Archive for November, 2010

It’s Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thankgiving frugal living on the homestead
Happy Thanksgiving from our little suburban homestead!

After celebrating Brianne’s birthday last weekend we’re here enjoying the rest of our quiet vacation with a few days respite from farm chores. Well – except for feeding. Yah, they all like to be fed too. Dutch and Dakota are enjoying the abundance of food falling on the kitchen floor from all the cooking activity going on. Our bird is soaking in its brine and I’m getting ready to bake a ham, cheese and mushroom quiche and fresh herbed bread. Later tonight I’ll bake my Harvest Pumpkin cakes and make our orange infused cranberry sauce. No one will go hungry this Thanksgiving, not human, nor dog, nor chicken, nor rabbit.

Sadly, no turkeys were raised on the farm this year. Our spring was so busy with travel to sheep shows that I thought it best not to bring new animals to the farm without the proper time to attend them. Hopefully next year will be different. With the success of raising our own meat chickens I’d love to take on turkeys. Incidentally, the bird we will fest on is from a batch we raised right here on the farm.

The evening will be spent by the fire, curled up on the sofa under layers of handmade quilts; doing what we do every year, a movie marathon. This year’s selection: Horatio Hornblower. This, of course, will be watched with copious amounts of cake. I’m excited.

It’s great to be surrounded by family, but I have to admit our decision to celebrate the holiday solo – just Brianne and I, has been a good one. She’s roaming around here somewhere, bouncing between the kitchen and texting friends.

Neighbors stop by throughout the day, concerned that we’re flying solo; seemingly unloved and unwanted. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I don’t miss the commotion, which sends momentary twinges of guilt through me…I think I’m needed in the kitchen, so I’ve gotta fly. But I wanted to check in and wish you all

Happy Thanksgiving!

From Suburban

Creative Commons License photo credit: Nancee_art

Changes From Within

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We are a small suburban homestead here—a few cloven hooves, a few mixed breed chickens, a rabbit, a garden with fruit trees and berry canes, and two wandering dogs.

The posts that hold the arbor fences also hold the laundry line. The lamb I roast for Sunday dinner is also the lamb that is chopped and sprinkled over kibble. The shells from the eggs I crack into omelets end up in the compost, and scraps of fresh salad greens and veggies are feasts for our feathered ones. So what was once waste, to be thrown into the trash, is now feed for future eggs or chicken salad or turned into garden soil. The system we have is simple, but it serves us well.

There is work yet to be done though; I’d like to have a greenhouse to extend our growing season, a pond with geese and Thanksgiving turkeys. But, for now there is a garden to turn and meat chicks to raise. There are the chores of switching from one season to another, lamb to sell, firewood to lie in and workshops to attend. Without really knowing how, it all seems to fall into place. It all, somehow, gets done.

As I think back on all we have accomplished, I realize that the real work of this farm is not the food we’ve grown or the skills we’ve learned: it’s us. I say this will all sincerity.

When you build a place into your life purpose it changes you; changes how you understand yourself. It humbles you, but not at the mercy of the main intention. There’s no room for ego when there’s a barn full of shit waiting to be shoveled. When I think back over how we have slowly turned an overgrown suburban lot into what we want it to be, I see confidence in who we are, strength in who Brianne will become, but also worries. I never used to think about Brianne going off on her own, wanting to make her own way. I know she wants her own place one day, but I think about how and where and when. I worry about tasks that are beyond my strength, being alone and having time to myself. Certain things subside over time, but some stay raw and exposed.

Maybe that’s just the growing part. Or, maybe this place is teaching me to mind my priorities and let logic win over emotion. I’m not quite sure. I do know one thing I’m happy in this life, feel at home on our little farm with the animals and home cooked meals. I can close my eyes, click my heels three times and settle in.

Perhaps we never really settle down into our lives. Maybe we just have to give our lives time to settle into us.

Victorian Farm – BBC documentary series

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Victorian Era in England saw an agricultural revolution spread across the country. Old world traditional ways sat along side new modern technology and machinery. Like Frontier House and Colonial House before them Victorian Farm is a realistic documentary about a group of people who step back in time and live, work and eat as they did in rural Victorian England.

Working for a full calendar year, Ruth, Alex and Peter rediscover a lost world of skills, crafts and knowledge, assisted by an ever-dwindling band of experts who keep Victorian rural practices alive. Each month and season brings pressing priorities, from tending livestock and repairing buildings to raising crops, preparing food and crafting furniture and tools. Can they make a success of farming the Victorian way?

The 36 You Tube episodes are chock full of useful information for up-and-coming and seasoned farmers alike. For those who have just recently decided to live more self-sufficiently the series is a priceless addition to their research and knowledge, even though it is based in the English countryside.

If Victorian Farm draws you in, watch BBC channels for Edwardian Farm airing this fall.

New and used DVD sets and companion books are available through However, the series is in a European format and will not work in U.S. DVD players.

Pitching Manure

Saturday, November 13, 2010

manure - homesteading

The sheep pens and outside corral panels are down now. The tree branches that hung over the barn have been cut down, cut up and disposed of. They made me nervous that in a hard wind they would break causing damage the roof.

The composted sheep manure, hay, straw and bits of feed that makes up the sheep pen by season’s end will be removed to a new raised bed near the picket fence and bean arbors. It will heat up beautifully over the next few days and when the hotness and ammonia subside over the winter, it will be ready to transfer plants started in the house over the holidays.

They will be safe and warm with a layer of plastic over to protect them from frosty nights. This means I am back to pitching manure, a job usually reserved for August or September after the lambs are sold and the manure has aged in the barn for a few months.

As a younger woman, I reveled when front end loaders and Bobcat tractors did the job for me, relieving me from hours of manual labor. But nowadays there seems to be a solitary kind of meditation that goes on when I pitch manure by hand. It kind of inspires me. I don’t know why. The repetition of the task seems to empty my mind of all my worldly cares. I’m centered on the task at hand and less likely to flitter aimlessly from one thought to another. The concentration sends my mind to some far away peaceful place. The place I go when I do yoga, deep thought.

Or, maybe it’s just the fumes from the ammonia that sends me on some kind of chemical high that causes my mind swirl with impassioned thoughts. Slow melodic tunes will set me off the same way. At any rate, I enjoy forking manure. It keeps me in good physical shape and reminds me of the benefits of leverage. You can’t just stab a pitchfork deep into a pile of damp packed down manure and lift up a forkful without risking a slipped disc or a hernia.

The sheep have tramped down the manure and straw and shavings into a semi-solid mass. It’s easier to peel it back in thin layers. I start along one end of the raised part where the gate panel use to sit. It’s higher and lifts away easily. I slide my fork under a layer just a few inches, pushing with my foot to drive the fork into the mass, I lean down on the long handle of the fork; the curve of the tines act as a fulcrum to loosen it from the pack. Using my knees and my hands rather than just muscling it out of the pack I pitch a fork full into the garden cart for transport to the new bed.

Some of my fondest memories are of long talks while pitching manure. My simple life was conceived; my plans for a farm, to grow my own food and raise my own animals were made; and my decision to do it on my own was laid all while pitching manure. It’s funny how nature can speak to you and guide you to what is right for you if you let it.

Creative Commons License photo credit: David T Jones

Seasonal Sales Calendar

Friday, November 12, 2010

frugal shopping pantry stuffers
With the year coming to a close it’s a great time to lay the groundwork for stocking your pantry and home with needed items. An effective way to shop for food storage and other household items is to know when they typically go on sale.

Some of this is common sense. Seasonal items like winter coats generally go on sale by the end of December while gardening supplies can be purchased for less in the fall. But, some great information can be found on the Consumer Reports website, websites on stocking up and store ads. The Calendar below is just a sample of the items you can stock up throughout the year, helping to build a well supplied pantry and save money on other purchases. Be patient. Watch store ads for items that are 50% off or more. Shop when items are on sale. As time goes by and your pantry grows you’ll be spending less time in the market and more time shopping from your own pantry!

(Keep in mind that this is just a generalized list. Every part of the country is different and sale times and items may vary) Read the rest of the story »

Apple Cider Pancake

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This is a wonderful tummy warming breakfast that will send away the chills of any cold morning. Add some homemade sausage or home cured bacon and a pot of warm apple cider and you won’t regret it!

Apple Cider Pancake


3 large farm eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples (braeburn or gala work well, if using fuji use 4) Avoid red or yellow delicious, they don’t bake well.
¼ cup fresh press cider
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter (half melted)
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
Tablespoon vanilla extract
Tablespoon baking powder

Peel and slice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar, sprinkle with a light coating of cinnamon, and mix into a cobbler.

Dribble with warm honey and mix well.

Set in fridge for 2 hours to cure. Do not skip this step.

When apples are cured, add all wet ingredients (half stick melted butter, cider, eggs, oil, extract) and mix with large wooden spoon.

Add in tablespoon baking powder.

Add flour 1/2 cup at a time and stir batter more than you think you need too. Batter will seem wet and yellow, which is good.

Pour into greased cake pan.

Melt remaining half stick of butter. Add to it ½ cup sugar, some cinnamon and mix them into a wet paste.

Use a pastry brush to spread mixture over the batter, making a sugar crust to bake into the cake.

Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Check after 25, when knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with warmed maple syrup.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Marylise Doctrinal

A Thrifty Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

frugal thanksgiving

It’s November 2010, the elections are fresh in our minds and everywhere we go there are the reminders of the coming holiday season. But, the economy still looms heavy on our minds. Fears about jobs, price increases and shortages have us feeling uncertain about what this season will be like.

BUT – here on our little homestead we’re determined not to let this air of uncertainty affect our love of fall and one of the two biggest holidays of the calendar Thanksgiving. We have however decided to make this a budgeted holiday with plenty of memory making activities like free concerts, walks through the decorated areas of town with a mug full of warm apple cider and holiday programs.

So, how does one have a thrifty Thanksgiving dinner? By using what you have on hand, that’s how.

We’ll start a few days before Thanksgiving by thawing out a 9-1/2 pound roasting chicken from a batch we raised last year. I’ll make a few fresh loaves of bread (saving enough dough to make dinner rolls) with herbs from the garden baked in, as a base for our stuffing. When it’s cooled enough I’ll cube it and let it dry out.

On Wednesday I’ll prepare a brine of coarse salt, spices, herbs, apples and cider. The chicken will soak in the brining bucket, submerged in its flavorful concoction for 24-hours.

On Thanksgiving morning, once the animals are fed and morning chores complete, and the chicken is thoroughly rinsed and set out to come to room temperature, we’ll pack up our gear and head to our favorite hiking area. While most people are frantically trying to get their turkeys in the oven by mid-morning we’ll be trekking the hills breathing in fresh air and reveling in the colors of nature. Home by noon and with a light lunch of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, on home baked bread, we’ll be fortified enough to put our energies into our evening meal.

Brianne will peel and cube homegrown potatoes for our cheesy herb infused mash, while my sister slices a newly harvested Butternut squash that will be baked with brown sugar, butter and spices. Greens will be washed and prepared for a wonderful fall mixed green, pecan, blue cheese and cranberry salad with Blueberry-Pomegranate dressing, all from ingredients in my pantry.

The stuffing, squash and dinner rolls will go into the oven and cook along with the bird.

Once the turkey – I mean chicken – is finished roasting I’ll whip up some gravy from the drippings and all will be laid out on a festive table as a grand feast.

The whole meal will be finished off with individual Harvest Pumpkin cakes, made from our own successful pumpkin patch, and topped with a cream cheese frosting and pecan halves.

There you have it, a wonderfully filling homegrown, homemade Thanksgiving feast.

For the rest of the evening we’ll settle into a roaring fire watching some of our favorite movies. I’ll take comfort in the fact that this years celebration was made mainly from ingredients we grew ourselves or already had one hand, with only a few items purchased at the Farmer’s Market for just a few dollars. I can now rest easy that what had caused me concern will turn out to be a wonderful and intimate celebration of the harvest.

That’s the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alanna Kellogg

Belonging is a State of Mind

Monday, November 8, 2010

The other day I walked into our local feed store needing to buy chick starter for our new batch of meat birds. As I strolled the isles looking over new arrivals and favorite old items I overheard a woman at the register asking Gary about raising chickens. They were the typical questions all new chicken raisers ask.

But this time was different. In the isle that stocks the horseshoeing supplies two men scoffed at the innocence of her questions. You know the tone. The one reserved for newbie livestock owners or out-of-towners who buy a few acres with the idea of growing their own food. I’m sure they meant nothing by it. When your family has raised cattle here for a hundred years and you spent your life on the back of a horse you might find it humorous not knowing how to raise a chicken, or any small livestock for that matter, but it struck a cord with me.

Once upon a time…a long time ago I too was that lady asking those very same questions. I smiled as I walked by them, but it has taken me a while to get to this point. For new farmers it can feel downright unsettling; thinking you’re the butt of all jokes or a worn out stereotype at the local café where the “ole timers” hang out.

It seems to be the old long-time local vs. the new beginner divide that makes so many new farmers or homesteaders feel out of place. Think about it…if you’re fresh out the back of beyond with city lights and pubs that stay open till dawn…you have good reason to feel separated from the locals. It took me years to crack the surface and even more before I felt like “one of them”. But I can tell you this with certainty – Don’t let it affect you. Do not let who you are now stop you from becoming who you want to be. Embrace the difference and let it be part of where you are heading. Read the rest of the story »