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I chanced upon an interesting documentary this evening. It was about the American Cowboy; the life, the land and their deep unfailing love for them both. No matter what the day brings, the harsh weather that makes it challenging to get day-to-day chores done or the cold that can kill a newborn calf in a few minutes, they wake up each day feeling part of a proud, strong past. They seem hidden though, out of sight of normal people, tending to cows and horses; bringing food to millions of people every day. We may not see them, but we revel in their hard work and dedication every time we grill a steak, buy a burger or put on a pair of leather shoes.

It was fascinating listening to these hard chiseled men with their long mustaches and weathered faces talk so eloquently about what it means to be a cowboy. These are not the rough riding, gun slinging, hard drinking, trouble making men we see in the movies, but soft spoken sometimes shy men of few words. When they do speak, they speak with tenderness and conviction and a deep seeded love for what they do that many of us may never understand.

They worry too, same as we do. These are not ignorant men, spending their life in vast, sparsely populated areas of the country cut off from the troubles of our modern world. They speak profoundly about their concerns for the country, the land and their way of life. They fear the disconnect between themselves and the people who consume the product they raise, and the consumers ignorance of how their food gets to their table will, in time, destroy the cowboy way of life.

It was during one such interview that a gray-haired cowboy in his mid-fifties referred to a quote by William Jennings Bryan, “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” The cowboy looked sad and a little forlorn staring off into space, as if he could see to the end of the trail and it was desolate.

I think we get so caught up in our every day lives that we forget about this different world out there—ranches that stretch out for hundreds of miles and the quiet life of men who tend stock. As homesteaders, we know that beef comes from cattle, but do we really understand or appreciate a life lived in quiet isolation. These men and their lifestyle are like whispers in the wind; seldom heard and rarely seen, but their existence is felt in every restaurant and fast food joint and grocery store in the country.

And, since I’m not at a point where I can raise my own beef, I for one will be sending up a silent prayer of gratitude and thanks tonight.

 

 

m4s0n501

I love the glow of candle light. It casts a warm comfortable feeling over the entire room. From the first hint of fall’s chill until buds burst in the warm spring air there are candles burning in my little farmhouse.

They are on my mantel, set in a collection of thrift store candle holders on my hearth, on the window sill of my kitchen, in my bedroom and even along side my bath tub.  It’s amazing how much that little flickering flame of light can calm and restore and bring peace at the end of a busy day.

But, what once was a necessity for lighting a room, reading a newspaper, or illuminating a path has become almost a luxury. Years ago I could buy candles for a few dollars, but now they cost more than I spend on a bag of chicken feed. Being the frugal farmer that I am however, I have found a few tricks to keep my love affair with candles without breaking the bank.

One is to use the department store gift cards I receive in the mail. You know the ones I’m talking about…where they give you $10 off of a purchase to entice you into the store, hoping you’ll spend more. I’m too savvy for their ploys, though. I am usually able to find 3” pillars, or jarred candles or 6 votives for just under the minimum $10 (which I am still able to use my card to purchase). More times than not I walk out of the store with a beautiful scented candle for no money at all. How’s that for farm girl frugality?

My second method to keeping the candle flames flickering is to save all the little bits and pieces of burned down candle wax. I keep them in a ziplock bag. When I have gathered enough pieces of the same color (or similar color) I melt them down to make new candles. I save all the old jars from any jarred candles because they are made of tempered glass and safe for pouring hot wax into.

For just a few dollars in a package of wick and a $2.00 pot I bought at the thrift store I can make a new candle in less than 30-minutes and enjoy the glow of my recycled wax for hours. How great is that!

To make your own candles out of bits and pieces all you need is a stainless steel pot (one you don’t mind getting covered with wax), a larger pot, an old jarred candle jar and a package of wick.

Now—fill the larger pot half way with water and set it on a medium flame. Cut the wick 1-inch taller than the jar, tie a knot at one end, wrap it around a pencil or chop stick a few times so it sets nicely on the bottom of the jar.

Place the wax bits in the smaller pot and set it inside the larger pot. Let the wax melt, stirring occasionally at first, then constantly as the wax gets hotter. When all the wax has melted, gently pour it into the prepared jar. Let it set overnight. When you’re ready to burn the new candle, cut the wick to ¼-inch and light it.

Voila! That’s all it takes to keep the candle glow burning.

firewood

Sounds funny doesn’t it, learning how to build a fire. Can’t everyone build a fire? Probably. But, what most people don’t do is build a fire that can improve their heat efficiency.

Traditionally, a fire is built on a metal grate by stacking three or more logs with their sides facing the fireplace opening. Kindling or the gas line is ignited underneath the logs and near the back wall. What makes this an inefficient way to build a fire is the fact that the wood blocks the blaze and prevents the warmth from reaching the room you want to heat.

You can improve your heat efficiency by 100% without spending any extra money. All you have to do is stack the wood differently. It’s that simple. Read the rest of the story »

We all know there are so many different facets to a homestead. But, the one constant is there is always work to be done. Simple easy to handle projects are perfect for small hands of many ages. Just because your kids are under ten doesn’t mean they can’t pitch in and help.  

Specific jobs that kids can take ownership of, and take pride in, gives them a healthy view of the world and themselves. It also gives them the opportunity to set goals and feel needed and valued as a contributing member of the homestead. Why leave all the work to mom and dad?

Below are 20 homestead jobs that kids can do. This is just a start. You may have other specific jobs on your own homestead.

Here we go:

Planting seeds and bulbs — get kids excited about gardening by letting them plant. They are more careful and gentle than many adults and it gives them a sense of accomplishment when the first shoots break through the soil.

Pulling weeds! — Let your kids “protect” their little seedlings by pulling the weeds around them. But, be sure to teach them the difference between “good” little sprouts and “bad”. No child wants to pull out their long awaited for seedlings.

Watering the garden — watering helps kids learn the needs of their garden, what plants need more watering than others.

Foraging for wild edibles — Teaching your kids what is edible in the wild will help them learn about taste and texture, and how much the wild world can provide. But, you may want to supervise young children so they don’t pick the “wrong” things.

Feeding poultry and livestock — I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like to feed the animals. Making this your children’s job will teach them so many life lessons, from how to act around livestock to being observant and noticing when an animal isn’t acting right. It will also teach them that some animals get to stay (breeding stock or laying hens), while others go away and come back in packages (meat animals). It’s all part of the cycle of a homestead, but the decision to involve them in the processing of meat animals is entirely up to you and your child.

Cleaning livestock pens and chicken coops — Not necessarily the most fun job on the homestead, but definitely a necessary one. This job will teach kids that farm life is “work”. But, it will also teach them how valuable it is to the animals to live in a clean pen or coop—healthy, happy animals, clean eggs, safe meat.

Harvesting fruits and vegetables from the garden — Bring the garden full circle with the harvest. Teach them the right time, color and size to pick fruits and vegetables. Let them be proud of their haul and talk with them about the ancient celebrations surrounding harvest time.

Storing the harvest — With help and supervision even small kids can help can fruits and veggies for the larder. Encourage them to develop their own combinations of jams, soups or sauces. And, don’t forget about dehydrating the harvest, herbs, making fruit leather or jerky. It will give them the incentive to try new foods or different combinations. The possibilities are endless.

Saving seeds — This is one of those long term projects that teach kids about being patient. Not only do seeds have to be collected and stored, they can’t be planted until the following spring.

Go fishing! — This may seem like an easy kid friendly job, but there is a difference between “goin’ fishin” and fishing to put food on the table. There are goals to be set, the number of fish to catch. There is learning how to properly clean fish and of course there is learning to be patient and quiet.

Small game hunting — Every homestead child should be taught to use a gun. From safety to shooting, this will be an invaluable skill. When the time and age are right and they have gone through a proper hunter safety class kids can help put small game on the table or in the freezer. Any child, even girls, can take pride in bringing home rabbit, turkey or goose for the family.

Gathering firewood — Kids of all ages can learn to keep the home fires burning. Young ones can collect sticks and small pieces for kindling and stove wood, while older kids can help collect, split and stack larger logs. Lessons learned will follow them well into adult life.

Building projects — With a little bit of freedom and a relaxed attitude about perfection let your child’s imagination run. From bean poles in the garden and storage boxes in the garage to a rabbit hutch or livestock panel kids can handle a lot if you just give them some simple instructions and the freedom to figure it out themselves.

Washing dishes — This may not be the favorite job on a homestead, but it is a necessary one. Washing dishes will teach kids the importance of cleanliness and the prevention of bacteria, which can cause colds and flues.

Drying dishes – Kids who dry dishes manage the quality control of the dish washer. They are the last line of defense in keeping germs away from the people using the dishes.

Laundry — Younger kids can help to sort laundry into jeans, towels or sheets. By the time kids reach junior high age they should be able to help with the whole process, whether you use a modern washing machine or stick with the old fashioned methods.

Line Drying — Here again, even small kids can help hang towels, pillow cases, and socks on an outdoor clothes line. As they get older, and taller, they can gradually handle most of the line drying tasks. Or, have kids work in teams and teach them the benefits of teamwork.

Folding clothes and putting them away — This may not sound like much, but kids can get a great sense of satisfaction from folding and putting away the laundry. Keep it age appropriate as in washing and drying jobs.

Sweeping and mopping — We all know how dirty a homestead house can get. But, having kids help sweep and mop will not only continue on the cleanliness theme, but may just encourage them to be more cautious about what they track into the house.

Cooking! — Start young kids off with small tasks like slicing fruit or heating up soup. They will learn safety with kitchen tools and safety in the kitchen. As they get older, they will enjoy picking out their own recipes from books and magazines. They might even surprise you!

Kids can be an integral part of the family homestead rather than a silent party. Including your kids in all the aspects of the family homestead will make them feel more a part of its success. Encouraging them to journal their day-to-day activities will give them a powerful history of their young life. It will also give them time to practice their penmanship, writing skills and will help them to express themselves.

Great experiences lead to great learning. Armed with a life full of activities and the freedom to pursue their own interests kids will grow up to be inquisitive, curious, life-long learners.

 

 

In my neck of the woods, February and March are prime garden readiness months. Fruit trees are pruned, berries are trimmed of dead canes and tied to trellises or fencing, raised beds are restocked with compost or built brand new. But, the most fun of this time of year is starting seeds. We mark the day on our calendars and when it arrives the task begins like the start of an Olympic race.

There’s truly nothing better than plunging your hands deep into freshly dug soil, warmed by the spring sun and planting homegrown seedlings started way back in winter, when spring was just a hope and a dream. And, the money you save over buying already started veggies and the vibrant taste of homegrown food ain’t bad either.

This is also the time when garden centers and hardware stores stock a plethora of seed starting paraphernalia: peat pots, soil pellets, plastic pots, covered mini-greenhouses, you name it, if it can start a seed, some store in your area will carry it.

But, do you really need all this fancy commercial stuff to start the seeds you want to plant in your garden. The answer is no! Seeds are not divas. They don’t require 5-star accommodations to germinate and thrive. What they do require is the right kind of starter/growing medium, the right amount of moisture, warm temperatures and room to produce a strong healthy root system. Read the rest of the story »

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About a decade ago, a librarian from New York State had the great idea of offering seeds right along side the racks of fiction, novels and movie rentals. The project has now blossomed into the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Members borrow seeds just like books and replace them after the harvest. Since its inception the trend has taken root.

Not from New York? Not to worry. The Richmond, California Public Library has compiled a state-by-state list of all 150 seed lending libraries.

Check out one near you.

The best part though…there are no fines for overdue seeds!

 

photo credit edibleoffice

Most Americans have never stepped foot on a farm or ranch or even talked to the people who grow and raise the food they eat. The connection between production Ag and consumer has slowly dwindled since the end of WWII. The majority of the population is comfortably ensconced in urban centers or suburban outcroppings, blissfully unaware of where their food comes from, how it gets to them and what, if any, the ramifications would be should farming decline or a break in supply occur.

Regardless of how you feel about conventional, commercialized farming; no matter how much you wish small diversified sustainable farms would prevail, the American Farmer still feeds, not only our nation, but many others throughout the world. With just 2% of the population engaged in farming, and the average age of a farmer well into their 60’s, America and the world will be reliant on the next generation of young farmers to produce the world’s food.

Farmland takes an intimate look into the lives of farmers and ranchers in their ‘20s, all of whom are now responsible for running their farming business. Through this film from award-winning director, James Moll, you’ll step inside the world of farming for a first-hand glimpse into the lives of young farmers and ranchers. Learn about their high-risk/high reward jobs and passion for a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation, yet continues to evolve.

I urge you all to take the time to watch this movie when it comes out in March 2014, and then take the next step to acquaint yourself with farmers in your area. Learn how your support of the Ag community can help not only understanding of a way of life that is hidden from most of Americans, but also bring engagement into discussions of how to make it better, for the benefit of all.

If I told you that you could make 5 gallons of laundry soap for just a few dollars would that interest you? It peaked my interest and we’ve been making our own laundry soap ever since. The average American household washes 6 to 7.5 loads of laundry each week and spends $120 – $378 a year on detergent. With less than an hours worth of time and a few simple ingredients you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

Since making our own, this is the recipe we use. You can find all of the ingredients you need in the cleaning isle of your local grocery store, Target, K-mart or other variety store. Adding a few drops of an essential oil keeps our clothes smelling fresh as the day!

To make a 5 gallon bucket of laundry soap use:

1 cup Borax

1 cup washing soda

2/3′s of a bar of Fels-Naptha or 1 bar Ivory soap, grated (I keep an inexpensive cheese grater just for the soap)

12 cups of water, kept warm on the stove

8 cups of hot tap water to be added when you mix the ingredients in the 5 gallon bucket

2 gallons + 12 cups of hot tap water for your final stir.

Directions:

Heat 12 cups of water on LOW heat in a big pot.

Add the grated soap, stirring constantly to dissolve.

When the soap is completely dissolved add 1 cup Borax and 1 cup Washing Soda.

Stir until the Borax and Washing Soda is completely dissolved and the mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).

Add 8 cups of HOT tap water to your 5 gallon bucket.

Pour soap mixture into bucket and stir.

If you want a fragrant soap add a few drops of essential oil now. We use lavender or orange. It’s wonderful, smells fresh and clean!

Stir to combine the soap mixture, water and essential oils, if added.

Add 2 gallons + 12 cups of HOT tap water to make the five gallons.

Stir and cover. Let sit overnight.

When you’re ready to do laundry:

Use 1/2 cup of laundry soap for each load. I use the cap of an old liquid detergent container to measure with. To keep the cap from gunking up I just throw it in with the laundry. It comes out clean and fresh every time.
Store your homemade detergent in old laundry detergent containers or use it right from the 5 gallon bucket. For a pretty look in your laundry room pour it in old mason jars or decorative containers. Keep detergent covered when your not using it.

 

 

 

 

There is nothing worse than the dry cracked feeling of winter skin and with the weather we’ve had all over the country I’m sure many of us have been dealing with it.

In an act of desperation this past weekend I whipped up a batch of soothing lavender sugar scrub. I had forgotten how simple and fast it is to make.

Unlike the scrubs you find in drug stores, department stores or in beauty supply shops, homemade scrubs are much better for your skin, don’t contain chemicals and are much, much cheaper. The part I like best is my ability to tailor the fragrances to match my mood or the season. If I want a soothing, relaxing scrub I use lavender oil. Early spring days, when the sun shines and the weather warms call out for a bright orange vanilla scented scrub. And, after a day of work in the garden or cleaning out the barn something from the mint family is perfect for those tired sore muscles. With the number of essential oils available the possibilities are endless. So—choose your favorites and enjoy!

Basic Sugar Scrub

Materials & Supplies

2 cups coarse sugar

1 cup olive oil

15-20 drops of your favorite essential oil or oil blend

1 clean glass lidded jar

Directions

  • Combine ingredients in a bowl, stirring well to combine.
  • When mixed well pour into lidded jar.
  • Use homemade sugar scrub to slough away dead skin and moisturize skin.

 

NOW—sink into a hot tub and pamper your winter skin!

After months with nary a drop and a drought that threatens house, farm and factory the skies FINALLY opened up at the close of dusk today.  The storm that was promised days ago has arrived with more than half an inch so far.  It’s a far cry from the 15+ inches we need to get us back on track, but it is a welcome beginning.

The long awaited pinging off the roof is a beautiful sound as I hunker down in front of a warm fire watching an HBO mini series about our Founding Fathers. What could be better?

All I can say is Halleluiah!  Keep it coming.