The Day I Broke Into the Tater Stash

The goal was to make it until March or April, but I broke into the tater stash in the middle of February.

I was making one of our favorite meals, Swiss deer steaks with mashed potatoes and corn, when I was getting ready to peel the remnants of our fresh potatoes. One thing I hate is peeling small potatoes. Then I looked into the bucket with the remainder of our fresh potatoes.

This is what I saw.

tater bucket

Now I know I could be patient and peel several of these little guys, but then I started getting visions of my taters stash in the basement. Those taters were already peeled and ready for mashed potatoes.

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I also started thinking about how good the home fries I have been making several times a week have been. Canned fried potatoes are good, but not nearly as good as fresh ones.

And then I made the decision…to break my March or April goal…and dig into the tater stash.

Copy of The Joy of Finishing the Woodpile

Honestly, I felt somewhat defeated. We worked so hard to try to put away enough to last the whole year. We still have almost 100 jars, canned and ready to go. I know that sounds silly, but I really was hoping that I could hold off a little longer before I dug into them. It is still possible that we can make it until our next potato crop comes before we have to buy potatoes, but it seems like once we break into the stash, they go awful quickly.

But now I can set my new goal for next season.

The Joy of Finishing the Woodpile

It is February 20th, and the woodpile is officially finished for the season.

The Joy of Finishing the Woodpile

This lady is absolutely ecstatic! Not only are we finished earlier than we ever have, but I only had to help ONCE…Just once…no hauling wood up snow-covered hills in the sub-zero weather…no endless hours sitting in front of the wood splitter…no thousands of trips back and fourth to stack the wood.

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Berry Man cutting wood on an early foggy morning

This year, Berry Man did it all…by…himself.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy the physical activity involved with cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. I like being able to get outside in the winter time and work with the entire family.

But the past three years we have been busy. Berry Man and I both have been working full-time jobs on top of running our berry farm and trying to preserve as much food as possible to try to make our homesteading dream a reality.

And we are getting closer.

Having Berry Man working at home has been such a relief. I am starting to feel human again. In the evenings, I can actually come home from work and be done for the day. Berry Man can spend all day completing berry patch chores and working towards our dreams, and when summer comes, I can join him.

Yes, we still have lots of homesteading activities to complete on the weekends such as preserving potatoes and making soap, but I don’t think I knew how much I needed a little extra time to rest and enjoy life.

I am thankful God has provided this opportunity for our family. I am thankful for this journey. And I am thankful the woodpile is done…until next year!

10 Reasons We Burn Wood On Our Homestead

Today it is a measly 10 degrees with a wind chill of 10 below. Guess where the favorite place in our house is?

wood

We started heating our home solely with wood beginning in 2008 and never looked back. Yes, cutting wood is a lot of work, but the cozy days and nights around the wood stove while it is freezing cold outside make it so worth it!

Here are the top 10 reasons we burn wood on our homestead.

10 Reasons We Burn Wood on Our Homestead (2)

  1. Burning wood is sustainable. We can get the heat we need from the land on our homestead. It’s a perfect example of the self-sufficiency that we strive for.
  2. Wood is cheap and renewable. We have enough dead trees in our woods to have a steady supply for years to come. We estimate that we save and average $2500 per year by burning wood for our home. So we have saved an easy $20,000 since we started burning wood in 2008. Even if the day comes that we would have to buy firewood, it would still be a substantial savings from having to buy propane each year.
  3. We can work on the wood pile as a family. Spending the morning together and watching the wood pile grow provides lots of opportunity for us to talk about anything and everything. The kids are learning all sorts of life lessons about hard work and perseverance…stuff you just can’t learn from a book.
  4. Cutting, splitting, and stacking wood is good exercise. Wood work provides an at-home gym readily available for strength and endurance training.
  5. Wood heat warms you up twice. First it heats your body when you cut, split, and stack it. Then it warms you again in the stove. You get twice as much heat.
  6. Our allergies have improved dramatically. Wood stoves provide radiant heat for your home, so you don’t have to deal with all the dust and allergens blowing through the air ducts. Before, when we used our central heating forced air system, we would all be sick the week after we first turned on the heat for the year. It was so bad Berry Boy ended up in the hospital with pneumonia two years in a row right after we turned on the heat. Our allergies have improved and sickness has decreased since we started using the wood stove.
  7. If the power goes out, we still have heat. Our wood stove requires no electricity at all. We never have to worry about freezing when the electricity goes out. We also enjoy cooking on our wood stove during winter storms.
  8. We always have hot water for tea and coffee. We keep water on our stove most of the winter. In addition to always having hot water, it also adds some moisture to the dry winter air.
  9. The fire is relaxing to watch. On winter nights, Berry Man and I often just sit in the family room watching the fire in our wood stove…no TV…no lights…just cuddled around a cup of hot coffee watching the fire. It is so relaxing, and we need that down time after a crazy berry season.
  10. It’s the best place to stand and warm your bum. You just can beat standing by the wood stove hovering over a cup of hot coffee. Berry Pup enjoys the warm tile, too!

Does your family burn wood? What is your favorite part of how you heat your home? Leave your comments below.

How We Let Our Chickens Free Range Without Total Freedom

How We Let Our Chickens Free Range Without Total Freedom (3)We all know the many benefits of raising free range chickens. But raising free range chickens on our homestead with our berry patch has produced many struggles. We realized that we need to get creative if we want to reap all of the benefits of raising free range chickens without them destroying our berries in the process.

The Plan

Last summer Berry Man and I discussed how we could fence in several areas for the chickens and move them from time to time. We knew we would really need the chickens to work the new land we cleared to get the soil structure built up and ready to plant in the future.

This plan was going to be very costly, but we thought we would just bite off a little bit at a time, as our time and finances allowed, adding new areas for the chickens to move to once they had cleared an area.

That idea sounded good until they cleared our first area in about a month. Then several learned how to fly over the fence which defeated the whole purpose of a fence in the first place. We knew we needed to try something else.How We Let Our Chickens Free Range Without Total Freedom (1)

Back to the Drawing Board

Since it was winter, we decided that we would just let the chickens out in the entire yard and berry fields. The plants were all dormant, so we figured they could not do much damage. However, we were wrong.

The first place they seemed to want to go is straight to the blueberries. Chickens love to scratch and find bugs under loose grass, so the straw around our blueberries was a prime attraction for them. They scratched the soil bare around the plants. This straw provides the insulation the bushes need to survive the winter. We ended up spending way too much time and energy trying to keep them out of certain areas or our land.

We also spent too much time cleaning chicken poop off the sidewalks. Berry Pup was wanting to go outside just to search for chicken poop treats. Yes…Berry Pup is a poop eater…not exactly the most pleasant thing in world, but we still love her!

Trying Something New

Our current plan is to try to fence the chickens out rather than fence them in. We know a few will fly over or walk around the fence from time to time, but we redirect a few rather than trying to control the entire flock.

First we took the existing fence around their house and extended one end to connect our west porch to the chicken house. We extended from the chicken house southwest as close to the woods as we could get. Although the chickens can just walk around the fence, they tend to stay away from the woods and into the open space in the front yard.

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Then we connected the fence we had left from the east porch toward the driveway, and started our wood pile to go all the way along the drive.

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The wood pile fence serves four purposes.

  1. It deters the chickens from trying to get to the other side. Chickens are, well, chickens and afraid to go where they cannot see.
  2. It is temporary. We rebuild the wood pile each year as we burn our wood for the winter. If it doesn’t work out or we want to try something different, we haven’t spent a lot of money on new wire.
  3. It allows our dogs continued access to all parts of our yard. They are an integral part of our predator control in the berries, so we need them to be able to get anywhere necessary on a moments notice.
  4. The wood pile looks pretty awesome. We love being able admire it as we drive down our gravel lane. It’s a constant reminder of all of the hard work we put in in the winter months.

Since it is still wood-cutting season, our wood pile is not yet complete. Our goal is for it to wrap clear around to the end of our lane and behind our berry patch sign. Hopefully we will be there in a few weeks.

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The fence is completely open to the south. The chickens are free to head out into the field if they choose to, but they usually stay pretty close to the house…usually.

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Future Plans

We still intend to fence off areas in our strawberry rotation land for the chickens to free range. This has just bought us some time to complete the projects when we are able to physically and financially. Until then, the open fence is progress.

At this point in time, the fence is keeping most of the chickens where we want them to be. We have one rooster who likes to fly over the fence (where he can see the other side), and he has a group of ladies who follow him. For the most part, they just have races between the rows of blackberries, which is a very amusing thing to watch!

The dogs have figured out how to get around the fence when they need to.

IMG_4296Since moving the fence, we rarely have to shoo chickens out of the blueberries and don’t have to wash poop off the sidewalk very often.Berry pup 1

Berry Pup is sad though…not nearly as many chicken poop treats.

What challenges do you have with free range chickens? How do you keep them from taking over the place? Leave your comments below.

Frugal Living on the Homestead: Make Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt

When we started planning our transition to a homesteading lifestyle, one of the things I tackled first was trying to find ways to make some of the things we eat the most. For me, yogurt is on the top of the list!

I eat yogurt every…single…day. I have always struggled a little from digestive issues, and yogurt seemed to help regulate the problem. I figured I was spending about $10-$15 per week on yogurt. Once I realized that I could make a gallon of yogurt for little more than the price of a gallon of milk, I knew it was worth my time and effort. Luckily, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort…just a little wait time.

Since learning how to make my own yogurt, I have now transitioned to making organic yogurt. Even considering the purchase of organic milk, I am still at a considerable savings from what I was previously spending. The yogurt lasts over a month in the refrigerator (although I run out long before the yogurt has gone bad).

One thing that has helped stay prepared for my yogurt-making excursions is keeping a steady supply of organic milk in the freezer. It still blows my mind that you can freeze milk! We just pour a little off the top (to allow room for expanding when frozen) and plop it down in our freezer.

When we’re ready for a new gallon, we just set it in the kitchen sink the night before. It is not totally thawed in the morning, but it has a big milk ice cube floating in the middle. There usually is enough to pour out for our daily need. We just pop it in the refrigerator in the morning and off we go.

How to Make Homemade Yogurt

  1. Heat one gallon of milk in a crockpot on high for 2.5 hours. When it is done, the outside will look bubbly and there may be a layer of dried milk across the top.

2. Cool the milk to 110 degrees. You can do this by waiting a long time, or pouring it into a different pan and put in a water bath for around 5 minutes. I use a candy thermometer to read an exact temperature. I have also heard that it if you can dip your pinky in for three seconds without getting burned that it is the correct temperature. Whatever suits your fancy!

3. Pour the milk back into the warm crock. Add your yogurt starter. I buy organic yogurt and freeze it in ice cube trays. Two cubes is enough to turn the whole gallon of milk into yogurt. Just set them out to thaw while you are heating your milk. Make sure you choose a yogurt that only has two ingredients: milk and several yogurt cultures.

4. Stir the mixture well. Put the lid back on the crock and wrap it in a thick towel. I use a beach towel.

5. Do not touch it for 8 hours. Yogurt bacteria do not like to be moved when they are working their magic. After the 8 hours, unwrap the yogurt and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

6. After cooling, the yogurt is ready to eat. It will be runnier than yogurt you purchase at the store. It works good for smoothies when it is thicker. I prefer a thicker yogurt to eat so I strain the whey out of my yogurt before I eat it. I line a colander with coffee filters, and fill it up with the yogurt. Put the colander into a larger dish so the whey strains in. Then I cover the yogurt with a coffee filter and sometimes put a ziplock bag full of water on top of it to apply a little pressure. I put that back in the refrigerator while it strains. The longer you let it strain, the thicker it gets.  

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Add a little raw honey, fresh berries, and granola, and you have yourself quite a treat!

What have you tried to make from scratch to save some money? Share your comments below.

Sanitation Struggles on the Homestead

Sanitation Struggles on the Homestead

There are certain things that you really don’t consider when beginning your homestead. For us, it was garbage.

Before Berry Man came home to work on the homestead full-time, we took the easy way out. Sure, we burned paper every week in a burn barrel like most country folk, but we gathered the rest of our garbage in a huge black trash bag. Berry Man performed his weekly trash duty by hauling our big black trash bags to the dumpster at work. Out of sight, out of mind.

We knew that once he transitioned to our full-time homestead man, we would need to figure out something to do with our trash. There was a dumpster at my work, but hauling there wasn’t an option. We really just figured we would add trash service…until we made the call to check prices. WOWSERS!

We knew that we would have to reevaluate our sanitation situation in order to meet our homesteading goals. 

So we decided to take it back to the basics with a new plan.

5 Ways We Reduced Waste On Our Homestead

5 Ways we reduced waste on our homestead

  1. Use real plates.
    • Paper plates really are quite a convenience. After spending my day herding cats, I mean teaching children, I would often want to use paper plates for supper just because it was easy. While paper plates can be burned, they don’t burn well and would fill our burn barrel more quickly than we would like. Washing four more plates really isn’t that big of a deal. Plus, you get the bonus of money saved from purchasing paper plates.
  2. Compost your scraps or let the animals compost it for your.
    • Sometimes we would just haul off scraps because we didn’t want to take them outside to the compost pile. We need all the compost we can get for our gardens, so we needed to come up with a more convenient process. At this point, we have a container with a lid that we fill. Once it is full, we take it out to compost. We keep the compost bucket on our porch and bring it in each day when I cook. Sometimes we take it directly to compost, but the rabbits and chickens also help us with our veggie scraps. It is a nice supplement for them, especially in the winter months.
  3. Find a place to recycle.
    • Much of what we were throwing away each week could actually be recycled. Once we started paying attention, we realized that instead of hauling trash to town, we could begin hauling recyclables to town. Most cities, and even many small towns now, have a place to take recycling at no cost to you. Reduce waste and reduce cost…It’s a win-win.
  4. Consider what you purchase.
    • I have been a label reader for years. Searching for strange-sounding ingredients is second nature for me, so looking for recycling symbols was something easy to add to my shopping routine. When choosing an item to purchase, consider what you will do with the waste. I’m looking for waste I can burn or recycle. Since I make most of our meals from scratch, there isn’t much that I purchase that produces much waste that we cannot recycle, burn, or compost.
  5. Reuse or repurpose. 
    • Berry Man is the king of repurposing. Not only does he like to keep every item we can’t dispose of, but he remembers where he puts it, and is able to find it at a moments notice when we need it for a project. Boy, did I pick a good one!

Not only have these steps helped us figure out what to do with our waste, but it has helped us reduce our waste, increase our compost, feed our chickens and rabbits, and save money. We went from having at least one large black bag of waste per week to having a small grocery sack of waste once in a while, which is very easy to dispose of at no cost.

Convenience is nice, but sustainability secures our homestead for the future. 

What steps have you taken to reduce your waste? Leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

Growing Lettuce in the Winter

Growing Lettuce in Winter (1)

One of our homestead goals for the near future is to be able to grow lettuce year round. That can be quite difficult with winter temperatures often reaching below zero. While we have not perfected our process yet, we have a pretty good plan to be growing lettuce year round by next year (hopefully).

Using Low Tunnels

We have had success the past couple of years using simple low tunnels. The key has been to start the lettuce and try to get it full-grown before the first frost in the fall. Usually that means that we plant in late August or early September. Lettuce likes the cooler weather, so we try to do our final planting when the soil gets cooler.

Once the weather gets cold, the lettuce does not grow much at all. It does fine out in the open as long as temperatures do not drop below freezing. My family really likes mixed baby greens, and they do not do well if they get a frost on them. We also grow romaine, which can handle cooler temperatures. Kale is hearty and can handle cold temperatures pretty successfully.

Our kale is a little yellow here. We got several inches of rain after Christmas. This picture was taken in early January.

When the temperatures start dropping below freezing, it is time to cover the lettuce. We use the tines of an old hay rake to make the arches for our low tunnel. The cover is just a cheap piece of plastic painting dropcloth.

Bricks seem the best way to keep the plastic down. Our dogs will chew off any little piece that flops around, so it is really important to keep the excess tight.

On rare days when the temperatures rise into the upper 40’s or 50’s, we take the plastic off to let the lettuce get some air. This is nice on days we get a winter rain to wash it off a bit. Be careful though and watch the weather for dropping temps.

Increasing Protection

One thing we have added this year is a fence around the outside of our tunnel. In the past we have had some issues with the dogs wanting to run over them. This year, we have to increase security to keep the chickens out.

It amazes me how warm it stays under that little low tunnel. It’s 15 degrees outside here and the lettuce looks happy inside.

Future Goals

Our goal for next season is to add a high-tunnel hoop house where we can grow enough lettuce to last us throughout the winter. With our current setup, we can eat up our lettuce pretty quickly and it doesn’t grow back quite as well as it does in the spring.

A perk of having the hoop house is that you can put a low tunnel inside it, raising your growing temperatures even higher. I am hoping this will act more like a greenhouse so I can continue to start seeds throughout the season, and therefore have several plantings to eat from.

Have you ever tried growing lettuce in the winter? What was your experience like? Leave your comments below.