Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homestead Update

Last week I built a chicken coop from old pallets. Sort of. I still need to seal the roof, put the door on, and build the nest boxes, and of course, add chickens! I'm thinking about slanting the roof and setting up rain barrels for garden irrigation and watering the chickens. I can probably get a couple of 55 gallon drums and some PVC from my totally awesome in-laws, after all, that's where I got the pallets, horse manure, and most of the soil in my garden.

Speaking of the garden, I transplanted my red potatoes that I started from a store bought potato that had a bunch of eyes growing on it. When I pulled the 8 inch plant from the shallow pot I had it in, there were several marble sized red potatoes growing! So I just had to check the crisper drawer to see if I had any more with eyes all over them, and now I have a potato bed! I'm thinking about using some scrap wood (diagonal cut ends from 2x4's that are about 8 inches long-guess where I'm getting those from!) to put in a border around it. I'm thinking I can just hammer the pointed ends into the ground all around it, and voila, garden bed border!

I also planted more garlic (also sprouting in the fridge), onion seeds, Purple Queen Heirloom beans, tomatoes, a few pumpkins, peppermint and rosemary. I would have kept on going, but I need to get another load of soil from BS Ranch and Farm, another load of horse manure from my niece's yard, and to harvest some worm castings from my worm farm. Technically my last frost date is Feb 15th, but I just can't wait! The weather has been so beautiful I just want to be outside.

My garden is fairly small, with just a few of each plant variety as I learn what works here and what doesn't, and what the plant yields are (did you know it takes 6 plants per person to have a serving of fresh green beans once a week? That would be why I planted 50 Purple Queen seeds over the weekend!) As I plan my garden this year, I am taking into account more what my family eats a lot of (tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, corn, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, squash) and what I want to can for next winter (definitely tomatoes!) I am still planting small amounts of things I want to try or that only I will eat (turnips, beets, Jerusalem artichokes). I have several herb varieties now growing in pots on my porch, and I would love to set up a kitchen garden close to the door. I'm thinking of stacking tires, staggered in the corner by my gate (tires also courtesy of my awesome in-laws!) I hope to get a strawberry bed in soon because I absolutely LOVE my homemade strawberry jam, and so does everyone else, apparently, because it disappeared quickly!

I am working a little more now, with my part-time job at the ranch as well as my eBay store and new website construction, so a lot of my gardening is done before work (watering, weeding), after work (harvesting, thinning, weeding, picking off pests) and on the weekends (getting soil, manure, building beds, planting). It seems like a lot, but I love to walk around my garden, looking at all the little things I've planted and nurtured, and it doesn't seem like work at all. I love to cook sans-recipe and designing a meal around a harvest of food I grew myself is a favorite of mine, even if it is just a homemade chicken pot pie (from leftover chicken) with 12 green beans or 5 pods of peas and some herbs from the garden thrown in. And there's nothing like hearing, "Thank you, Mom, for feeding me good food." from your 10 year old son.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Step Closer to Self Sufficiency

Happy New Year, everyone! Finances are tight all over, here included. One of my New Years' resolutions this year is to be more self-sufficient.  Part of that includes growing a larger garden this year, and hopefully harvest enough to eat fresh as well as preserve some things so that we don't have to buy as much next winter. I am also working on a food storage plan for purchased goods, like rice, beans, flours and such, and my goal is to have 6 months worth of stored food by the end of the year. Since my family is by no means vegetarian, I also plan to get some laying hens and goats as well, and perhaps go in on a cow with family.  I really wish I could talk my husband into hunting the feral hogs, but I'm not holding my breath :)

Apparently, I live in what is called a food desert. That means that most of the people in my area do not own a vehicle, and the closest large chain grocery store is more than 3 miles away. However, there are smaller places to get groceries, right here in the "desert," and although there are certain things I do have to go to Publix for (such as yeast, Borax and Washing Soda), I can get most of what I need very close to home. So, I have been shopping more at the small, family owned ethnic food stores in my area. There is an Indian store in particular where I can get bulk spices, lentils, beans, rice, whole grain flours, teas, and many other items at a better quality and much cheaper than the grocery store. The shop owner is very friendly and will gladly answer questions, translate packaging, and even gives out recipes!

I also go to the bread store (old habits are hard to break). I can get $4 bread from their clearance rack for 69 cents a loaf, which immediately goes into my freezer when I get home. I only shop the clearance rack. I always have Texas Toast for garlic bread, an assortment of rolls and buns, both white and wheat bread, and then there's my husband's shelf of "snacky-cakes," although he hasn't been eating them as much lately-he actually prefers cinnamon toast now. I practiced baking bread last winter and I'm getting better at it, but it's difficult to devote that much time to baking bread while working 2 jobs (especially since it is so cheap!) I no longer buy pre-packaged bread crumbs. The heels of loaves of bread go into the freezer, and when I need bread crumbs, I toast them and toss them into the blender. Cut up bread ends also make wonderful croutons, stuffing and bread pudding!

A word about these little stores-once you become a "regular" there, the shop owners are more likely to offer you free items that would otherwise go to waste. I scored 4lbs of turnip greens for free at my local meat market because the bags got wet and they weren't going to make it another night in the cooler (and then I taught myself how to cook turnip greens lol). The meat market also raffles off 125lbs of meat each month, so I always enter. I haven't won yet, but my sister in law won a few months ago and we are still eating off of that! The bread store is always offering me stuff, too. I walked out of there the other day with 5 bags of food for $7. Big grocery stores usually won't give ANYTHING away for free. They'd rather put it in the dumpster and lock it so no one can go freegan-ing.

I'll be the first to admit, it is easier to just go to the one store that has everything, and it's a hard habit to break. But hey, that's what New Years' Resolutions are all about, right? It is helpful to keep a small dry erase board on the fridge, divided by store, to keep a running list on. I also have a list of meals I can make with ingredients I have on hand, perishable ones first-kind of like meal planning, but a bit more flexible.

If you must have something sweet to drink, make iced tea. You can control the amount of sugar or honey in it (and gradually reduce it) and it is way cheaper than sodas or juice drinks. I have access to some sour orange trees, so I can make orange-aide on occasion, and I have heard that home-canned watermelon syrup or mint syrup makes a delicious drink when added to water, but my dentist recommends sipping water throughout the day and only drinking other beverages with meals, so I have been drinking more water lately, which will also help with that other resolution, to lose 15lbs!

I also started making my own laundry soap a few months ago, and stopped using fabric softener. That may not sound like much, but it has really saved me quite a bit. Borax, washing soda and castile soap is so much less expensive, and for what I used to spend on one bottle of heavily perfumed, dyed liquid laundry detergent, I have refilled the bottle 7 times (So easy! 1 cup each Borax and washing soda, 1/2 bar of Zote or equivalent soap, grated, and 2 gallons of very hot water, mixed with a stick blender until smooth-pour into old laundry soap containers-it thickens as it cools-adapted from the Just in Case blog). My husband says his clothes aren't itchy anymore :) I am thinking about putting up a clothesline to dry some clothes outside, but since we live in an industrial area, dust can be a problem, and I'm terrible about getting things in before it rains. I do have a screened porch, so maybe I will run a small line out there. I'm also working on weeding out too small or unflattering stuff and organizing what's left to avoid washing clothes that haven't been worn but were not put away, or were only worn for a few hours and can be worn again.

In addition, I have stopped buying expensive cleaning products that give me a sinus headache, and instead I have been cleaning with white vinegar (kills mold & mildew, removes limescale, replaces glass and surface cleaners, if you soak an orange peel in it for a week first it deodorizes and cuts grease better), essential oils (many are antibacterial), baking soda (replaces metal polishes and comet), and soap bar ends (I toss some in the crock I keep my toilet bowl brush in-as long as you swish the brush in the bowl every other day, you don't need harsh chemicals-safer for pets and kids, too-thank you FlyLady!). Your hands and sinuses will thank you.

About the soap bar ends-I heard a comedian the other day on TV talking about bar soap like it was a thing of the past, or something only poor people use.  I did the body wash thing for years, slathering on chemicals I couldn't pronounce, constantly buying new bath puffs, basically wasting money. I found a fairly local glycerin soap brand that works quite well (and only $1.19 a bar!)and I prefer it to the body washes now. I also occasionally splurge on some local soaps from the farmer's market ($5 a bar) I've also learned that if you unwrap the soap when you first get it home and keep it on a shelf in the bathroom, it makes the bathroom smell good and it cures it so it doesn't melt as fast.  I've also found that the little mesh bags garlic comes in work great to keep the soap in, in the shower. It keeps it from falling off the soap dish to melt down the drain, and it helps it to lather better.

Wear sweaters and fuzzy socks inside during the winter, and cook dinners that use the oven in winter, as well as doing more baking. After dinner is done, leave the oven open until it cools. Hang decorative quilts or tapestries on poorly insulated walls, and heavy drapes over windows. In summertime, eat more salads, sandwiches, and quick-cooking foods, or barbecue or use a solar oven to cook your food. On mild days, open the windows! It will improve the air quality in your home immensely.

Use dishcloths instead of disposable sponges and use microfiber towels and cut up old clothes instead of paper towels. Buy a reusable coffee filter (added bonus-they don’t fall in the basket and get grounds in your coffee!) Use plastic grocery bags to line your small trash cans (we all forget our reusable bags sometimes!) Turn off lights that are not in use, and replace every light bulb in your home with more efficient ones (CFL's or LED's), even if you have to do it one at a time. It makes a huge difference on the electric bill, and you rarely have to replace the newer bulbs.

Keep reading the blogs of like-minded women. I have learned a lot from Sharon Astyk (Casaubon's Book blog, as well as her 3 published books), Kathy (Just In Case Book blog), Deanna(Crunchy Chicken blog), Kris (Adventures of a Thrifty Momma on a Trailer Park Homestead blog), Green Phone Booth, Punk Domestics and all of the ladies over at Not Dabbling in Normal.