5 Steps To Becoming a Homesteader (or just simplifying your life)

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1.Write down your goals. 

Do you want to quit your job?  Move to the country?  Have an urban farm?  Homestead on the weekends?  Live a more peaceful, mindful life? 

We have been on the path to simplicity and homesteading for about seven years now.  It started with reading books like “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” by Barbara Kingsolver and wanting to learn to can and grow all of our own food.  I started canning (badly) and started a sad little garden in the city.  I got better!

Our goals were to leave our corporate world and busy suburban lifestyle.  When Doug had a nervous breakdown our timeline sped up.  Our goals constantly change and morph each year.  We have a pretty extreme list of homesteading goals right now.  I have no way of knowing if they will work, but I have written them down and am working towards them.  Ask and you shall receive!

  • Find a place with a small house that has a wood stove.  Wood cook stove?  Even better.  Said house should be around $850 a month.  Don’t laugh, it could happen.
  • Small house would be on a bit of land.  I need a full acre of garden.  A quarter acre at the moment provides us with 90% of our vegetables during the summer and early fall, and 80% of the medicinal herbs I use.  Another quarter acre could be the remaining herbs I need to grow, and additional fresh eating vegetables, plus a pond.  A green house and hoop houses could inhabit part of the remaining half acre and a large preservation garden (everything I need to can) and a spice garden (Lord, do I spend a lot on spices!) could round out this menagerie of growing Eden.  An orchard would be added as well and then of course we need room to walk about, have our goats, chickens, and ducks, and be able to ride our bikes to town.
  • A composting toilet and gray water systems could be in place.  We will use as little electricity as possible.
  • This will be a haven for our friends, children, grandchildren, and wildlife.

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2. Learn two skills. 

There was a vast amount of information about homesteading lost with our past generations.  We just don’t know how to do many of the basic skills and farmstead chores anymore.  Find a mentor or a class or a great book and make a goal to learn two things.  Two things a month, or two things a year, whatever works for you.   

A few years ago on this homestead I wanted chickens and to preserve almost all of our food for winter.  The next year I wanted goats and alpacas and to learn to spin.  I learned to spin, didn’t like it, didn’t care for the alpacas, gave away the alpacas, fell in love with goats, got more chickens, and canned over 500 items.  Homesteading is constant rearranging of goals.  This year we got bees and ducks and started growing almost all of our medicinal herbs.  We dug up the driveway to make more space to garden.  Last year we dug up the front and side yards.  Last year I learned to make soft cheese, this year hard cheese.  Doug has learned fencing methods and how to milk a goat.

We have learned what we enjoy, what we don’t, what’s a waste of time, what’s imperative to our homesteading journey.  Learning everything at once is not possible and would be overwhelming.  Just pick two skills.  What do you want to learn?

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3. Get Money Savvy    

Rethink your finances.  Get out of debt.  Stay out of debt.  But don’t wait for pristine credit before you make the jump.

Our BIGGEST mistake that will continue to haunt us for years to come was getting into debt.  We had fourteen credit cards, owned our house (or the bank did), had two car payments and had amazing, perfect credit.  Ironic, isn’t it?  We took the Dave Ramsey program at our church six years ago and it changed our lives.  We paid off and cut up all of our credit cards.  We do not have any still.  We paid off a lot of debt.  We then lost our house and one of our cars in the crash and our credit went to crap.  Which didn’t matter at the time because we were content renting for half the price of our house in Parker.  We have everything we need but there is the little matter of $50 grand from the second mortgage that still says it is an open account and $25,000 for the student loans we still owe.  There should be a money back guarantee.  If you don’t use your degree you should get a refund.  I do not see, with the interest rates the way they are, how we would ever in this lifetime pay these off.  If you are in debt, get out.  If you are not, do not venture into that pitfall.

Save a hundred dollars a month.  Pay yourself first.  Put it in a coffee can or the bank.

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4.  Simplify.  REALLY Simplify!

Every hour you work is money spent on something.  How many hours do you have to work to make enough to pay for the car?  Gas?  The house?  Cable?  Cell phones?  Restaurants?  Is it worth it?  What do you need?  How much time would you like?

It goes against every grain of our society to make less.  The mantra is make more, spend more, the more you make the more you can give, the more you can have, the more secure you will be.  Wrong.  I highly recommend you read “Radical Simplicity” by Jim Merkel.  It outlines our footprint on this planet as well as radically simplifying your life.  If you work less, you leave more work for others.  If you consume less, you leave more for others.  If you have less, you have to work less (this does not include the good kind of work on your own time on a farmstead).  The less you consume, the less resources you take from the planet, less pollution, less animal habitat loss, less unfairness.  Do you need a huge house?  Do you need to buy all of that packaged stuff?  Does it really bring happiness?

My goals are to lessen even more.  We are stressing over bills still and have too much stuff.  What is it with the seven sets of (gorgeous) antique dishes in my cupboards?  All the clothes I don’t wear?  The jewelry I don’t wear?  Where is our money going?  I am now writing it all down, the spending for each day.  See where the leaks are.  See what we don’t need.  What we don’t need to buy.  How much is everything really costing us?

And despite the stressing of leaching money, I want to make less.  No, I have not lost my mind.  I want to stay beneath the poverty line.  I have all the food I need, I am looking at lessening my rent, getting rid of my water bill and most of the electric bill, driving less, less gas money and wear and tear.  High taxes?  Don’t have them.  Where is your money going?

I am ready to simplify even more.  Make less money.  Offer medicines on a donation basis so that everyone can afford them.  Does cable television make us happy?  We don’t really watch it, so no.  That glass of wine in the evenings?  Yes, I don’t have to give that up.  By freeing up your money and where you spend it, you have only what you need and love.  And lots of time to watch the sunset and play with baby goats.

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5. Just Do It!

No more five year plan, maybe next year, only if he gets a raise, or when the kids move out.  There are no guarantees you will live long enough to live the life you really want.  Now is the time to act!

What can I say?  I have friends my age in their forties heading on to the Great Beyond and ones in their eighties who are too tired to do any more.  What is the best time to pursue your goals, cut your spending drastically, move to the place of your dreams, and start living self sufficiently?  Now is a real good time.  And if you cannot move yet or don’t want to, if you don’t want to quit your job or change much at all, just learn a few skills.  Cheese making?  Crocheting?  And urban garden?  Simplifying and homesteading can be done on many levels.

 

 

 

Gin and Jelly (sounds like a rap song)

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Chokecherries by themselves are rather tart and cannot be eaten plain, however if you boil them with water then the juice can be turned into all sorts of delights!  Here are a few recipes for chokecherries to save the delightful taste of summer.

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Chokecherry Gin

Fill a half gallon canning jar with chokecherries

Add 3 cups of sugar (organic and raw preferably)

Fill jar with gin.

Let sit for at least two months.  Shake daily for the first week to dissolve sugar.

I don’t strain it until the liquid is below the fruit.  The color becomes a deep purple.

My friend, Sandy, adds more sugar half way through the waiting time and hers is quite spectacular.  I may do the same this year.  A nip of this concoction during the holidays or on a cold evening in front of the fire is very satisfying and very tasty.  Incredibly smooth and easy to drink, do keep in mind it is straight gin!  Make mixed drinks with it as well.  The gorgeous, festive color lends itself to fine holiday gifts.  Just pour into a decorative jar and arrange a ribbon about its neck.

Chokecherry Jelly

This, my dear friends, is the first time that my chokecherry jelly has set completely!  I have made a good deal of chokecherry syrup over the years unintentionally.  (Which is quite delicious blended with maple syrup and poured over waffles.)  My friend, Liza, brought me a magazine and in it was a recipe for chokecherry jelly which used two packets of liquid pectin rather than one as I had been doing.  And it worked.

This recipe is a variation of the one from the Fall 2014 Capper’s Farmer magazine.

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Place 1 quart of chokecherries in a saucepan and cover with about two inches of water.  Boil until the color is lovely and the seeds are all showing through the skin.  Strain liquid.

Put 3 cups of juice in pan.

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Add 6 1/2 cups of sugar (organic and raw preferably) and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla sea salt (optional).

Bring to rolling boil stirring constantly.

Add two packets of liquid pectin and return to boil.  Boil for two minutes.

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Take off heat and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Pour into half pint and/or 4 ounce jars.  Clean rim and replace lids.  Boil in large pan with water covering jars for 6 minutes.  12 minutes if you are in my neck of the woods.

Mmm…chokecherry jelly and peanut butter sandwiches, chokecherry jelly on biscuits, on toast, in oatmeal, in salad dressing, in barbeque sauce, in….

Surprise Fall Crops, Moveable Gardens, and the Moveable Farm

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I planted seeds every couple of weeks until mid-July in rows where the seeds didn’t germinate or after crops were harvested.  In the long rows where I had harvested garlic I had planted snow peas, radishes, carrots, beets, and pattypan squash.  Then I forgot that I planted them!  So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I came across a row of delicious radishes crowning from the soil and happy pea shoots waving at me.

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It pays to get an extra seed packet of spring crops and plant them later so that you get doubled the harvest of vegetables.  It doesn’t cost much, there seems to always be an open foot of row here and there and maybe you will forget and then be surprised.  I do know that many of the fall crops I planted, like the turnips and chard, did not come up.  I am sure the birds had a lovely lunch.

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Two Christmases ago Doug bought me a huge cast iron cauldron.  I wondered what he was trying to tell me. (I had expected a large carved wooden bear to add to my collection, so imagine my surprise!)  It has stood on the porch since then only coming out to the yard on Halloween.  Wouldn’t want to give the neighbors the wrong impression.

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I decided to bring the cauldron out.  I planted pepper plants and herbs in it.  I always worried it would be too heavy to move once I planted in it.  It takes two men to move it empty.  It has holes in it already.  It makes a great planter.  Why not empty the soil out when it is time to move it?  It is a great planter, I should have used it earlier!

The landlords are selling the house.  We will be moving our farm.  We have told them we will be out by spring in order to give us some time to save enough money to move and clear some things out.  I will want to move all of my herb gardens to the new homestead.  Sometimes I feel panic come over me but then I remember that we put it out there that we wanted a homestead.  One much cheaper than this one, one with a wood stove and a well, a barn, places to walk.  It is coming!  I am excited to find it.

A Trip to a Medieval Village (our bee hive)

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There has been so much activity in the medieval kingdom (our bee hive that is) that I thought I better have my friend and mentor, Brett, come over and translate what is going on.  It has been four months since we first got our hive.

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After donning our suits and smoking the hive entrance to hide our intruding scents, we opened the roof.  Fifteen slats were being filled with comb, honey, and brood.

Doug and Brandon got some amazing pictures. You can actually see the pollen on the bees' legs here.

Doug and Brandon got some amazing pictures. You can actually see the pollen on the bees’ legs here.

The bees have capped the comb over the brood.  The flat clearer cells are worker bees and the puffier cells that are lower on the comb are drones.  The drones are the only boys in the hive.  They have one job, make out with the queen.  Come winter they shall be ousted from the kingdom.  All the workers are girls.  It is definitely a matriarchal society in this village.

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We also can see honey in the frames closest to the door.  We will save fifteen slats for the bees to get through winter.  Hopefully we can get a little wild herb honey for our winter tea.

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SAM_0052 Looks like the Queen is alive and well.  All hail the queen!

Our Farmstead in August (chokecherries, herbs, bees, and helpers)

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August is a beautiful time on a farm.  The daily rainfall (incredibly rare) has made this place look like an absolute Eden.  Allow me to give you a tour in photos with your morning coffee.

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This wouldn’t be Pumpkin Hollow Farm if there were no pumpkins.  Princess orange pumpkins and green pinstriped pumpkins are quickly filling the front yard.  Some have taken over the herbs.  Some have volunteered in the back pasture and in the mulch pile with the help of our neighborhood birds.

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We grow dozens of herbs for the medicines we make.  Our bees need not scurry far as they are immediately drawn to the medicine gardens.  Calendula (for mouthwash and skin conditions) mingles with Bidens Ticks (a strong anti-biotic when mixed with juniper berries).  Blue Lobelia masquerades as a prim and proper flower when its real superpower is in opening airways and has a place in my asthma medicine.  Funky red Monarda (also known as bee balm) is great in cold medicines and in my brain extracts.  Another picture of fluffy calendula brightens up the herb garden.

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The bees have been tremendously busy bringing in bloomers full of pollen from the sweet herbs surrounding them.  Should we get a bit of honey this year it will taste of summer and herbs.  Wild Herb Honey.

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Such bounty we have received from our dear gardens.  I was surprised to see that even though I stole their tomato cage and stopped watering them the shelling, snap, and snow peas all continued to grow.  I shall try to extend their season next year.  I did not expect them to survive through summer.  The tomatoes are growing with a new vibrancy now that the sun has started to show hot on their beds.  The green beans are irrepressible and the corn is taller than me.

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Another thing taller than me is the mullein.  We let it grow in the yard instead of mowing it down and it is a powerful tool in our artillery for everything from asthma, colds, nerve pain, and digestive disorders.  This herb is a gift!

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Another gift of August is chokecherries! So many people ask me what a chokecherry tastes like and I am ever surprised that a lot of folks have not tasted the sweet taste of chokecherry jelly.  They are not eaten plain.  A small bite will taste like a drying powder in the mouth.  They are boiled with water and the juice is used to make a myriad of recipes from chokecherry tapioca to chokecherry pudding (an American Indian tribe Crow recipe eaten with deer jerky) along with chokecherry jelly that my grandmother used to make and my new favorite, chokecherry gin, that my friend Sandy made!

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There is something magical about berry stained fingers.   A sense of place and of the earth, the warmth of the day, an adorable helper, and the promise of goods to eat during the winter create a peace only found on farms.

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Though we are as busy as our bee hive, we take time to see the flowers, smell the earth after rain, bask in the sunshine, and give thanks for nature’s gifts,

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and fully enjoy summer for winter’s winds will be knocking on our doors before we are ready!

 

The Ducks of Pumpkin Hollow Farm

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We’ve been watching Irene for awhile.  She has a zigzag on her chest that makes her look like a superhero and she stands much taller and bigger than the other ducks.  Some women are built that way.  I wasn’t judging.  They follow her everywhere.  She enjoys a good swim in their child sized swimming pool as well as leisurely walks about the farm with her friends in tow.

Yesterday, Sylvia, who has a profound permanent limp (if she turns out to be a boy I shall call her Tiny Tim) decided to envelop herself in the thicket of lilacs and have a bit of a nap.  Head tucked backwards into her feathers she slept peacefully beneath the leafy arc.  Irene was beside herself.  All three ducks quacking and looking for their friend.  They went under the porch, then came back out.  They called far and away and close by.  Beneath the table, in the pool, in the coop, around the tree they paraded and called.  Finally, sleepy Sylvia awoke and ran out of the lilacs to meet her friends who quickly ran towards her, all of them quacking at once.

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That was when I noticed it.  Irene has a real raspy voice, like an old time jazz singer that has been smoking too long.  And the tell tail sign (literally) was the curly tail.  At just about four months, we did not see it before this week.  Suddenly her sweet feminine tail feathers curled into a tight ringlet.  Irene is a boy.

I do hope that Irene, I mean Ira,  will behave himself with the females.  I would rather him make sweet little ducklings than Duck a L’Orange!

Canning Sweet Corn

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn to can.  It seems that it skipped a generation and very few people my age even know how to can.  Folks think it is easier to buy food from the store.  I disagree.  How many hours does one have to work in order to buy food?  I would rather spend those hours in the garden or at the farmers market.  In just a few hours one can turn an entire bag of corn into several jars of delicious sweet corn, summer flavor locked in, to enjoy all winter.  It is a rather nice task with huge rewards.

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Not only do you know where your food is coming from, how it was raised, how long ago it was harvested, how big the footprint is, and if it is organic, but you also provide yourself food security.  Big snow storm?  No job?  Car broke down?  Can’t get to the store?  No problem.  The grocery store is in the basement.

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I am not growing enough to can yet.  Each stalk will produce 1-2 good ears of corn.  I got a big bag of corn from Miller Farms (they are not certified organic, but I know for a fact that they do not use pesticides, fertilizers, or any kind of herbicide.  They also use non-GMO corn) and went to work.

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1. Shuck a big bag of corn and cut corn off of cobs with a sharp knife.  Give cobs to chickens and ducks.  They love corn day!  Give the outer leaves to the goats.  They love them!  Save the corn silk in a paper bag for healing up urinary tract infections.  Just make into tea with a handful of cranberries and juniper berries and honey.

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2. Fill warm jars with corn to half an inch from the rim.  Add 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt to pints, 1 teaspoon to quarts.  Fill jars to 1/2 an inch from rim with a kettle of hot water.  Wipe off rim and put on lid.

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3. Fill the pressure canner with three inches of water.  Put jars in canner.  Attach lid.  (Note: the new pressure canners are inexpensive and not our great-grandma’s pressure canners.  They do not blow up!  There is no fear using one!)  Turn on high and when the shaker starts shakin’ and it sounds like you ought to be belly dancing, then start timing.  55 minutes for pints, 85 minutes for quarts.  For high altitude canning, always use all the weights.  For the rest of the world use 10 lbs of pressure.

A burlap bag 2/3 full made 10 pints of corn and 3 quarts of corn.  I need thirty jars to get through winter (we love corn) so I’ll need another bag!