Category Archives: Homesteading

7 Months in the Potato Freezer

I’ve  been meaning to post this for a long time now.  We’ve been using this system for over five years and it has met our needs well, providing plenty of potatoes from harvest to harvest.  This is what any remaining potatoes look like after wintering in the freezer.  As of mid-May in Ohio, they’re just starting to sprout, but most are still very firm and taste great.  None are rotting or smelly. The Kennebecs seem to fare better than the Pontiacs (red) which can be a little bit softer.

We pull out a bunch to take to the house to eat over the summer and then use the rest for “seed potatoes.”  I’m not sure what “best practice” would be in terms of selecting potatoes for seed (maybe reserving the biggest, nicest ones for this purpose?)  It’s tempting to cook those ones up, and honestly we always seem to have plenty so I just never gave it much thought, but it could be  worth considering, especially if you are limited on garden space.

Once it’s consistently warm outside, I do recommended dealing with potatoes in the freezer one way or another as they will begin to deteriorate in the summer heat.

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Filed under Food Storage, Gardening, Homesteading, Uncategorized

Cornish Cross Chicks

Our very first batch of meat chickens arrived last week.  We ordered 30 Cornish Cross that will be ready to butcher mid-July.  I know it’s hard to think of these balls of adorableness as “dinner,” but in 8 weeks they’ll be full grown and, due to their breeding, will have essentially reached their life expectancy.  In the meantime, we plan to give  them good lives with plenty of green grass, fresh air, and sunshine.  We are excited to be to taking on this new enterprise and to be able to provide our family the healthiest food possible.

We’ve been very upfront with kids that we’re raising these chickens for meat.  It’s important to us that our children understand where their food comes from, and that they grow up learning skills for self-sufficiency.  We want them to view this process as both normal and sacred.  It’s easy to see that food that has been lovingly cared for should not be wasted or taken for granted.

Already we’ve observed many differences between our “broiler babies” and their “layer baby” counterparts.  The Cornish Cross seem to be less active and more fragile.  They have fewer self-preservation instincts and we have instructed our kids to be especially calm and gentle with them.  We are glad to have limited ourselves to just one new farming venture a year as it is taking both of us some time to adjust to their specific needs.  In preparation for their arrival, we pored over many books and websites and downloaded as many relevant podcasts as we could find.  Our favorites have been Joel Salatin’s  (our favorite farmer-innovator-world changer-genius) Pastured Poultry Profits and the coop-casts (downloadable on iTunes) of Andy and Kelli of Chicken Thistle Farm.

Clyde built two of these hoop-style chicken tractors for our meat birds and to accomodate the fluctuating needs of our laying flock.  He has promised to provide a lot more details about their construction in the near future.  This particular tractor has some temporary modifications (a wooden floor and wall partition) so that it can double as a brooder house.  Once the birds have their feathers (about 3 weeks) they’ll be ready to go on the grass and will be moved daily for fresh grazing.  We’re already using the other tractor for this purpose with our “layer babies” who are about 6 weeks old–more to come on that as well!

 

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Filed under Chickens, Homesteading

Prepping When… Your Child Has Cancer

James Talmadge Stevens talks about three main reasons for prepping:  natural disasters, made-made events, and personal crises.  Well, we found ourselves in the midst of a personal crisis last March when Isabelle, our one-year-old, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer.

Of course we were NOT prepared for that diagnosis (noboday could be), and we were also not prepared with the things we’d need for Izzie’s first 10-day hospital stay.  Though we experienced so much help from friends, family, and hosptial staff, we felt a lot like refugees as we tried to function in this foreign environment and cope with the grief and shock of her diagnosis, a barrage of tests and procedures, a stint in ICU, and the start of cancer treatment.

Izzie has remained a joyful, active, normally developing toddler in the midst of a year of chemo, surgery, many scans under sedation, and two stem cell transplants.  We still have a long and uncertain road ahead but are trusting that God is in control and that He loves us and our little girl.  (If you would like to follow her story on CaringBridge, please contact me for a link.)

I’ve found many of the practices and resources of preparedness to be a huge help in the midst of our journey through cancer treatment.  We never know when a simple clinic visit is going to turn into an all-day blood transfusion.  A fever could spike at any time and result in an ER visit and overnight stay.  At the very least, we know for sure that it won’t be long before we’re back in the hospital for another treatment.  Being prepared for these and other scenarios frees us up to enjoy our time at home and helps us feel more adusted when we’re at our new home-away-from-home.

Our bug-out bags have been replaced with hospital bags (though I think they’d actually serve us well in other emergencies too.)  I’ve found that if I launder, replenish and repack immediately after each visit, my mind is fresh about what was helpful or unecessary and what we’d like to add for next time.  It’s just as easy to repack all the blankets and clothes back in the bags than stash them in our dressers.  Most of all I’ve found that this strategy frees up my mind to better enjoy our time at home and to remember all of the other last-minute details when getting ready for Izzie’s next hopsital stay.

So in my trunk (along with my regular emergency food) I keep a bag 3 large duffel bags ready for hospital living:  a bed-in-a-bag (you never know where you’re going to have to crash), clothes and toiletries for the rest of the family, and a bag with clothes, diapers, medical supplies, and enough blankets and toys to turn our patient-princess’ hospital crib and room into a happy little sanctuary.  (Before a no-sleeping-on-the-floor policy was enforced, we also used to pack two foldable yoga cushions.)

I also assembled a special backpack for our weekly clinic visits, which can last from 2-8 hours depending on her lab results.  The morning of a visit I pack a lunch and plenty of drinks and snacks.  These I can carry in this bag where I’ve stowed IV-compatible changes of clothing, a blanket, diapers and wipes, special toys and books reserved for clinic trips, numbing cream and bandages (in case her port needs accessed), bandaids, notecards and a book for me, a jacket and some cash.

Having a preparedness mindset and strategies in place has helped make this difficult situation less stressful.  It has freed us up to live normally when we are home, and has helped make our hosptial visits more pleasant.  To learn more about Izzie and to find other pediatric cancer resources and ideas, please visit my other blog, Always Hope.

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Storing Milk

We are a family of milk lovers, and though someday we’d love to own (or co-own) a dairy cow, until then we needed to address our need for milk (and yogurt) in our long term food storage.  I found an excellent comparison of various powdered milk products on the market at Food Storage and Survival and selected two products for purchase.  I bought a #10 can of each to try out before we bought a large quantity:

1) Nestle Nido, a powdered whole milk available in many Hispanic groceries and on Amazon.  At $14.84 for 3.52 lb container, it made 3 1/2 gallons at $4.24 a gallon.

2)  Provident Pantry’s Instant Nonfat Fortified Milk available at Emergency Essentials.  At $14.00 for a 2.65 lb container, making 3 gallons, it costs $4.67 a gallon plus shipping.

We also plan to purchase a brand of powdered milk available in our grocery stores at a lower cost.  Since we’re still able to purchase milk for less than $3.00/gallon (last year I only bought it when it was $2.00 or less), we will not be replacing our regular milk, but will pull these products into the rotation occasionally.  (We do also freeze milk–removing a little from each jug–when it can be bought a very good price.)

I purchased a FoodSaver last year through Craigslist, but was reluctant to purchase a jar sealer to go with it because the descriptions and photos made it unclear whether the sealer used regular canning lids or if one sealer was needed for each jar.  I’m very pleased to report that the vacuum sealer utilized regular canning lids, which can be opened and resealed repeatedly as long as they’re gently removed.  This allowed me to open and sample the powered milk, repackaging and sealing the contents in smaller portions for future use.  The Provident Pantry milk has not yet come in the mail, so I will update this post with a taste comparison at a later date.

What are your solutions for long-term milk storage?  Any tips to share or products to recommend?

This post was shared as part of Homestead Revival’s Preparedness Challenge.  Follow the link for many more ideas about becoming more prepared.

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Elderberry Syrup

Every year I say I’m going to do it, but this year I finally made my own elderberry syrup!  I’ve long heard about the benefits of elderberries (otherwise known as sambucus) for boosting the immune system, treating the flu, even fighting cancer.*  Last winter we gave the kids store-bought syrup to support systems during cold and flu season.  This summer I finally went for it and made my own.

There are several elderberry shrubs growing near our home and they are ready around the same time as the blackberries.  I thought they would be difficult to harvest because they’re so small, but it turns out to be a fairly easy job:  just pick off them off by the cluster, then comb your fingers through the clusters and most will fall off easily.  Remove any stems, unripe or overripe berries and you’re ready to go.

Eaten raw they’re pretty bitter, but both of my kids had quite a few tastes as we were processing them.  However, I’ve read that eating too many raw elderberries can cause an upset stomach, so we didn’t let them overdo it.

I followed a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar that I found at 5 Orange Potatoes.  Basically you boil then simmer the berries, press, strain and add honey (check out the link for the full recipe).  The berries smell amazing as they’re cooking-sort of like blackberries but with a slight floral scent.  I tried using half the honey and the flavor/sweetness already seemed strong enough to me.  Some recipes call for sugar but white sugar is supposed to suppress the immune system, so that seemed counter-productive.  I was able to get 2 cups from the recipe for the cost of a half-cup of honey (the store brand of elderberry syrup sells 1 cup for about $13.00.)  I wouldn’t consider this syrup recipe to be something I’d want to pour over pancakes, but my kids and I would gladly take it in small amounts as a supplement.  I froze the syrup in 1/4 pint jars.

I’d like to try my hand at elderberry jam as another way to preserve and consume the berries during the winter months.  I’d also like to try combining elderberry juice with grape juice as a sweetener.  I think it might be a better complement for the berry flavor.  Anybody have a favorite elderberry recipe to share?

*Disclaimer:  I am not a health care professional or trained herbalist and am not qualified to give medical advice.

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Filed under Home Remedies

Plantain Cubes

Plantain is one of those highly-useful herbs commonly considered a weed.  Once I learned to recognize it, I started seeing it everywhere, which is great because it is SO useful.  The leaves can be chewed or otherwise pulvarized and applied to all manner of stings, bites and rashes.

So far this summer, I’ve applied it to my daughter’s wasp sting, my husband’s snake bite, and my nettle welts.  We were all amazed at how quickly and effectively it eased pain and reduced inflamation.  (Disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional, trained herbalist or in any way qualified to provide medical advice.  To learn more about plantain, visit Bulk Herb Store.)

Our backyard happens to be full of plantain.  We had gotten behind on our mowing and so I decided it was a perfect time to harvest some leaves to try out an idea I had:  plantain ice cubes.  It seemed like a great soothing combination and something I could quickly try until I had the time and ingredients to make plantain into a salve or tincture.  Here’s what we did:

First we picked a quantity of nice, healthy leaves and washed them.  Then we packed them in our blender with just enough water to blend.

We poured this mixture into ice cube trays, filling them about halfway full (you don’t usually need that much a time.)  Once frozen, we popped them into freezer bags for storage.  I’m thinking that once they’ve melted the plantain can be used to make a poultice if extended treatment is needed.

Anybody ever tried this before?  Do you a great plantain salve or tincture recipe to share?  What are your favorite go-to herbs?

This link is part of the Homestead Barn Hop at Homestead Revival.  Follow this link for more great homesteady inspiration!

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Filed under Gardening, Home Remedies, Homesteading

Pantry-Building Resources

There seem to be two main camps when it comes to long-term food storage.  One approach involves setting aside a quantity of food and supplies for emergency purposes and leaving it untouched for a year or more.  Wendy DeWitt offers a plan for this approach in her book Everything Under the Sun.  In the other approach, supplies are rotated through regular use, a method I first learned about from Donna Miller at Grain Storehouse who describes it as a long-term workable pantry.  While there are advantages to the first method (more cut-and-dry, less regular inventory to worry about) and there are times that I do implement this method (emergency car kits and bug-out bags) I’ve found the second to be a better fit for my preferences and purposes.

Advantages of the Long-Term Workable Pantry
– fresher ingredients due to more frequent rotation
– greater familiarity preparing and eating pantry items
– more compatible with the use of real foods with less preservatives

Helpful Sites  Here are some of the many excellent websites that have helped me in developing my long-term workable pantry:
Kitchen Stewardship
Miller’s Grainhouse
– Simply Living Smart

Podcasts  I find audio is easier to integrate into my day than lots of hours in front of the computer, so for me podcasts have been even more helpful as I’ve been trying to assimilate information about building a long-term workable pantry.   The podcasts below can all be found on iTunes and many also cover other subjects of interest to preppers and homesteaders:
Nature’s Harmony Farm
New Life on a Homestead
Preparedness Radio Network (especially “Your Preparation Station” program)
Stumbling Homestead
Harvest Eating
Survival Podcast

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