Livestock panels, sometimes called cattle panels, hog panels or sheep panels are not only a God send to fencing for a variety of animals, but have many other uses as well. Panels are 16-feet long and made of heavy gauge galvanized welded wire and vary in height from 36-inches to 54-inches. With a few panels and tee-posts, a sledge hammer and some fastening wire a single person, or two people, can create a sturdy pen for their animals.

As a single shepherd, I had no time for repairing fences or chasing escaped sheep, so livestock panels became my “go to” supply not only for fencing, but for a variety of other farm projects, from trellises for climbing peas or beans, to supports for espaliered fruit trees and berry canes, to outdoor pens for growing meat chickens and ducks.

What I especially like about these panels are their many uses around the farm or in the garden. They are more than just fencing, they are a multipurpose necessity, even on a small suburban homestead.

 

Check out these inspiring uses for livestock panels, or let your imagination run wild.

 

  • Storage or Firewood Shelter
  • Hog Moving Panel
  • Greenhouse or Potting Shed
  • Trellis for Climbing Crops & Flowers
  • Support for Espaliered Fruit Trees
  • Portable Chicken or Rabbit Tractor
  • Arbor for Climbing Roses, Berries or Grapes
  • Livestock Housing or Shaded Area
  • Livestock Alley
  • Livestock Hay Feeders
  • Hanging Tool Rack
  • Livestock Transport Box for Pick-up Truck

 

What great ideas do you have for using livestock panels on your suburban homestead?

I’m notorious for cobbling recipes together—seriously—no kidding!

 

I rarely—if ever—follow a recipe from start to finish without looking for ways to make it different (ah hem, giving it my touch, I mean).

So, when I visited the newest addition to our culinary scene I just had to try one of the dishes at home.

It was a work lunch.  Someone had suggested we try the new Cuban restaurant in town.  Being the foodies we all are we couldn’t resist.  Well—let me tell ya, we were not disappointed…not at all.

It was a fun, lively open air place with long wooden tables where you, and the strangers sitting near you, could ooh and ahh over the rich, spicy aromas wafting in from the kitchen.  It was like one big beach party, rather than a stuffy business lunch with colleagues.

As is our want to do, we ordered different dishes so we could taste many different items from the menu.  Sounds strangely unsettling for a biz lunch, but when you are friends as well as colleagues, business lunches take on a whole new meaning.  We love to share.

There were Cuban style taco concoctions, black beans and rice; a Cuban-style shredded beef; mojo-marinated pork shoulder roast; a Cuban-style chicken Stew; and, the Cubano Sandwich, piled high with ham, pork, pickles and cheese.

We ate, stealing tidbits from each other, laughed and talked as friends and colleagues, with as little business as possible being conducted.  The one business-like discussion we did have revolved around which dish was our favorite.  Hands down the fan favorite was the Cubano Sandwich, the perfect combination of savory slow-cooked pork, the bite of dill pickles and the creaminess of mayo and Dijon mustard all held together by two layers of melted Swiss cheese. YUM!!!

So—in true to me fashion I asked the restaurant if they would share the recipe.  After a bit of friendly girl talk…okay…a lot of girl talk…well… some would call it serious flirting…the darling restaurant owner gave me the basic rundown of how to make a Cubano Sandwich.  Armed with that info and with a bit of time combing the internet for recipes I cobbled together a few that I liked.

Knowing that this would make a lot, I enlisted the help of my family to be guinea pigs for my latest culinary creation.  We served our sandwiches with black beans, white rice, and coleslaw. The results were amazing and no one went away hungry, or disappointed.  SUCCESS!!

 

To try your own island creation check out the recipe below.

A word of warning, though, these are the perfect dripping, gooey flavorful sandwich, so break out the dish towels, folks, ‘cause a napkin ain’t gonna cut it!

 

 

Slow Cooker Cuban Pork Roast

 

INGREDIENTS:

To Make Slow Cooker Cuban Pork:

  • 2 Pounds pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt & ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 4 Cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed with the side of your knife
  • 1/4 Teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 1 Medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Lime, fresh squeezed
  • 1 Cup chicken broth
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 4 Cuban bread rolls or other firm bread like a Telera Roll
  • Mayo
  • Dijon mustard
  • Dill pickles, sliced
  • 8 Thin slices Swiss cheese
  • 8 Thin slices deli ham
  • Butter

 

 

 

DIRECTIONS:

Trim pork shoulder of excess fat. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the slow cooker.

Mix remaining ingredients and pour over pork.  Roll the pork around in the mixture to coat well.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours (meat should be fork tender).

Remove meat and set on cutting board, cut from bone and slice or shred.  Remove any excess fat from the pot.  Return meat until you are ready to assemble the sandwiches.

 

HOW TO BUILD YOUR CUBANO SANDWICH

 

 

Slice rolls in half and butter the outside of the top and bottom.

Smear both sides with a little mayo and Dijon mustard.

Starting on the bottom half, layer with 1 slice of cheese, a slice of the pork roast (at this point you can drizzle with a little of the cooking liquid), the deli ham, the pickle, and then another slice of cheese.  Put the top on.  Stack um high, folks.

Place on a hot Panini maker and close the lid.  Apply slow pressure to compress the sandwich.  It will shrink to about 1/3 of its size.  You can also use a skillet or griddle, but will have to weight down skillet in order to compress the sandwich.  Another heavy skillet will work.

 

 

NOW—pop open a beer, crank up the Caribbean music, and break out your dancing shoes…its party time!

 

Slow Cooker Cuban Pork & Cubano Sandwiches

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Lbs. Pork Shoulder
  • Kosher salt & Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 4 Cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed with the side of your knife
  • 1/4 Teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 1 Medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Lime, fresh squeezed
  • 1 Cup chicken broth
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 4 Cuban bread rolls or other firm bread like a Telera Roll
  • Mayo
  • Dijon mustard
  • Dill pickles, sliced
  • 8 Thin slices Swiss cheese
  • 8 Thin slices deli ham
  • Butter

DIRECTIONS:

  • Trim pork shoulder of excess fat. Place in slow cooker.
  • Mix remaining ingredients and pour over pork. Roll the pork around in the mixture to coat well.
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours (meat should be fork tender).
  • Remove meat and set on cutting board, cut from bone and slice or shred. Remove any excess fat from the pot. Return meat until you are ready to assemble the sandwiches.
  • HOW TO BUILD YOUR CUBANO SANDWICH
  • Slice rolls in half and butter the outside of the top and bottom.
  • Smear both sides with a little mayo and Dijon mustard.
  • Starting on the bottom half, layer with 1 slice of cheese, a slice of the pork roast (at this point you can drizzle with a little of the cooking liquid), the deli ham, the pickle, and then another slice of cheese. Put the top on. Stack um high, folks.
  • Place on a hot Panini maker and close the lid. Apply slow pressure to compress the sandwich. It will shrink to about 1/3 of its size. You can also use a skillet or griddle, but will have to weight down skillet in order to compress the sandwich. Another heavy skillet will work.
http://www.suburbanhomesteading.com/slow-cooker-cuban-pork-cubano-sandwiches/kitchen

The effort to reclaim my little homestead is coming along, albeit slowly, which is fine by me.

 

And, although we are in full planting swing, weather wise, I am happy for a slower less rushed pace to get seeds in the ground.

It’s amazing what a year of inactivity can do to a vegetable patch.  But, the respite has given me the chance to rethink my gardening efforts.  Now that Brianne is out of school and on her own I am cooking for one, rather than two.  You’d think that cooking for one person isn’t that different than cooking for two, but amazingly enough…it is!  More times than not I’m happy to come home and throw together a big salad with tons of chopped veggies and a bit of meat and cheese.  This would have NEVER flown with Brianne in the house.  She was, and still is, a carnivore.

The weather over the past few weeks has been bouncing around like a kite in the wind…hot, cold, rain, wind, take your pick, we’ve had it all.  Although the weather has kept me indoors I haven’t been unproductive.  I’ve used the cold and rainy days as an opportunity to layout my new vegetable garden, sometimes wondering, “what the heck will it be”?

I have to admit, it has been a bit of a struggle deciding how much of each vegetable to plant for a one person household.  In years past I planted with abandon, ending up with mounds of something that looked really tantalizing in the seed catalog, but wasn’t enjoyed or eaten all that much in real life.

I also had to take into consideration how much preserving I would be doing, whether canning or freezing because that would also dictate how much of each seed I planted.

 

But, I think I have a plan!

 

Famous last words, right?

 

So—on a rainy Sunday afternoon I set out to create my new vegetable garden design.  There are no great plans to reconfigure the already installed raised beds.  I’ll just work with what I already have.  First things first, though.  I had to decide “what” to plant.

I thought about my daily meals and what I really like to eat, making a list of all my favorite vegetables and how often I use them.  Onions and carrots, for example, are the basis of many of the dishes I prepare, so they should be planted in greater quantities.  Zucchini, however, I like, but only eat occasionally.  And then there were the decorative pumpkins and winter squash, that can be stored.  This process helped guide my planting decisions.  It was also the beginnings of laying out my beds.

Keep in mind that location will also dictate the planting schedule.  Here in So Cal, where we can garden almost 365-days-a-year, we don’t have to worry about growing enough at one time to last an entire year.  We can plant many veggies, successively, throughout the year.

I decided to incorporate a modified “square-foot” plan where I could plant different seeds in each square rather than a single variety.  So, one square may contain beets, carrots and onions, or lettuce, spinach, and kale.  And, since my beds are 4-feet by 8-feet it will be easy to mark off the 1-foot squares.  It will also make succession planting super easy because I will have two rows of squares to work with—one planted and one waiting to be planted.

I also had to take into consideration the growing habits of some vegetables.  Squash, pumpkins and melons all have a rambling growing habit and can literally take over the garden.  Runner beans, on the other hand, need vertical space and support to handle their meandering ways, so these veggies will be planted outside of my raised beds.

One year our runner beans outgrew their supports and attached themselves to the branches of a neighboring tree.  We had vines more than 15 feet into the tree, making picking a challenge.

Inside my raised beds I will plant root crops, lettuces, spinach, onions, carrots, beets, peppers, bush beans and a variety of other more contained veggies, while the more uncontrollable pumpkins and squash will be planted in the old sheep corral.

But—I still had the uncertainty of how much to plant.  The “square-foot” plots would dictate part of this, but think about how many different varieties of lettuces there are.  As much as I love salads, and eat them often during hot summer months, do I really need multiple squares of lettuce.  I had to really fine tune my garden plan, which I did.

 

The One Person Garden Plan

 

(This plan is for MY one person household, based on my personal preferences, but can be increased to accommodate a larger family, or food preservation plans.)

 

Beans (bush): 4-6 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Beans (pole):  3-6 plants (for each of my 3 arbors)

Beets: 30-50 plants (successively planted throughout the season)

Broccoli: 6-12 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Brussel Sprouts: 3-6 plants (successively planted throughout the season)

Cabbage (Asian): 4-6 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Cabbage (Green): 4-6 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Carrots: 30-50 plants (successively planted throughout the season)

Cauliflower: 3-6 plants (successively planted throughout the season)

Cucumbers (Slicing): 3-6 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Cucumbers (Specialty): 3-6 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Garlic: 15-20 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Kale: 2-4 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Lettuce & Musclun: 2-4 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Melons: 2-4 plants (planted at the same time)

Onions: 20-40 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Parsnips: 10-12 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals, late summer to early fall)

Peas: 10-12 plants (successively planted at 1-week intervals, early spring to winter)

Potatoes (Bakers, Mashers & Fingerlings): 15-20 plants (planted at the same time)

Potatoes (Sweet & Yams): 10-15 plants (planted at the same time)

Pumpkins: 3-6 plants (planted at the same time)

Radishes: 20-30 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Shallots: 20-40 plants (successively planted at 2-week intervals)

Spinach: 30-50 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Squash (Summer): 1-2 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Squash (Winter): 2-3 plants (successively planted at 3-week intervals)

Sweet Peppers: 2-4 plants (planted at the same time)

Tomatoes: 3-5 plants (planted at the same time)

 

With my new garden layout and a more realistic planting schedule, I should have fresh, homegrown produce all year long!

 

Set your Mother’s Day celebration apart this year with something truly unique and beautiful—Tangerine Mimosas!

 

Nothing says “I Love You” better than a sweet, bubbly, pretty cocktail perfect for moms special Brunch.

I picked the last of the tangerines from my dwarf tree today.  It is by far the most productive fruit tree I have on my little suburban homestead, which always surprises me considering the little thing barely stands 4-feet tall.  Each fall it sets hundreds of sweetly scented white blossoms that turn into sweet, juicy tangerines months later, just in time to ward off the grey days of winter.

They provide a great source of vitamin C all winter long and remind us that spring is no too far off.  We usually eat them fresh as a snack or as a side fruit with lunch.  It’s not hard to eat a half dozen in one sitting…they’re that good!

This last pick wasn’t huge, about a two dozen, or so, fruits.  But, it WAS enough to mix up a refreshing batch of tangerine mimosas, and that’s what I decided to do with them.  Mimosas are such a festive way to spend a lingering afternoon in the sun, but sometimes the same old recipe gets boring.  Since mimosas are super easy to make, and very forgiving in the kind of juice you use, I decided to “mix things up” as it were and juice the tangerines instead of the standard orange juice.

And, boy was it delicious!  Light, sweet, refreshing…perfectly lovely.

 

Tangerine Mimosa Recipe

 

INGREDIENTS

3 cups fresh squeezed tangerine juice

1 bottle champagne, chilled (750ml)

Strips of tangerine peel for garnish

 

DIRECTIONS

Squeeze tangerines and place juice in the fridge for an hour or more to chill.

Divide tangerine juice evenly between 4 Champagne flutes.  Top with Champagne.  Slightly stir to blend and garnish with the strips of tangerine peel.  Serve immediately.  Makes 4 servings.

Cook’s Note:  Blood Oranges, Cara Cara Oranges or Ruby Red Grapefruit would be wonderful alternatives, as well.

 

Tangerines and Champagne…what a perfect combination for this Mother’s Day weekend!

 

Well—I’ve gone and done it this time!

 

I really have.

 

In my eagerness to reclaim my suburban homestead and get green things growing again, I started a bunch..and I mean a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse.  I prowled through my seed box and found the flower seeds I wanted.  I straightened up the greenhouse and prepared my workspace (can we say cobwebs?).  I cleaned and sanitized the pots I would use.  I even ran to town to buy…yes…buy…seed starting soil so I didn’t have to spend time mixing my own.

Sounds okay so far, right?

Then I filled the pots, planted the seeds, watered them in and set them on trays in the sunny windows of my greenhouse, and then I impatiently waited.

And, waited.

And, waited.

Nothing.

Still nothing.

 

Have you ever experienced that…

…you prep the soil, carefully draw out the planting rows, gingerly plant the seeds, water everything in, wait for the proper amount of time for germination…then nothing happen??

 

If you have, then you know what I’m talking about.

 

What started off as a great idea unfortunately turned into a dismal failure.  I broke a cardinal rule of gardeners, and that is to test a small sample of seeds if the package date is older than THIS growing season, to make sure the seeds are still viable.

And, that’s where it all went off the rails.

I didn’t test my seeds!  Can you see me gritting my teeth with an annoyed look on my face?  Yeah, not Pretty!

Seeds are tough little guys and they can have a decent shelf life, if you store them properly.  But, seeds that are a few years old may have a reduced germination rate so you’ll want to find that out before you start shoving them in the ground.

I know…”do as I say and not as I do” is running through my head right now.

So what am I doing, now?  You guessed it.  I’m taking the time to test a sampling of my vegetable and herb seeds to make sure that I don’t waste any more time, energy or supplies planting dead seeds.

 

Steps for Testing Seed Viability

 

Supplies:

 

Old seeds you want to test

A few sheets of paper towel

Spray bottle with water (make sure it wasn’t used for anything that could kill your seeds)

Plastic bag

Marker

 

STEP 1:  Fold a paper towel in quarters and mark off the quadrants with a marker.

STEP 2:  Label each quarter with the seed you want to test.

STEP 3:  Lightly spray the whole towel with water.  You want it damp, but not sopping wet.

STEP 4:  Place 5 seeds on the paper towel. (I use 5, so I can calculate the germination rate, but not waste seeds)

STEP 5:  Spray a second paper towel and place it on top of the first.  This will make sure there is dampness all around the seeds, and help hold the seeds in place while you roll up the paper towel.

STEP 6:  Place rolled, damp paper towel in a plastic bag and seal it.  Place the bag in a warm place.

 

Germination times will vary depending on seed variety. (Beans and peas are fairly fast, while pumpkins and squash will take longer, but a general rule of thumb is 7 to 14 days for most garden seeds, unless you’re a radish seed, then they’re ridiculously fast to germinate).

Check the dampness of the paper towels daily. You don’t want them to dry out or your seeds will stop germinating.  Re-spritz if necessary.

A few days after your seeds begin to sprout count how many have sprouted vs. how many have not.  You’ll need this information to calculate the germination rate.  At this point, you can plant the sprouted seeds either in pots or in the garden, depending on the type.

 

Calculating Seed Germination Rate

 

To calculate the germination rate: divide the number of germinated seeds by the total number of seeds in the test sample then multiply by 100.

Example:

5 seeds germinated/5 seeds in sample x 100 = 100% germination

2 seeds germinated/5 seeds in sample x 100 = 40% germination

3 seeds germinated/5 seeds in sample x 100 = 60% germination

 

The higher the germination rate, the higher success you’ll have in the garden.  A low germination rate does not always mean disaster in the garden.  Low germinated seeds can be double planted to make up for the low rate.

Seeds that were packaged for “THIS” growing season do not need to be tested, only older seeds.

 

Seed Storage & Viability Chart

 

Seed Type Longevity of Properly Stored Seeds
Artichokes 5 years
Arugula 3 years
Beans 3 years
Beets 4 years
Broccoli 3 years
Brussels Sprouts 4 years
Cabbage 4 years
Carrots 3 years
Cauliflower 4 years
Celery/Celeriac 5 years
Chard 4 years
Collards 5 years
Corn 2 years
Cress 5 years
Cucumbers 5 years
Eggplant 4 years
Endive/Escarole 5 years
Fennel 4 years
Kale 4 years
Kohlrabi 4 years
Leeks 1 year
Lettuce 5 years
Melons 5 years
Mustard 4 years
Okra 2 years
Onions 1 year
Peas 3 years
Peppers 2 years
Pumpkins 4 years
Radish 5 years
Rutabagas 4 years
Spinach 2-3 years
Summer Squash 4 years
Tomatoes 4 years
Turnips 5 years
Watermelon 4 years
Winter Squash 4 years

 

 

I came home the other night to find one of my hens dead.  She had hidden herself in the corner of the coop, near the feed bin. 

 

It was sad, because I love watching my girls cluck and scratch around the yard, and I will miss the eggs, but losing livestock on a homestead is not uncommon, it’s part of the farm life.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy or something we get use to.  A farmer NEVER likes to lose livestock because it’s lost income or food.  But, aside from the financial considerations, farmers are the most animal loving people you will ever meet.  They will go out of their way to protect and care for their animals.  So, if we lose one, we take it personally.

Livestock loses are, however, something we must accept as part of living this life.  Illness, disease, predators, even accidents are a fact of life on a homestead.  We do our best to prevent such events, but sometimes life is beyond our control.

 

Ok…I’m gonna say something you may think is completely horrible, but completely true…livestock are not pets.

 

There…I said it.

 

Sure we can get attached to a friendly milk cow, a playful goat or a wonderfully productive breeding ewe, but at the end of the day a vet bill may add up to more than the animal is worth, in terms of monetary value.  The emotional value is a different matter altogether.

Trust me, after decades of raising livestock I have lost my fair share of animals—sometimes to illness, sometimes to lambing difficulties, sometimes to predators, and sometimes in horrific circumstances, like a dog attack.

 

Raising livestock is certainly NOT for the faint of heart!

 

After checking the hen over, I determined she died because she was egg bound, which is the inability of a hen to fully expel an egg.  Basically, the egg got stuck in the oviduct.

 

Causes of egg bound:

 

  • A lack of calcium or other nutrients needed for good health
  • An overweight hen
  • A young hen
  • An unusually large egg
  • A misshapen egg

 

What was really puzzling is that my hens are fed a balanced layer mash with added calcium, they have free range of the garden, so they get plenty of exercise and are not overweight, and they are not young.  So, most of the causes of egg bound were not present.

Hens also usually show signs of being egg bound, which she did not, at least not that I saw the day or so before she passed.

 

Signs a hen is egg bound:

 

  • She lays around looking sick, lethargic, fluffing herself
  • She has a decreased appetite and isn’t drinking much
  • If she is walking, she walks like a penguin, stopping and trying to squat
  • She may appear to be straining, like she’s trying to expel something, which she is
  • She may pump her tail up and down, trying to expel the egg
  • She may also be panting

 

What can you do if your hen is egg bound?

 

There are a few things you can do to help the hen release the egg, once you’ve determined she really is egg bound.  The above signs can be an indicator of several other conditions, so you’ll have to be sure.

First, wash your hands in warm soapy water and apply a lubricant, like vegetable oil.  Very gently insert a finger into the vent, pushing straight back an inch or two.  You should be able to feel the egg.  If you don’t, she’s not egg bound.

If you do feel an egg, prepare a shallow tub or wash pan with warm water and Epsom salts at a ratio of 1-gallon water to 1-cup salts.  The water should be deep enough so that the hen’s belly is submerged about 3 to 4 inches.

Gently put her into the water bath and let her relax there for 15 to 20-minutes.  The moist heat will help her relax so she can pass the egg.  After 20-minutes remove her from the water and gently towel her off.  Apply some of the vegetable oil around and just inside her vent, then set her in a warm, dim, quiet place where she can rest.  A dog crate works great for this because you can keep an eye on her.

Once you get her settled in, give her 1cc of calcium and some Nutri-Drench (according to package directions), then leave her alone to pass the egg.  This may take a bit of time, so be patient.  Be especially gentle during the entire process because the hen will be uncomfortable.

 

Despite your best efforts, though, she may not expel the egg, at which point you can seek a vet’s advice.

 

So—here’s my second horrible statement.

 

Does a hen warrant the expense of a vet?

 

For me personally, the answer is no.

 

There, I said it, again.

 

This particular hen was 3 years old. She was at the end of her productive life, and for the cost of a visit to the vet’s office, I could buy a whole new flock.  So, no, if I had discovered her in time, and was not able to help her expel the egg I would not have sought vet services.  It’s part of the life I’ve signed up for–the good and the bad.

 

What can you do to prevent a hen from becoming egg bound?

 

  • Feed a high quality layer mix
  • Provide oyster shells or crushed egg shells free choice
  • Limit treats
  • Make sure hens have room to roam for exercise

 

 

 

 

Ever since I was young I have had a love affair with flowers…

…all kinds of flowers. 

 

Sure, I have my favorites, but there are few that I don’t like.  I love the colorful blooms, the bright green foliage and the scents of different flowers as it drifts over my suburban homestead on a sultry summer breeze.

When I was young I use to help my mom at garden club plant giveaway days, and hound her to bring home anything that was left over…no matter how many there were.

This was never really a problem. We lived in the suburbs on a ¼-acre lot that we treated like a mini farm and flower garden.  And, a ¼-acre is a lot of ground to cover.  I guess this is partly where, or why, I became what I call “a child of the earth”, someone who enjoys getting down in the dirt, digging, planting, nurturing and watching green things grow.  I have never lost that childlike enthusiasm.

Although I’m no longer a child I still get a childlike giddiness every time spring comes around, or when I visit a beautiful garden or potager, the endless possibilities for what I can incorporate into my own garden are always exciting.  A potager is a fancy French word for kitchen/flower garden.  I say that in all loving jest because I love visiting gardens, finding new plants or techniques I can bring into my own garden.  Over the years I have seen dozens of flower and vegetable gardens in America, France, England and Ireland.  It is a huge dream of mine to create a quintessential English garden on my own property.  But, with California’s arid weather, not to mention the ongoing drought, this dream will only take place if I move to an area that gets more rainfall than we do (or, I win the lottery and can afford the water bill).  A girl can dream though, can’t she?

All is not lost, though.

No need to feel sorry for me.

I do have a flower garden, one that is on the verge of bursting with blooms this time of year.  And the flowers I am most looking forward to seeing in bloom is my collection of bearded irises.  I say collection because I have acquired about 50 different varieties (colors) that I’ve gathered through the years.  Some came from those early garden club giveaways, some were given as gifts, some I brought from my previous home, and some were purchased from iris growers here and abroad.  I have to say, it’s a tricky thing to get iris bulbs through customs:)

But, most of my collection has been acquired from other iris gardeners when they divide their bulbs.

And, in turn, I have supplied new iris enthusiasts with divisions from my own garden.  Garden people are like livestock people…we are always willing to help a new member of our “unofficial” club.

To help new gardeners, or to maintain my own beds of irises, I divide my iris rhizomes every 2 to 3 years so they don’t become overcrowded, affecting their ability to bloom.  Dividing, separating and transplanting helps to rejuvenate the clump and to give the gardener a way to enlarge the iris bed.  Always a huge plus in my book.

Dividing irises isn’t a difficult thing to do, but it is important that the irises be divided during the right season so the bulbs have time to reestablish after being divided and transplanted.

The steps below will help you make the most of your iris bed, so that you will be ensured of lots of future blooms.

 

8 Steps to Dividing Bearded Irises

 

Step 1:  Timing is Everything — For best results, divide irises after they have bloomed.  This can be done from late spring through early fall, depending on the weather.  (I usually divide in the fall when it’s not so hot) If winter lingers in your area, wait for warmer days.  Also, irises should not be divided in winter when they go dormant and use their stored energy to survive.

Step 2:  Digging the Clump — Use a sharp spade or fork to dig deep below the roots and gently lift the clump up.  Remove excess dirt by shaking or hosing it off.

Step 3:  Divide the Fans — Bearded iris leaves look like a multi-pointed fan.  Break off larger fans, or cut with a knife, at a joint, making sure that they are firm and not squishy.  Limp or squishy divisions can be diseased and should be thrown away.  Do not compost them, as they can spread disease.

Step 4:  Prepare Divisions for Transplanting — Remove dead and older, limp leaves.  Trim remaining healthy leaves to about 8-inches above the rhizome.  This will help keep the plant from toppling over while it establishes new roots.

Step 5:  Prepare New Planting Area — Dig and sprinkle the new planting area with lime, irises like a bit of lime.  For group plantings, create a triangle with 18 to 24-inch sides.  For all plantings, form a mound and set the rhizome on top of the mound, spreading the roots out in the hole.  For group plantings, make sure the “toe” or bulb part faces in towards the triangle.

Step 6:  Settle in the Rhizome — Firm soil around to the top of the bulb and pack it down.  It is alright if part of the bulb is showing.

Step 7:  Spacing your Irises — Whether planting in a triangle, square or line, plant bulbs at least 12-inches apart and make sure the fans all point in the same direction.  Closer spacing is fine, but you will be dividing your clump more often.  This is not a problem, it’s just that irises are perennials that may not bloom the first year after dividing.

Step 8:  Water in your Transplants — Give your transplants a good soak to settle in the soil, then deep watering a few times a week to establish your new patch.  Less frequent watering is better as irises are fairly drought tolerant.  Too much water, though, can rot the bulbs.

 

Once your patch is established you’ll have beautiful blooms all season long.

 

Have you ever noticed how heavy and out of sorts your life feels when your house is groaning under the weight of “too much stuff”?

 

Well—I have, and it can be crushing, almost debilitating.

Our body feels what our brain sees.  So when a house, or homestead, has too much unnecessary stuff it can weigh heavy on our heart and our psyche.

One of the very best ways to lift your heart and your outlook on life is to consume less stuff.  By doing this you spend less money, consume fewer natural resources and have fewer “things” swirling around in your universe.  You may think owning stuff is really cool, but how much of it really owns you?  Think about it, “the stuff” takes your money, your time, your attention, and all too often, your emotions.

 

Imagine what would happen if you used those spent resources on things that really matter to you?

 

Imagine how much better, lighter, freer your life could be without all that stuff!

 

In my own quest to simplify my life, and move into the next stage of my life, preparing for a future move, I have been taking a cold hard look at what I really love about my “things”, and what I really hate.

I love the special pieces that bring back great memories, or give me a warm and fuzzy feeling—the great antique that I would never part with or the statue I bought on a wonderful trip.  My special pieces run the gamut from expensive antiques to thrift store finds.  There’s really no rhyme or reason for why they’re meaningful, they just bring joy into my life.

But, then there are the less meaningful things.  The one’s we feel obligated to keep because someone made them for us or gave them to us.  They are the pieces that have outlived their joyfulness, and have now become a burden to our living space.  These are the things that must go in order for us to feel lighter, happier and freer to move forward in our life.

I’ve acquired a lot of stuff raising a child, running a suburban homestead, showing livestock, and just living in general.  So over that past years I have begun really looking at what I want to keep and what I can “let go”.

Case in point…I’m not really one to turn down an offer of free stuff, so over the years I have been given several garden carts, long handled tools, kitchenware, and clothing that was “too good to give away”.  But, how many garden carts does one gardener need, really?  Or, how many shovels, rabbit feeders or water troughs does one suburban homestead need when you’re only homesteading for one person?

Part of gleaning was incentivized by my desire to move out of CA and how much it will cost to move everyday items to another state versus buying new on the other end.  For me, moving will be a new adventure, one that will enable me to change my style, rethink my life and the way I live.  (Don’t panic, though, I’m not moving for a few years)

Why burden down the new adventure with old baggage?

So—with the cost of moving floating in my mind I set about gleaning what I don’t want or haven’t used in a very long time, and in the process I have made hundreds of dollars on the items I’ve sold.  YAY!  It will be the seed money for replacing the items I really need and want.

 

If your belongings are cluttering your life and your mind, consider these 8 ways to lighten your load.

 

You won’t regret it—I promise!

 

8 Ways to Declutter your Home & Life

 

Sell stuff you don’t use.  Take a cold hard look at what you don’t use, and then list it on Craigslist or Facebook Neighborhood Market, take it to a consignment store, or sell it at Buffalo Exchange or Plato’s Closet, if you have one nearby.  This may take some time, so be patient.  If you don’t think it’s worth your time, donate it, someone else will love it.

Don’t feel guilty.  Ok…you paid for something, so what.  It has taken your money, your time and your attention, but if it no longer serves you then there’s no reason to keep it around.  Let it go!  Your heart will feel lighter for it.

Dump the duplicates.  We all have them, those doubles we got with a buy one get one special, the same gift from a friend or family member, or the multiples we bought because we forget we already had one.  Maybe you feared not having enough.  From bake ware to garden trowels, one is usually enough.

Adopt a one in, one out habit.  To keep the clutter at bay and really scrutinize your purchases commit to getting rid an item every time you bring one in.   As an example, if you buy a new sweater, commit to getting rid of an old one.  If you really want to keep the clutter at bay, try getting rid of two items for every one item you bring in.

Play hide and seek.  If you’re not sure you really want to get of something, tuck it away where you can’t see it.  If you haven’t used it, or even thought about it in several months it is not one of your beloved items and won’t be missed, get rid of it.

Challenge yourself.  Experiment with living with or dressing with a smaller number of items.  The number of items isn’t important, but learning to live with less is.  You will gain valuable information about how much you really need, use and what is truly important to you.

 

Did you know that the average woman usually wears the same 20 items? 

 

Lighten up.  It can seem like “things” have a grip on you, but in reality it’s YOU that has a grip on your things.  You can let things go until you lighten up and loosen up your grip.

Borrow or trade.  Be selective about what comes into your home.  Do you need that new gardening book, or can you borrow it form the library?  Do you need a new seasonal wardrobe for the kids, or can you host a clothing swap?  Do you have something that a neighbor borrows often?  Try trading for something they have that you need.

 

The key to simplifying your life is to own what you love.  But, remember it will own you right back, so make sure it’s worth it.  Really think about how much value “stuff” brings to your life and what serves no purpose at all.  When you own less you have a greater appreciation for what you do have, which frees you up to do what is truly important to you.

 

A garden is just not a garden without the ramblings of tomato plants.

 

The warmer weather of our somewhat early spring took me into the garden to begin the reclamation of my much neglected suburban homestead.  Between pulling weeds, mulching beds and turning over the soil I was eager to get some plants in the ground.

A few weeks before I had potted up a bunch of seeds in my greenhouse, but I wanted more instant gratification than those little seeds could provide. I wanted growing things!  Badly.

The timing was perfect because the annual Tomatomania event was taking place at a local nursery that very weekend.  It’s a celebration of sorts, all things tomato, for the serious tomato lover.  The three day event touts over 300 different varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomato plants, from green to pink to orange to yellow, you can find anything you want, tomato wise. Some plants come in 4-inch pots and some in 1-gallon pots…for people who need more instant gratification than me I suppose.

To be honest, I’m not much of a fresh tomato person.  Oh…I do enjoy sliced tomatoes and mozzarella with balsamic and basil, and a slice now and again on a burger, but that’s about it.

My favorite varieties are the fleshier roma or plum types rather than the juicy slicing varieties like Better Boy or Beefsteak.

After combing the racks I settled on 3 heirloom varieties – San Marzano, Orange Strawberry and Bleeding Heart.

The San Marzano is an indeterminate long-season red plum type variety with lots of thick flesh and a strong, sweeter and less acidic flavor that matures in about 90-days.

The Orange Strawberry is an indeterminate mid-season German variety, shaped like a strawberry with a deep orange color and a crisp sweet flavor that matures in about 80-days.

Bleeding Heart is an indeterminate mid-season multi-colored heart-shaped tomato with a mild sweet taste that matures in about 70-days.

My choices had more to do with color and interest than production or canning ability.  I wanted something new, something I had never grown before for my new garden.  But, that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to produce well.

So—what do all these terms mean?  Read on!

 

Tomato Terms

 

Determinate tomato plants reach a certain height and produce most of their fruits in a short period of time, which makes them perfect for homesteads that want to can sauces or paste.  Determinate types also make great choices for container or patio growing.

Indeterminate tomato plants continue to set fruit all along its stems throughout their growing season.  These are also more rambling plants that need extra support to keep the fruit off the ground.

Early Variety are tomatoes that ripen fruit in 50 to 60 days.  These are prized for bringing fruit off long before most other varieties, or being planted in the late summer for an early fall crop.

Mid-season varieties are those that can be harvested in the middle of the growing season, typically ripening fruit in 70 to 80 days.

Late-season varieties are those that take 90 or more days to ripen fruit.  These are traditionally varieties that won’t be picked until late summer.

Most suburban homesteaders like the mid-season varieties with a goal (or challenge) of getting tomatoes by July 4th.

 

Tips for Growing Better Tomatoes

 

1.)  Make Your Choice.  Choose a variety that is best for you and your area.  Choose early, mid- or late-season tomatoes, letting the “days to maturity” guide you.  Choose seedlings with sturdy stems and bright green foliage.

2.)  Find a sunny spot.  Tomatoes love sun and heat.  6 hours is the minimum and 8 hours is preferable.  If your area is unusually hot during the day you may need to rig up some shade during the hottest part.

3.)  Amend the soil.  Be generous with soil amendments and compost and remember to feed your plants with organic fertilizer.  Tomatoes love a good rich soil.  Layering over the top of the soil will protect the roots from being disturbed by tilling.

4.)  Plant seedlings deep.  Remove the lower sets of leaves and plant up to the remaining leaves, leaving about 3 to 4-inches of plant above the surface.  The little leaf nodes will send out roots, making you plants sturdy and better able to carry the weight of the crop.

5.)  Be water wise.  Watering correctly means soaking the root ball every 3 to 4 days for the first few weeks after planting.  Proper watering can affect the taste as the tomatoes grow, so once the plant starts growing, water deeply and less frequently, giving them just what they need.

6.)  Fertilize.  Feed plants around the root zone once they are established and again when they flower.  If your soil is depleted you may need to fertilize more often or with a particular fertilizer to address the deficiency.

7.)  Provide support!  Especially with indeterminate varieties, since some of these can get to be 10-feet tall.  Stakes or bamboo are good and sturdy.  Cages also work well.

8.)  Be patient!  Just because a tomato is red (or yellow or pink or orange) doesn’t mean it is at its peak of flavor.  Look for a deep true color of the variety and some give when touched before devouring your harvest.

 

These steps will help you get the most out of your tomato season!

 

 

Now that the days are becoming longer my girls are ramping up the egg production.  It’s a blessing and a curse (of sorts) with my unpredictable work schedule.  I get to have fresh free range eggs for all my recipes, but in some weeks I have way more eggs than I can use.  Nice problem, right!

There are many ways to use excess eggs.  There are quiches or frittatas; custards and curds; or breakfast for dinner.  Some people even swear by freezing eggs for omelets or baking.  That’s a tad unappealing to me, though.

Our favorite way of using up excess eggs has always been good old fashioned egg salad.

Whether it was used for sandwiches or served heaped on top of crackers, it was the “go-to” take along for volleyball tournaments, weekend sheep shows, or just day tripping up the coast on a beautiful weekend.  I remember my DD’s volleyball team “always” requested egg salad sandwiches for their away games and we never left for a livestock show without a pack of finger sandwiches for road trip snacks.  Good thing I had 20 hens, and two large stock pots for boiling all those eggs!

Not only is egg salad a nutritious, protein packed alternative to other options, it’s also super easy to make and easy to pack in a small ice chest.

I’ve heard people say they don’t like egg salad because the eggs always taste a bit rubbery.  This would be true if the eggs were boiled too long, becoming overcooked.  But—I have covered on that.

 

A Foolproof Way to Boil Eggs

 

1.)  Place eggs in the bottom of a large stock pot.  The eggs go in first because they can break if you drop them in.  They can also crack if you drop them in hot water.

2.)  Fill pot with water to cover eggs by an inch or two.

3.)  Place pot on the stove over high heat.

4.)  Bring water to a rolling boil.

5.)  Remove pan from the stove and put a lid on the pot.

6.)  Let stand for 15 to 18 minutes.

7.)  Drain eggs and immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  (This is why eggs get rubbery. They are over cooked)

Once the eggs are completely cooled they can be peeled.

 

Now you’re ready to make the best egg salad you’ve ever tasted!

 

The Best Ever Egg Salad Recipe

 

12 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup mayonnaise (I prefer mayo over salad dressing)

2 Tbsp. yellow mustard

2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

Pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

Mix all ingredients thoroughly until well combined.

The finished salad can be spooned over bread to make a sandwich, or topped on crackers.

 

BTW—this same recipe can be used for making deviled eggs, too.  Simply cut the hardboiled eggs in half length-wise.  Scoop out the yolks and mix with the mayo, mustard, relish and pepper, adjusting the amounts to fit the number of yolks you have.  Spoon the mixture into the hollow and lightly sprinkle with sweet paprika.

 

The Best Ever Egg Salad

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (I prefer mayo over salad dressing)
  • 2 Tbsp. yellow mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
  • Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  • Mix all ingredients thoroughly until well combined.
  • The finished salad can be spooned over bread to make a sandwich, or topped on crackers.
http://www.suburbanhomesteading.com/the-best-ever-egg-salad/kitchen