It’s a lazy summer day laying on my vintage patio daybed.
I close my eyes, drifting away as a warm breeze envelops me. My mind meanders to gently rolling hills with green grass swaying in the breeze, pastures dotted with grazing sheep, new spring lambs sprinting from mama to mama, a dairy cow lying quietly chewing her cud, and a steer growing fat waiting to fill a family’s freezer. I see chickens clucking and scratching around the barnyard and bees buzzing in the garden.
…and there’s always a but, isn’t there?
When I open my eyes instead of rolling pastures and a white picket fence I see a house on a small lot at the edge of town. Not exactly the picturesque farm I see in my mind’s eye.
That suburban reality is the reality for most of America.
But, (again with the but)
A suburban dwelling doesn’t mean you have to give up your homesteading dreams. It only means you have to readjust your thinking about what homesteading is.
Modern homesteading means different things to different people. One person might be interested in old-time remedies to keep their family healthy, while another embraces baking bread or growing herbs on an apartment balcony, and yet another combs yard sales and antique auctions for vintage watering cans or Mason jars to adorn a kitchen or patio.
Today’s homesteader can be whatever they want to be, they are not bound by the realms of farms, small towns or rural life.
Different strokes for different folks, right?
We do have a few similarities with our more rural cousins, though. We crave returning to our roots, to old time skills and a slower way of life. We want to create a more self-sufficient life for ourselves and our family. We want to be self-reliant.
If this sounds like you, you’re in luck. There is no requirement that a homesteader must live in the country or on 100-acres. You can do it right now, right where you are, even if where you are is a downtown apartment…a city lot…or a 1-acre plot.
So let’s get you started with 10 simply things you can do right now to set yourself on the path of becoming a modern day homesteader.
1. First and foremost…decide what you want as a homesteader. It may sound simplistic, but it is actually crucial and sometimes very difficult to decide what you want or why you want to homestead. Do you want it all—gardens, orchard, animals, the whole shebang? Or, do you only want pieces of a homestead life, like baking bread, canning vegetables or growing flowerbeds. The choice is yours, so take your time. There’s no right or wrong way to homestead in our modern world.
2. If you decide to “go big” then you’ll need to assess your property. What do you have room for? What don’t you have room for? What are the “must haves”, and what are the “can do with outs”? This is an important step so you don’t over extend yourself or your property. Be realistic about you and your property. While homesteading can be fun and rather addictive, it WILL be a whole lot of work. The more you have, the more work there will be and your homesteading journey won’t be so fun in the end if you overextend yourself.
I moved into my 1/3-acre home on Labor Day weekend and spent the entire winter drawing plans and laying in supplies for my “bigger picture”. By early spring were we ready to rock the barn building and garden layout.
Remember…a homestead is a constant work in progress, enjoy the journey.
3. While you’re pondering Steps 1 and 2, do some fun things.
Create a potted herb garden even if it’s on your balcony, windowsill or patio.
Begin seeking out new recipes to start cooking from scratch more often.
Try your hand at making a simple chevre cheese.
Teach yourself to bake bread, even if it’s with a bread maker.
Whip out your sewing machine and make an apron.
Here are a few ways to begin homesteading in suburbia:
4. GROW SOME OF YOUR OWN FOOD.
No matter how big your garden is you will relish a bounty of fresh veggies that will provide you with nutritious, pesticide-free meals, and save you money in the process. There are many types of gardens perfect for any suburban homestead no matter where you live. There is the traditional backyard garden with lots of raised beds or rows of produce. There’s edible landscaping where fruits and vegetables are intermixed right alongside your other plants. Then there’s potted gardens that are perfect for small spaces or apartment living. Fruit trees can be planted to take the place of shade trees giving you useful shade and using valuable water to produce food for your family.
There are few things more fulfilling than taking a bite out of a juicy, sweet, unbelievably tasty tomato that you just grew yourself. The difference in taste between those and the ones picked green and shipped from Central America or halfway across the country is absolutely astounding.
5. SET UP A RAIN BARREL AND COLLECT WATER.
Rain water is one of the few free things in this life, so why not collect it to use in the garden. Many cities have water collection programs where rain barrels are free or at a low cost. The water you save can add greatly to your household savings, especially during dry spells. Diverting grey water from the washing machine can also add to your water savings program.
6. PREPARE FOR THE UNFORESEEN.
Life is unexpected at best. We never know when the next storm will hit, knocking out power or making it impossible to get to town. The best precaution to any natural disaster is a well-stocked pantry. A closet, the basement or an extra bedroom can all be outfitted with shelves and stocked with staple items and family favorites.
Picking up a few extra items at the market will have your pantry stocked in no time. And, if a natural disaster never strikes you will have put food away at a lower price than future inflated prices.
7. CAN OR FREEZE FOR LONG TERM STORAGE.
Once you’ve had a few fresh veggies from the garden and gotten the hang of cooking from scratch chances are you won’t want to go back to store bought foods, especially if you live in an area that has long, cold winters. Preserving the harvest is the next logical step in your homestead journey. There are many ways to preserve—canning, freezing, dehydrating, salt curing, pickling, fermenting, root cellaring and more. Start with something simple, like homemade pickled beets. They are practically full proof!
8. RAISE YOUR OWN CHICKENS.
Chickens are my “go to” livestock for beginning homesteaders. A small flock of 3 to 4 laying hens is fun, easy to care for and will give you fresh eggs for the kitchen and manure for the garden. You can build a simple coop in an afternoon, or be creative and look for a large used doghouse or garden shed. Be sure to check out local ordinances so you know if you can have them and how many you are allowed.
9. START A COMPOST PILE.
A compost pile is a must have for any homestead. The rich soil you make from decomposing kitchen scrapes, grass clippings, fall leaves and manure will improve your gardens and give you a better bounty. Fall is the perfect time to start because of all those free leaves. Four wooden pallets is q quick and easy way to start making your own soil.
10. BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY.
New homesteaders may find the process of starting to homestead a bit daunting, but once you start talking to people you will quickly realize there is a whole community of like-mined people out there who are dying to help you be successful, so embrace their generosity. A great place to start talking to people is the Farmer’s Market, a local farm stand or plant nursery. While you’re making plans you can gain knowledge and build friendships that will carry you into the future.
Another great way to meet new people and get your kids involved in your homesteading journey is to enroll them in a youth program that focuses on the many areas of homesteading. 4-H and Grange are both farming centered programs that have lots to offer. Check out your county Cooperative Extension office or Grange Hall for programs near you. You will build lifelong skills and friendships while also learning about leadership.
11. SET UP A CLOTHES LINE.
This sounds so simple, I know. Sometimes it’s the simple things that really get you inspired to do more. My outdoor clothesline was the first thing I put in and the time I spend hanging clothes or taking them down is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. It’s kind of therapeutic as well as being productive.
12. BUILD YOUR SKILLS.
No matter what kind of homestead you decide on you will need many skills to make it work. From gardening and preserving to building or cutting firewood, now is a good time to start. Learning can take place in classes offered at local Grange Halls or home improvement stores, on the internet watching YouTube videos or by spending time in the library or bookstore reading about the skill you want to learn. But, don’t forget to put your new found knowledge to work by practicing what you’ve learned. Be patient too. And remember, a homesteader is a lifelong learner willing to continue gaining skills throughout their life.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here, but this will get you started and hopefully inspire you to delve deeper into the wonderful world of homesteading.
Check out our categories for lots more information on turning your suburban lot into a productive mini-farm.
Over the years I have created a “go-to” list of favorite summer side dishes. You know the kind—baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad, corn salad, pea salad—the kind of cool, refreshing and creamy dishes that go great with BBQ’s or potlucks or just eaten by themselves when the hot weather makes eating the last thing on your mind.
This recipe has it all. Crunch. Cool. Sweet. Tang. It’s our favorite slaw and goes great with steaks and burgers, or chicken and fish. Add a handful of shredded leftover chicken and make it a meal for those hot days when heating up the kitchen is anything but appealing. It’s that good!
5-Color Peanut Coleslaw
1 pound cabbage, shredded
1 ½ cups red cabbage, shredded
3/4 cup celery, finely sliced
3/4 cup julienned carrots
3/4 cup julienned orange bell pepper
1/3 cup green onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 ½ tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine coleslaw, red cabbage, celery, carrots and green onions. (Using a mandolin makes shredding quick and easy)
2. In a pint size Mason jar, combine wine vinegar, water, sugar, seasoned salt, garlic powder and oil. Shake gently to incorporate.
3. Mix dressing with coleslaw; stir in peanuts and toss well.
4. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
NOTE: This is one of those great recipes that can be added to to create a variety of styles. Add edamame, almonds and wontons for an Asian flare; or roasted corn, jalapenos and tortilla strips for a slightly Latin flavor; or add chopped kale, broccoli and peas for big veggie packed meal.
During the warmer months my windows and doors are wide open. It’s my natural air conditioner, it makes the house less stuffy and I can smell all the scents the garden has to offer. Open windows and doors are also a gold sealed invitation welcoming flies into the house.
During summer’s harvest the kitchen counter is laden with the day’s pick, fermenting jars of sauerkraut or whatever, granules of sugar from the last jam making session and bowls of ripening fruit waiting to be eaten. It’s all too much for flies to ignore.
The goal is to protect your fresh produce. Your mission is to abate (or bait) the unwanted fly population.
These simple homemade fly trap solutions can help put a stop to pesky flies or ruining your bounty and summer serenity.
TRAP #1: This is a simple DIY project that involves a plastic bottle, water and stinky stuff. This larger trap is great for using outdoors, or in the barn or coop.
Take a 1-gallon water bottle and cut the top off, about 3-4-inches down from the mouth of the bottle.
Invert the cut off portion into the body of the bottle, leaving a several inch gap between the top and bottom of the bottle.
Pour about a cup of water in the bottom and add the stinky stuff, i.e. overripe soft fruit, a bit of leftover meat, manure, you get the picture. You can also use sweet stuff like sugar or honey.
Now—put in a few drops of liquid dish soap, 3 to 5 should do the trick.
The stinky or sweet attracts the flies while the soap weighs down their wings making it impossible for them to fly. Mission accomplished!
Remember…flies love stinky and sweet stuff, so use whatever you have around.
TRAP #2: This is a variation on the plastic bottle trap, using a Mason jar, wine bottle or decorative jar. I use a decorative jar because this trap sits on my kitchen counter, and who wants to look at dead flies in a trap? Not me!
Similar to the stinky, sweet version, this one uses a cup apple cider vinegar as the attractant.
Pour a cup of apple cider vinegar into the jar and add 3 to 5 drops of liquid dish soap. Place it near where you keep ripening fruit.
TRAP #3: Who said the sediment in the bottom f a wine bottle wasn’t useful?
Leave an empty wine bottle open on the counter. Make a small funnel using an 8-1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper and insert it into the neck of the bottle. The small amount of wine that remains in the bottom will attract the flies. They will fly in, but they won’t fly out.
TRAP #4: This is probably the least appealing fly trap, but it works.
Place overripe fruit or peels in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Punch several small holes in the plastic. Amazingly, the flies find their way in, but can’t find their way out.
Remember—flies like stinky and sweet, so the stinkier or sweeter the better. Don’t be afraid to let your trap sit and get really smelly.
When the trap is full…or you just can’t stand to look at it anymore anymore, dump the contents into the compost bin and wash out the bottle or jar to use again. If you’ve used the plastic bottle version, simple toss the whole messy thing into the trash and make yourself a new one.
This is war, folks. Fight to win!
Baby it’s Cold Outside. What the heck!!
It’s not cold, it’s HOT, HOT, HOT!! And, not just hot, but the blistering hot that hangs on you like a heavy wool blanket.
The kind of hot that sees the thermometer hit 70 by 7:00 am, push past 80 by 8:00 am, climb to 90 by 9:00 am and soar over 100 by 10:00 am.
The kind of heat that wilts plants and kills livestock, if you don’t keep them cool.
I was enjoying our fairly mild summer of mid-80’s during the day and mid-60’s through the night, until we were hit with a weather whiplash that swing our temps from seasonably pleasant to scorching hot, like 105+ hot…for days on end. With that kind of extreme heat it’s important to keep a close eye on your critters especially chickens.
We have fairly mild winters here in So Cal, but our summers are a completely different story. Multiple days of triple digit temperatures can exhaust a flock’s ability to cool themselves and you have to be ready to step in and help. It could be the difference between ending the summer with a live flock or a dead one. I much prefer live.
How Chickens Cool Themselves
Mother Nature has equipped chickens to cool themselves by panting and holding their wings away from their body to let the air circulate. Their combs also help release heat, acting like a radiator. Too much panting, though, is a sign of distress.
Signs of Heat Stress
When chickens are having a hard time coping with the heat they will become heat stressed, which presents itself as gasping, panting, listlessness, spreading of wings, not eating or drinking, or diarrhea (if you get to this point your hens in immediate danger).
Did you know that smaller breeds and bantams, large combed breeds or lighter colored breeds are better able to withstand hot weather?
But, in extreme heat most breeds will be affected by the heat in one way or another.
Tips to help your chickens beat the heat until fall’s cool air comes along.
1. Provide lots and lots of cool water. Putting water bowls in the shade and putting small ice blocks in the water will help keep it cool. (I use small freezer containers to make 1-cup ice blocks) Freeze chopped up fruits and veggies in water to create a refreshing treat!
2. Limiting corn based feed and supplementing with juicy fruits and veggies will also help keep chickens cool and hydrated. The energy it takes to digest grains heats up a chicken’s body and can cause overheating.
3. Overripe produce can be frozen and offered “free-choice”, allowing chickens to pick at whatever intices them. Or, cube up and freeze melons for a frozen melon ice cube.
4. Allowing chickens to free range on hot summer days gets them out of a hot, stuffy coop and into the fresh air where they can settle in under bushes, dig and fluffy in soft cool dirt or find a breezy place in a shady tree. If free ranging isn’t possible, make sure to provide lots of shade in the chicken run, or fans or misters in the coop. (I planted my peach tree near the coop run so when it got bigger it would give shade as well as peaches)
5. You can also set a shallow pan of water in the run so the chickens can wade in the cool water. Check it every so often to make sure that it hasn’t gotten too hot.
6. Chickens will drink a lot of water on hot days, so make sure they will never run out by adding a few more water troughs to drink from.
7. Laying hens may also prefer nesting in cooler open areas. Providing boxes, crates or baskets out in the open for hens to use will give them a choice between laying eggs under shrubs and somewhere you can find them.
8. If your coop is set up with nipple waterers, consider putting out a few pans of water as an extra source.
9. I also like to offer a slightly deeper pan of water so my hens can dunk their heads in it. The cool water on their wattles helps to lower their body temperature quickly.
Hot summer days are not the only time you have to worry about the heat; when night time temperatures are high and chickens are cooped for the night it’s important that the coop is well ventilated to allow the air to flow. As the temperature drops, the air flow will cool off the coop. It may be necessary to install a fan to help move out the hot air. Hanging a frozen –gallon water bottle in front of the fan will help cool the air also.
Prevention of heat stress and keeping chickens hydrated is key, but if weather is extremely hot or your chickens are showing signs of stress you can add electrolytes to their water or give it to individual chickens using an eye dropper or a syringe without the needle attached.
1 Cup Water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Place all ingredients into a jar and mix gently until sugar and salt dissolve.
TO USE: use at full strength for severely stressed chickens or mix 1 cup per one gallon of drinking water.
Keeping your chickens cool in hot weather could mean the difference between life and death. Whatever you can do to help keep them cool and comfortable will not only save their life, but their egg production as well. Overheated hens don’t like laying eggs.
Peaches and plums and berries, oh my!
Its summertime and that means one major thing around here…cobbler. From the first bloom of spring right up to harvest time we dream of desserts made with our favorite fruits.
Every house I’ve ever live in has had a berry patch. Not a large mind you, but enough canes to produce enough fruit for summer desserts and extra for canning and freezing so we can enjoy the fresh taste of summer all winter long. They are perfect for the suburban homestead where space may be at a premium. They can be grown on fences, trellises or arbors, making them perfect for a vertical garden because they leave valuable ground for root crops or non-trailing vegetables.
My current berry patch abuts a perimeter fence. It is just 3-foot wide by 30-foot long and has blackberries, raspberries and boysenberries that I train to grow on a 54-inch tall cattle panel. The canes are managed and pruned so we don’t have them rooting all over the place. As they start to push out new growth in the spring I fill one gallon nursery pots with rich compost and nestle the budding new growth down into the soil to root, starting a new batch of canes.
Over the years I’ve helped friends and family start their own berry patches with cuttings from my own. Berry canes are easy to root, grow in many different soil types and best of all…grow like weeds once they get started. It’s one of the best plants for new gardeners, and a favorite of well-seasoned homesteaders.
And, let’s not forget those plump, juicy, flavorful berries that explode in your mouth with a burst of flavor, or make a thick decadent jam, luscious pie or frozen little gems waiting to be blended up into a refreshing smoothie.
But…I have to admit there’s nothing better than a warm fresh berry cobbler warm from the oven. Well—unless it’s a berry cobbler with a big glob of creamy vanilla ice-cream on top. That’s a double yum.
There’s a lot of debate about fruit cobblers and what constitutes a “real” cobbler. There are cobblers topped with fluffy biscuits, some with cake-like toppings and others with a light batter pored over, creating a cobbled effect when it bakes. But, around here cobbler means one thing and one thing only, sweet seasonal fruit encased in a crumbly oatmeal brown sugar topping.
Blackberry Cobbler with Oatmeal Topping
3 cups blackberries
2/3 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
1 cup rolled oats
¼ Tsp. ground nutmeg
DIRECTIONS for Filling: Put all ingredients into a large saucepan and slowly bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves.
DIRECTIONS for Topping: Put all ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Pour melted butter over and mix with a fork until it is crumbly.
Heat oven to 375. Pour berry mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish. Cover with oatmeal topping. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until bubbly. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.
TIP: My family likes this topping so much that I make a double batch. I put a layer on the bottom and one on the top for an extra crispy yum.
People get into the homesteading life for all kinds of reasons. Some want to be more self-reliant or self-sufficient, while others come to homesteading for political or conservation or environmental reasons. Regardless of how or why homesteading appeals to people, they all seem to have one common denominator—living on less money.
I know as I have gotten older, stuff, toys and material things have taken a back seat to more simple pleasures, fun experiences and building great relationships. As I age I also think more about what my retirement life will look like and how I want to live when I stop working. All these considerations usually send my brain to thoughts of cutting costs or reducing expenses. But, when I sit down to make notes and charts of areas to cut expenses I realize my life is pretty inexpensive as it is. If I look at things more closely I can definitely say that homesteading saves me a lot of money.
Check out these 25 homesteading activities that can save you a ton of money.
1. Composting – creating your own soil from kitchen scrapes, manure, chicken coop bedding, spent veggies, grass clipping and yard trimmings will save on expensive potting soil.
2. Gym Memberships – all the fresh air, sunshine and physical work of a homestead is much better than any gym machine or cycling class.
3. Heating – cutting or gathering firewood to use in a fireplace or wood stove allows you to use your heater less.
4. Growing Herbs – the cost of herbs at the market is ridiculously high for what you get. Grow your own in pots or in the garden and you’ll never buy herbs again.
5. Grow a Vegetable Garden – I once read where growing even a small portion of your produce can save a family over $400 a month on their grocery bill. Start with the veggies you eat most often and expand from there.
6. Healthy Living – when you work outside, get lots of fresh air and sunshine, and eat wholesome homemade meals you get sick less frequent, which means fewer trips to the doctor.
7. Home Cooking – cooking from scratch at home will save you hundreds of dollars over eating out.
8. Seasonal Eating – if you purchase what you don’t grow, buying in-season fruits and veggies will cost less than buying them out-of-season.
9. Forage for Food – check out what grows in your area, whether suburban or rural. You’ll be surprised at what you can harvest from neighborhood fruits trees, wild berry patches and forest mushrooms. Educate yourself first so you know what to harvest and what not to harvest.
10. Supplemental Feeds – spent veggies, kitchen scrapes and trimmings are great for chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits. They get variety in their diet and you use less feed.
11. Lower Cable TV – when you spend a lot of time outside working in the garden, playing with animals or just enjoying the serenity of your homestead, you fall away from watching mindless TV programs. Cutting the cable is the first step to a more enjoyable life, in my opinionJ
12. Free Entertainment – simplifying your life and cutting costs spills over into entertainment as well. Many libraries and museums, even Parks Departments, offer enjoyable free programs like concerts, lectures and movies.
13. Homemade Fire Starters – with a bit of old melted candle wax and a handful of dried leaves, herbs or potpourri you’ll be starting fires for free and cutting out the gas.
14. DIY – homesteader types tend to be lifelong learners, picking up skills that others have to hire out, like plumbing, carpentry or electrical will save you a lot.
15. The Three “R’s” – self-sufficient living promotes reusing, repurposing or recycling items so they don’t end up at the dump. Scrape lumber for nesting boxes or shelves, pallets for fencing or broken down to make rabbit hutches or chicken coops, cast offs crafted into décor items, the skies the limit when you use your imagination.
16. Make Your Own??? – from laundry supplies, health remedies, beauty products and cleaning products, the projects will be fun and save a ton on chemical laden over-the-counter items.
17. Go Second Hand – thrift stores are a great place to find useful items from tools and equipment to clothing and household items. Just don’t go overboard, even a good deal can be a waste of money if you’re buying what you don’t really need.
18. Line Dry – every homestead should have a clothes line. Not only is hanging clothes on a line therapeutic (well, at least to me) it will save on the electric bill. Rig up an indoor line for winter use as well.
19. Clothing Repairs – sewing, knitting, crocheting and darning are common homestead skills people want to learn. It’s also a great way to save on tailoring or repair costs when you can do it yourself.
20. Big Batch Cooking – take advantage of a cold day and make big, or multiple big batches of soups and stews, freezing them for later use.
21. Extend the harvest – if you live in colder areas, you can still harvest fresh produce by building a few cold frames…out of scrape lumber and reused windows of course.
22. Hunt and Fish – these two skills can put pounds of food in the freezer and keep hundreds of dollars in your pocket.
23. Home Dairy – if you have the space and are allowed, consider keeping a dairy goat. The gallons of milk and pounds of cheese and yoghurt will more than offset the cost of feed.
24. Grow a Medicinal Garden – growing medicinal plants and making them into teas and tinctures can help stave off colds and flues, ease sore muscles, relieve headaches and help you fall asleep. It will also save on the cost of drugstore remedies.
25. Wearable Warmth – bundle up in warm wool sweaters or blankets and keep the thermostat low, saving on heating costs during the colder months.
Grab a cool drink and settle in someplace comfy folks, this is gonna be a long one.
I rarely, if ever, write about something I’ve read on another homestead blog, but a recent post about homesteading myths bothered me so much that after days of tossing and turning it around in my mind I had to say something.
First off, I want to say…I don’t know the blogger personally; we have never met, never communicated with each other. I drop by her blog once in a while and am impressed with the life she has carved out for herself and her young family. I’m also not here to defend her; she seems strong enough to do that herself.
So…what’s my beef? People who bash homesteaders because, in their view, we have not gone far enough, have not been authentic enough, have not been purist enough.
Like many most homestead bloggers, we love encouraging people young and old; city dweller or country newbie to find their way in the homesteading world regardless of how that looks. Pursuing a more self-sufficient life in a modern world is a very personal thing. No two lives, or homestead, will look the same. That’s the beauty of the community we are all trying to build. Variety is the spice of life and we can all encourage and support one another with our words, experiences and encouragement.
So, why was I bothered by her recent post?
It wasn’t her…honestly. Let me explain…
…I popped into her blog on the 4th of July weekend, just to see what she was up to. She had posted an article responding to emails she had gotten complaining that she was not a REAL homesteader, that she was not living a true homesteader lifestyle. Like many of us, she sometimes dines out with friends or family, watches movies and eats not-so-homemade meals. In essence the commenter was telling her she was not authentic in her journey as a modern homesteader.
In reality, none of us are living the same life as our homesteading forbearers lived, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to. Homesteading in the 1800’s was fraught with injury, disease, starvation, crop failure, bankruptcy and depravation. If you study that era just a bit you’ll see that children died of all kinds of illnesses and it was not uncommon for women to die in child birth.
Is this the kind of authenticity the commenter was referring to? I sincerely hope not.
Comments like this are not unusual for bloggers who open their lives up to the blogosphere. Many of us, me included, have been on the receiving end of less than pleasant comments by people who think we are not doing things right because we are not doing things the way THEY think we should. You have to be pretty thick skinned to lay your life open on the internet, and I have learned over the years to just let these kinds of comments roll off and chalk them up to people who are looking for something I am not providing.
But, this post bothered me…a lot. It was not the bloggers response…that she handled beautifully. It was the idea of what we are all trying to do, what we are trying to accomplish was not good enough, at least not by the commenters standards.
As I went about my day, getting ready for family celebrations, I couldn’t get the post out of my mind.
As I fed the chickens and collected eggs murmurs crept into my mind, “am I not a real homesteader because I don’t have hundreds of chickens?”
When I was making everyone’s favorite baked beans I thought, “am I not a real homesteader because I didn’t grow, harvest, clean, cull, and cook those beans before they were used to create a family favorite?”
And, when I was pulling weeds, in what will be my new kitchen herb garden, watching my crazy little hen fluff herself in a cloud of dust, was I not a homesteader because I didn’t hatch her from an egg fertilized on my land.
I sat in the dirt thinking about that post, wondering how anyone can call themselves anything if they do not do it to the level of an anonymous audience.
Is a person who creates a few quilts a year, not considered a quilter because they don’t produce dozens a year?
Are the members of my church choir, not singers because they don’t sing professionally, have a record label or sing in a famous theater?
Is the painter who puts color to canvass for the joy of it not considered an artist because their works hang in a loving home rather than a gallery?
Are people who journal (or blog) not writers because they have not worked with big publishing houses?
Is the small land owner who sells at the Farmers Market not a farmer?
And, does my 40 years of raising livestock, gardening and pursuing a simpler way of life make me an unknowledgable fake rather than an experienced veteran?
I thought about this commenter’s line of thinking all weekend and into the following weeks. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of people the commenter might take issue with because they were not doing their craft, living their life at a level the commenter would think sufficient.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later, after finishing a full day’s work at my 9 to 5 job, making dinner from scratch, and doing evening chores around my suburban homestead that I finally sat down to relax. A cool breeze was coming in off the ocean, the soft wind pushing the day’s heat out of our valley. I sat on my patio watching my hens cluck and scratch around the yard as they do every evening. Fragments of that post still lingering in my mind. In that quiet, serene moment when I looked around and saw the life I had made, the projects that DD and I had worked on, and the food and animals that we had raised on a small suburban homestead at the edge of town, it came to me, something I was told many years ago, that has stuck with me all this time—hike your own hike.
What the heck does it mean to hike your own hike?
Bear with me while I explain.
It was back in 2011.
DD (aka Showie) was about to age out of two livestock programs that had taken us to fairs and expos and auctions all over California showing and selling sheep and chickens. Showing had been a huge part of our lives for 15 years. Prior to moving to our small lot at the edge of town, my sister and I had raised and shown sheep all over the western US for more than 30 years. DD went to her first ram sale at just 4 months old. Raising livestock was in our blood. It defined us, made us who we had become, and it was all going to stop in a matter of months.
Realizing that I would have a lot more time on my hands, I set out to think about the next phase in my life—the life of an empty nester. I thought about all the things I had not done, places I had not gone because buying, raising and showing livestock had always come first. I began making lists of places, activities, things I wanted to do.
One item on my list was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that extends from Baja California to the south, through 3 states, ending at the Washington/Canadian border to the north; 2,650 miles through the California desert, the glacial expanses of the Sierras Nevada mountains; through the deep forests Oregon and over the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountain range.
A hiking venture like this is a huge undertaking. People spend years planning and training for this hike, it’s not something to be taken lightly, but was something I wanted to do.
As I researched the trial, spoke with outfitters who advised hikers, and read the trail journals of people who had, and were, hiking the trail, I came to understand what a feat this really was. I also realized that there were parts of the trail I had absolutely zero interest in hiking—the California desert for one. Several hundred miles of searing heat and freezing cold, the desolate surroundings were less than appealing as well. The other areas I had no interest in were the high snowcapped peaks of the Sierras and Cascade mountain ranges; the potential for sliding off a cliff or down the side of a mountain was equally unappealing.
Thinking about these revelations and the kind of hiking I really wanted to do, I set out to create “my own” hike, a condensed version of the original that I could hike in sections over many years. (Hikers refer to this as section hiking rather than thru hiking where you go from one end of the trail to the other in one trip)
A year later sis and I set out on a long weekend for the first leg of our hike, a 20 mile section near Mammoth Lakes. Over the course of two days we hiked past rivers, waterfalls, lakes, ponds, woodlands and jagged rock formations. We saw a variety of birds and wildlife we would have never encountered had we not gotten off the beaten path. It was fantastic, the beginning of a life-long dream, we were hooked.
As we came off the trail, covered in dust, sweat dripping from everywhere, our hair all askew we couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment through the exhaustion. We made our way to the truck and pulled out our cooler. It was late in the afternoon and most of the picnic area was deserted. We set up our lunch at the edge of the trail—homemade chicken salad, fruit, cheese, nuts and a gallon of ice cold water. Food never tasted so good as it did that day. We sat in the shade eating, watching as hiker after hiker come off the trail and greeted us with the same dusty tired smiles we had an hour before.
I felt like part of a group that day, a group of people who were like me, just wanting an adventure, a challenge, and to be out in nature.
We must have sat there for hours when two young, spry men bounded off the trail like they had enough energy to hike another 20 miles. They greeted us, asked how we were doing, what we saw, where we had hiked. One thing led to another and they joined us at our table, pulling out a few bags of their trail food and bottles of water. They were pleasant and chatty, telling us all about their many hiking excursions. These were serious hiker, I thought.
During our conversations I found myself almost apologizing that we had not started our hike at the beginning of the trail. I made excuses about why we weren’t hiking the entire trail, that we had selected only certain sections. And, it must have seemed like I was asking permission to hike the trail over the course of years instead of the normal 5-months. When I realized what I was doing I felt almost sick. I didn’t need their permission or approval to hike where I wanted or to by-pass the areas I wasn’t interested in. Why was I rationalizing any of this to a perfect stranger!!!???
The guys were sweet and must have sensed that what I was really saying was…I. Am. Not. A. Real. Hiker.
We continued talking. They told us where they had hiked and where they were hiking on this trip. They told us about their lives and plans and how much they loved to hit the trails almost every weekend. Sitting there listening to these two young men I felt even more like a fraud. I hiked local trails; they hiked major sections of the US. Even though I had a wonderful hike, felt very proud of my accomplishment and was looking forward to our next trek onto the trails, I also felt slightly diminished, like what I had done was nothing compared to what these two young men had done, were doing.
I sat silently listening to them talk. I was in awe of what they were doing. I wondered why I waited so long. I felt like I had missed out on so much, wasted so much time not starting earlier in my life. I gazed off into the distance, their voices fading to a murmur, reflecting on what the hell I was doing. I was mid-life, I had a grown daughter, and I had not trained to hike a trail like this.
When the sun sank below the treetops and the air turned chilly, sis and I were ready for a long hot bath, a warm meal and a soft bed. We were spent. The young men decided to continue their hike to the next point on their map. I wished them well and safe trails. They hugged us and told us how awesome it was that we were out here doing our own thing. As they walked towards the trail, one of the young men turned back towards us and said something I will never, ever forget.
He said, “We all hike our own hike. Just because we do it differently than anyone else doesn’t make us any less of a hiker”. I smiled and thanked him, but what I really wanted to do was run up and hug him again because in those four words, a person who had hiked hundreds of miles in dozens of places around the country had just affirmed that I WAS A REAL HIKER TOO!!!
Why the long story?
…homesteading, like hiking, is a personal decision, a personal challenge. We decide what and how we want our homesteading journey to look. Mine may not look like yours or the blogger in my story, but it’s not supposed to. We all have different interests we want to pursue, different skills we want to learn, different goals we want to reach.
No one homesteading venture is better than another, they all have meaning and value to the person who matters most—YOU!!
Throw off the shackles of convention, folks. Ignore what people think you should do or how you should do it.
In essence…HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE, folks, but always on your own terms.
I love it when I want more chicks and a hen or two goes broody just in the nick of time.
What I don’t like, though, is a broody hen when I have no fertile eggs.
But, what’s even worse is a broody, bitchy hen. One that is territorial, that squawks at you every time you walk into the coop, one that pecks at you when you try to remove her eggs, and one that stays on the nest for days or weeks not laying eggs and getting thinner because she is not eating.
I have one such hen…and she is driving me nuts!!
She could be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the amount of time she has been sitting on her nest.
What makes a hen go broody?
No one knows for sure the exact science behind a hen going broody, but we do know it’s a combination of hormones, instinct and maturity that makes a hen want to sit on her eggs (or anyone else’s for that matter) and make them hatch. Not a bad proposition if you have fertile eggs and want a new batch of chicks. But, it’s not as desirable when you don’t have a rooster and there’s no chance of fertile eggs much less hatching chicks.
Why don’t you want a broody hen?
If you don’t want to hatch eggs then a broody hen can become a bad thing, one because she is not laying eggs while she is broody, and two, she can entice her fellow coop mates to go broody too. There goes you egg production!
Fortunately, my other hens have jumped on the crazed motherhood bandwagon. If they did I’ve have no eggs at all, and breakfast would go out the window.
What can I do about a broody hen?
The ultimate goal is to not have a hen go broody in the first place, unless you have fertile eggs you want to hatch. Removing eggs as soon as they are laid and keeping the hen out of the nesting box after she has laid eggs are both good starts to keeping a hen from going broody.
I’ll admit it…this is where all my troubles started. Long days at work and early morning meetings meant that eggs were being left in the nesting boxes for most of the day, or sometimes until the next morning. It was a perfect recipe to send even the most reluctant hen broody.
If practicality and time keep you from collecting eggs or shooing your hens out of their nesting boxes, here are a few more tips that should break her habit. Operative word, should.
1. Kick her out with the rest of the flock. Taking her off the nest and getting her outside the coop will help break the broody cycle. Feeding time is a good time to do this because it will distract her from being off the nest. Remember though, broody hens can be bite, so be cautious.
2. Block her out of the nesting box. To dampen her instincts, put a piece of wood over the nesting box hole so she can’t get back in.
3. Get her roosting again. As the sun sets and the rest of the flock is making their way to their place on the roost pick her up and place her on the roost. Chances are she won’t be brave enough to abandon the flock in search of her nest.
4. Lower her body temperature. A few people have mentioned putting a bag of frozen veggies underneath the hen. This lowers her body temperature and signals the brain that she is not broody any longer. I’ve not tried this before. Although it sounds interesting I’m not sure I’d want to waste good veggies.
5. If all else fails, cage her up. Sounds mean, but it’s not. Simply place her in a wire mesh cage in an area with lots of bright sunlight, and plenty of food and water, but no bedding for a few days. Afterwards, let her out and see if she socializes with the rest of the flock or returns to her nest. If she is socializing she is not broody. But, if she tries to return to the nest put her back in the cage for a few more days.
It shouldn’t take long to break a broody hen using any of these methods, unless of course you are ME. I think my hen is in perpetual broody mode.
So—what was my solution?
After weeks of admittedly, inconsistent, attempts to break her broody cycle the one thing that did work was a nighttime raid by a rouge raccoon.
Luckily, my coop is like the Fort Knox of poultry housing, so the coon didn’t stand a chance. When I arrived on the scene, at two in the morning, she was up and about; a little stressed and sticking pretty close to the other hens.
BTW — I don’t recommend the raccoon method:)
We are being overrun!
No—really. I’m not joking.
With all the cool evenings and warm days my mint patch has literally exploded.
I thought I was being clever when I potted up a few of my favorite kinds of mint (spearmint, peppermint and some plain old garden mint someone gifted to me) to control its invasive growing habit, rather than plant it directly in the garden.
Seems I wasn’t so clever after all. Those aggressive little…I won’t say it…grew right through the hole in the pots and PLANTED themselves in my flowerbed. NOW, I have a forest of mint! Yikes.
I know what you’re thinking…
…we complain when a plant doesn’t produce and now I’m complaining when it produces too much.
Mint is one of those plants that grow extremely well regardless of the conditions, so controlling the chaos is a bit of a challenge.
With way too much on my hands I set out to find a few awesome ways to use and preserve my little radical greens. Here are a few:
1. Make mint lemon water – add a few sprigs of mint and several slices of lemon to a cold jug of water. It will keep you cool and refreshed no matter how hot the day.
2. Add it to iced tea or lemonade – for a twist on a summer classic.
3. Use as a room freshener – cut a few sprigs and place in a decorative vase or Mason jar.
4. Keep the bugs out – mint attracts “good” bugs and repels “bad” bugs, so plant up a few pots of Penny Royal mint and place them near doorways to repel ants and flies. I said POTTED, right?
5. Breathe freshener – who needs mint gum when you can just pluck and chew on a mint leaf?
6. Pair with fruit or veggies – mint gives a light fresh taste to veggies like tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, potatoes and beets. Or, mince and sprinkle on a bowl of strawberries.
7. Mojitos – this is a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t love an ice cold glass of lime juice, sugar, club soda, and rum, with a spring of mint, of course.
8. Tame an upset tummy – place a few peppermint leaves in a cup and pour hot water over. Let cool slightly and drink warm to calm things down.
9. Mint Pesto – whip up a batch of mint pesto to use on homegrown lamb kabobs or grilled chops.
10. Create a relaxing bath – pour 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup Epsom salts and ¼ cup of mint leaves in your bath for a relaxing, muscle easing soak.
11. Make fleas flee – pets can be bothered by fleas in summer, so bundle up 2 parts fresh spearmint, 1 part fresh thyme and 1 part fresh wormwood, and tuck it inside a small pillow, placed near your pet’s bed or another favorite resting place.
12. I SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST!!
Minted Lemon Slushy
- 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (4-6 lemons)
- ½ cup honey
- 3 cups water, divided
- 1 generous handful mint leaves, remove from stems
- Juice lemons and remove any seeds. In a small pan, slowly heat lemon juice, honey and ½ cup of water. Stir until the honey dissolves. When mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat, and toss in mint leaves. Let steep for 10-minutes. Strain out leaves and add remaining water. Pour liquid into ice cube trays and freeze.
- When ready to serve, put minted lemon ice cubes into a blender and blend. Slowly add water until it reaches the slushy consistency you want (about a cup). Serve immediately with a sprig of mint.
Need a little more color in your life? Try juicing “Pink Lemonade” lemons for a fun summertime twist.
Want a more decadent version? Add a ½ cup of gin to the blender and add water only if you need to.
Fodder is very similar to sprouted grains and can be used as a supplemental feed for small livestock like chickens, ducks and rabbits. It’s a wonderful nutritional supplement for areas that have harsh winters, or where good quality hay might not be easily available. The digestibility of fodder is high. That’s because the starch from the sprouted grain turns to sugar and is more usable by the animal, so less is wasted through manure. Better to feed your animals than the ground through manure…don’t ya think? Many different grains can be used to grow fodder—alfalfa, barley, clover, filed peas, oats, millet, ryegrass, sunflowers and wheat just to name a few. The best part, though… …is the whole process, from soaked grain to ready-to-feed-fodder, takes about a week. In no time at all your animals will be munching on everything from roots to sprouts. Nothing will be wasted!
Building Your Own Fodder System
Commercial fodder systems can be outrageously expensive and many are too large for the small homesteader who is using fodder for supplemental feed rather than an animal’s primary feed source. But, with bit of ingenuity you can build your own system for a few dollars. You can build a simple PVC rack, buy a utility rack, find an old used wooden rack at the thrift store, or build one out of old pallets. Pallets are so useful, aren’t they? The important thing is for the growing container to fit the depth and width of the rack, so get the rack first before buying the growing containers. Any relatively shallow container will work, but it should be at least 2” deep. Vegetable seedling trays can be easily found at garden shops or purchased on-line, or plastic storage boxes will work too. Even old plastic rain gutters or large plastic pipe cut lengthwise can work. The possibilities are endless, use your imagination! When you have your growing containers drill about a dozen or so small holes evenly around the bottom. This is where having a sturdy container comes in handy. One pound of grain will produce 8 pounds of fodder so flimsy trays will crack and break after a few uses. Better to spend a bit more for longevity.
Now for the fun part!
Start by soaking your grain in a 5-gallon bucket for 12-24 hours. Place the grain into the bucket and fill with water. Swirl the grain around so the chaff floats to the top. The chaff won’t sprout, so just skim it off and add to the compost bin. The amount of grain you soak will depend on the number of trays you have and the amount of fodder you want to grow. Since I’m only feeding fodder to rabbits and chickens I soak 1 pound at a time. (Remember 1 pound of grain produces 8 pounds of fodder) Here’s a trick…drill a bunch of small holes (making sure the holes are smaller than the grain) in the bottom of the bucket, then set it inside another bucket before filling it with water. When the soaking is finished, simply lift out the top bucket, leaving all the water behind. After the soaking, spread the grain evenly in each tray to a depth of 2-inches; more than that can cause molding or decreased sprouting. Less than will dry out quickly and not give you a good, robust sprout. To help smooth out the grain, so it’s evenly level, use a spatula or putty knife. Place the trays on the growing rack in a sunny area or under grow lights. Grow lights work great in winter. Water each tray 2-3 times a day. The trays should be damp, but not have standing water. Some sources recommend using a catchment basin and small pump to recirculate the water through a tube back to the trays. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea—recycling water—but it can cause mold, slim and odors. Yuck! Another option is to use a 5-gallon bucket to pump clean water to the top tray and let it filter down through all the trays, before being caught at the bottom. The used water can then be used in the garden. Repeat the watering step for 7 to 9 days depending on how fast the grains sprout. Ideally, you want about 6-inches of fodder, but that will depend on temperature and water.
You’re ready to harvest!
Flip each tray over and gently pull out the fodder. You can either feed the whole thing…root mat, seeds, sprouts and ALL! Or, cut it into serving pieces with a knife or a box cutter. The root mat holds the whole thing together, like a roll of carpet. Start a new tray every day or so, so you’ll have an on-going supply of dense, rich, nutritious feed. Your animals will love you for it!
How Much Fodder Should I Feed?
For a small homestead fodder is more of a supplement of fresh, green, nutrient packed grass. It’s not meant to be the primary source of feed, especially for ruminants like sheep, goats and cattle. They will need the roughage of hay to keep their rumens working properly. Non-ruminants will also need other feed and supplements common to the species for proper growth. The list below is a good guide of how much fodder to feed, but the real test will be each animal’s physical condition. • Chicken: 2-3 % of their body weight in fodder • Rabbit: 3-5 % of their body weight in fodder • Sheep: 2-3 % of their body weight in fodder • Goat: 2-3 % of their body weight in fodder • Dairy Goat: 3-5 % of their body weight in fodder • Pig: 2-3 % of their body weight in fodder • Beef Cow: 2-3 % of their body weight in fodder • Dairy Cow: 3-5 % of their body weight in fodder • Horse: 2-3 % of their body weight in fodder