Tag Archive for homestead

Knowing when to draw a line.

One of the most difficult things about homesteading is knowing when to limit what you’re going to take on each season. I have seen one too many homesteaders who dive in head first, getting all the cannonical homestead animals – chickens, ducks, goats, sheep… – and attempting a full jump into complete and total self-sufficiency all at once. Some of these people have a good chunk of change in the bank for fall back. Some have a rich uncle to bail them out of bankruptcy. Many are leaving a paycheck-to-paycheck situation, tired of having someone lording over them, and with very little in the bank for backup. What they all have in common is diving into the deep end without treading through the shallow water first.

I get it. I do. The self-sufficient lifestyle of a full functioning homestead is very alluring, especially to those of us with that as an eventual long term goal. Unfortunately there are a few rip-currents along the way, and without at least planning for the ones you know will come – set backs in loss of income, seasonal changes and the problems that can arise, the necessary care costs of certain animals – it’s easy to get pulled under and in over your head when you’re being pulled from one rip-current to another. The longer you go without catching your breath, the sooner burnout comes.

This is why, despite how badly we wanted to try our hand at it this year, maple syruping has been put on hold. We’re planning on expanding our gardens this year by adding an allotment on a family member’s property. We have a scheme to actually get blueberries from our own bushes. Our sights are set on high yields in our own backyard gardens. Syruping would have been aiming too far over our heads this season. Maybe next year we’ll test out those waters.

Hard Boiled, Farm Fresh Eggs

  
“Don’t try hard boiling them.”

“You can’t hard boil fresh eggs.”

“Fresh eggs need to sit at least a month before you can hard boil them”

My son’s favorite type of egg is hard boiled. Egg salad sandwiches are a staple in this house. Not to mention hard boiled eggs make a great baby toy (with supervision, of course). 

I can’t help but chuckle when people tell me you can’t hard boil eggs. I’ve never had an issue with hard boiling eggs. That might be because I was taught by my mom, who was taught by her mom, who….well, you get the idea. The point is that I didn’t learn how to boil eggs from a cook book but from family teaching one generation after the next, meaning I was taught how to boil fresh eggs without realizing it, where as recipie books teach how to boil store bought eggs that are at least a month old. 

“Enough gabbing! How do you boil the damn eggs?”

1. This might seem a bit obvious, but make sure you look over and clean the eggs that you need to. Farm fresh eggs may have some chicken poop or shavings attached. It’s completely normal, but you don’t really want to be eating that. 

2. Line the bottom of whatever pan you’re using with eggs and then fill two inches above the eggs with cold water. The water level is important. You’ll be boiling your eggs for a while and don’t want to have your pot run dry. 

3. Turn the water to high and walk off, checking it ever my few minutes. Don’t sit there and wait for it. A watched pot never boils. ;-)

4. Once the water is at a rip-roarin’ boil, put the timer on for 20-30 minutes. Now WALK AWAY but stay in earshot of the timer. Yes, you keep the burner on high. Yes, I said 20-30 minutes. 

  

5. When the timer goes off, check them. How do you know if their done? You’ll have one or two eggs with cracked shells. That’s your signal. 

6. Drain the pot or move the eggs to another non-plastic container. The eggs are still super hot and have the potential to melt plastic. Fill the container with enough cold water to cover the eggs. 

7. Quick cool the eggs. This can be done multiple ways. You can keep draining and refreshing the container with cold water. I’ve had success putting the container in the freezer. Or, if it’s cold out – sub 40F – stick them, pot and all outside. I’ve also heard of old timers putting individual eggs in snowbanks. (I don’t recommend doing this with white eggs.)

  
To shell the eggs, I suggest using a spoon or other implement (I use my wedding ring) to tap around the shell until you find a spot where the shell easily cracks inward. That’s where an air pocket stationed itself while the eggs boiled. If you start shelling from this point, things go easier than if you randomly pick a spot. Another trick I’ve heard, but have never tried, is to add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water. 
Enjoy those eggs and let me know how things work out!

Gardens Continued: Companion Planting

Companion planting is a very natural concept. If you look out in the wild, you never see one form of plant by its lonesome. Daisies, black-eyed Susans, clover, and buttercups amongst others interweave into these communities of flowers. Maples, ash, willow, and pine mingle through the woods, rarely sanding aloof from one another. The plants that you do see by themselves look alone, deprived, and normally have a harder go at it than those mixed into a society of flora and fauna. Companion planting takes this idea that plants should not be segregated from one another and works towards growing plants with one another in a helpful, semi-self-sustainable type of gardening.

We’ve used companion planting – to a different degree each year – in all of our gardens. Sometimes companion planting works out well, other times, not so much. For example, it’s been a few years, but we did try a three Sister’s Garden of pumpkins, corn, and beans together. We didn’t have much luck that time, but I’m wondering if it was mostly “user error” as I didn’t look into the length of the growing season that the variety of corn I picked needed. (In Maine we have a very short growing season, so this is something to take into consideration.) I’m debating about trying the Three Sister’s Garden again this year now that I’ve had more time to reflect on what went wrong with that previous attempt.

Many people who now have gardens from our generation don’t know about the idea of companion planting simply because they grew up off from their parents and grandparents victory-style gardens that were popular starting in WWII. These gardens were functional and yet very carefully sculpted to fit the post-card time era that they were in. Companion planting went by the wayside at this time, but is now beginning to make a resurgence, specifically for those of us that have limited land space and prefer to do things without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Below is a chart that I made for a post a few years ago talking about companion planting. It’s very basic and only includes the basic gardening selections, but it gives a great starting point for those new to the practice!

What we’re planting… What they can be companions with…
Potatoes Cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi , bush bean, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, peas, petunia, and onion.
Lettuce Dill, beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, onion, radish and strawberries.* Lettuce needs to be kept away from cabbage as it will deter growth and mess with the flavor.
Peas Corn, bush beans, bole beans, carrots, celery, chicory, corn, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, early potato, radish, spinach, strawberry, sweet pepper, tomatoes and turnips.
Beans Carrots, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, peas, potatoes, brassicas, beets, radish, strawberry and cucumbers.
Corn Amaranth, beans, cucumber, white geranium, lamb’s quarters, melons, morning glory, parsley, peanuts, peas, potato, pumpkin, soybeans, squash and sunflower.
Pumpkins Corn, melon, squash, marigolds, and oregano.
Tomatoes Asparagus, basil, bean, carrots, celery, chive, cucumber, garlic, head lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, marigold, pot marigold and sow thistle.
Jalapenos
Cucumbers Corn, peas, beets, radishes, carrots, radishes, and dill.

 

Gardens Continued: “Wild Gardens” or “Wildcraft” Gardening

“Wild gardens,” of “wildcraft gardening,” is just as interesting as it sounds. Wild gardening works off the premise that all gardens can be fed and nourished on their own in a wild setup, needing minimal attention and yielding optimal production.Wild gardening is the practice of simply planting in the land around you and letting things grow, well, wild. This practice utilizes the natural weed growth as a protective barrier that provides shade and helps build the soil. It also allows insect populations to naturally help protect, pollinate, and tend the plants as well.

There are three key rules to the practice of wild gardening.

1. No cultivation. – Cultivation is still considered a more modern practice when it comes to growing crops. It is well known that over cultivation strips the land of the topsoil which in turn causes nutrient loss and is the primary reason while fertilizers need to be added back into the soil.

2. No chemicals. – No chemicals can be use. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or additives can touch either the soil or the plant. Using these can upset not only the seedlings in the wild garden, but the surrounding weeds and insects as well.

3. No weeding. – Obviously, in a wild garden which is purposely grown among the weeds, weeding out said weeds would be a bit of a shot in the foot as it breaks down the ecosystem that you’re borrowing to grow your garden.

The most important piece in planning a wild garden is in investigation work that is done before hand. The season following the start of your wild garden is a season of observation and discovery. In order to plan out a wild garden, watching the weeds that you plan on planting among is necessary.

By watching and recording the health and vigor of the different types of weeds it is possible to determine if there are any soil deficiencies that need to be addressed first. As with any garden, crops will grow best if the soil is ideal. Being able to prep the soil in the fall leading up to planting season is the easiest way to ensure the produce will being growing in the best soil conditions possible.

Tracking down when the two different sets of weeds sprout and die out is also important for planting the wild garden. Many areas exhibit two sets of weed growth, a summer growth and a winter growth. The best time for planting your spring and summer produce is just when the winter growth is done dying off and the sprouts for the summer weeds have yet to start growing. The reverse is ideal for the winter crops – summer weeds should be dying off and winter weeds sprouting when the seeds for the winter crop are planted.

While I would love to be able to give a list of what plants grow best in a wild garden, it would all be conjecture. We have yet to attempt a wild garden, though I think we might be game for one this spring. I can say that, in my readings on wild gardens, I have noticed that there seems to be a pattern. It seems that the produce more apt to grow haphazardly in the garden – such as tomatoes, squash, lettuce, bush peas – do well in wild gardens. Potatoes do so well that many folks simply leave them in the one spot for years on end, leaving enough in the ground for the next season’s garden.

If any of you have practiced wild gardening or are planning to do so, please comment with your experiences! This is a topic that I would love to learn more about from those who have actual experience with the process.

 

Gardens Continued: Raised Bed

One of the most prolific forms of gardening is the raised bed method. The raised bed method sinus tad it sounds: you are literally raising your garden bed.

Raised bed gardens start with selecting an area to fencing, or boxing in, with wood timber, cement blocks, or anything else that may be fashioned to hold soil. 

The height of the bed can vary form only a few inches above ground soil to a height tall enough to accomadate the elderly and handicapped. The minimum height is based off from whatever crops you are growing in the raised bed. The minimum height for growing lettuce allows for a very shallow box. Carrots, on the other hand, creates the need for a minimum of 12″ of raised bed depth. 

The width of the bed can vary just as much as the depth, from one row up to the entirety of a garden. The basic rule of thumb is this: make sure your raised bed isn’t so wide that you can’t teach to the middle for easy weeding. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that you leave enough space between the plants and the box framing to assure that the roots aren’t short on space. 

Some people plant their crops extensively in raised beds. While that is a possibility, depending on the size of your garden, it’s an expensive possibility. For our homestead, where we try to grow as much of our food as possible, raised beds serve a specific purpose. We save our raider bed ares for herbs, shallow root crops, such as lettuce and time intensive crops such as broccoli.  Not only does it make the certain crops more easy to notice in a large garden, but it also allows for easier access. The more thourough drainage of the raised bed is also a plus, prohibiting drowning and molding during wet seasons.