Simple Gardening for Busy People

On the homestead in my dreams I have a huge garden with tons fruit trees, vegetable beds, herbs and flowers but lets face it…I ain’t got time for that.

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We work full time (plus a little more) and just don’t have the time to devote to a big garden.  I’ve had to cut corners and figure out how to grow the things we need the easiest way possible.

At first, only grow what you actually need.  Yes flowers are pretty but (mostly) you don’t eat them.  I narrowed down our list to the fruits and vegetables that I knew we would use and use often. I started with tomatoes, peppers, and a few herbs.  Once you’ve gotten the hang of growing those and it becomes easy for you then, go ahead and add to the list.  After 4 years of gardening my list right now looks like this:

Corn, peas, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, pumpkins, plus blackberry bushes and potted herbs.

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Don’t be afraid to get creative with how you grow them.  As I said before, I want to grow things in the easiest way possible. We figured out that potatoes can be grown in 5 gallon buckets.  This cuts way down on the amount of time you spend hilling them (just chuck a little extra dirt in the bucket every few days) and it makes harvesting a breeze.  I also grow all my herbs in big flower pots, that way I can move them around and even bring them inside and use them through out the year.

Most of my vegetables are grown in raised beds which are easier to “put to bed” at the end of the season and to get prepped at the beginning.  A simple pile of compost and wood chips (thank you chickens and wood splitter) spread over the top of them gets them ready for winter and then come spring I just use a shovel to mix them up a little bit and I’m ready to go.

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The other way we save time is to keep the tools that we use close to the garden.  Valuable time is saved when I don’t have to walk all over the place trying to find a shovel or a watering can.  I keep the shovel and a bucket along side the garden and the watering can right next to the hose.  It may not sound like a big deal but every little thing that can make it easier is worth it to me.

If you want to start gardening but want to take it slow, try a small container garden.  Strawberries, cherry tomatoes and herbs of all kinds grow really well in large pots.  You can keep them right on a balcony or front steps and be able to water them and harvest as you walk in the door at night.

Do you garden? I’d love to hear your tips and suggestions!

Preserving the Harvest

preserving the harvest

It’s the time of year when our minds turn to thoughts of spring and we start dreaming of seed orders and garden plans…oh who am I kidding? We’re in the middle of straight up blizzard and there are 21 inches of snow on top of my car.  The only reason I’m thinking about spring gardening is because I just finished the last jar of this past years tomatoes and I wanted to know how long it would be before I got home grown tomatoes to put on my plate…far too long was the answer.

I preserve produce in a few different ways, mostly canning and freezing with a little dehydrating thrown in.  Things like potatoes and garlic go in baskets in my pantry so they are easy to grab when I am cooking.

The grand total (minus the dehydrating, which wasn’t much, and the taters and garlic)

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Canning

9 1/2 quarts of apple sauce

12 pints of pickles

4 4oz jars of pepper jelly

7 4oz jars of strawberry jalapeno jelly

6 pints of mixed berry jam

5 quarts of tomato puree

Freezing

2 gallons of blueberries

1 gallon of sliced peaches

1 gallon of sliced strawberries

5 quarts of shredded zucchini

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We have already started making some changes for next years garden because though it seems like a lot when typed out, it really wasn’t enough.  My goal is to grow and home preserve as much as possible so that means at least tripling the amount tomatoes that go in the garden since I use them so often.  I am also planning on adding a few new plants including storage onions and kale.  I have grown herbs in the past but for some reason didn’t last year so they are coming back as well.

There is something about planning for spring in the middle of a snowstorm that makes your plans grow much larger than you had originally intended isn’t there?

Homestead Goals for 2015


We aren’t big new years resolution people.  We’d rather set some small attainable goals to work towards over the course of the year.  Think of it as our yearly to-do list, man I love crossing things off a to-do list.

Our overall goal for life here on the homestead is to be as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible.  In order to get closer to that goal in 2015 we’ve planned out the following “to-do list”.  

Expand the garden…again
The garden did get expanded last year but there is still room for more.  There are two trees that are preventing the garden from getting as much sun as we’d like so, they are coming down! I’m also toying with the idea of replacing the flowers in front of the house with herbs (roman chamomile, echinacea, and calendula most likely).   


Harvest the four older chickens
It’s the circle of life my friends, the 4 older hens are getting old and aren’t laying as consistently as they once were.  They have served us well over the years and it’s time for them to serve us one last time.   This will be a new and important skill for us to learn and I’m grateful to have friends to help. 

 
Add to the flock
We just added 4 younger hens to our flock and are planning on adding some more come spring.  8 or 9 total is an ideal number for us, providing us with enough eggs plus extra to sell.  


Get approval to sell home canned goods
I love to can especially jams, jellies, and pickles.  We have done a good bit of research on the state laws allowing us to sell these items and the biggest hurdle to jump is getting our kitchen inspected by the department of health.  Once they approve our kitchen then we can begin to sell at local markets and fairs.  This would be a huge step for us and I’m really excited about the possibility.  

Grow my Squigglybugs / Cloth by Kailyn business
I am loving my work as a consultant and educator for Squigglybugs.  Teaching families about cloth diapers, babywearing, and natural baby care has been such a great opportunity for me.  It has been slow to grow and I know that I need to spend some more time and energy focused on making my business great! *Check out my store HERE

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We’re always been the kind of people to DREAM BIG but we are realistic enough to know that it takes time and that we are better off taking things one little step at a time.  What little steps are you taking toward your goals this year? 

 

Preparing Chickens for Winter

This summer we moved our chickens to a portable coop with a fenced in run.  We had enjoyed having them free range but had lost several to predators and the easter egg hunt every morning was getting old.   For the summer, we parked the coop in the shade under some pine trees out behind the house.  This was a great location for them because it stayed cool under the trees all day.  They also had lots of space to run around.

We adopted 4 new younger hens from a friend who’s flock had gotten larger than she needed.  With winter coming and the new little ones joining us we knew it was time to relocated the ladies.
The coop is on wheels so we kept the chickens in one day and then pulled them to their new home.  We set them up right next to the woodshed.  This spot gets full sun in the morning and the shed helps to block the wind so it’s much warmer.  We also added a piece of plywood to the bottom of the coop (it is just wire screen) to help keep it warm at night. 

We set up a run around the coop for the ladies but kept it a bit smaller for the winter.  Our plan is to add some snow fencing across the top so that hawks won’t be tempted to fly in since that has been a problem in the past. The winter spot is also much closer to the house which makes it easier for us to keep an eye on them and we can even run an extension cord from the shed to keep their water dish thawed.

How do you prepare your animals for winter?

Royal Berkey Water Filter Giveaway!

My guess is that you are blessed with access to clean running water. We don’t really worry about getting parasites or other waterborne diseases when we turn on our tap. But while we are blessed with clean water coming through indoor plumbing, are you aware of some of the environmental contaminants that are frequently found in that water? Traces of heavy metals like mercury and aluminum, pesticide residues, and volatile organic compounds can be found in our drinking water!
  Berkey Giveaway Banner from Positively Real Media


This is why the bloggers of Positively Real Media are so excited to be teaming up to bring to you a Royal Berky 3.25 Gallon Stainless Steel Water Purifier giveaway sponsored by United Environmental Solutions!

About The Berkey

Berkey water purifiers are truly unique water purifying systems. According to UES, they are able to remove red food coloring from water while still allowing beneficial minerals to remain! As free-standing units that put the power of gravity to use, the Berkey systems don’t use any electricity. This makes them excellent systems to have on hand while camping or during power outages.

  Positively Real Media is giving away a Royal Berkey

While whole house filtration systems can be fantastic solutions to the problem of residual water contamination, they are simply out of the budget for most families. However, a Berkey system is a fraction of the cost and can filter 4 gallons of water per hour, making it a great fit for families! If you want to ensure that your family’s drinking and cooking water is as clean and pure as it can be, a Berkey may be just what you need!

Win A 3.25 Gallon Royal Berkey!


The bloggers of Positively Real Media, a network of naturally-minded Christian bloggers, are thrilled to be able to offer one of our readers a 3.25 Gallon Royal Berkey Stainless Steel Water Purifier, valued at $300! Many thanks to United Environmental Solutions for providing this fanatic prize to one blessed reader. Just use the Rafflecopter form below to get your entries in! a Rafflecopter giveaway

8 Things We Don’t Spend Money On

A big part of homesteading is being able to do things for yourself, it takes “homemade” to a whole new level with the ultimate goal being making, building, growing everything yourself. It allows us to save money, control the ingredients / materials that are being used, and teaches us valuable skills.  I am always looking for the next thing to make at home and while some things definitely take practice, I have a lot of fun learning and trying.

1. Yogurt: Yogurt is the most recent addition to my “make it at home” list.  After reading a million blog posts about people making their own yogurt I decided to give it a try.  Turns out that they were all right, it was so much easier than I expected it to be and the yogurt tastes great.  

2. Bread:  I love baking.  It is fun and satisfying work besides, the house smells like heaven when there is fresh bread in the oven. I’ve gotten pretty good at sandwich rolls and flour tortillas and tried many more recipes. A lot of the time I cheat and use my bread maker on the dough setting to mix and rise whatever I am baking.  Either way there is nothing that beats the taste of fresh bread and the cost difference is crazy! 

3. Fire wood:  While it does take a lot of work and owning some equipment (chain saw, splitter, etc.) it is still way cheaper to harvest wood from our own property.  If you don’t have a lot of wood on your property don’t worry, ask around you might just have friends or family that are looking to take out a tree or two.  Offer to take care of it for them as long as you can keep the wood.  We’ve done this several times and it’s worked out really well.

4. Compost:  Why pay for garden mulch and compost when its as easy as collecting food scraps and cleaning out the chicken coop?  We have an on-going compost pile that gets veggie scraps, egg shells, dirty coop shaving, etc. added to it regularly.  When I need to compost the garden I just fill up a bucket from the back of the pile and I’m good to go.

5. Hats / Scarves: Learning to knit and crochet was one of the best things I’ve done.  I have so much fun making hats, scarves and other little projects.  It makes for great homemade gifts and I’m able to keep my family warm all winter with things I lovingly made for them.

6. Clothes repair: A small sewing machine and a well stocked sewing kit has made it so that I never have to pay to have pants hemmed or pockets sewn again.  *I’m short so having pants and skirts hemmed is common.  My machine and sewing kit aren’t fancy but its enough to handle basics and that’s all I need.

7. Cleaning Supplies: I make the majority of our cleaning supplies from laundry soap and all- purpose cleaner to cut rags for dusting, dish towels, etc.  The all purpose cleaner is just a simple mix of vinegar, tea tree oil, and sweet orange oil (for scent).  I picked up a couple big spray bottles from the hardware store and mix a new batch whenever we are running low.  It’s all-natural, inexpensive, and safe for use around kids and pets. 

What do you like to make at home? 

Scenes From the Homestead: Spring

Things are full steam ahead on the homestead lately.  Then again, aren’t they always?  The biggest garden we’ve ever planted is in and growing strong.  There is definitely a lot of work to do on it but it’s come a long way from a couple pots of herbs growing on the front steps.

Our bucket potato experiment is going well.  They are growing right over the top of the buckets now and they have been super easy to take care of.  I can’t wait to see how many potatoes we get this fall.

My little Matilda is growing up faster than I’d like to admit.  We’ve already got her helping out, in true farm kid fashion.  Most chores take about 10 times longer with her assistance but we’re teaching some valuable lessons along the way.

The list of projects is growing as always. We just purchased a new (to us) chicken coop that we are turning into a moveable coop and run.  The master plan is to be able to move it from spot to spot so that the chickens have fresh grass to eat.  I also became a consultant and educator with Diaper Parties and I am loving the opportunities to teach families about cloth diapering and natural baby care.

Winter prep never ends.  There is fire wood to split and stack and in no time at all there will be produce to can and freeze.  It is going to be a very busy spring and summer but come winter we’ll be happy we worked so hard…What have you been up to this spring?

A Broody Hen Experiment

It’s spring time here in New England, love (and pollen) are in the air and I’ve got a chicken with an extreme case of “Mommy-itis”…and this isn’t the first time either.

 In farming terms, she’s gone broody.  She is sitting on a nest, convinced that she will hatch chicks, and is not getting up for anyone or anything.  Our mama is angry brooder.  She’ll peck, squawk, and otherwise attack if people (or other hens) get close.  They other ladies are giving her lots of space despite the fact that she is sitting on their favorite nest.  They’ve taken to laying under the pallets in the wood shed which is at least easy to find and well protected.  

Fortunately, I’ve got some pretty awesome friends.  And one of those awesome friends just so happened to have a whole bunch of fertilized eggs in need of a mama hen.  Not just any old eggs mind you, Swedish Flower Hen and Faverolle eggs, two beautiful rare / threatened species.  So not only are we making a chicken happy but we are doing our part to keep rare breeds growing.  

Yesterday was considered “Day 1” of the great experiment.  She’ll need to sit on the eggs for around 21 days before they hatch and we see how things have gone and just how good her mothering skills are.  

I’ll keep you posted and take lots of pictures, I promise.  Has anyone ever had a hen raise chicks?

How To Start Homesteading

Modern homesteads come in all different shapes and sizes from 100 acres off the grid to an abandoned city lot, from pastured pigs and a dairy cow to planter boxes on a fire escape.  The main thing that ties all these homesteaders together is the desire to do things for themselves and to live a more natural life. 


For us, our desire to homestead sprang from an interest in living a healthy life and a need to cut costs and save money.  We found that starting small and doing a lot of research was the easiest way to get going and even now that we are a few years in we are still adding new projects and researching new topics. 


Each week I link my blog posts up with the Homestead Barn Hop.  This is a weekly list of homestead themed posts.  It’s a great place to look for new ideas, get some advice, and meet some pretty awesome homesteaders.  I’ve learned so much from reading blogs, it’s a great way to see how real people are giving homesteading a try. 


We started with some simple goals and from there made a list of potential projects.  We started by canning “pick your own” apples and slowly added tomato sauce, salsa, a variety of jams, and pickles.  Our garden started out as a few pots of herbs and continues to grow each year.  I found that once I got the hang of one thing it was time to take it a step farther. 



Of course, you could always buy a few acres off the grid and just jump right in…

If you have any questions about homesteading ask away in the comments! I’d love to help you get started on this crazy and rewarding adventure. 

Garden Planning Part 2

In my last post, I started to fill you in on our plans for this years garden (you can check that out HERE).  Well, one post just wasn’t enough to cover all the awesomeness that we have in store.  The long winter gave us plenty of time to plan and dream and so we did….and maybe got a little carried away in the process.

Last year we grew tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and basil.  Those are all coming back again and this year we are adding corn, peas, dill, and cilantro.  We had lots of space so I decided to fill it! Corn and peas are some of Tilly’s favorite veggies so I knew I had to add them.  I had grown the dill and cilantro before but last year I didn’t bother and missed having fresh herbs.  I have 3 big pots that I’ll use for the herbs that way I can bring them in the house come fall and keep picking from them.

I never used to bother with flowers.  I always said that I wanted to grow things that were useful and flowers were just for looks.  Well, I’ve changed my mind.  We were given some zinnia starts last year and planted them in front of the house.  Turns out they looked great and I fell in love.  This year I am planning a mix of zinnias and dwarf sunflowers for the front of the house.  Both are “cut and grow” varieties which means I can cut some for bouquets to sell at the top of the driveway along with eggs and the plants will keep producing.


We are planning some improvements to the garden area as well.  A fence is going up to keep those pesky critters at bay and the chickens are getting a covered run to keep them safe from hawks.  We’ve lost 3 since we started our flock and while I love letting them roam all over I love them alive and safe a bit more.  They’ll still have plenty of space to peck around and I’ll make sure they get all the weeds from the garden to munch on.

Are you planting a garden this year?