. Every time we visited my hair would be flat but coarse and straw like after just one shower. I finally got to the point were I would bottle water at my mothers house (next town over) just for use in the shower at my in laws. I would shampoo with their water then after rinsing with their water I would rinse a bit with my “brought in” water (cold of course—icky in winter). Then I would condition and only rinse with my brought in water. It was a hassle but it worked and saved my in laws feelings (No I can’t stay with you!! My hair do is MUCH more important!!)  As to vinegar I personally never thought it worked well for me at their house with their water. Not sure why. I had to use so much that I smelled of vinegar and it didn’t fully help so….  As I see it you have two choices. Bottle water somewhere else or set up a rain water collection for that purpose. Maybe you’ll get lucky and a reader will have a much easier solution for you than mine is though.  Anyway….from a previous guest with very dried out hair—-I feel your pain sister 🙂 Super good luck!

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Miranda’s Question: What is the biggest challenge to you as a gardener, weather, insects, time?

Alan’s Answer: When I read this question the first thing that popped into my mind was time.  We garden on the border between Zone 4 and zone 5 in East Central Ohio. We have a market garden, specializing in salad greens, fresh cut herbs, and garlic. We also are in the middle of renovating our house, raising two kids, building all of the entire infrastructure our farm needs, and developing a small goat dairy. There is NEVER enough time. But, I think that is a lifestyle problem, not a gardening problem.  In the garden there are several of insects that give me fits. Vine borer devastates our squash every year. Wire worms (probably not an insect) do quite a bit of damage to the carrots and the garlic. And Mexican Bean Beetles sometimes wipe out the bean crop. I’m getting much better control over the Bean Beetles and the wire worms. As the soil improves and gets more balanced the pressure from these two has been decreasing. I haven’t figured out a vine borer solution yet other than planting squash faster than they can destroy them and being obsessive about cleanup.  Probably the biggest challenge in our garden is water. I grew up in the desert. I know a lot about water, conservation techniques, and irrigation. Here in Ohio such things are pretty non existent. Water, for most people comes out of the hose when you need it. More often they are trying to deal with too much of it. But, we almost always have 6 to 8 weeks in the summer with little or no rain. Suddenly water is a problem. None of the mulching has been done (you want things to dry out a bit most of the time). There is no irrigation system. There is no water storage. The city restricts water use. The wells start to dry out. Gardens start to die. Finding ways to deal with too much water most of the time and not enough water at the end of summer is one of my biggest challenges.  Finding solutions to the challenges is part of what makes gardening fun.

Monica’s Answer: Challenges as a gardener are different every year of course. Some of my own personal challenges are staying organized. I started 4 years ago keeping a note book and I get better every year with it. Each year it also becomes more and more indispensable because of the greater amount of information it contains. The first year I barely put anything into it…this year I have this month so full I am writing in the margins. I put seed starting times, fluke weather problems like late frost or extra dry etc in it. Also, things I might have tried differently and if it worked or didn’t, and information like how much of this or that soil amendment I used and where. Even crop rotations are put in there and planting diagrams for my flowers because of course, I absolutely forget some of this stuff 2 or 3 years later. I like to think I will remember it—but I never ever do.  Another issue is weather and my personal location in North Georgia—discounti ng “global warming” which is a whole other problem. I have issues with the changing last frost date—common here even without global warming. Because of the fact that I am in a traditionally “colder” area of the south with mountains (and sometimes larger amounts of snow or no snow depending on the year) I can have very warm daytime weather even sometimes in the winter but still drop into the freezing at night. Low twenties at night with 65 during the day for a week or two is not uncommon. The two larger cities near me will stay a good 4 or 5 degrees warmer on average (sometimes more) at night and so we have to watch a bit more closely for night time protection. Peas—once they start climbing are not easy to protect as one example. However I can also have a year where it warms up so quickly,without night time frost, that if I planted too late I can miss the advantage of the earlier cooler weather for peas/lettuce/ kales which means I get a very small spring harvest of these items.  Lastly insect wise I have one pest most Northern growers don’t—and it is to me the MOST problematic one: Squash vine borers. They will get into the interior of the vine of every type of squash and pumpkin making it very very difficult to grow them for storage or even fresh use. They can kill a summer squash vine before you even have a chance to tire of it and want to give some away.  There are organic “tricks” that supposedly help but truthfully– -most don’t or are very difficult. Even regular poisons–which I don’t use anyway—are really not much help from what others say. I have tried almost all of the organic tricks: Bt, slitting vines, burying them extra deep, growing more resistant types etc etc. This year though I am trying a new one. They say ashes—most specifically tobacco ash–sprinkled on the base of the plant will keep the moths from laying their eggs. I have also found references about using just plain wood ash—which works better for me since I do not smoke. I am going to try that this year if I can get a hold of some ash from somewhere (none left here right now). My only other option? Planting them under boxed screens and hand pollinating. However…how do you make a box big enough for a pumpkin plant? Especially when you want to grow many of them?  All gardeners struggle—just as all livestock owners do too. Any kind of self sufficiency is filled with struggle which is why in my opinion many moved away from farming. They want the easy life. However…I would rather struggle the way I do rather than to struggle in front of a computer. Ick! 😀 At least my cow licks me and I get joy out of my interactions with the animals I have owned over the years. My veggies…well they are just so much better than store bought that again: it’s totally worth it even if I do have the occasional loss to drought or late frost or whatever.

Nita’s Answer: Miranda, gee where to start – I guess my biggest gardening challenge is our cool, wet climate here in Cascadia. While it may seem to some that gardening in a balmy zone 7 garden is easy, our cool nights have the effect of adding approximately 3 weeks to warm season crops. For instance extra-early corn that is supposed to ripen in 65 days, consistently takes 90 in my garden. While I think the zone maps are useful, they are concerned more with survivability in the coldest part of the year – so unless I want to grow corn and tomatoes in January, the zone designation can give a false expectation. My friends who garden and farm in Indiana have much colder winters, but they can sure as heck grow prolific heirloom tomatoes, that I may never get to the picking stage.  We generally receive rain from mid-September until late June which also makes it hard to start the garden. So a frost free date while helpful, doesn’t take into consideration how workable my soil is. So to combat this we have changed our expectations of gardening and our eating habits. We are still able to harvest something year-round and take advantage of that wonderful zone 7 tag, we have just had to adjust what and when we plant, and harvest.  The other side of the wet coin is that once it quits raining here in the Pacific Northwest, it usually quits! (Unless we have cut hay!)So to combat that issue we have continued the age-old practice of dry land gardening and farming. We maintain our own watershed, so we are painfully aware of how to meter out water in the dry times. We do want to grow some crops that need irrigation though, so we plan our rotation carefully, so that crops that need water, can be easily irrigated and crops that don’t (such as seed crops, and roots)can be avoided while watering more water needy crops. By weeding and maintaining a dust mulch, we use less water, and have crops that keep very well – which are good points to consider when moving towards being more self-reliant.

Good reads on the subject of dry land techniques:
FEED THE SOIL, NOT THE CROP, by Anne and Eric Nordell – Pennsylvania
good details for dry land farming, and is available through the Small Farmers Journal

good details for gardeners – probably available through ABE BOOKS or the SOIL & HEALTH LIBRARY

As far as pests go, with our cool summer nights, we aren’t bothered by too many garden pests. We have been able to beat symphylans by transplanting instead of direct seeding, and use row covers on crops that we just don’t want to do without. But,the insects seem minor to our deer problems – which can decimate a 100′ row of strawberries in one night! So I haven’t come up with a solution on the deer yet, since I really want them around so the cougars eat them instead of our calves. So at this point, that is the hill I am choosing to die on – since the cougars seem to be getting thicker, and they eat a lot. A deer a week is what our voters have deemed OK, since they don’t want anyone hunting the cougars.  Aaack back to gardening… time is a biggy, since we are constantly working on our old farmhouse, homeschool, rotationally graze our beef herd, trying to cut and cure enough firewood, keep the water system going, and grow most of our food. So we just try to look at the time involved as part of the whole cycle that is our farm, and stay focused on home and hearth. The rewards of having our own vegetables, fruits and dairy products along with seeing that first baby calf of the season make it all worth it. Sure it is a challenge but well worth all the effort 🙂

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