Building an Outdoor Kitchen on the Homestead

Anyone who has canned tomatoes in their house will know the extreme mess it can be. Seeds on the floor…juice on the ceiling, and pulp everywhere in between. I love having fresh-canned produce on our farm, but the mess I create in the process can often be discouraging. For years we have dreamed about adding an outdoor kitchen to our homestead, and finally that dream is becoming a reality.

Everything we have purchased and built for our berry business we have done with the intention for it to help with our homesteading goals as well. We are hoping to use this outdoor kitchen to prepare our canned goods for the year, but also use as a purchasing place for our berries, eggs, and other produce we sell. We plan to call it, “The Berry Barn.”

Berry Man spent the winter building the Berry Barn from the ground up. We decided we wanted it to be on skids so we could move it if need be…plus it helps on our property taxes.

Our kitchen sits on these leveled stepping stones.

Working on the shell of the building

Finishing the roof

For this season, our goal is to just make the kitchen functional. We will finalize our decorations and such as time and money allows.

 

Our chalk board is made from an old window covered with chalkboard paint.

Our gas stove is powered by a propane cylinder which sits outside the barn. We will have to use the stove to heat water for this year. A hot water heater is on our future goals list.

Cold running water comes into the sink through a garden hose. The water drains back outside of the building.

Our electricity, gas, and water all come in through the back of the building.

Instead of running electricity for lights, we plan on just getting oil lanterns. Since we will use it mostly in the summertime, I don’t see much of a need for light. I prefer natural lighting. The windows let in a lot of light, and help keep the place heated and cooled.

At this point, we are using the attic/loft area for storage. Eventually, we would like to have it set up as a multi-purpose camping spot for the Berry Kids.

Do you have an outdoor kitchen? What is it like and what do you use it for? Share your comments below.

Advertisements

Finding Balance During Transition

In October when Berry Man starting working at home full-time, I knew it was going to be a transition…for all of us. But I really don’t think I understood all of the transitions that would need to take place.

Since we are still building our homestead, we had several projects to last the whole winter…building a bigger chicken house, cutting firewood, building fences for future animals, and building our outdoor kitchen.

In past years, Berry Man and I have both worked full-time and tackled these “extra jobs” together in the evenings and weekends. But now that Berry Man is working here full-time, our hours have changed. Now, when I come home from work, Berry Man is also finishing up his day of work. This has greatly freed up our evenings and weekends for much needed family time.

All of these winter jobs were really jobs that Berry Man would lead for us anyway, and I would help out as needed.  All winter, I just was feeling blessed to be able to relax a little. I could come home from work and my work would be done for the day…novel concept, I know.

Now that it is spring time, I am struggling  little more with the transition. I know it has been over six months since we have made this change, but this is the time of year we would really spend a lot of time getting things ready for the season. Now when I get home from work, everything is done.

I thought I would be grateful for the free time, and I am…but to be honest, I really miss it. Since I am the one with the summers off, I was more of the “manager” of the berry patch. Now, I am more of the assistant. I have spent the past several years researching and planning everything with the berries, and now I am releasing much of that work to Berry Man. I know he will do an excellent job, and I need to let it go so I can have more focused time with God and my family.

So tonight we sat down to discuss our roles and how they have changed. We talked about what parts of the farm are now part of Berry Man’s job and what parts I can continue as part of my “hobby time.”

I will continue to care for my beloved (and finicky) blueberries, and Berry Man will take care of the rest…at least until summer break. On the weekends, we spend time together and with our family, something we haven’t been able to do in quite some time–working full-time jobs on top of our berry farm.

And believe me, I’m counting down the days…until those three special months when I can focus all of my attention on my family, our homestead, and our berry business. It can’t come soon enough!

When to Take the Homesteading Plunge

When I look back at my life, I giggle. In all of my dreams and aspirations, never once did I think, “My goals in life are to work at home with my family, preserve all my food, and grow and sell berries.”

Who am I? How could this happen?

The long story is incredibly complicated, but the short story is incredibly simple: GOD.

All my life, God has prepared me for the mission ahead of me. From a young age, I begged my parents to grow a garden. I remember once my dad helped me plant a strawberry patch, but not long after my mom mowed over it.

That was the end of my gardening adventures at home.

Luckily, my high school jobs directly prepared me for what I aspire to do today. I spent my first couple of working summers cleaning out the bird barns on my dad’s hunting preserve. Later I began conducting agricultural research projects for my soil-scientist uncle. I was in charge of the horticultural studies, growing vegetables in 100 foot rows, much like I do today. While I knew I enjoyed this line of work, I didn’t realize that I would one day try to open my own specialty crop business.

My college years led me to a large city a couple of hours away. I began as a business major. All I really knew is that I wanted to work in a business and make lots of money (ha!) While I did fine in my business classes, I really didn’t know where it was all going to lead.

After a couple of years away from my small-town life, and I realized that a small-town was where I needed to be. A degree in business really didn’t make sense in the small-town world. I found myself enjoying coaching and teaching younger players on my athletic team, and decided that I had the heart of a teacher. So, off I went to change my major from business to teaching.

I loved every minute of my education classes, and just knew that teaching was something I would enjoy for the rest of my life. I never thought I would need all of my experiences taking care of birds, growing and researching vegetables, and learning the in’s and out’s of running a business, but it looks like God has a different plan.

Eventually, I married Berry Man, had a few kids, and had my dream job in my hometown. Life appeared great on the outside…even I thought everything was great. But as time went on, I began to realize that my priorities were way out of order. My job became an idol in my life.

You see, I am quite a perfectionist and thrive on being the very best at everything I do. In order to keep my job during our school’s economic crisis, I decided that it was imperative that I prove that I was the very best teacher in our district in order to keep my job.

This turned into endless hours for researching current best practices, creating differentiated units to meet the needs of each individual students, documenting behaviors and interventions, and when I actually had time…teaching a room full of cherubs.

School came before everything…before God, before my family, before myself. 

During that time in my life, I pretty much was just running on fumes all the time, because in addition to all of this, I also ran our developing berry business in my “spare time.” It wasn’t until Berry Man started working here full-time that I was able to actually slow down enough to realize the work that God was doing in my life.

Working in the berry patch in the summer has been my saving grace. Picking berries alone in the field is my time to connect with God. It seems as though when I am out there, everything is right in my world.  I can see God all around me, and reflect on life and see His guidance through it all.

With Berry Man taking over many of the day-to-day chores around the homestead, I was able to spend more time reading God’s word and listening to his guidance in prayer. The more time I spent with Him, the more I realized how off-track my life had become.

The more I put God first, the more I can see His path unfolding before me, like a deer trail in the woods. I can see the path, but there are so many branches and thorns in the way that it is difficult to travel, and I am not completely sure the best way to reach my destination.

Patience is not my strong suit, but I know I need to to look for and wait for God’s perfect timing. I can see God’s plan weaving through my experiences, and while I am anxious to be able to homestead and work from home full-time, I know I cannot do these things in my own power.

Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that whoever reads it may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)

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.

cutting wood

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!

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 2)

When we planted our first blueberry bushes in 2012 we really weren’t sure how successful they were going to be. The more we talked to people about planting blueberries, the more stories we heard about locals trying to plant blueberries in their home gardens with little or no success.

While we were determined to figure out how to get the blueberries to produce, we knew it would be 5-7 years before they would reach full production.

Instead of just waiting until then, we needed to continue adding to our homestead.

Our Short-lived Tree Farm

With this in mind, we actually started our business plan as a tree farm, rather than a berry farm. That first year (around the time we planted 100 new blueberry bushes), we planted 1,000 Norway spruce seedlings. All of them were planted by hand, in open space on our land and in the woods.

We thought this could bring us some variety, but with the drought, all it brought us was 1,000 dead Norway spruce seedlings.

Water was an insurmountable challenge. All the trees needed to be watered by hand with watering buckets. The trees were even further from the water source than the blueberries.

It came down to the fact that we had to choose what to keep alive. The cost of the blueberry bushes and the potential profit years down the road resulted in us fighting for those little bushes instead of the trees.

Just a Few Strawberries

While I was so excited about those little blueberries growing in the field, my husband wanted to grow a few strawberries, just for us to eat. I went to the local gardening store and purchased 18 strawberry plants and put them at the edge of a field. I knew that we wouldn’t get many the first year, so I just planted them, watered them once and a while and forgot about them.

We decided not to even straw around them in the winter time. If they made it through the winter, they made it. If they didn’t we weren’t out but a few bucks. I figured we could try again another year, when the weather was more favorable, and I felt like I had more time to devote to them.

Besides, who would want to spend all that time bent over picking strawberries?

Strawberry SURPRISE!

The following spring, my husband took the day off from his other job to get caught up around the homestead. While he was evaluating what needed to be done, he noticed that the strawberries went a little crazy over the winter. There were runners rooted in everywhere!

So…he gets an idea…

By the time I got home from work, he had broken the sod and tilled up about half an acre with an 18″ hand tiller. Then he transplanted all of the new strawberry plants, enough to almost fill the area he tilled.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 at 7.43.34 PM - Edited

Our 18 strawberry plants turned into 125, with almost no day-to-day effort on our part!

We sold every strawberry we didn’t eat that season. A few people heard we had strawberries, and before we knew it we had more demand for than we could possibly fill.

This really got us thinking and evaluating all the time we were spending on the blueberries, irrigating, mulching, adjusting soil pH levels, and checking for nutrient deficiencies.

This was when we made the decision to go “all in” on strawberries, at least until our blueberries were producing. We ordered 2,000 strawberry plants to plant that summer. It takes a year before they really produce, so we were hopeful that by the following summer, we would have enough strawberries to be able to fill the demand in the area.

The First Sign

One day while we were planting some of the 2,000 strawberries we ordered, my husband stopped me and wanted to talk.

Apparently he had been praying for a sign that we were doing the right thing starting our berry farm. As he went out the door that morning, he asked the Lord to give him a sign that he was making the right decision to move forward with the business. We had no idea how we were going to make everything work.

That day he experienced his first direct answer to prayer. He was working on a planter for a local farmer. This farmer was unsuccessfully battling Stage 4 cancer. The two of them were talking about the work that needed to be done when all of a sudden the farmer grabbed him and said, “Boy, if there is something you are wanting to do, you better do it!” Then he went right back into the conversation.

This conversation was exactly the sign we were looking for. Following our own hearts and our Lord, we decided that a berry farm was exactly what we needed.

Want to learn more about why we started our berry farm? Click the link below.

 

 

 

 

What Can We Possibly Give to Jesus?

What can we possibly give to Jesus picture (2)

The events the past couple years have really helped my whole family grow closer to Jesus. As we look around at all of our blessings, direct answers to prayer, and daily guidance in our decisions, we realize how we it all to Him.

We have always explained to the kids that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday and tried to work against the societal norm truly focus on the “reason for the season” rather than Santa Claus and presents, but about a year ago the kids suggested taking it a step further.

We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and tried to think of a present to give to Him.

What can we possibly give to Jesus? My husband and I have faithfully modeled good Bible-reading habits as we have grown stronger in our faith, but had not really shared that joy with the kids.

It was time for that to change.

The kids were so excited about the new change to their bedtime routine. Every night we discuss our favorite and least-favorite parts of our day. Then we read a section of the Bible. Usually it is not a whole chapter, but one heading of a chapter at the very least.

At first we started in the Old Testament. I made bookmarks with a reading plan that outlined what we were going to read each evening and we went down the list and looked forward to the next evening’s reading.

We had been watching the History Channel series “The Bible” as a family over Christmas break. This seemed to give the kids a general background knowledge of what was happening, and whenever we read a story that was visualized in the series, the kids would make connections as we discussed the reading.

Listening to them discuss the Bible with each other has been absolutely amazing! Just another blessing to add to the list.

Anything that involved Jesus totally engulfed their attention, so as we progressed, we decided to put away the daily reading bookmarks and focus our studies on the New Testament.

Did we finish the entire Bible in a year? No, but what we gained was so much more.

  • We are redirecting a small amount of time during our day for quality time with each other and with our Lord and Savior.
  • We are remaining in God so He can remain in us like John 15:4 guides us to do.
  • We are creating a lifelong love for God’s word by making connections to things in our everyday lives, from guidance on how to choose friends to praying for bullies.
  • We construct a family basis of knowledge of how to live in a way pleasing to God. This really helps rationalize disciplinary procedures for all of us.

The Bible truly is the living word of God. It answers all of life’s tough questions. 

I thought it would be hard to think of something to give to Jesus. His grace is beyond compare, but He wants our time to draw us nearer to Him.

Time…a gift beyond compare.

Do you read the Bible with your kids? What are your routines? How has it changed your family? Share your comments below.

 

 

A Year of Changes

This year has been a year of changes. As I reflect upon the year, I started counting the things we have changed as a family, and it seems as though there are more than I can count.

I have always made resolutions at the beginning of the new year, and I have noticed small improvements for at least a portion of the year…but this year was different.

Change Quote Picture

Let me start with a list of the things we changed. I will give details to each of these changes in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

  1. For Christmas last year, we chose to give Jesus our time on a daily basis.
  2. My husband now works for our business full-time.
  3. We cleared an acre of pine trees and woods to increase our crop space.
  4. We sold most of our berries from our home, rather than packing up the truck for market.
  5. We hired our first non-family employees.
  6. We planted most of our strawberries in the spring, before harvest.
  7. We started a new building to expand our business.
  8. We more than doubled our chicken flock and began selling eggs.
  9. We are now amateur beekeepers.
  10. We dramatically reduced our use of conventional medicine boosting our natural systems with healthy foods and essential oils.
  11. We tried to eat non-processed food as much as possible.
  12. I started making homemade breakfast cereal regularly.
  13. I started making a made-from-scratch treat of the week.
  14. We tried an elimination diet again for a few weeks to recheck allergies.
  15. We focused on using traditional cookware (No Plastic!).
  16. We became coffee snobs. We LOVE our new french press!
  17. Three words: Apple…Cider…Vinegar!
  18. We started making and using natural deodorant, lotion, and lip balm.
  19. We quit using all hair products including shampoo, conditioner, mousse, gel, and hairspray.
  20. We got a new dog.
  21. The whole family took a vacation day to deer hunt on opening day.

Why did these changes stick this time?

I believe it was because of change #1: Giving Jesus our time daily. When we put Christ first, He helps us achieve goals that we cannot achieve in our own power.

You may have also noticed that these were WE changes instead of ME changes. Have you ever thought about improving your family, rather than just focusing on yourself? We are on the same page in this journey, and I think our family unit has strengthened throughout the process.

Most of the changes we have made are deemed “strange” and “unnecessary” in our current society. Why make natural deodorant when you can just buy it for cheap? Why grow and make your meals from scratch when you can get it at the store? You used a vacation day for deer hunting?!?

Our world has changed as we have changed our thinking. Our change in thinking has helped our family more forward in our quest for self-sufficient, healthy living.

Have you ever made family resolutions? Share your experience below.