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.

How We Plant Blueberries in Clay Soil

How We Plant Blueberries in Clay Soil

Today is one of my favorite days of the year…Blueberry Planting Day! In order to be able to cash flow our farm, we have limited our blueberry purchasing to 100 blueberries bushes per year. That amount has proven to be beneficial to us because we can actually plant that many in a timely fashion and get a price break from our nursery.

We have learned to grow blueberries completely through reading. Supposedly, “blueberries can’t grow in my area” because the soil conditions are not right. Blueberries require highly acidic, well-drained soil. Our soil has a fairly neutral pH and is mostly clay…not the ideal environment for blueberries. We combat this less-than-ideal home by hauling out our soil and hauling in organic peat moss.

Yes…blueberries are that important to us.

In order to keep our soil optimal for our blueberries, we fertilize and adjust pH on a weekly basis using a fertilizer for acid-loving plants. While everything else we use on them is organic, we have not switched out the weekly fertilizer and pH treatments yet. We have had much success going this route, and are a little afraid of going completely organic with our blueberries at this point in time because they are so finicky in our native soils. Hopefully, once we have several thoroughly established, we can begin experimenting with some using organic fertilizers and pH adjustments.

Luckily, we had some good weather early this spring so Berry Man could get our soil prepared to plant. We got a lot of rain earlier this week, so the conditions are not ideal for planting, but we’ll get it done.

We plant our blueberries in a hill to help keep the roots drained. It is easier to irrigate them than it is to get them out of a puddle. Blueberries don’t like “wet feet.”

We surround the root ball with organic peat moss before mixing our own soil in. That seems to give the plant roots a better start.

When we can, we top the blueberry bushes with old pine needles for a sustainable mulch. Since our big land clearing project last fall, we don’t have many pine needles available this year. The chickens enjoy scratching in the pine needles we have, and they are just too hot to put around the bushes at this point in time. We will have to try something different for this year, but I know it will be excellent organic fertilizer for next year.

When the need arises and the time allows, we will lay drip line in the rows to irrigate. Thankfully the days of hauling water in buckets are over!

At this point, we have nearly 400 blueberry bushes. We are hoping to stop there and wait for them to fully mature before we plant any more. We don’t want to have more plants than we can care for.

How well do blueberries grow in your area? What experiences have you had growing them? Share your comments below.

Mid-April Homestead Happenings

Mid-April Homestead Happenings

A lot is happening on the homestead this spring.

Strawberries are coming through the winter straw. The plants look healthy and vibrant.

This year’s strawberry patch

If you search hard enough, you can find some strawberries blooming.

Rows of blueberries in full bloom

The bees are happily pollinating the blueberry blooms.

Our honeybee hive survived the winter. We are so excited to have these helpful workers on our homestead.

Rows of blackberries

The blackberries are opening.

Raspberries are popping through the ground. We are hoping to have a few to sell for the first time this year. 

What’s happening on your homestead this time of year? Are you as excited as I am? Share you comments below.

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)

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.

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.