Update from the Homestead: Composting and Seeds

Hello again everyone!

I’ve been taking some time off from blogging to deal with bronchitis, but I’ve still managed to get some homestead projects done.

We had a brief reprieve from snow and freezing weather, so I built our compost bin. I used a 30 gallon, opaque Rubbermaid container, drilled holes in all the sides, bottom, and lid for air circulation, and placed it at the side of the house near where the garden will be. I’ve been composting all our kitchen scraps and coffee grounds. I had no idea so much went to waste! It feels good to find another purpose for all of it.

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Me building the compost bin in my pajamas.

I also ordered half our seeds from Baker Heirloom Seeds (Rareseeds). The peppers and tomatoes were must-haves so that I can start them indoors soon. Hopefully, they’ll be ready to transplant to containers by the time the rest of our garden is planted.

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The peppers include four kinds of hot peppers we wanted to try:

  • Chocolate Habanero
  • Cayenne Long Thin
  • Chinese 5-Color
  • Pablano

And one kind of sweet pepper:

  • Horizon Bell

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Two kinds of tomatoes:

  • Tappy’s Heritage
  • Roma

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I also ordered broccoli, cauliflower, and iceberg lettuce. Iceberg isn’t my absolute favorite, but I was overwhelmed by the selection of lettuce their catalog offered, so I went simple and ordered the one I know we’ll get the most use out of.

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As a free gift, they sent a packet of these pretty flowers, called Love-in-a-Mist. I’m looking forward to planting these too!

How have you been preparing your homestead for spring? Have you ordered any seeds yet?

How to Fund Your New Backyard Homestead

fund your backyard homestead

We’re backyard homesteaders here, and in a way, it’s really fortunate that we are. We don’t have money for land or livestock or a house right now, and that’s okay. This is the stepping stone to the homestead lifestyle we dream of.

There are still costs associated with homesteading, wherever you are. This year, our big project is our garden, so most of our money is going there.

We sat down this week and did our first budget together. After bills, pet care, and groceries, there isn’t much leftover for homesteading projects. So how are we going to fund this new backyard homestead?

1. Set a budget and stick to it, but acknowledge where you’ll be saving money by homesteading.

We set a budget so that we could live within our means and still tuck a little money away every month for the car we are saving for and unexpected emergencies.

We are also setting ourselves up to save money down the road by homsteading.

For example, I’ve decided that baking our own bread is the way to go. It’s healthier, and at almost $2 a loaf, we’re saving money. I can get a small package of whole grain flour for $3.99 and get 5 or 6 loaves out of it. Imagine what I’d save buying it in bulk!

We also know that gardening is going to reduce the amount of money we’re spending on grocery store produce through the summer and fall, and maybe through winter if I do well with preserving food.

2. Reuse free or inexpensive items as homesteading items.

I am saving coffee cans and plastic containers to start my seeds in March. I have everyone I know saving me all sorts of buckets for container gardening this summer.

3. Bite off little chunks at a time.

Because all our gardening expenses are coming out of our “personal allowance” portion of our budget (a.k.a. our “fun money”), I know I can’t afford to order all our seeds or buy all our gardening supplies at once. In February, I’ll order about a quarter to half our seeds, buy a large trash can to build our compost bin, and still have a little to spend on other things. The next month, I’ll buy more seeds and some of our gardening tools. Sometime before summer, we’ll build our raised beds. It’s a slow way to get it done, but it makes it more affordable.

4. Put projects you can’t afford on next year’s goal list.

I wanted rabbits this year for pets/fertilizer. They’re the only homestead animal we can legally have in our borough. Unfortunately, we just can’t afford to house, feed, and care for more animals right now, so it’s going on my to do list for next year.

5. Look for ways to supplement your income.

Have a yard sale. Sell on Ebay. Sign up as a language partner on italki and get paid to help people practice their English conversation. Babysit. Dog sit/walk. Pick up some extra hours or cover other people’s shifts at the job you’re at. Write an ebook. Help someone with a household or farm project.

Small amounts of money add up to a larger homesteading fund.

Here are some blog posts with more ideas for bringing in extra cash:

Ways to make an extra $1000 a month.

A list of ways to make extra money through reselling.

How are you funding your homesteading projects? Share in the comments!

(Image modified from creative commons.)

Gardening Fears

gardening fears

I was looking through my seed catalog and narrowing down our choices for plants this year. Our plan for our first garden is to have four raised beds and containers on the porch. Looking through all those seeds, all the things we want to plant, even after striking quite a few (do we really need eight varieties of hot peppers?) off the list, is overwhelming.

I am afraid we’re going to plant too much and get in over our heads.

I want to plant everything, and that’s part of the problem. I have a lot of time to devote to a garden right now, and Big Bee is going to help too. I don’t have to worry about it going uneaten because we live next door to Big Bee’s parents, sister, and nieces, and we can always give extra to them.

What if I plant too much and it all withers and dies? What if it’s overcrowded? What if I’m just no good at growing plants? I’ve nearly killed my fern at my office after only three months!

These are the things I worry about when I think of planting a large garden.

Part of me says: It’s okay. If it all dies, there’s next year and I’m out a few bucks in seeds. If I don’t get it right, I’ll try again later. I will be successful even if I only get a few tomatoes or one head of lettuce. I don’t have to be perfect the first time around.

But I want so badly to be successful at this.

Did you have fears the first time you planted a garden? Any tips you’d like to share? How do you keep from being overwhelmed by your garden?

(Image from creative commons.)

My First Bread Baking Experience

My First Bread Baking Experience

On Sunday, I decided to try baking bread for the first time. It’s been on my list of things to do for awhile. We eat A LOT of bread in our house, and that means a lot of processed food with preservatives. It’s also expensive. I knew I could whip up something that was healthier and less expensive.

I used this recipe.

bread dough

I don’t have a fancy mixer, so I go the old fashioned route with a spoon. I didn’t have the agave nectar the recipe called for, so I made it without (it came out just fine). I added the flour in a little bit at a time for easier mixing.

rising dough covered

rising dough

The second step is my least favorite part of making dough: waiting for it to rise! I waited for the original mixture to rise (about 40 minutes) and then divided it into two loaves. I only have one bread pan, so I made one regular-shaped loaf and one flatter, rounder loaf. Then I let them rise a second time.

dogs bread baking

My dogs supervised to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. Poe graciously caught most of the flour I dropped off the counter with her face.

Finally, I baked them for 36 minutes at 350 degrees.

baking bread

My anxiously-awaiting-bread face. At this point, I was half-sure I was going to mess it up! There were several failed attempts at making calzones from scratch last year, so I don’t have a lot of faith in my ability to work with dough.

bread loaves

But it all turned out alright! Look at those gorgeous loaves!

fresh baked bread

Here’s the finished product! It’s moist, yummy, and it made my house smell awesome. I was running around the house eating slices with butter last night.

If I were to do it again, I would probably use two loaf-shaped bread pans and let them rise a little longer the second time…they’re not quite the right size for a big sandwich. All in all, I’m really pleased with how they turned out.

Checking bread baking off my list of homesteading skills to learn in 2015!

Linking up at I Gotta Create! and Whip It Up Wednesday.

5 Ways to Start Living the Homesteading Lifestyle Right Now

homestead lifestyle now

Here are 5 ways you can start living the homesteading lifestyle right now, wherever you live. Don’t wait for the “right time” to start homesteading!

1. Cook something. Make yourself a healthy meal from scratch. Try baking some bread without preservatives. Make your own tomato sauce and cook up some spaghetti.

2. Build something. A pallet bookshelf. A new coffee table. Try something you never thought you could do! Get out some tools and make something you are super proud of!

3. Reuse something. Repurpose old coffee tins, jelly jars, and tupperware containers. Use something creatively instead of throwing it out. Make pillows or try quilting from old clothing. Use your imagination!

4. Grow something. Tomatoes in a windowsill. Lettuce in a container on your balcony or back porch. Peppers. Herbs. Get your hands dirty!

5. Go outside. Connect with the landscape around you. Watch wildlife. Identify plants. Learn about the seasons, animals, and plants where you live!

Do you have ideas for homesteading right now, where you are? Share them in the comments! We would love to hear from you!

My First Seed Catalog Came in the Mail!

rare seed catalog homestead

My seed catalog came on Wednesday!

Having never planted a garden before, I wasn’t sure who to order from, so I got a couple different ones. This one is the only one that has arrived so far. It’s from Rare Seeds. I chose rare seeds because they’re non-GMO and because it was a company I had heard of.

I started going through today and wish-listing things with a big black marker, like I used to do with the JC Penny Christmas catalog as a kid.

Oh my goodness, I have never seen such an array of vegetables! Just looking through this catalog makes me hungry.

I had no clue that there were upwards of 20 kinds of carrots or that tomatoes came in colors other than red, that watermelons mostly don’t look like what I buy at the grocery store and that there are more types of beans than I could probably ever taste!

It’s a bit overwhelming. I have never heard of half these varieties, so I’m going by the descriptions of looks and tastes, as well as pictures, to decide what I might want to grow.

I’m still waiting on a few other catalogs, to compare prices and varieties, but I sort of feel like, if it’s our first year planting, there’s nothing wrong with trying a little of this and that to see what we like.

Even Big Bee–the veggie hater–is glancing through the pages, at least to pick out hot peppers that sound good.

Have you started planning your garden? Who do you order seeds from? What’s on your wishlist this year?

Compromising for a Happy Homestead

Homesteading was my dream first. Big Bee kind of stumbled into it when he asked me to marry him.

I tend to be on the more radical end of homesteading. If it were up to me, we’d be homeschooling 4 or 5 kids in a tiny house with no TV or plumbing, composting everything in sight, and making everything we own from scratch.

If I were still a single lady, I probably would live like that, minus the kids.

But I’m not a single lady, and I’m devoting the rest of my life to this very sweet, very bearded man.

Big Bee likes the idea of homesteading, of being self-sufficient and providing for our family. He’s a “worry about me-and-mine” kind of person. He also loves video games, HBO, and pooping in a toilet that flushes. He likes my home-cooked meals and plans to work side-by-side in our garden this summer, but he prefers Tide Pods to homemade laundry soap, has no interest in wearing anything I might figure out how to make out of wool, and was totally grossed out when I insisted he take my herbal tincture instead of Tums. So we’re learning to compromise.

It’s nice because we bring different skills to the table. I was raised in a family that didn’t have guns, while he grew up target shooting and hunting. I can’t imagine slaughtering anything bigger than a chicken or a rabbit without bawling my eyes out, and even then, I think it’s going to be hard for me. Big Bee’s family does an annual family pig slaughter. I’m more comfortable with small livestock–goats, chickens, ducks–while Big Bee is comfortable with the idea of pigs and cows.

I’m a crunchy, organic, veggie-gobbling witch who cares deeply about everything and has no problem expressing my very loud opinions all the time. Big Bee is a quiet, junk food junkie, meat-loving, agnostic gamer who only has something to say when it really matters. We disagree about a lot of things, but we also bring balance to our lifestyle. I think we make each other better people. I help him eat healthier by cooking up whole foods and keep him from being completely antisocial. He reminds me to let go and be more spontaneous when I’m over-planning and over-thinking everything.

I think our individual strengths are what make us strong as a whole.

2015 Homesteading Goals

103Every New Year I set goals for things I want to accomplish in the coming year. This year, these goals have been broken down into personal, spiritual, and homesteading goals.

I am so new to this homesteading lifestyle. This is the first year we’re really in a place that we can embrace it and start experimenting with things because we’re in a new apartment. Our old apartment didn’t even get enough sunlight to grow a tomato in the windowsill.

I may not be able to keep goats and chickens (they don’t allow livestock or poultry in our borough) or spin my own yarn from wool, but there are a lot of things I can do here! I am embracing the idea that you can homestead wherever you are.

Here are some things I want to work on this year.

The garden is going to be the major project for Big Bee and I this year. We are hoping to build a raised bed garden and also grow herbs and some plants in containers on our porch, which gets ample sunlight. I have a wishlist a mile long for things I would like to grow, but we’ll see what space allows for. So far, I have ordered my seed catalogs.

I am planning to build a compost bin and start composting in the next few months. Ideally, I’d like to keep rabbits for their outstanding poo fertilizer, but Big Bee is not keen on the idea right now.

A few months ago, I made my first herbal tincture, and once the herbs are growing this year, I want to continue to learn about herbal remedies and uses of medicinal plants. I need to learn about harvesting and storing herbs correctly, and I want to try making teas and syrups this year too.

If all goes well with our vegetable garden, I’m planning to try out canning this year. I made quick pickles that last two years, but I want to preserve food in a more long-term fashion. I may also see if I can borrow my in-law’s dehydrator to try out.

Two simple kitcheny things I want to try are baking bread and making cheese. I have made dough before, but have failed miserably at using it for anything. My several attempts at creating calzones from scratch were awful.

While I can’t keep sheep, learn to sheer, and spin wool right now, I’d like to give crocheting another shot. It’s been a few years since I tried to crochet anything, and I’m a little worried about how it will impact my carpal tunnel issues, but it’s worth a try!

Lastly, I want to build something this year. From wood, with tools. My previous attempts at building things were limited to things I made for pets when I still lived at home with my parents: converted Rubbermaid hamster cages and one really awful bird perch for my parrot. I am torn between a book case and a new enclosure for our python, both of which we really need.

I think that’s a good list to get our family started on our homesteading journey!

What are your homesteading goals for 2015?

5 Reasons Why I Want to Homestead

why I homestead photo

People homestead for a lot of different reasons. For some, it’s a calling to get back to a simpler time and way of life. Others do it for financial reasons or to be more self-sufficient. Whether you’re homesteading on 100 acres in the country or in an urban apartment, everyone has goals they hope to accomplish through a homesteading lifestyle.

Here are the top 5 things that motivate me to homestead:

1) Self-Sufficiency

It makes me really nervous to rely on others for everything I need to survive. Most of the farmland in the country is controlled by a few big companies. I don’t want the government or corporate CEOs controlling all the food my family eats. And, in the event of a disaster that causes food shortages, I want to feel that my family has security and won’t go hungry.

2) Health

It gives me comfort to know where my food comes from and how it’s grown. I know that it’s not grown with pesticides, processed with preservatives, or refined into something that doesn’t resemble its original form.

3) Humane treatment of animals

I am not a vegetarian or vegan, and I’m not opposed to eating meat. I am opposed to keeping animals in cruel and unsanitary factory farming conditions. I feel that I have a responsibility to eat animals that have been kept and killed in a humane way.

4) Closeness to nature and the land

I connect with nature on a spiritual level, but I think that many people–of all religious beliefs and worldviews–have a desire to be close to nature. For me, it’s a need to play in the dirt, a need to crunch autumn leaves and see things growing in the spring and summer. It awakens a child-like part of myself that I need to keep in touch with.

5) The feeling I get when I do things from scratch or by hand

I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I build something myself or cook something from scratch. I feel proud of the effort I put into things I make by hand, and I cherish them more for all the love and care I put into them.

What drew you to the homesteading lifestyle?